The aim of an Anglican funeral is to commend the spirit of a loved one to God’s care.
Christians believe that the body is a 'temple' where the Holy Spirit lives during a person’s life and that when someone dies the body is returned to the earth that has sustained it during life while the spirit returns to God.
Christians believe that Christ’s resurrection is the triumph of good over evil and of life over death and has made eternal life available to them.
The Christian funeral also tries to help family and friends come to terms with the death of someone they love. Mourners have an opportunity to share their memories and support each other in their shared Christian belief of an after-life.
Anglican services can be planned to reflect the wishes of the person who has died and often combine feelings of grief with those of joy and gratitude for the life of that person.
In England, Anglican funerals are usually referred to as Church of England funerals.
Services take place in a church or a crematorium. To find your nearest church, visit a useful website called a 'Church Near You'.
Length of funeral and other ‘rules’
The usual Anglican funeral practice is either the Funeral Service according to the Book or Common Prayer or Common Worship or a Requiem Eucharist.
Anglican funerals usually last around an hour.
They are not usually held on Sundays, or certain Holy Days.
In the UK the coffin lid normally remains closed.
Approved Anglican rites for Christian Burial are contained in both The Book of Common Prayer (1662) and Common Worship.
If the deceased person is neither baptised nor a practising Christian, there is an alternative Anglican service which can be celebrated by the clergyman in a mortuary chapel or private home.
In many country parishes the churchyard is still open for burials and the parish clergy are able to advise on suitable memorials. In most towns, burials now take place in the local cemetery and the funeral director can advise on this.
It is acceptable for Anglicans to be cremated.
Cremations are usually preceded by an Anglican/Church of England funeral service. Crematoria have 'gardens of rest' where ashes can be buried.
Many churchyards also have a special area set aside for burying ashes - even when there is no space left for additional graves.
In the past, people often wore black, including the clergyman. Nowadays, more emphasis is put on thanksgiving, hope and joy, with fewer people wearing black and many clergy wearing white vestments.
Arranging an Anglican funeral
Everyone has the right to a funeral in their parish church - it’s not necessary to be a regular worshipper.
A Communion service can also be included in a funeral. This can be discussed with your local vicar/priest.
Ensuring that your local vicar is available is the first detail to be confirmed when planning the funeral. When you contact your local parish priest, he or she will probably visit you to offer both emotional and practical support.
If the vicar/priest did not know the dead person, then it would help to provide some details of their life, especially if you want him or her to give the Address, or tribute.
The funeral director also plays an important part in these arrangements. Your chosen director will want to know if the funeral is to be in the parish church or the crematorium.
Funeral directors know the local clergy, the local cemeteries and the crematoria well and will give suitable advice.
Increasingly it is possible to organise a ‘pick ‘n mix’ , or Modern British funeral within an Anglican framework by including secular music and readings, and a short tribute that reflect and celebrate the life of the deceased and comfort the deceased’s family and friends.
Order of Service
The coffin may be met at the church/chapel door by the vicar/priest; sentences of Scripture may be read; the clergyman will then welcome the mourners and introduce the service.
Hymns may be sung at intervals throughout the service. These may be selected by the family/friends.
A tribute, or eulogy, may follow. This is usually given by a close friend or a member of the family. There may be more than one depending on the time available.
Prayers are said.
The Collect may be said. (This is a statement of belief read together by the whole congregation.) Scripture readings can be chosen from a recommended list.
The Sermon. At this point the vicar/priest usually talks about Christian beliefs about death and the afterlife.
Prayers are said, usually in the following order:
- Prayers of thanksgiving for the life of the departed;
- Prayers for those who mourn;
- Prayers of Penitence;
- Prayers of readiness to live in eternity.
Sometimes Communion is included as part of the funeral service.
The Commendation and Farewell. At this point the person is 'handed over' to God’s care.
The Committal. If the body is to be buried, the congregation moves outside to the graveyard and the burial takes place, accompanied by more prayers and passages from Scripture. (If a cremation is to take place, the coffin is taken to the crematorium and there is usually a further short service.)
The Dismissal. The service ends with a blessing from the vicar/priest.
Things to discuss with your vicar
- Who will be the pallbearers?
- Who will do the readings?
- Are there any special readings, prayers, hymns, or other music you would like included?
- How much are the church fees?
- Are there other fees, for example for the organist?
- Should you bring your children if they are young?
- What about a headstone to mark the grave?
- Are there rules about what memorials you can choose?
Secular music, readings and other features
These are often included in the service as long as the vicar/priest agrees that they are appropriate. Remember that there are time constraints which will limit what pieces of music, readings and tributes can be accommodated within the allocated time at the crematorium or cemetery.
Should we have a gathering afterwards?
A gathering, accompanied by drinks or a meal, can be arranged after the funeral. You may wish to invite the clergyman who took the funeral if you think this would be appropriate.
Gatherings are also known as the wake and the funeral reception.
Memorial services some time after the funeral can be held, where the wider community can acknowledge the life and contribution of the person who has died.
Normally the Address will not be a sermon, instead concentrating on the significance of the person who has died for that particular community.
Hymns and readings will tend to reflect the special interests or preferences of the deceased. In this way the service can be stamped with his or her personality.