As a clergy person and a hospice chaplain who has created dozens of funerals for friends, colleagues, patients, and parishioners, I know how challenging it can be to script a funeral order of service. These are times for comfort and consolation for gathering together in community to grieve together.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Be Mindful
- Step 2: Meet With Loved Ones
- Step 3: Contact The Funeral Home
- Funeral Order of Service Examples
If you are writing this for yourself and want to have your funeral service the way you want it, or if you have been asked to write a service for a loved one who has died, hopefully these steps can help you create a meaningful sacred space for yourself, and for others.
These are ancient rituals that have comforted the grieving for centuries.
Step 1: Be Mindful
A service is designed to comfort the grieving who have gathered. Be mindful as you plan and write the service that grieving people find hope and solace in many different.
Some will find comfort in the music selected. Others will be comforted by sacred text or silence. Others will find strength in the spoken word. There are many different ways to provide comfort, for the many different ways people grieve.
Step 2: Meet With Loved Ones
If you are writing a funeral service for a friend, family member, or a colleague, meet one-on-one with some of their loved ones to really get to know the one who just recently died. Their input on favorite hymns, music, favorite Biblical text, or poetry will be very helpful as you craft your service.
Ask if anyone would like to participate in the service with a reading, singing, or give the eulogy (the funeral sermon). I love to invite others to participate in these touchstone rituals of remembrance and honor.
These rituals can be like a healing balm for others to participate in some way, and it gets everyone gathered hearing many voices, like the many voices of community.
Step 3: Contact the Funeral Home
Connect with the funeral home after you’ve been asked to write, and likely officiate a funeral service. Ask to speak to the funeral director assigned to the family, and check in about any time restrictions, and other moving parts you may be unaware of, including a memorial service program.
For example, I once officiated at a service where there was a military flyover and timing was everything. Once you have your script prepared, ask if they need to provide an organist, pianist, soloist, or recording of music.
Funeral Order of Service Examples
Here are three very different kinds of funeral services and the order of each. I have also added at the end the order, an example of a graveside service because you may be asked to write/lead a service at the grave as well. All of these services have ancient histories where people have come to gather together, remember, and honor.
Whether you write a secular or religious service, a military service, or a graveside service, people will be comforted. It is important to create a welcoming space, where everyone feels a sense of hospitality.
In addition, I always feel that silence can be a source of healing, and a place to center ourselves and be grounded. Most importantly, these are not cookie-cutter services; these services are meant to tell the story of someone beloved, an individual who lived among us.
A religious service
A religious service invokes the presence of God, or the divine, in the gathering space. There is usually Biblical text and hymns. Here is the example of a religious funeral service found in the Book of Worship in the United Church of Christ, the denomination where I am ordained as a Christian minister. Jewish, Islam, and Roman Catholic, and other Christian denominations
have similar components in their funeral services.
- Prelude – Music being played before the service begins.
- Procession – Entrance of the family (optional) and or the entrance of the casket (optional). If there are cremated remains, they can be carried into the sanctuary and usually placed at a table in front.
- Welcome – A greeting usually from the officiant on behalf of the family.
- Hymn – A favorite hymn can be played by a musician or organist/soloist, or by recording.
- Prayer – Prayer themes can include praying for the grieving, praying for the community, praying for the one who died.
- Reading of Scripture – If the deceased had a favorite reading, this would be the place for it to be spoken. If there isn’t a favorite, a comforting scripture could include Psalm 23 or Matthew 5: 3-10.
- Eulogy – Also known as the sermon. This usually involves telling stories about this person, what they did in life, as well as marking and remembering the gifts of their life.
- Hymn – These hymns can be sung by those gathered, or by invited musicians.
- Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession – These are prayers calling in the holy for prayers of thanksgiving for the life of the deceased, as well as prayers for their grieving family and friends. A moment of silence is usually shared, followed by an Amen to conclude the prayer.
- Benediction – A conclusion to the service. This is usually the time for another reminder of a repass happening after the service, or any other announcements. A favorite end to the benediction for me is, “Go in peace.” Usually, the family is escorted out first with everyone else following.
A secular (non-religious) service
A non-religious service would be for people who would not necessarily be comforted by religious themes found in hymns, scripture, and prayers, but instead by song and poetry.
I have cared for many families who have described themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and this is the kind of service that would be comforting to them. Same format as the service above, but different elements.
- A favorite song sung by a musician or a recording. It can also be sung by those gathered.
- A moment of silence among everyone attending.
- Reading(s) of a favorite poem or from a favorite poet.
- A eulogy could be done by several people or one person. I officiated at a service where three colleagues from work gave the eulogy, and each had a different story with the colleague who died. It was very, very moving.
- Passing the mic around to other folks. I am usually not a big fan of passing the microphone at gatherings, but for many families, it works. This is a time when people get to share their own memories and stories of the deceased. It can frequently go very long, but for some families, it is very comforting.
- Another favorite song played, or an appropriate funeral song.
- A blessing for a life well-lived. It could be words of thankfulness, gratitude, and love on how meaningful the life of the deceased was for the community gathered.
- Concluding the Service. A final way to express gratitude for people who came, and to point people to the next step, whether it’s food and refreshment in the adjacent hall or a graveside service.
A military honors service
If the deceased served in the military and found meaning in their service, many people plan to have a military service in the funeral or graveside service.
The funeral director will make this connection for the family, either with a local veteran’s organizations or with the military itself. A military chaplain or a ranking military officer will usually lead this military service. The honor guard can be made up of two people or several, following a strict protocol from the Department of Defense.
If a casket is being used, an American flag is draped over the casket during the funeral or graveside service. If there are cremated remains, the flag accompanies the remains. The order of this service is the folding of the flag by the honor detail and presenting it to the family, and the playing of “Taps.” I’ve attended services at national military cemeteries where there has also been is a 21-gun salute. If a local veterans’ group leads this service, it can sometimes include prayers.
This service (not the gun salute) can happen inside the sanctuary (and the gun salute happens outside), or it can be part of the graveside service. It is almost always a component of a graveside service at a national military cemetery. From my own experience, the military representatives prefer to have military honors happen at the beginning of a funeral, rather than the honors happen midway or at the end.
A service of the spoken word
A few years ago, I sat in the pews at a memorial service for a church member who had died, and her service was her favorite poems read by her family. It was one of the most moving services I have ever attended, and I have attended many. She chose the poems like her mother had done before her for her service. It told me so much of who she was, what was important to her, and how much strength and joy she found in her favorite poems.
I frequently seriously consider this for myself and think maybe now is the time to make my list of favorite poems. (I’m pretty healthy, by the way. But that doesn’t preclude the desire to have this completed by the time I do die.)
A graveside service
Usually very brief, this service happens at the cemetery and frequently follows or happens prior to a funeral service. Sometimes it is the only service a family chooses for a loved one. I want to include this here as a resource in case you are ever asked to write, lead, and/or officiate a service at the grave.
This service can be either religious or secular, but its real purpose is to bless the ground and commit the body into the earth. The Committal Service (also from the United Church of Christ Book of Worship) includes these following elements:
- A Welcome
- The Committal. A blessing to commit the body or remains into the earth.
- A Prayer. Options could be silence or The Lord’s Prayer.
- A Benediction. A blessing to send everyone forth from the sacred space
Writing a Funeral Order of Service is About People
You have been chosen to participate in an ancient ritual of remembrance and honor, the writing of a funeral service honoring someone dear. There are many different ways of telling the story of someone who has died, whether through music, poetry, hymns, scripture, and even the sacred stories of childhood, and the rituals of following in love and finding a life partner.
Reach out to others and discover many different stories to tell in the sacred and holy space of a creating a funeral for someone beloved.