Outline of a secular funeral service
About 20 to 25 minutes is usual, although 40 minutes is allocated for each service at Chesterfield (it is possible to have a longer ceremony, but this will incur a fee for extended use of the chapel).
A photograph of the deceased may be displayed or objects connected with their achievements or symbols of their life.
This could be a Humanist officiant, member of the family, friend or work colleague.
Choose music during your entry into the chapel.
Introduction and opening words
Friends, we are meeting here today to honour the life of (Full name), whom we always knew as (nickname). A funeral ceremony is an opportunity to join in taking leave of someone we have loved and respected, but it is more than that. It is the celebration of his/her life and personality and a time to comfort those of his family and friends who are here today and have been affected by his/her death. Our ceremony will be short, simple and non-religious.
Although (the deceased) did not believe in religion, he/she did believe in the good within human beings and felt very strongly about the individual's right to freedom of choice in the main decisions about life and death. Perhaps you would join me in a few thoughts about life and death.
The separateness and uniqueness of each human life is the basis of our grief in bereavement. Look through the whole world and there is no one like the one you have lost. But he/she still lives on in your memories. Though no longer a visible part of your lives, they will remain a member of your family or circle through the influence he/she has had on you and the special part he/she played in your lives. We know that the value and meaning of life consist in living it and living it well. People who have been a strength and comfort to others and have worked for future generations, deriving fulfillment and satisfaction from so doing, these are the people who bring value and meaning to life.
The tree of life
The death of each of us is in the order of things; it follows life as surely as night follows day. We can take the tree of life as a symbol. The human race is the trunk and branches of this tree, and individual men and women are the leaves which appear one season, flourish for a summer and then die. I too am like a leaf on this tree and one day I shall be torn off by a storm, or I shall simply decay and fall and mingle with the earth at its roots. But, while I live I am conscious of the tree's flowing sap and steadfast strength. Deep down in my consciousness is the consciousness of a collective life, a life of which I am a part and to which I make a minute but unique contribution. When I die and fall, the tree remains nourished to some small degree by my manifestation of life. Millions of leaves have preceded me and millions will follow me; but the tree itself grows and endures.
In this section, the life, the love, the failures, the humour, and the accomplishments of the deceased can be described in as much detail as desired. Family members or friends could speak, if they so wish.
A quiet moment
A moment of quiet may be included, and those with a religious belief might wish to say a prayer. Alternatively, music may be played for reflection.
A hymn may be sung.
This could be a favorite poem, or a poem that could have applied to the deceased, for example:
Happy the man, and happy he alone
He who can call today his own - he who, secure within, can say:
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Come fair or foul, or rain or shine,
The joys I have possessed in spite of fate are mine.
Not heaven itself over the past hath power,
But what has been has been, and I have had my hour.
Committal and farewell
A committal does not have to occur, but if desired the words below can be used. Members of the family could say farewell first, by placing a rose or flower on the coffin.
Would you please stand for the committal. To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose on earth, a time to be born and a time to die. Here in this last act, in sorrow but without fear, in love and appreciation, we commit (deceased's name) to its natural end.
(Curtains may close or remain open as required.)
A favorite record, tape or CD could be played at this point (or even during the committal).
Closing words of comfort for the future
We have been remembering with love and gratitude a life that has ended. Let us return to our own homes and to our work, enriched and inspired by these memories. I leave you with the words of a Native American:
When I am dead, cry for me a little.
Think of me sometimes, but not too much.
Think of me now and again, as I was in life
At some moments it is pleasant to recall, but not for too long.
Leave me in peace, and I will leave you in peace
And while you live let your thoughts be for the living.
Choose for the end.
Sit and listen before you leave the chapel, if you prefer.