Non Religious Funerals: Alternatives to a Religious Ceremony
what is a non Religious Funeral?
A non religious funeral looks past the church service and aims to deliver a ceremony more personal to the individual.
Non religious funerals aren’t ‘hosted’ by a vicar, they can be arranged and led by anyone, ranging from humanist leaders, right through to family members or traditional party planners.
I’ve made the guide I wish I had when planning a funeral for my grandparents, who were religious at all.
The guide will walk you through your option, how to arrange a non religious funeral, and give you some new ideas about what a funeral really has to look like.
Planning a Non Religious Funeral Service
Traditionally, when planning a funeral you are led by the funeral director who will give you a list of ‘norms’. Most of these have been embedded by the church, with the belief that death is a strictly religious act.
With 55% of Britons saying that they do not belong to any particular religion, the need for more open communication around non religious funeral services is here. I hope the below guide will help inspire you to plan the perfect funeral.
Where can a non religious funeral be held?
The short answer is anywhere.
A funeral can be held in any place that will accommodate the celebration. This could be a village hall, a hotel, an outdoor space – anywhere you feel is appropriate.
Traditionally ceremonies are held at a church or crematorium. More recently, there is a growing trend of natural/green/woodland burial sites, which people find more appealing. But with growing trends for a more personal approach to funerals, it isn’t uncommon to have a funeral held in your garden or a place of some significance to the deceased – think a local park where they used to enjoy visiting.
If you are looking to hold the service at a more alternative location, then please contact the venue beforehand to ensure it is OK.
As for who can conduct the non relgious service, this again is open. There are no rules to say family and friends cannot conduct the day and I personally feel this is a lot more to my taste – who knows you better than those closest to you.
As we preach here at FuneralInspirations – the day is completely down to the family of the deceased. If your loved one had a plan they communicated to you, then this should be obeyed but a lot of the time, the decisions are left to the surviving family members.
We have listed below some questions that you should take away and answer in your own time, this will help you decide what sort of funeral you think is appropriate. If you are working with a funeral director, then this type of information is great to give them before starting any conversations.
A typical ceremony will include the arrival of the deceased (do you want the body present?) , a seated area for people to listen to the chosen family and friends, speeches/reading/eulogies by those closest to the deceased, music before and after the service, flowers, and cards to be laid with the coffin and a gathering afterward.
The above is by no means how the day has to go, everything can be changed so print off the below questions and answer them to help you guide the ceremony plans
Questions to think about
- Did the deceased have any funeral wishes?
- Who will attend? Old friends/family? Will kids be invited?
- Day of the week/weekend – time of day/year? Think about the weather.
- Did the deceased have anywhere special that holds find memories? Any hobbies that could be included?
- Do you want the body to be there?
- Do you want a traditional location like a church or a crematorium or somewhere else? Buried or cremation?
- If being cremated, would a celebration after cremation be appropriate?
- Will you scatter the ashes? Will that be a part of the funeral?
- List any special songs or sayings that remind you of the deceased. Does anyone want to speak? Who will conduct the service?
- Do you want food at the funeral?
Order of Service
There are so many options when it comes to a non relgious funeral, there really is no limit. To help you think about what is possible and what to include in the order of service, I have written 2 examples below that might help you decide on a perfect send-off – one of which include some key things Id love at my funeral.
Non Religious Funeral Order of Service Template
Order of Service 1
Order of Service 2
A handy checklist of things to consider when arranging a non religious funeral
What to Say at the Ceremony
Non Relgious Funeral Songs & Music
Non Religious Funeral Poems
We have compiled a list of popular non-religious funeral readings if you need some further funeral inspiration!
non religious cremation service
If you are looking to organise a non relgious cremation service then the 2 main options available to you are whether to hold an event at the crematorium (which is more in line with a traditional cremation) or to hold the celebration elsewhere (after the cremation has taken place – direct cremation)
Direct cremation is essentially a cremation, without the service at the crematorium. Which means that no one attends the actual cremation. The body is collected, cremated and the ashes are then delivered back to you.
There are 2 main benefits when using this method of cremation: its cheaper & there is less organising on the families part.
When it comes to a non religious funeral, personally, I think this method is perfect because it allows the family to arrange a celebration away from the crematorium. There are no restrictions on where the celebration can take place; the ashes can be included in the ceremony or simply organise a celebration (at a meaninful location) at a time to suit everyone to make it truly memorable.
If you haven’t attended a traditional cremation, the general day goes like this:
- Family and Freidns arrive at the crematorium (families tend to be give a 30 minute slot)
- The body arrives at the creamtorum, via hearse and is carried into the building to rest at the front
- Everybody is seated whilst selected family and friends conduct readings or poems or eulogies about the deceased
- The choice of music is played whilst either the coffin is taken into the cremation chamber or the family and friends exit whilst touching the coffin to say goodbye for a final time
- Everyone goes to a chosen location for the wake to eat and chat
- About 2/3 days later the ashes are collected from the funeral directors by the family
If you want to compare a direct cremation vs a traditional cremation please read our guide
Once you have decided upon a cremation service, then you are free to make the ceremony as non relgious as you wish. Some ideas for things to make the service ‘non-relgious’ includes: personalised poems, family and friends conducting the ceremony, non-black dress code, use of a celebrant, no bible readings or prayers, suitable music & no hymns.
Non-religious committal words
Below are some examples of what to say at a non-religious committal
- we honour your life and cherish your legacy
- we celebrate your life and the pian shows how much you meant to us
- we are grateful for the time we spent together
- after a busy and full life, we will love you and leave you in peace
- may your love live on in those who knew you
- may we all live by your example and ensure your legacy isnt forgotten
- we will carry you in our hearts forevermore
- your memory will live on inside all who you loved
- your memory will guide us as we walk on
- you light has and always will guide us
- we thank you for your [insert characteristic] that will help guide us
- your smile will continue to brighten up our world, thank you
non Religious Funeral ideas
I want to add as many ideas as possible so you can make the final send-off as perfect and personal as possible.
I would love to get contributions, so please add any new ideas below in the comments to help other families in need
Insist that no one wears black. Set a theme of the funeral. I once attended a funeral that had Hawaiian shirts and dresses as the theme of choice. We were in England and the weather was dreadful, but the colour really made the ceremony feel special.
There is a trend for more natural and eco-friendly funerals so woodland burials are a lovely idea for those that want a natural legacy. You can hold the entire funeral inside a woodland, laying the body to rest in a natural burial ground or you can commit the ashes to a woodland where a tree will be kept in their honour.
- Celebration of life
If you don’t have a traditional funeral or cremation, then what can you do? How about getting friends and family together and conducting a celebration of life. This could include everything that was important to the deceased? Maybe they enjoyed nature or sports or time at the beach?
- Having A Party Instead Of A Funeral
My favourite idea is the hold, for all intents and purposes, a party for the deceased. No need to have the body present (although you can if you would like to) but invite everyone close to the deceased for a party in a location that meant alot to them. A proper knees up, mourning not included!
This is ever common and a popular idea, especially with the rise of direct cremation. Families are saving money on the actual funeral ceremony and deciding instead to spend on a more appropriate party. You are in control of how you celebrate. See our range of funeral ideas for more on this!
- Holiday Celebration
Why not take close family and friends away somewhere for a weekend (or longer) celebration. This could also be paired with a scattering of ashes ceremony. If the deceased was a fond traveller, then this could be ther perfect send off.
Other Names for a Non Religious Funeral
A humanist funeral is a non-religious service, usually held at a crematorium, but again, it can be anywhere, especially if you have opted for something like a direct cremation. There are usually non-religious songs and readings by family and friends and the service is taken by a humanist celebrant,
The British Humanist Association offers completely secular ceremonies conducted by their humanist officiants. A Humanist ceremony is increasingly common and is one with no religious content at all. It can be more appropriate for those who neither lived according to religious principles nor accepted religious views of life or death.
A Humanist Funeral or memorial ceremony recognises no ‘after-life’, but instead uniquely and affectionately celebrates the life of the person who has died. Proper tribute is paid to them, to the life they lived, the connections they made and have left behind, and as with “traditional” funerals, friends, relatives and acquaintances can express their feelings and share their memories.
Most commonly a non religious funeral is called a celebration of life or a humanist funeral.
Anyone can conduct a non religious funeral. Family members and friends make excellent officiants but you can also hire professional non religious celebrants
You can wear anything you want to a non religious funeral. The deceased may have left instructions on what to wear or the family arranging the celebration may pass on some ideas.
You can hold a non religious funeral anywhere you wish but you may need to speak to the church beforehand to ensure they are happy.
A growing number of people are finding that a non-religious / secular ceremony is an appropriate choice for them to make. These ceremonies are still conducted by professionally trained “celebrants”, but focus purely on the celebration of the life of the person concerned. They can still include a favourite hymn and/or prayer if desired (Civil), or no religious content at all (Humanist).
Religious vs Non Religious Funeral Ceremony
With so many religions practicing in the UK, from Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and so many more, it is usually easy for a funeral director to find the most appropriate faith leader and arrange the funeral with them. Make sure you tell the funeral director of any specific needs as not everyone is familiar with all the different denominations and variations of practice within the different faiths.
Most ministers will be familiar with issues of time and the practicalities of the funeral, but the funeral director will guide them as well as you about these matters.
You Are In Control
In the end, there is no hard and fast rule as to what a funeral should look like. This website exists to show everyone that they have choices and a funeral really is a final chance to say goodbye in the most appropriate way to you possible. Who cares what others think!
In the face of death, you might be overwhelmed into taking the traditional/easy option, but if the deceased hasn’t left a final funeral wishes plan anyway, take a moment to think about what they would truly want.
Luckily, you will have options since there are a huge number of alternatives to burial & cremation and more people are now open-minded.
Embracing these methods and respecting the wishes of the dead should be the norm. Choosing an alternative funeral option is now more accepted. Embrace how different we all are and explore every option, you won’t regret it!