A Humanist funeral is a non-religious ceremony that celebrates a person's life and legacy.
But what happens during a Humanist service? Where can you hold one? And what exactly does 'Humanist' mean?
We’ve put together this article about Humanist funerals to answer some of your questions. It also shows you what to expect at a non-religious ceremony.
What is a Humanist?
Humanism is a type of philosophy, which means a way of living your life. People who follow Humanism are called Humanists.
A core Humanist belief is that there is no God. They don't think people go to heaven after they die, regardless of whether they did good things in life. Instead, Humanists practise kindness and respect for all people because they believe we all share basic human values.
Famous Humanists in the UK include the broadcasters Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig, as well as the comedian Tim Minchin.
What is a Humanist funeral service?
Humanist funerals follow the core beliefs of Humanism. This means they usually won't include religious elements. Instead, they focus on celebrating the life and legacy of the person who has died.
This doesn't mean a Humanist funeral service is like a big party. Your service can have a happy atmosphere if you like, but most of the time Humanist funerals feel as sombre and peaceful as traditional funerals.
Here's how Humanists UK describes them:
A Humanist funeral is a non-religious service that is both a dignified farewell and a celebration of a life. It recognises the profound sadness of saying goodbye whilst celebrating the life and legacy of a loved one.
Humanist funerals are sometimes called 'atheist funerals'. An atheist is someone who doesn't believe in God. While most Humanists are atheists, not every atheist considers themself a Humanist.
Who leads a Humanist funeral service?
Non-religious funeral services are led by a professional called a celebrant. There are two main types of celebrants: civil celebrants and Humanist celebrants.
Civil celebrants specialise in civil funerals. These are similar to Humanist funerals, but don't necessarily follow Humanist beliefs. This means they can be completely non-religious or include some religious elements.
Humanist celebrants only conduct Humanist funerals, which are always non-religious.
What does a Humanist funeral celebrant do?
The celebrant leads the funeral service. This means they'll do most of the speaking during the funeral ceremony. They'll also help you put together an order of service that feels special and follows Humanist values.
Before the funeral, you'll get a chance to meet with your celebrant to discuss things in detail. They'll ask questions to find out about the person who has died and the kind of funeral they wanted. Using this information, they'll write a script that's crafted to the person's unique personality.
Where can you hold a Humanist funeral service?
You can choose from all sorts of venues for a Humanist service. Some of the most common choices are crematoriums, cemetery chapels and non-religious burial grounds. But you could hold the funeral service in a family home, a public park or even a football stadium if you want to. Just make sure you get permission from the venue and include any hire fees in your budget.
Can you have a humanist funeral in a church?
Yes, you could. You don’t have to be religious to have a funeral in a church. And you don’t have to be religious to have your ashes buried in a churchyard either. The Church of England welcomes non-religious people into their churches. And many other places of worship welcome non-religious people too. If this is something you’d like to do, it’s best to contact the place of worship and check if they’re happy to host a non-religious service.
But if the person who passed away lived their life as a Humanist they may not have wanted to have their funeral in a church. It’s difficult to hold a funeral in a church without there being some association with religion. And because humanists don’t believe in God or life after death, a church may not be the best option for their funeral.
What happens at a Humanist funeral service?
Humanist funerals tend to follow a similar structure to traditional funerals. The main difference is that they usually won't contain any religious elements.
So if you've been to a traditional funeral, you can expect to see many of the same things. There will probably be music, as well as non-religious funeral readings that remind people of the person who has died.
- The tribute: the longest part of the ceremony is usually the tribute section. This is a bit like a eulogy in a traditional funeral – it's a specially written speech that looks back at the life and character of the person who has died. This might be read by the celebrant alone, or include contributions from family members and friends.
- Time for reflection: the tribute is followed by time for reflection, which happens in silence. This gives people a chance to think about the person who has died and how they felt about them. If you're religious, you're allowed to pray.
- The committal: finally, there's the committal, where the curtains are closed or the coffin is lowered. This is much like the committal in a traditional funeral – it's there to symbolise a final goodbye.
Bear in mind that this is just a rough outline. Humanist funerals are quite flexible, so you're allowed to change the structure and choose your own poems, readings and songs. Talk to your funeral celebrant if you have any special requests. They should be able to offer ideas and suggestions too.
You might even be able to include religious content like hymns and prayers. However, these are only allowed if they're meant to remind people of the person who has died. They're not allowed if they're meant as acts of worship.
Do you have to be a Humanist to have a non-religious funeral ceremony?
No. You don't have to be a Humanist to have a Humanist funeral - anyone can have one.
Some people choose a Humanist service because they identify as a Humanist or strongly believe that there is no God. A religious funeral would probably feel inappropriate for these people.
But there are lots of other reasons to choose a non-religious funeral. Perhaps you're just not sure whether God exists or have no strong feelings about it. Or you might have your own spiritual beliefs that don't quite fit any one religion.
In fact, while Humanist funerals are getting more popular, very few people who have one actually identify as Humanist.
You don't have to be a Humanist to go to a Humanist ceremony either. People of all faiths are welcome and the celebrant will do their best to make everyone feel comfortable.
How long does a Humanist funeral last?
Humanist funerals last as long as they need to. It all depends on the structure of the funeral and what you want to include.
A simple service could be over in 20 minutes. If you're planning a big celebration of life with lots of readings and songs, you can expect it to last for an hour or more.
How much does a Humanist funeral cost?
A Humanist funeral service is likely to cost about the same as any other kind of funeral. In 2022, the average cost for a basic funeral in the UK was £3,953 (SunLife). This includes the cremation or burial, plus fees for the funeral director, a doctor and the person conducting the funeral.
Where Humanist funerals might differ is celebrant fees – though these will make up only a small portion of the overall cost. On average, a Humanist celebrant costs between £180 - £300 (Humanists UK).
If you're looking to save money, you could consider choosing a simple funeral or arranging one without help from a funeral director.
How do I arrange a Humanist funeral?
Humanist funerals are quite popular. So most funeral directors have plenty of experience arranging these kinds of funerals. Your funeral director will help you deal with paperwork, find a venue and look after the body, among other things.
You can find and compare funeral directors in your area using our free search tool.
Your funeral director might also recommend a celebrant. If you'd like to choose one yourself, you can search using the Humanists UK website. Simply enter your postcode to see a list of Humanist funeral celebrants near you.
Learn more about different types of funeral
- Find out what happens at a civil funeral service
- Learn more about unattended funerals
- Read our guide to green funerals