Who can conduct a funeral service?
Anyone can conduct a funeral service. There are no laws that control what happens at funerals or who can take charge. The service can follow any structure and can be led by a family member, a friend or anyone else you think might do a good job.
However, conducting a funeral isn’t easy. You need to do lots of planning and must be comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. That’s why most people ask an experienced person, called an officiant, to lead the funeral.
There are many types of officiants. An officiant might be a faith leader, such as an imam or priest. Or they might be a professional funeral conductor who specialises in non-religious funerals.
Here are some of the most common types of officiants.
Most traditional funeral services are conducted by faith leaders. In a Christian funeral, this might be a vicar or priest. Muslim funerals are conducted by imams.
You might want to ask a faith leader to conduct the service if the person who has died was religious. Or you may just want a traditional ceremony. Some faith leaders will lead a funeral even if the person who has died didn’t follow their religion or wasn’t a practising member of their faith.
Faith leaders specialise in traditional religious funeral services. These services will usually follow a set format, with time set aside for prayers, readings and other religious activities. They’re likely to take place in religious venues like churches or gurdwaras, but they don’t necessarily have to.
If you choose a faith leader to conduct the funeral, you’ll usually be able to meet with them before the service. This is an opportunity to talk about the person who has died and share their wishes for their funeral. The faith leader might offer support after the funeral too. Other types of officiants probably won’t.
If you want more flexibility when arranging a funeral, you might want to choose a civil celebrant.
A civil celebrant is a professional funeral officiant. They’re not tied to any religion, but they can incorporate religious elements into their services if you want them to. They can also lead non-religious ceremonies or cater to unique spiritual beliefs.
In short, civil celebrants focus less on traditional customs and more on the wishes of the person who has died and their family. It’s their job to deliver the funeral you want, whether it’s a simple service or a big celebration of life.
When you choose a celebrant, they’ll arrange a meeting to talk about the contents of the ceremony. You can ask them to perform readings, play special songs or show videos or photo montages. Or, if you prefer, they can plan the service based on your memories and feelings about the person who has died.
If you want a religious or semi-religious service, bear in mind that celebrants can’t do all the things faith leaders can do. Celebrants don’t have the religious authority to perform certain rites, such as the Christian Eucharist or the Muslim funeral prayer. If you want these rites performed, you’ll need to ask a faith leader to conduct the funeral service instead.
Humanist celebrants do the same job as civil celebrants. The main difference is that humanist celebrants won’t incorporate religious elements into their funeral services.
This is because they follow a philosophy called Humanism. They believe that science is the best way to understand life and the world we live in. They also believe in being kind and respectful to other people. They don’t believe in God or an afterlife.
You might want to choose a humanist celebrant if you want a completely non-religious funeral service. Humanist celebrants usually won’t even mention God or anything spiritual. Instead, the ceremony tends to focus on the personality and achievements of the person who has died.
Friends or family members
You don’t need qualifications or special permission to lead a funeral service – unless you want to use a religious venue. If you like, you can officiate the funeral yourself or choose a trusted friend or family member to do it for you.
This can be a good way to add a personal touch to the funeral service. The person officiating the funeral might have unique insights into the person who has died. They might be able to share poignant or funny stories about them too, which wouldn’t have the same impact if they were told by a celebrant.
This kind of funeral is sometimes called a ‘family-led funeral’. It’s the most flexible way to arrange a funeral and can sometimes be done without help from funeral directors. However, it can be hard work – especially if you’re grieving. If you feel unsure about anything, it’s worth getting advice from a funeral director or officiant anyway.
Are you thinking of officiating a funeral yourself? Here are some things to think about:
If you’re not using a funeral director, you’ll need to book the venue yourself. Make sure to do this as far in advance as you can. Alternatively, you could choose a direct cremation or burial and hold a celebration of life service in an informal setting, such as a garden, family home or pub.
Music is often an important part of a funeral service. Most funerals include at least two pieces of music – one at the beginning and one at the end. There isn’t a fixed requirement, though – you’re in charge, so you can play as much music as you want.
Think carefully about the music you want to play. Will it be uplifting? Poignant? Perhaps even funny? If you need help deciding, read our article about choosing funeral songs.
Poems and readings
You don’t have to have readings, but they can be a nice, simple way to express complicated emotions.
Readings could include favourite poems of the person who has died. You could also choose Bible verses or other religious passages if you want to incorporate elements of faith into the funeral. You could even write your own poem. Here are some more ideas.
Who will talk?
You can lead the whole ceremony yourself or you can ask others to talk as well. Friends or family members might have stories to share or they might want to perform readings of their own. It’s important to plan who will speak and when, unless you’re planning a very informal memorial service.
Remember: if you’ve hired a venue, there might be a strict time limit on the funeral service. You’ll have to plan carefully to make sure everyone who wants to speak gets their chance to.
Can I have a multi-faith funeral?
Yes. It’s possible to have a funeral that blends elements of two or more religions. You may want to do this if the person who has died had family members with different beliefs.
Multi-faith funeral services can be officiated by a civil celebrant, a faith leader or several faith leaders. They can take longer to arrange than other kinds of funerals because they need careful planning and cooperation between members of different faith communities.
The famous boxer Muhammad Ali arranged his own multi-faith funeral. He wanted his service to reflect his diverse beliefs, so asked representatives from Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism to help lead the funeral service.
How can I find a funeral officiant?
- Faith leaders: you might be able to choose a faith leader, or you may need to use the faith leader at the funeral venue. For more help, talk to your funeral director or a representative of your faith community.
- Civil celebrants: every celebrant has their own way of doing things, so it’s important to find one who’s right for you. You can learn more about celebrants and how to find one here. Your funeral director may be able to recommend a suitable celebrant.
- Humanist celebrants: a good first step is to talk to someone from Humanists UK or use its online search tool.
- Friends or family members: you might want to contact The Natural Death Centre for advice and support. The Natural Death Centre is a charity that helps people arrange family-led funerals.
Funeral Choice helps people find funeral directors in their local area. For more funeral planning advice, search our advice centre.