Civil funerals: secular alternatives

Civil funerals were first introduced in England, as recently as 2002. Initially, they were available in certain local authorities only, before becoming more widespread. The new civil ceremony formed part of the general proposals outlined in the government White Paper on ‘Civil Registration: Vital Change, January 2002’.

Secular alternatives

The new civil funeral ceremony fills a vital gap in the existing provision for traditional, religion-based funerals. Significantly, this secular style ceremony addresses the growing demand, in an increasingly non-religious society, for a more personalised form of ‘life celebration’, when someone dies.

In response to demand, the Institute of Civil Funerals (IOCF) was established, in July 2004, with the aim of providing the types of essentially non-religious funeral ceremonies and secular alternatives which “… are driven by the wishes, beliefs and values of the deceased and their family, not by the beliefs or ideology of the person conducting the funeral”.

A funeral ceremony that resonates with contemporary society

The important difference with civil funeral ceremonies is that the focus, throughout, is on fulfilling the specific wishes of the deceased and on reflecting the personal preferences of close family and friends, in a more appropriate and meaningful way. At no point, during a civil funeral ceremony, are religious rituals or conventions superimposed on the proceedings unless, of course, a specific request has been made for the inclusion of religious elements such favourite hymns or readings.

Format for civil ceremonies

The ambience is typically relaxed compared with a more traditional religious funeral, with the deceased’s favourite music, either recorded or live, and poetry readings, etc., all adding to the individualised and intimate setting.

The ceremony is conducted by a professional, Civil Funeral Celebrant who is on hand from start to finish to guide and advise those involved in organising the funeral. Above all, the Celebrant will ensure that the format chosen for the ceremony is structured in such a way as to pay the most fitting tribute possible to the life and individuality of the deceased.

The format for a civil funeral is entirely flexible regarding content and framework and is structured around individual requirements. However, whilst there is no set format for a civil funeral, most usually include some or all of the following elements:

  • brief introduction and words of welcome;
  • tribute and eulogy;
  • silent time for reflection;
  • words of committal;
  • individually crafted closing words; and
  • the deceased’s favourite music to accompany the end of the ceremony.
  • Civil funeral tributes

    Central to a civil ceremony is a carefully constructed tribute to the unique personality of the person who has died. The tribute may be composed and delivered entirely by the Celebrant, following close consultation with family and friends. Or, as is often the case, those nearest and dearest will choose to play a more active part in the ceremony and will contribute with prose and poetry readings, personal recollections, anecdotes and other fond memories of the deceased.

    Facts & figures for civil, secular funerals

  • Recent statistics show that the British people are increasingly turning their backs on traditional, religious funerals in favour of civil, secular alternatives, Humanist and other non-religious ceremonies. Planning a civil funeral before death is also on the increase
  • Civil ceremonies are conducted by highly trained and empathetic Celebrants who are members of the Institute of Civil Funerals; no religious minister is required to conduct or attend civil, non-religious and secular funerals
  • Civil funeral ceremonies may be held at a wide range of appropriate locations, but excluding religious establishments. Popular venues include official cremation sites and non-religious burial grounds
  • Current fees for a civil funeral ceremony range between £160 and £200, depending on location and individual requirements [source: IOCF]
  • Resource

    The Institute of Civil Funerals (IOCF); website: http://www.iocf.org.uk