What is a humanist funeral?

A humanist funeral service is a type of non-religious ceremony celebrating the life of someone who has died. This may be led by a humanist celebrant, or you could simply arrange your own non-religious memorial with your loved one’s ashes present.

What is a humanist funeral service?

A humanist funeral service is a ceremony celebrating the life of someone who has died without mentioning a religion or god. This kind of service is often led by a humanist celebrant who guides guests through any readings and music.

What's the difference between a humanist funeral service and a non-religious funeral?

Humanist and non-religious funerals both allow you to give someone a personal send-off in a location that suits you, but there are a couple of important differences to bear in mind.

A humanist funeral service is carried out by a humanist celebrant. They believe that life is based on humanity and reason, rather than religion, so they don’t allow any acts of worship as part of the ceremony. However, a humanist funeral service may include religious content as part of readings, music or hymns.

Other non-religious funerals are carried out by civil or independent celebrants who are more liberal about the inclusion of religious elements in the ceremony. This could be anything from a short prayer to having the funeral service at your local church.

Where can you hold a humanist funeral service?

A humanist funeral service is usually held in a crematorium, cemetery or natural burial site. However, a humanist funeral or memorial service can also be held anywhere that isn’t a church or place of worship.

This includes places like:

  • Town hall

  • Hotel event space

  • Your home

  • Garden

  • Public park

  • Pub

  • Restaurant

What happens at a humanist funeral service?

What happens at a humanist funeral really depends on the person who died and the people organising the funeral.

If the person who died wasn’t religious but was still fairly traditional, you could follow the format set out by Humanism UK:

  • Music plays as the service begins

  • The celebrant welcomes the guests and sets the tone with a reflection on what it means to celebrate a life and say goodbye

  • The celebrant or a close family member reads the tribute – this is essentially the same as a eulogy and covers the life and character of your loved one

  • Friends and family stand up to give readings

  • The celebrant calls for a moment’s silence for thought

  • The coffin is taken from view

  • The celebrant shares some closing thoughts and thanks guests for their attendance

  • Music plays as guests leave

Instead of a service, you could also arrange a ‘direct’ cremation without a service. A direct cremation can give you more time and freedom to plan another way to say goodbye, like a memorial service at their favourite park, beach or beauty spot.You may even choose to scatter their ashes with friends and family present.

If your loved one left a will, it’s also worth checking to see if they left specific wishes about their funeral.

Who conducts a humanist funeral service?

A humanist funeral is usually conducted by a humanist celebrant. They are responsible for leading the ceremony while helping your family and friends to pay their respects to your loved one.

You can visit Humanism UK to find a funeral celebrant here.

Alternatively, if you’re hosting a simpler memorial service with your loved one’s ashes present, you could carry out the ceremony yourself. This could include things like:

  • Saying a few words to thank everyone for attending

  • Placing your loved one’s ashes somewhere so everyone can pay their respects

  • Playing songs that remind everyone of your loved one

  • Inviting friends and family members to say something

How much does a humanist funeral cost?

The cost of a humanist funeral can range from £1,000 to around £10,000 depending on the kind of service you want. This is usually broken down into three specific costs: the funeral, the send-off and the celebrant’s fees.

Funeral costs

The average funeral in the UK costs around £4,800. This covers all the basics for a humanist funeral, including a simple ceremony, a wooden coffin, the transportation of your loved one and the cremation or burial.

If you would prefer to have a ceremony or service after receiving your loved one’s ashes, you could instead arrange a direct cremation from just £895.

Send-off fees

As well as paying for the burial or cremation, there are also additional fees to consider for things like a memorial, flowers, catering and transportation. Together, these costs average around £2,300, but you may be able to create a memorial for less by arranging things yourself.

Celebrant fees

If you want a celebrant to lead the ceremony, this will cost somewhere between £150 and £280 depending on what’s involved and where you are in the country.

What to wear to a humanist funeral

Every humanist funeral is different, so it’s always best to speak to the person organising it if you’re unsure what to wear.

If it’s a fairly formal affair, something smart and understated would be a safe bet. However, many people now specify that guests should wear bright colours to help make the occasion feel less morbid and more like a celebration.

If your loved one left a will, they may have included wishes stating what they want people to wear. This is something we see regularly with people writing a will online with Farewill.

Humanist and non-religious funeral readings

When arranging a humanist or non-religious funeral, you may choose to include a reading that helps you and your family celebrate your loved one’s life. This could be anything from a poem, to lyrics from a song, to a passage from one of your favourite novels.

Here are some popular readings for humanist and non-religious funerals:

“Roads Go Ever On” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Roads go ever ever on,

Over rock and under tree,

By caves where never sun has shone,

By streams that never find the sea;

Over snow by winter sown,

And through the merry flowers of June,

Over grass and over stone,

And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on

Under cloud and under star,

Yet feet that wandering have gone

Turn at last to home afar.

Eyes that fire and sword have seen

And horror in the halls of stone

Look at last on meadows green

And trees and hills they long have known.

Roads go ever on and on

Out from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

Let others follow it who can!

Let them a journey new begin,

But I at last with weary feet

Will turn towards the lighted inn,

My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

“When I Am Dead, My Dearest” by Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress tree:

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember,

And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,

I shall not feel the rain;

I shall not hear the nightingale

Sing on, as if in pain;

And dreaming through the twilight

That doth not rise nor set,

Haply I may remember

And haply may forget.

“Intimations of Immortality” by William Wordsworth

What though the radiance which was once so bright,

Be now forever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind.

Humanist and non-religious funeral songs

If you’re planning a humanist or non-religious funeral, you may want to include music as part of the service. This is a great way to celebrate your loved one’s life in a way that feels really personal to you.

As part of our online will writing service, we give people the chance to include funeral songs in their will. Here are some of the most popular choices:

  • “Walk On The Wild Side” by Lou Reed

  • “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong

  • “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra

  • “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum

  • “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles

How to arrange a humanist funeral

You can arrange a humanist funeral today by calling Farewill today. We can carry out a direct cremation from£895. Then, once we’ve returned the ashes to you, you can arrange a simple memorial service that’s perfect for you and your family. And if you want to hire a humanist celebrant to conduct the service, we’ll be happy to help find someone in your local area.

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