Conducting a Funeral
1. The funeral service should be characterized by orderliness, simplicity, and brevity.
Here are the secrets of successful and gratifying work in performing this difficult and delicate task.
Simplicity without order will leave its unsatisfying impression on the minds of the bereaved and orderliness
without simplicity may disappoint the bereaved and tire them out by its length.
2. The purpose of the funeral service is to calm and soothe the bereaved.
It is the duty of the minister to use such aids and to conduct the services as to promote calmness
to those who are bereaved.
Therefore, he should avoid the use of any language in the prayer, address, or sermon, the use of any hymn
or poetry or even Scripture, which is calculated to disturb the feelings of the bereaved
or to reopen their wounds.
Experience tells us that Scripture plays the most important part in bringing comfort to those who are grieving.
Accordingly, it should be given the major place in the funeral service.
More time may be spent in reading the Scriptures than in any other feature of the service.
Next to the Scriptures in importance is prayer.
This should be neither too short nor too long, and above all things it should not be very flowery.
3. If hymns are used, they should be chosen with extreme discretion, for their singing usually serves
as an intimate reminder of the departed one, and can give rise to renewed outbursts of grief.
Old hymns are the best.
4. As to the address or sermon, it should be kept in mind that brevity is a real virtue.
Ten minutes are sufficient for any sermon or address unless the departed is of unusual prominence.
The address or sermon should never be a eulogist for two reasons:
First, however kind the things that are said about the dead, there never a sufficient glowing
to the overwrought feelings of the bereaved.
On the other hand, such kind remarks may seem overdrawn to those who are not bereaved
and may prove a matter of embarrassment to the minister in his dealings with the latter.
Some believe that nothing but the gospel or some feature thereof ought to be the subject
of a funeral address or a sermon, and of these subjects, the resurrection is the best.
(A list of suitable texts can be found following this.)
Many Funeral Sermons and Memorial Addresses are available from books or on the Internet.
Every young minister should have one or more such volumes.
5. When a minister is invited to conduct a funeral, he should first make himself thoroughly familiar
with the circumstances and religious history of the departed and of the family.
Of course, if the departed is a member of the minister's congregation,
he will already know most of these things.
But if the minister is called to conduct the funeral of a stranger, if it is possible, he should visit the house
before the funeral, and learn of such facts that he considers needful.
If this is not possible, he should go some minutes before the hour set for the funeral
and meet the members of the family and other interested persons and obtain the needful information.
6. There is some difference of opinion as to which is better, conducting the funeral from the residence,
a funeral home, or from the church.
Undoubtedly, the church is the best place because everyone may be seated in comfort.
But a church service implies length and dignity, as well as publicity, and from all three of these
most families shrink.
Accordingly, most of the funerals are now conducted in funeral homes.
Perhaps this is well since it makes possible very brief services.
But while brevity is desirable, the funeral should be so conducted in order to leave the impression
that everything possible has been done to provide a service worthy of the subject and occasion.
In this connection, it may be noted that funeral customs vary widely in different sections
of the country and of the world.
For instance there are places where a funeral address or sermon is never heard,
and where there is nothing more than Scripture reading, prayer, and the singing of hymns in the service.
There are also other communities where nothing short of an hour and a half funeral
meets the demands of the people.
Both of these cases are extreme, but the former is the more desirable.
Where the customs seem improper, when judged by the best standards of usage, the minister,
by discrete effort, should seek to procure proper and dignified observances.
Consultation with the funeral director and an understanding with him will usually bring about
the desired changes with a minimum of trouble.
Sympathetic cooperation between minister and general director can accomplish much.
7. The way that the minister conducts himself at a funeral is a matter of importance.
If it is a church funeral, shall he enter the church leading the pallbearers and the casket
or shall he occupy the pulpit and wait for the funeral party to come into the church.
If, however, there is to be no funeral march, it is entirely proper for the minister to meet the funeral party
at the door of the church and, lead the procession into the church, and read or quote such Scripture
as may seem appropriate.
When the services of the church funeral are concluded, it is proper for the minister to take his place
in the advance of the pallbearers and thus quietly leave the funeral party from the church.
Upon arrival at the cemetery, the minister shall take his place at the head of the funeral party
and continue such exercises or read Scriptures as have been suggested or as may seem proper.
When the hearse arrives at the cemetery, the pallbearers stand in two lines to take the casket
out of the hearse , I would always stand behind them facing the casket, and when they are ready
to carry the gasket to the grave, I would turn and lead them to the grave.
Then we would proceed to the grave where we would usually have just Scripture and prayer.
After the prayer, I would immediately go to the family with appropriate words usually telling them
I am continuing to pray for them, and that I would be available any time they needed me
The conduct of the minister at the residence funeral upon its conclusion should be the same
as that of the church funeral just described.
In some cities and on some occasions the minister will not be required to go to the cemetery,
but generally speaking, it is expected of him, and, unless there is good reason for him not to go,
he should by all means go.
8. Another feature which should have that careful attention of the minister and the funeral director
is that of urging friends and others not to approach the bereaved while the funeral services are in progress.
At the home or at the church, friends should not approach the bereaved until conclusion of the service.
If such approaches are made they will result in nothing but confusion and disorder,
and will hinder, rather than help the bereaved.
At the cemetery, after the benediction is said, is the proper time for friends to go forward and speak words
of comfort and condolence.
Then such attentions are both appropriate and highly desirable and will produce the best measure of help
that can be offered on the occasion of the funeral.
Cooperation between the minister and the funeral director will procure this without offense to anyone.
9. In this connection it must be said that the minister's conduct in the sick room and at the death bed
are exceedingly important.
No rules can be laid down to govern the minister at such time because each instance will present situations
quite different from all others.
Physicians and nurses are usually very inpatient with the presence of ministers with patients
who are seriously ill; especially so if the minister insists upon reading the Bible and offering prayer,
which in the judgment of the physician will disturb the patient and produce harmful results.
Otherwise, it is better simply to be near at hand to offer what help may seem advisable
as the occasion may seem to demand.
The minister should be very discreet and ready for whatever is needed and proper in the circumstances.
Appropriate Scripture may be found in the list which will follow, and circumstances should dictate
the nature of the prayer.
10. The ministers should always call at the home very soon after the funeral to offer consolation and counsel.
He may, if it might be helpful to present a copy of the message that they may read later for comfort and help.
Personally, I never did this unless they requested it.
The minister should prepare himself for such service with care and should not neglect its performance in any way.
11. Every minister should have several sermons that he can have ready.
I have several funeral messages that you may find useful in my Special Sermons site.
You may find them at http://special5.freeoda.com and http://angelfire.com/az3/hlw1932
I will also add some from a "Pastor's Manual" that you may also find helpful.
12. Vary often the minister will find himself under the necessity of conducting the funeral service in connection
with some orders such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, Veterans, and maybe others.
Such joint services may be conducted without conflict and in due order by the simple means
of having an understanding before the funeral just what part the ministry is to perform
and just what part the representatives of the order are to perform.
Usually the Masons care to have only the exercises at the grave in their charge.
In this case the minister's part is concluded at the residence or at the church.
Every minister should acquaint himself fully with the wishes of the family and of the order,
and having done so should reach an exact agreement with those in charge as to the parts
which each is to be responsible for and when.
It is better to follow the Masonic custom and give the entire ceremony at the grave to the order,
reserving the ceremonies of the home or church for the minister.
Where the minister happens to be a member of the order himself he may act the part of chaplain
to the order and thus have part in all the exercises.
13. There seems to be an increasing demand for suitable poetry to use an funeral services.
So I will list a few to follow.
Conducting has been adapted by Dr. Harold L. White