We sat down with Reverend Joe Moffatt of St Mary with St Albans in Teddington to find out more about what a Church of England service involves. We regularly meet families who are unsure if religion should be part of a funeral service. So, we asked Joe for his thoughts…
Who can choose a Christian service for a funeral?
Anyone is the simple answer. Anyone can request a funeral in the parish in which they live in. But the Church of England offers a funeral for anyone in England who requests one.
A common misconception is that you have to be a regular church goer. This is not the case.
London is a transient community where it is not always possible to build a relationship with your local church. But at a time of illness or death, there is often an inclination to want to reconnect with the christian faith or to have a Christian funeral.
What can be expected from a Church of England service?
The way I describe it to families is that the tribute will look back on a life and also look forward – both for those who are left in the grief and the hope we hold out for the person who has passed.
There’s a fairly set way of starting and finishing a service to give a sense of ritual and peace, but in the middle there’s flexibility for different readings, tributes and music.
I ask a family to tell me what they want to include and I’ll advise on the best shape for the service and the running order.
How would a family know when to choose a Christian service, in particular if no funeral instructions have been left by their loved one?
I was once tentatively approached by a lady as to whether I could hold the service for her partner – who she was having great difficulty accepting had passed away
When I started to discuss what my welcome might include, suggesting an opening prayer, it became too difficult for her and she then withdrew. If you’re that resistant to a prayer being said, then a celebrant is probably the right person to lead the service instead of a vicar.
But if you have a family wanting a hymn or two, a tribute and a prayer and they don’t mind God being brought into the Prayer of Commendation and Committal, then that’s exactly what we do.
What are the main differences between a Minister led or a Celebrant led service?
A Christian service will make more of a connection between life and death. Part of the skill to a minister doing a good sensitive funeral is to spot how part of the person’s story can connect to a bigger story about life and death and redemption. Sometimes it helps a family in grief to make that connection with something bigger. There is a real sense of comfort around it.
Whereas with a celebrant-led ceremony, a celebrant will listen to a family’s story, and repeat back what they’ve been told that summarises what they think. This is an important way of remembering. The style is a bit more celebratory with a tone of a remembrance.
What Christian content would there typically be at a funeral?
Although there will be some Christian content to a funeral, we would still seek to tailor it to the needs and desires and requests of the family.
Typically, a Church of England led funeral service, would involve an opening prayer and two or three hymns – but some hymns could be replaced by pieces of music that are not sacred.
The readings would normally include one bible reading. We can also include non bible readings and any tributes or eulogies the family wishes to make. Family members can deliver these themselves or we can read it on their behalf.
And there would be short prayers – The Lord’s Prayer, The Prayer of Commendation and Committal and a blessing.
Who reads the eulogy? The family or the vicar?
Both can do it, in a crematorium you are restricted on time so it would usually be just one person.
But in a church for a church member, there would quite often be a tribute by a family member and then I would do a separate talk / address that brought in my own reflections. My talk would then include thoughts about the Christian take on life beyond death and God’s comfort for those who mourn.
What can a family expect to feel after a Christian service?
A Christian service will be of comfort in offering the hope that the Christian faith offers: a picture of heaven; of being in God’s presence and a sense in which God comforts those who mourn.
It’s done quite subtly in terms of prayers and hopefully a sensitive talk by a vicar.
Additionally, there can be some continuity with a friendly and supportive community within the church. Often the problem with grief is that it causes isolation and depression, the church community can be a comfort.
Finally, does a Christian service have to be held in Church?
No, we can hold services at the crematorium chapel or cemetery chapel if a family prefers. Visit: churchofenglandfunerals
White Rose Modern Funerals is an independent family-owned funeral company run by husband and wife team Nick and Jacqui. We arrange all types of funerals, including ones with a religious service – whether in a church or a crematorium chapel. For personal advice and a quote please call us on 020 3281 1045. Meetings can be arranged at our Teddington office by appointment – or we can visit you in your own home.