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(An excerpt from Weddings, Funerals and Rites)

ULC Funeral Sermon TrainingSeveral years ago, I recognized this and began learning about funeral and memorial services. I contacted funeral homes and discovered, among other things, that there is a definite need for ministers and celebrants to perform non-denominational services. I decided I wanted to conduct memorial services as an addition to my wedding business, so I began creating a healing service for the occasion.

As for the words to say, I quickly discovered that there is very little material written about funerals and virtually nothing available for ministers or celebrants who want to perform them. I did find one service from a traditional religion and one from another non-denominational religion. Neither was quite the truth I wanted to share, but it gave me a place to start.

I begin my services with an opening and a welcome. I thank people for coming and begin to talk about why we are there, to celebrate the life of someone they have loved. I invite people to say hello in spirit to the deceased, while I lead everyone in a prayer. I talk a bit about life and death and what we have learned from the deceased before I move into the eulogy. (I created a standard opening for the eulogy, then I fill it in with information and stories I gather from the bereaved before the service.) I move on to talk about the value of telling stories and remembrances about the deceased and invite people to say a few words. It is not unusual to have nobody speak at the service, but sometimes people will come up if it's left open to them.

At this point, there is some additional flexibility a song may be given or listen to. Not everyone is comfortable with that, but there still can be room for a musical introduction. Just be sure the funeral director knows if a tape or CD needs to be played. A candle-lighting ceremony, some scripture, or some selected poems can be put next. The closing is a prayer and a benediction.

If the body is going to be interred (buried), then I go to the graveside (unless I'm already there) and say some words of scripture, the Lord's Prayer and the words for the interment (giving the body back to the ground, etc.). I don't necessarily do it in that order; it just depends on what feels right at the time. It's good to be prepared.

I have found that memorial services are a tremendous place to teach, learn and to heal. One important thing to remember when you are conducting the service is that it is important for you to rein in your own feelings. There will be a lot of people around you in pain and grief. It's not your job to match them. It is your job to distance yourself somewhat and be compassionate, yet strong, so that the bereaved can lean on you and feel free to express their own grief.


During the Time of Grief

During times of grief, you, the minister, become central in bringing comfort and hope to the bereaved. celebrants are not likely to preside over funerals held in churches because the local pastor would be involved and certainly hold the service. The services explained here are for funeral chapel and graveside ceremonies.

It's important during this time, to set people's minds at rest. They may be experiencing grief, uncertainty about the fate of their loved one after death, anger, fear, etc. It's up to you to recognize those emotions and do your best to put them at ease.

Many celebrants are called upon to perform the ceremony in the funeral chapel only. Some are called upon for a graveside ceremony only. Not all funerals are religious in nature and the minister should be prepared to offer a civil ceremony without references to God or any particular belief system. The family knows what their beliefs are and those of the deceased and those must be honored.

It is common in these days for the ministeror celebrant to include some biographical content into testimonials section or the eulogy, which reminds individuals that the departed on was a member of a family or group and was at the same time an individual. You can get this information when you make your call to the bereaved before the funeral service.

There is no absolute format to conduct a funeral. I am going to presume that the minister or celebrant is not well acquainted with the family and has been asked to preside over the funeral service in a funeral chapel. There may also requests for graveside interment, services (committal ceremonies). These are usually much shorter.

Some appropriate scripture and poetry selections are below:
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.
( Ps. 145:14-16, 18 )
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
( Matt. 11:28-30 )
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

I would suggest the saying the Lord's Prayer, which supremely fits all occasions, or the 23 Psalm, written below:

The Lord is my Shepherd:
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the
presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
( Ps 23 )
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy lade, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, an you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
( Matthew 11:28-30 )
Or you may use a "prayer poem":

Oh, ask not thou, How shall I bear
The burden of tomorrow?
Sufficient for today, its care,
Its evil and its sorrow;
God impartest by the way
Strength sufficient for the day
-- Jane E. Saxby

To heaven I lift my waiting eyes;
There all my hopes are laid;
The Lord that build the earth and skies
Is my perpetual aid
--Isaac Watts

God, grant us the strength and courage to embrace our Faith so that we may see that all of life is in Your hands. Amen.

Lord, we entrust all our hours to You. In our waking moments and in our sleep, we rest in You. We also entrust our loved ones to You in these moments of ultimate sleep.

Our Father, we need a source of strength and refuge. We need a resting place. For being this kind of help in time of trouble, we offer our thanks. Bless the memory of this dear woman, my mother, and grant us all the peace that comes from trusting in You.

Oh God, I thank You for the light of Your Son and the way that light has shone through the love of mothers.

God, give us the grace to consider the way our lives are being measured. May the life of my mother remind us never to ignore the quality of life at the expense of quantity. We ask our prayer in the name of our Perfect Example.

Our Father, for the promise of eternal life we offer our praise and gratitude. How difficult our lives would be today if we had no hope. But we do have a hope. We are called forth from this moment by the life of our Lord, in whose name we pray.

Hear our prayer, O God, as we lay before You the concerns of our heart. Our hearts feel pain in these moments. Hear our cries, especially those that are deep and silent. You know the sorrow that has befallen us and You are aware of the grief within us. We come to You for healing and strength. Amen.

Or consider a reading:

Even though one short step separates us from this thing called death, when it actually occurs, we discover that death is not what we thought. Death is not the destructive force we feared it to be. Instead, we will discover death to have been conquered already by our Lord who experienced it for Himself, and then came back to tell us that we should not fear death because He had made preparations for us. "Let not your heart be troubled."
( John 14:1 )

"But I would not have you be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."
( 1 Thess. 4:13-15 KJV )

REMEMBER that there is no one way to perform a funeral service. The important aspects are reverence for the moment, continuing the cultural tradition of how we lay to rest our deceased, the call upon God for comfort and peace in this time of sorrow and grief, the reverence of God’s promise of eternal life to those that believe.

The funeral ceremony is for the bereaved more than the deceased. The minister or celebrant is the professional person entrusted by God to carry forth the rites of the departed into the arms of a loving God.







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Last modified: June 05, 2010