Methodist Funeral Service: Traditions, Etiquette & What to Expect

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While many people expect all funerals to look exactly alike, this isn’t always the case. However, even within the Christian faith, there are a variety of traditions and etiquettes to be aware of prior to attending or planning a service.

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According to the Methodist belief system, life is a gift from God. Once a loved one dies, they return to be with God in Heaven. This system plays greatly into the funeral order of service and what you can expect at this type of memorial.

No two Christian funerals look exactly the same, though there is often a lot of overlap. In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about Methodist funeral services, including traditions, etiquette, and what to expect. 

Methodist Beliefs on Death and Dying

All Christians have their own beliefs on death and dying. As mentioned above, mortal life is seen as a gift from God. To live life fully and in God’s image is to make this gift all the more worthwhile. As such, death is seen as a part of life. Living is a temporary gift that doesn’t last forever. Eventually, we all must return to God. 

Methodist views on the afterlife

Like most other Christian sects, Methodists believe in an afterlife. More specifically, they believe those who love God will spend their eternal life with Him in Heaven. Those who don’t go to Hell. 

An important distinction in this belief system is the view on resurrection. Since Christ died and was resurrected, this will happen again when Christ returns to earth. Those who died and went to Heaven are to be resurrected with him to live a life with God. 

Because of this view, death isn’t always seen as a sad occasion. While it’s normal for the family to mourn the loss of a loved one, it’s also not an exclusive sorrow occasion. For those who lived life in God’s image, they will return to Heaven to be with God. This is a source of peace for those facing grief. 

ยป MORE: The practical steps after a loss can be the hardest. This checklist explains everything you need to do.

 

Methodist Funeral Order of Service and Traditions

Like most other Christian funerals, Methodists add religious elements and traditions to their service to honor the deceased and their faith in God. Funeral scriptures are generally read to bring peace to the departed soul and their family, and these traditions offer the family comfort in their time of need. 

At the time of death

Those in the Methodist faith don’t typically particulate in last rites. Instead, the planning begins after death. Immediately after the death occurs, the family contacts their pastor. This is the person in the Methodist religion who assists the most with funeral arrangements. They identify the right funeral home and help the family in planning the funeral. 

Having a trusted pastor on their side at a time of need offers a lot of support at this time. In addition, pastors have experienced this situation with families on many occasions. They know how to help with grief and how to direct families on the right path for them. 

Viewing or visitation

In some faiths and cultures, a viewing is common before the funeral. For Methodists, the choice is up to the family. Many families do choose to offer a viewing as a way to find closure amongst loved ones. This can be done in the days leading up to the funeral or immediately before the service. 

For those who served in the military or other organizations, the viewing is an opportunity to honor this contribution. There are no outside organizations allowed to be represented during the religious service, so this is a way to create a well-rounded tribute to the deceased. 

Songs or hymns

Songs may or may not be a part of the Methodist service, depending on the wishes of the family.

The songs chosen are typically out of the United Methodist Hymnal and include selections like:

  • “Amazing Grace”
  • “Abide with Me”
  • “Victory in Jesus”
  • “In the Garden”

Tip: If you're hosting a virtual or hybrid funeral with a service like GatheringUs, check your microphone and other audio equipment beforehand so that everything runs smoothly. 

Sermon or words of grace

The pastor leads each funeral service with hymns and a sermon. These are generally focused on the idea of resurrection and finding peace within Heaven. Focusing on how our loved ones aren’t truly gone is a powerful message for those grieving a loss. 

After the sermon, guests are invited to share eulogies and words about the deceased. These are usually limited to close family members, but it could also be opened to the entire guestlist. Finally, the pastor ends the service with a final prayer or words of grace. 

Interment

Methodists have a lot of flexibility when it comes to handling the body of the deceased. Both cremation and burials are welcome. In the case of a burial, the family and guests usually go to the interment site to watch the casket lower into the ground. 

At the interment, the pastor might also attend to deliver another sermon or say prayers. The family might say a few words as well. The body is then lowered into the ground, entombed in a mausoleum, or the ashes (in the case of cremation) are buried in an urn garden. Seeing the burial process is a big part of the Methodist faith, which finds comfort in Christ’s resurrection. 

Repast or reception

After the interment or funeral service, it’s common for Methodist families to have a post-funeral reception or a repast. This is typically held at the family’s home or the church. 

The reception is an informal opportunity for friends and family to come together in a time of grief. Food and drink are served, and condolences are offered. This is when guests might deliver a sympathy gift or other kind words about the deceased.

While the funeral service is the first opportunity to find closure, this informal space is a truly powerful part of the mourning process. Having the chance to speak openly with loved ones in the comfort of one’s home or church brings the community together.  

Methodist Burials and Remembering the Dead

Unlike other traditions and customs around the world, Methodists don’t have specific burial practices or ways of remembering the dead. However, these traditions are still common within specific families. This is one of the more flexible traditions when it comes to honoring loved ones. Families are free to make the choices that align most with their own beliefs and worldviews. 

Burials vs. cremations

As mentioned above, Methodists can choose either cremation or burial. While burials are often assumed in the Bible, most leaders in the Methodist church understand the need for cremation. In this sense, most cremations follow a similar practice of burying the ashes in the ground within an urn.

However, some within the church speak against cremation. Because it’s believed that believers’ souls resurrect when Christ returns to earth, there might be a need for one’s body later on. These believers think the body will be reunited with the soul at this time. Still, modern Methodists can choose the burial or cremation option that suits their needs. 

Remembering loved ones

How do Methodists remember their lost loved ones? Like other Christian belief systems, most of this remembrance is done during holidays. For Methodists, in particular, Easter holds a special place because of Christ’s resurrection. 

In recent years, taking unique approaches to remember the dead is more common. Families join together for unique celebrations for those they lost, honoring these individuals for their contributions to their community. In addition, many churches host candlelight vigils or other annual services as a way to honor loved ones who were lost throughout the year. 

Understanding Methodist Funeral Traditions and Customs

Methodists take a simple approach to funeral customs. They cherish the lives of those they love without fanfare or over-the-top displays. This simple approach might seem unusual to outsiders, but it’s a form of comfort to those who lost loved ones. By focusing on prayer, community, and the lives of the deceased, they feel a little bit closer to the departed souls in Heaven. 

Cultures and religions across the globe come in all shapes and sizes. They all have unique ways to honor those who die, whether that comes with strict religious customs or endless personalization. Have you given any thought to how you’d like to be remembered?


Sources

  1. “Favorite Hymn Countdown.” First United Methodist Church. 7 September 2014. FUMCTC.org
  2. “Funerals.” The Methodist Church. Methodist.org
  3. Lovino, Joe. “God is with us: Blessing the dying and those who grieve.” United Methodist Church. UMC.org
  4. “What are the Church's views on cremation and organ donation?” United Methodist Church. UMC.org

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