You can find over a dozen official Baptist associations in the United States, so it may be difficult to tell you exactly what you can expect from a Baptist funeral. Funeral traditions seem to be regional as well, and some customs prevalent in the south may not be as common in the Pacific region. Regardless, you can find a few general commonalities between Baptist funerals.
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Baptists are members of a Protestant denomination that broke off of the Catholic Church because of differing beliefs regarding baptism (among other things). Like Catholics and all other Protestant denominations, Baptists believe that Christ died for their sins. They believe that they will go to heaven after death, an idyllic place free from pain and suffering.
Now that you have a very basic understanding of Baptist beliefs, let’s discuss the funeral customs.
Baptist Funeral Service Customs
Baptist funerals are typically held within a week after a person’s death, officiated by a member of the Baptist clergy, who may be called a minister or preacher. They may take place in a funeral home, a Baptist church, or a cemetery (in the case of a graveside service.)
Baptist funerals look like many other protestant Christian funeral services. Of course, these customs may vary in the case of a virtual funeral. Here are some more details about a Baptist order of service (or order of worship).
Order of service
The order of service (or order of worship) at a Baptist funeral looks similar to what would occur in other protestant denominations. You won’t find liturgy as you would find in a Catholic mass, so this means that the words used at every Baptist funeral will be unique to the situation.
Typically the order of service may look like this:
1. The prelude
The prelude of a funeral may include a general welcome to those in attendance. During some Baptist funerals, the minister and family may proceed inside the church together. At other times, the family will already be seated in preparation for the service.
Usually, you’ll only hear sacred music used at Baptist funerals. The congregation may be given the lyrics and are encouraged to sing. Other times, the music may be performed by a choir or a soloist.
3. Prayer of comfort
The minister may pray that the bereaved family and friends of the deceased will be comforted.
4. Scripture readings
Typically, readings from the Old and New Testament will be read by the minister or another reader.
Sacred music is an integral part of a Baptist funeral.
6. Remarks or a short sermon
Depending upon the situation, some family members may speak about the deceased. Other times, only the minister or preacher will make remarks. Sometimes ministers may share the Baptist belief in salvation during this time in hopes of convincing non-believers in the audience to learn more about Christ.
Keep reading to learn more about songs that are popular at Baptist funerals.
8. Closing prayer
A closing prayer may be said before the mourners leave the building. The prayer may be one of thanksgiving, celebrating the life of the deceased.
Songs or hymns
As previously mentioned, funeral songs at Baptist funerals are usually sacred. This may not be the case at the visitation or reception.
Some Baptist churches use gospel songs or hymns. Here are a few funeral songs you may expect to hear.
This is one of the most beloved hymns of all time. It was written by a slave trader who repented of his sins.
“I’ll Fly Away”
Some say that “I’ll Fly Away” is one of the most recorded gospel songs. Unlike “Amazing Grace,” it has a rather upbeat tempo.
“Shall We Gather at the River?”
This popular spiritual was written by Robert Lowry, a Baptist minister, during the 1860s. It refers to a passage in the Book of Revelation.
The prayers that you hear at a Baptist funeral may ask for comfort for the family and friends of the deceased. You may hear a prayer of thanksgiving that celebrates the life of the person who died.
You probably won’t hear a prayer asking God to help the deceased find their way to heaven. Most Baptists believe that this transition from the Earthly realm to the heavenly realm occurs immediately after death.
There are no set Biblical readings for a Baptist funeral service. The family may choose those that were important to the deceased or leave it up to the minister. Sometimes passages that speak about salvation are popular choices, as well as verses that talk about the comfort God provides those who mourn.
Consider John 11:25-26, which reads, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’ Do you believe this?” or Ecclesiastes 3:1-4, which states, “To everything there is a season, a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal, a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
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Duration of service
A typical Baptist funeral service does not go past one hour. In fact, it may be well less than an hour. This does not include the graveside funeral service or the reception that is sometimes held after the funeral.
Baptist Burial Customs
Now that we have discussed a typical Baptist funeral, let’s discuss some other customs. Remember, these are general statements and are not to be taken as the specific beliefs of every Baptist and the Baptist Church organizations.
Do Baptists get cremated or buried?
Baptists do not have any “rules” against cremation. The choice is made by the family members, who are hopefully following what would have been the desire of the deceased.
If the family chooses to bury rather than cremate the body, the casket may be open for viewing during the visitation or immediately before the funeral.
How do Baptists remember the dead?
Baptists may visit the cemetery to reflect upon the life of their loved ones. They may also decorate the grave with flowers.
There’s no formal time or place set aside for Baptists to remember their deceased family members and friends. Some use Memorial Day to visit cemeteries, or they may share memories of their loved ones at family gatherings.
Etiquette at a Baptist Funeral
If you’ve never attended a Baptist funeral, you may be unsure of how to act or what to say. The good news is that a Baptist funeral is similar to other Protestant funerals. If you have been to one of those services, you have a general idea of what to expect.
You may also be comforted to know that you don’t have to know any responses, the words to any songs, or when it is appropriate, to sit or stand at a Baptist funeral. The minister usually gives clear instructions to those in attendance.
Like at most funerals, attendees are expected to sit quietly in some section of the church that does not include the first few rows. Those rows are typically saved for immediate family members.
You may choose to sing along with the congregation when they are participating in a group song, but you don’t have to if you’re not comfortable. During prayer time, it is expected that those in attendance bow their heads and place their hands together in front of them.
Generally, funerals are formal services. People tend to wear their best clothes to funerals. This may look differently from region to region. People often wear dark, muted colors to funerals.
You may or may not have an opportunity to talk with the family members at the funeral. Usually, the time for offering sympathy occurs at the visitation, which is sometimes the night before the service.
Sometimes after the funeral, there may be a reception where a light meal or refreshments are served. During this time, you can offer your sympathies to the family by saying, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It is also kind to share happy, positive memories about the deceased with their family members.
Know What to Expect
If you’ve never lost a close family member, you may not understand how important it is to go to funerals. The family members of the deceased have recently experienced one of the most devastating events of their lives, and they may feel more lost and alone than they ever have. They may also worry that their loved one’s memory will fade in others’ minds.
Show your support to the family by attending the funeral. This is a kind gesture that will be long remembered.