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Scottish Presbyterian funerals

Suzi Lewis-Barned explains what is entailed in a Presbyterian funeral.

Presbyterian church - Scotland

Presbyterian funerals aim 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.

Funerals are seen as a way of thanking God for the life of the person who has died.

Passages of scripture are read, prayers are said and hymns sung.

Presbyterian denominations usually organise their church services inspired by the principles in the Directory of Public Worship, developed by the Westminster Assembly in the 1640s. However, there is not only one style of worship in Presbyterian churches.

Although most follow set services, there are also numerous variations from very simple to more 'High' church services.

The Minister will talk to families about their choice of hymns and readings. The funeral service can take place either before or after the body is buried.

Cremation is less common in Scotland - in 2007 only 34 per cent of bodies were cremated against 75 per cent in England and Wales.

The Presbyterian churches in Ireland and Wales are separate denominations.

Approved/typical venues

Funerals normally take place in the parish church or in the chapel at the local cemetery or crematorium.

Length of funeral and other 'rules'

Cremation is allowed by the church. The length of time will be governed by the time allowed by the church, of if the service takes place in the cemetery or crematorium chapel, the length of the slots allocated.

The funeral director will give valuable advice based on experience of the community and the funerals he or she has helped organise.

The Bible is central to the funeral, with prayers which include a thanksgiving for a person’s life, recognition of the resurrection of Christ and prayers for the family and friends of the person who has died.

Eulogies are often included in the service.

The funeral casket should remain closed during the service.

Funerals are not normally held on Sundays.

Graves are normally marked by a head stone.

Things to discuss with your minister

  • Who will be the pallbearers?
  • Who will do the readings?
  • Are there any special songs/hymns, readings or prayers 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 not usually considered appropriate but this is something you should discuss with your local minister. More traditional ministers will disapprove. However, the move towards ‘Pick ‘n mix’ funerals has reached some more flexible Presbyterian congregations.

Should we have a gathering afterwards?

Most people choose to organise a lunch or tea after the service to include a wider circle of friends and family.

Memorial services

Memorial services can take place before or after burial. However, as it will take more time to organise a memorial service, it is more likely to be after the burial. The Presbyterian church is unlikely to condone a farewell party linked to a memorial service.

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