Humanist funerals in the UK: what they are and how they work.

Humanist funerals in the UK: what they are and how they work.

by Martin Jackson2022-09-190

Are you planning a humanist funeral for yourself, for someone else? Or have you been invited to attend one? Whatever the situation, we created this useful guide containing some of the knowledge we’ve built up about humanist funerals in the UK over the years.

What is a humanist funeral?

Humanist funerals (sometimes referred to as ‘non-religious’, ‘secular’, or ‘atheist’ funerals) are simply a way of saying goodbye to someone without involving organised religion. Many people live their lives without being part of or believing in a religion, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a funeral that brings together their friends and family, celebrates their life, and gives everyone the chance to share stories and memories.

The ‘humanist’ description comes from the philosophical idea that every human life is important, valued, and equal, no matter what beliefs or cultural background. For this reason, humanist funerals are often more focused on celebrating the life and times of a person.

These kinds of funerals are commonly run by a humanist celebrant, who takes on the role of leading the service, and inviting others to offer readings.

How to arrange a humanist funeral in the UK

Humanist funerals in England can vary widely, depending on the deceased’s wishes, and those of their loved ones. As there is no religious model to follow, one service is often quite different from the next. There may be readings (like poems or something from their favourite author), music, the sharing of stories, and a eulogy.

While a funeral director is the professional most likely to deal with the practical arrangements of a funeral, the type of ceremony you choose is entirely up to you. If you are thinking about arranging your own funeral, you may like to use our pre-planned funeral ceremony service.

Just like with religious funerals, this humanist service will most often precede the burial or cremation, depending on what the deceased has chosen.

How to find a UK funeral director for a humanist funeral

Most funeral directors should be comfortable arranging a humanist funeral in the UK, and it’s often easy to check by looking at their website. (A simple online search for your town/area name + ‘funeral director’ should offer what you’re looking for.) 

Here at Fenix, we have many years’ experience acting as funeral directors for those who want a humanist funeral. We can help you plan the service from start to finish, or simply offer some help on how to find a humanist celebrant, or where to buy flowers. 

We’re also happy to work with you to make sure the funeral matches your budget – we pride ourselves on being 100% transparent, with no hidden fees (ever). Get in touch today to speak to one of our personal advisers, with absolutely no commitment at all.

How much does a Humanist funeral cost?

A humanist funeral in the UK costs just about the same as a religious funeral, as many of the costs are the same. In England, the average costs for funerals are about £5,000 for burial, and £4,000 for a cremation – though these costs can vary quite a lot depending on where you live. Your funeral director should help you match your budget, no matter which kind of funeral you’re planning.

Humanist celebrants charge between £150-350 for a service, with things like the length and location of a service affecting the price, as well as how much experience the particular celebrant has.

What is a humanist celebrant?

The celebrant of a humanist funeral in the UK should work closely with you to plan the perfect funeral. Their roles include:

  • Working with loved ones to plan every part of the humanist funeral service.
  • Speaking with you to get an idea of who the deceased was, and what kind of service they would have wanted.
  • Preparing and reading the eulogy, the speech that celebrates and remembers the life of the deceased.
  • Helping you to choose readings and music.
  • Guiding you on practical matters, such as liaising with the ceremony venue, and making sure the service runs on schedule.
  • Offering organisational and emotional support on the day, to ensure that the funeral goes according to plan.

How to find a humanist celebrant in the UK?

The celebrant is most often not known to the deceased or their loved ones prior to their death. But it should be easy to find the perfect match, either through online searches or through your funeral director. 

For example, if you choose Fenix as your funeral director, we can help you find the perfect celebrant for a humanist funeral, offering you dependable people that we’ve worked with many times in the past.

Where can you hold a humanist funeral?

Most humanist funerals take place at a crematorium, cemetery, or green burial site (such as a glade or woodland). However, you can also choose to hold the funeral at a location that was important to the deceased – whether that’s an indoor or outdoor location. The funeral could also take place at the family home, or in the garden, for example after the cremation has taken place on a previous day.

What do you wear to a humanist funeral in the UK?

As you can tell from this guide so far, there are no set rules about most elements of a humanist funeral, and what to wear follows the same pattern. If you’re organising the funeral, it will be very useful for the guests to receive some guidance on what to wear along with the invite, to help reduce the number of questions you’ll need to deal with. 

People often have a good idea of what they want people to wear at their own funeral, and this information can easily be included in your plans if you’re making your own arrangements.

Sometimes, a humanist funeral might choose to focus on ‘celebrating’ the life of a person, and that often means that lighter colours and less formal clothes are worn. However, if in any doubt, and if it’s not stated on the invite, it’s probably safer to opt for darker colours and more formal clothes.

How long is a humanist funeral?

Much like most religious funerals, humanist funerals in the UK take anywhere from about 20 minutes to an hour, with most lasting about 30-40 minutes. Don’t forget to include time for getting to and from the service, especially as it might take some time to leave the venue after the service finishes.

The celebrant will often help you to move people in and out of the venue to make sure you stick to the schedule.

Some more good ideas for a humanist funeral

If you’re organising a humanist funeral for the first time, or just want some ideas to help celebrate your loved one as they would have wanted, here are some ideas that might help:

  • You could ask friends and family to send video clips of them speaking about the deceased, and edit together a film.
  • You could collect donations from all attendees and donate them to the deceased’s favourite charity.
  • Instead of asking people to bring flowers, you could encourage them to donate to charity or a good cause.
  • Rather than hymns or traditional music, you could ask people to sing the favourite song of the deceased during the service.

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