Secular funerals, or humanist funerals, are a growing trend that’s shaping modern funeral traditions.
The term humanist comes from the idea of celebrating human ceremonies typically without the adherence to any particular religion or faith. These personal ceremonies include weddings, baby namings, funerals, and memorials. And they are becoming increasingly popular.
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Humanist Funerals Growing Every Year
As the number of people that no longer identify with a major religion (for some that means no religion at all) continues to grow, the number of humanist funerals is expected to rise drastically.
These religiously unaffiliated are one of the fastest growing groups in North America. From 2007 to 2014, the number of unaffiliated grew from 16% to more than 22% in the United States. National Geographic wrote that the “nones” are “the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe… In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.”
As this group grows, we’ve started seeing changes to our funeral traditions. In a 2015 report, the NFDA found that the “surge in the number of Americans that no longer identify with any religion has contributed to the decline of the historically traditional funeral in America — and the rise in cremation as the disposition of choice.”
But even as cremation rises, families are still choosing to hold humanist memorial services. So what exactly are humanist funerals? And how do they differ from a traditional funeral?
What Makes a Humanist Funeral?
A humanist funeral can vary greatly. They can closely resemble traditional funerals, or they can involve something as unique as scattering ashes while skydiving. The Telegraph wrote that a humanist funeral is “unique to the particular person, there is no script and many people have expressed their thanks for how thoughtful and personal humanist ceremonies have been for their loved ones.”
The most common aspects of a humanist funeral include the following:
- Personal music to open the ceremony (typically the deceased’s favorite song or music)
- Opening words from a celebrant/funeral director
- A tribute and thoughts about the life of the deceased
- Selected readings of poetry or prose
- Moments of silence for reflection
- Closing words from celebrant followed by a closing song
As you can see, the main aspects of a humanist funeral share a lot in common with our traditional ceremonies. These main aspects are left intentionally broad. That’s so families and the celebrant have a lot of room to inject the personality of the deceased into the ceremony. The ability to personalize each aspect is what helps make the ceremony so unique and meaningful.
Ideas You Can Incorporate
Your funeral home may soon see requests for more nontraditional services from families. As the focus shifts from religious traditions to humanist traditions, here are ways you can offer unique and “new” traditions.
- Change the location. A humanist funeral doesn’t have to take place at a church or even the funeral home. Ask the family about choosing to celebrate the deceased at a place like a park or even a backyard that’s special to their memory.
- Work with a celebrant. Celebrants can be a valuable resource when planning a personalized service. You can look at the Humanist Society to find celebrants near you. Alternatively, you or your staff can get a celebrant certification from the NFDA.
- Create cremation ceremonies. One of the biggest misconceptions about cremation is that a family won’t want to memorialize a loved one. With cremation, there are plenty of ways to create meaningful and personal ceremonies that honor a person’s life and help those mourning. Check out our article on some ideas for unique cremation ceremonies.
- Break the routine. Don’t be afraid to shake things up. You could even have the post-funeral reception at the deceased’s favorite bar where everyone can toast their memory. Humanist funerals work well because they avoid a typical template or formula, making them easy to personalize.
- Capture memories. Find unique ways to capture the memory of the day so families have something to remember long after. Download our free eBook of 101 ways to memorialize a loved one.
Has your funeral home held a humanist or non-traditional funeral? Share your story with us in the comments below!