How do I prepare a funeral?

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Today I want to talk about funerals, not that I get a lot of mail about funerals, but in the more than 40 years of ministry, I've done a lot of funerals for individuals, of course in our congregation and in other places and one of the things that I've noticed that is pretty much the same every time I help a family prepare a funeral is the questions that they ask about organizing a funeral service. It's always the same questions and obviously people don't have to prepare funerals from week-to-week as ministers do. So they're not usually prepared for that. I'd like to answer some of the basic questions about how to organize just a general funeral for a family member or friend.

First of all, I encourage the people, of course to work with the funeral directors that the family is associated with and or the clergyman from their church. The first decision that usually has to be made is if this will be a burial or a cremation and that decision is usually made ahead of time by the individual in their will or perhaps that individual has let the family know what their wishes are. It helps to know this, of course as far as time is concerned, if you're doing a burial, then time is of the essence, usually between the time of death and the time that the actual funeral service takes place is only a couple of days. Various states have different laws, but usually three to five days is the amount of time that they permit from the time of passing to the time of burial.

If the individual is cremated, we'll obviously this gives the family a little more time to prepare a service, more time for family members and friends from out of town to congregate in order to attend a service.

As far as preparing of the service itself, usually there's a choice between having a full service either at the funeral parlor, they usually have an auditorium or a space there where you can conduct a funeral service or the church building where the individual is a member, where the family has a connection. Either way the service that takes place in those locations, either of those locations, it's usually the same and they all contain the same components if you wish.

Types of Funeral Services

Now, you have the choice of doing either a full service or what's called a graveside.

A graveside service is simply a short devotional service if you wish, at the place of burial or where the earn will be interred. If you're going to do a graveside service, usually some of the things that take place at a graveside service is first of all, sharing from the family and the close friends are gathered at at the grave site and different individuals may want to share some memories, some poems letters, so on and so forth. And if there's a clergyman present, that individual will read from the scriptures or perhaps offer a prayer. Usually a graveside service doesn't last more than 15, 20 minutes or so. And then of course, the family and friends are free to visit and and share for a little while longer.

Components that make up a funeral service

If you're going to have a full service, then there are several components to every service. For those of you who are members of the church or those of you who are Christians, you have to remember that a funeral service is not like a worship service. There are certain elements that are the same, but they don't follow the same rules, for a worship service, we have specific things that the Bible teaches us that we are to do when we have a worship service, a funeral service of course is more flexible. And these are some of the things that you as the family member or as the individual organizing the service will have to consider.


The first thing is the music, will it be recorded music? Or will it be live? Or will it be a combination of both? Usually the funeral director has a recorded music that you can use, but certainly any music that you choose can be used at a at a funeral service, in the same way if you're having live music, in other words, if people are singing at the service, then you'll have to select the songs that will be sung at the service. And again, I remind you, you can use a combination of both recorded and live music.

Bible Reading

The next component and it doesn't have to be in this particular order, but the next component is or perhaps a reading from the Bible, a passage of scripture that is beloved by the family or was a favorite scripture of the deceased.


Then of course, there are prayers that can be offered, either by the clergyman or a member of the family.

Obituary / Eulogy

Then there are two things, a lot of times they're mixed together, the obituary and the eulogy. The obituary are the facts about the life of the individual, where they were born, who they married, who they left behind, how many children, grandchildren, where they worked and that type of thing. If they belong to certain associations, if they were veterans, that's the obituary. It's kind of the facts about the individual.

The eulogy is really an attempt to describe what that person was like. Now, many times some individuals, ministers, clergymen, they combine the obituary and the eulogy into one thing, but they don't have to be. You can have someone simply read the obituary and the obituary usually is worked out with the you and the funeral director. They usually have a form that you fill out to help them prepare that obituary. And they will list it in the newspaper if you desire and put it on the funeral parlors website. And so you can have someone from the family or a friend read the obituary.

The eulogy on the other hand, tells about the individual and that's very flexible. You can have the minister eulogize the deceased or you can have different family members up to talk about the individual memories that they have, perhaps remembrances that they have about the individual things that they did together, certain habits they had, amusing stories. This is the time really where the family draws close together in remembering the deceased with stories and tales and funny anecdotes about that particular person.


During this time of sharing of course, there's the eulogy, but you can also have poetry. I've had funerals where individuals just got up and sang a favorite song, someone played, I remember in one funeral a favorite song on the guitar and just an instrumental. So it's pretty flexible, what you can do during the time of eulogizing.

Final Viewing

If of course, the body is to be buried, if there'll be a burial and the casket with the body is present at the service, then many families elect to have a final viewing where the casket is open. And before the end of the service, the guests will file in front of the open casket for a final goodbye and perhaps to greet the family as they leave the auditorium and leave the family for a final moment with the casket, a final moment to say goodbye. Usually that's a good moment also when the minister will offer a closing prayer to to close the service.

After this, there's the full service and where there will be a burial. There's the transport and the director, the funeral director will usually have you choose pallbearers, individuals who will accompany the casket to the car that will transport the body to the cemetery.

Grave Site / Burial

And then of course, for a full service there is a grave site. So you can either have only a graveside or you can have a full service followed by a short graveside service where the body will be interred or you can have only a service with no grave site. So you've got choices and remember, of course, if you're using a funeral parlor, the cost of the funeral will be determined by how many components that you use. So if you have only a graveside service, well, it will be less expensive of course.

If you have a full service well where the body will be transported and then we'll follow that with a graveside service, then of course, that will be more expensive, because it will involve more individuals who will drive vehicles and they'll have to set up a tent and so on and so forth. So these are matters that you have to consider according to your budget and your preference, when you're helping to plan a funeral.

Who pays the minister?

And of course, one question that always comes up is do we pay, who pays the ministry if you have a minister or a clergy person that's there? Usually this is the family that takes care of that honorarium, it's called an honorarium. The funeral parlor does not pay the minister. You can always give the honorarium for the minister to the funeral parlor and they will give it to him or you can give it to him directly. And of course the question always arises, what do you give? what's the standard amount? In this day and age, the standard amount that I have heard and seen is about $150, is what the standard honorarium is for a full service.

And again, it's not something that you have to do, it depends of course, on the means and the ability of the family to do these things. I'm pretty sure that any minister would be happy to assist a family and do a funeral at no charge if this is convenient for the family and if this will help them.

So a couple of ideas about funerals to kind of demystify the whole process for those individuals that at some point or another, we'll have to plan a funeral for a loved one in their family. Well, I hope it's been helpful.

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