Ed’s note: Here’s your chance to interrogate the BHA on humanist funerals. If you’ve something to say, say it. Hannah or another BHA representative will respond.
Guest post by Hannah Hart from the British Humanist Association explains the basics about humanist funerals, what happens at them and how they are organised.
The 2011 census showed that at least a quarter of us are not religious, and certainly many of us know we wouldn’t want a religious funeral for ourselves.
So it’s no surprise that has been an enormous increase in number of non-religious funerals over recent years. Mostly this is to be welcomed; it signifies there is a real alternative for those for whom a religious service would feel inappropriate or hypocritical.
But it also means that choosing the right person to lead a funeral can seem overwhelming, especially at an already difficult time. So how do you work out who would be the best choice in your situation?
First things first: what is Humanism?
Humanism is a positive approach to life based on reason and a concern for humanity and the natural world. It is neither religious nor superstitious.
We think that people are able to make ethical decisions based on experience and compassion rather than, for example, religious teachings.
And what does Humanism have to do with funerals?
Humanists think that we each have one life, and one life only. We think funeral services should reflect this. And since there’s no issue of what happens after death to address, our funerals can concentrate on the life lived.
So humanist funerals are about the profound sadness of saying goodbye whilst also celebrating the life and legacy of a loved one. They provide a very dignified and very personal farewell.
And what is a ‘humanist celebrant’?
Celebrants are people who create, write and conduct ceremonies.
Humanist celebrants are those who conduct and create non-religious ceremonies. They are sometimes called officiants or even humanist ‘ministers’.
And Humanist Ceremonies™ celebrants have been trained and accredited by the British Humanist Association (BHA), a registered national charity representing the needs of non-religious people. Providing high-quality ceremonies is big part of the BHA’s work.
Why do people choose humanist funerals?
Often because they feel it will most accurately reflect the personality or outlook of the person who has died. And many people come to us having been to another humanist funeral and actually enjoyed it; they’ve perhaps found it more honest and moving than other services they’ve attended.
I’m not sure if the person who has died could be called a ‘humanist’. Does this matter?
Not at all. Our funerals are available to anyone who wants to mark their loved one’s life in a non-religious, personal, meaningful way.
But I don’t want to offend anyone. Will it be ‘preachy’?!
Absolutely not! Our celebrants are there to provide an appropriate, personal, non-religious funeral – not to promote a cause. And every funeral is carefully designed to be inclusive of all present.
What actually happens at a humanist funeral?
Each ceremony is unique, written specifically for the person who has died. In terms of structure, it may contain music, a welcome and then a tribute section of up to fifteen minutes. Time for reflection often follows, then the committal, and then closing comments.
Sounds great… but a lot of work.
This is where the celebrant comes in. Their job is to makes things as easy as possible. They meet key members of the family or close friends and talk about what is wanted from the funeral and about the person who has died. They then co-ordinate contributions and write a bespoke ceremony, making sure everyone is happy with this before the day itself.
Where are humanist funerals held?
Most are held in crematoria and some at burial grounds, but since funeral services have no legal status they can be held wherever a family wishes.
We also conduct a growing number of memorial services (when there is no body to inter). These are held at all sorts of venues.
Do you allow any religious content in your ceremonies?
Our ceremonies are non-religious but we recognise that there are aspects of religious reference embedded in our culture and day-to-day experiences. For example, certain hymns can remind people of their youth or even of their favourite rugby team. We are happy to include this sort of content where it helps to reflect the person, but not as an act of worship.
How are your celebrants different from other non-religious celebrants?
There is a wide array of people working as celebrants and so it’s impossible to generalise about what they do and how well they do it.
What we can do is assure you of the British Humanist Association’s approach and our commitment to quality. And we’ve certainly got experience on our side; our members were conducting humanist funerals as far back as the 1890s!
Our celebrants are carefully recruited and trained to the highest standards. They are quality assured and regularly observed, follow a strict code of conduct and undergo continued professional development.
How do I find a humanist celebrant?
Many funeral directors can recommend a Humanist Ceremonies celebrant or you can look for someone yourself on our website.
Our network is as diverse as the clients we serve, enabling you to find a celebrant that is just right for your particular situation.
And our celebrants are always happy to be contacted with any questions or simply for a quick chat so that you can decide with confidence if they are the right person to conduct your loved one’s funeral.