Whether you have a faith or not, you will probably want someone to help plan and lead a funeral. If you want a religious service, ministers, priests, imams, rabbis and other faith leaders will talk to you to get to know the person and conduct a ceremony that is in keeping with their faith system.
Find out more about traditions and beliefs across the world.
At times of great grief, fear, anguish, people who never go to church or are lapsed attenders may feel the need for ‘something bigger’ and revert to a childhood faith or tradition for support. Churches and faith leaders understand this and the need for spiritual guidance.
Often it is a faith leader who is on hand at a critical time: a hospital, university or other institution’s Chaplain.
For a funeral, the steady hand of a man or woman of the cloth, their command and poetic use of language, their offer of a direct line to God and the peaceful, spiritual spaces churches offer all contribute to continued demand for religious services, even by those who don’t attend church. Kindness, understanding, support for mourning, acknowledgement of grief and anguish is a pretty good offer. (Even if there’s also a recognition that there may be a bit of bet -hedging going on.)
- Catholic – the Irish tradition is for the body to be on view at home and a wake to take place at home; a bit of a knees up. Others may invite visitors to the funeral parlour to visit over a couple days. Visitors pay their respects to the body: stand, kneel, bow. Flowers are often given or a Catholic mass card — make a donation to a Church and they say prayers or hold a mass for the dead. All welcome and Catholics receive Communion. Burial or cremation are OK.
- Jewish funerals usually take place within 24 hours. Burial is the norm. Services are solemn. Close family mourn at home for 7 days (sitting shiva). Visitors are welcome to join them in prayer and to offer comfort – often bringing food. No flowers necessary.
Hindu funerals take place in a funeral parlour quickly after death, usually with an open casket. Mourners wear white and pay their respects. A pandit, or Hindu priest, presides. The eldest son — (boo hiss, say we feminists) — or next of kin is key. No flowers needed. After prayers, cremation is the norm, with ash scattering at another date.
- Sikh funerals take place in a funeral parlour, again within days of the death. Mourners cover their heads and remove their shoes. Respects are paid with an open casket. A granthi, or Sikh priest, leads and once again the eldest son has a lead role. Cremation follows prayers with ash scattering at a later date. After the service, friends, family and members of the community are invited to a Sikh temple for prayers and lunch or dinner.
- Muslim funerals like Jewish services usually happen within 24 hours. Mourners attend mosque. Women cover their heads. Burial is the norm. Some groups permit only men at the burial and women visit later. Some send flowers to the grave on the day of the burial, but not usually.
- Buddhist funerals are usually held in a temple (or funeral parlour) within days of the death. Mourners wear black. They may send flowers to the funeral home or give money to charity to honour the person who’s died. Immediate family only attend the cremation. After the service, guests join the family for lunch in a restaurant.
These days only 6% of the population in the UK attend church regularly. The Humanist movement is growing rapidly and very often now, they will lead a funeral. Alternatively, it’s possible to lead your own funeral or simply have an informal family gathering. See more in rules and options.
The Interfaith Foundation aims to fill a growing spiritual gap in modern society not by creating a new religion or convert anyone away from their faith, but to support people who wish to enquire more deeply into their own spiritual tradition and their own soul. They support the many interfaith initiatives that encourage dialogue and understanding between religions. They look for unity rather than difference and see the interfaith concept as an invitation not just to tolerate, but accept.
In keeping with their Code of Ethics, they won’t marginalise people on the basis of religion, nor indeed on the basis of their age, disability, state of health, race, gender, nationality, sexuality, economic status or any other distinction.
They work with funeral directors to create, as well as deliver, authentic and meaningful ceremonies.
Interfaith ministers are listed under ‘independent celebrant’ in our Marketplace.
We’re not going to attempt to cover all religions on this site. A good starting point is the Wiki guide to religion,
Channel 4 offers a series of thought-provoking reflections on belief, faith and spirituality in its series of 2 minute films with individuals called 4thought.