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What is a civil funeral?

Civil funerals are a very flexible type of funeral service. They're not tied to any religion, though they can include prayers or hymns. And they don't have to follow a traditional structure – they can be as unique, informal or personal as you like.

The Institute of Civil Funerals defines them like this:

 

[Civil funerals are] driven by the wishes, beliefs and values of the deceased and their family, not by the beliefs and ideology of the person conducting the funeral.

For this reason, civil funerals are sometimes called 'person-centred' or 'life-centred' funerals. They're more about celebrating the life of the person who has died, rather than following specific religious requirements or sticking to a traditional format.

Are civil funerals non-religious?

Civil funerals can be non-religious if you want them to be. Or they can include elements of any religion, like Hindu prayers or Christian hymns. They might even include unique spiritual elements that reflect the particular beliefs of the person who has died.

It’s important to know that civil funerals aren’t the same as humanist funerals, although both are non-traditional. Humanist funeral services are strictly non-religious, while civil funeral services can be religious, non-religious or a bit of both.

Who conducts a civil funeral service?

Civil funerals are led by a professional called a civil celebrant. While a civil celebrant might have their own beliefs, they won’t bring these into the funeral, unless you ask them to. Their job is to conduct the ceremony in a way that fits the beliefs and wishes of the person who has died and their family.

If you're planning a civil funeral, you'll usually get a chance to meet your celebrant before the service. They'll ask questions about the person who has died so they can arrange a ceremony that celebrates their life. A good civil funeral celebrant will share ideas and guidance, but won't try to impose anything on you. You're in charge of the structure and content of the funeral service.

What's included in a civil funeral service?

Civil funerals can include almost anything you like. Some people plan big, non-traditional celebrations that focus on the hobbies or interests of the person who has died. Others prefer a simple, peaceful service with a few readings and a little music.

If you're in charge of planning the funeral, think about what the person who has died would have liked. You might want to ask yourself:

  • Would they prefer a big send-off or something quieter?
  • Did they have favourite songs you could play or poems you could read?
  • Could you theme the ceremony around one of their hobbies?
  • Could you hold the service in one of their favourite places?
  • Were they religious? Would they like any religious elements at their service?
  • Is there anything special you could do to remember them by?

If you want to include spiritual elements, keep in mind that the civil celebrant won't be able to perform certain religious rites. An example is the Christian Eucharist, which can only be performed by a priest.

Where are civil funerals held?

A civil funeral can happen in all sorts of places. If it's a cremation, it might take place in the crematorium. If it's a burial, it might be held in the cemetery chapel or a woodland burial site. Sometimes civil funerals are held in hotel function rooms. You can even hold the funeral in a family home if you like.

Why do people choose a civil funeral?

There are lots of reasons why people choose a civil funeral service. Here are a few of the most common.

Because it fits their beliefs

Nearly 40% of the UK population say they don’t belong to a religion (ONS). Some of these people are atheists, meaning they don't believe in any god. But not everyone who says they're non-religious is an atheist.

Some might have grown up as part of a religion, but no longer consider themselves practising members of that faith. Others believe in teachings from more than one faith or have unique and personal spiritual beliefs.

These people may feel that a traditional religious ceremony is inappropriate for them. However, they might still want some spiritual elements in the funeral service. If they choose a civil funeral, it means they can mix religious and non-religious elements.

Because they want something unique

Civil funerals are one of the most flexible types of funeral service. This makes them a good choice for people who want their service to feel special and different. After all, a civil funeral can be almost anything you want it to be.

Here are some examples of what a civil funeral ceremony could look like:

  • A funeral for a biker where the celebrant wears motorcycle leathers.
  • A funeral for a football fan where guests wear team colours.
  • A woodland burial ceremony that focuses on nature and spirituality.
  • A fancy dress funeral with funny stories and songs.
  • A music-themed funeral, complete with a live rock band.

Because they want to celebrate life

Traditional funerals are often sombre occasions. This suits many people, but others don't want their funeral service to feel sad. They want their send-off to be a big, uplifting celebration of life instead of focusing on death.

Civil funerals are ideal for this kind of service. They focus on the life and personality of the person who has died. And they don't have to include the sombre elements that are usually part of traditional funerals.

How to arrange a civil funeral

More people are choosing civil funerals, so most funeral directors are used to making arrangements for them. They should be able to help you choose a venue, handle paperwork and find a suitable civil celebrant.

You can start by searching for a funeral director in your area using our online directory. Once you've found a few, give them a call and ask about their experience planning civil funeral services.

If you'd like to choose a celebrant yourself, you could try the Institute of Civil Funerals' search tool. Simply enter your postcode to see a list of celebrants in your area.

Civil celebrant fees can vary, but most charge around £200 for a funeral.

Learn more about different types of funerals

Photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash.