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Can you have a non-religious funeral?

Funerals today can be religious or non-religious depending on the beliefs of the person who has died – it's all down to personal choice.

Whilst having a funeral in a religious setting used to be viewed as the more traditional funeral, attitudes are changing, and last year alone, non-religious funerals rose by 18%.*

What is a non-religious funeral called?

A non-religious funeral is sometimes known as a celebration of life or a humanist funeral. However, a celebration of life ceremony can still have religious readings and hymns if requested.

What is an atheist funeral?

An atheist funeral is a funeral ceremony for someone who didn’t follow a religion in life and rejects religious views associated with life and death. As an atheist funeral doesn’t contain any religious readings or hymns, mourners can read extracts from a favourite book, recite a poem or share stories of their loved one. This can be a heartfelt tribute in their memory, celebrating their life with family and friends.

What happens at a non-religious funeral?

A non-religious funeral can contain a choice of music, non-religious readings and personal tributes, just like a religious funeral. However, the exception will be the lack of religious content. There’ll be no prayers or reference to an afterlife in this memorial service as the loved one rejected the idea of religion in life. Friends and family can come together to express and share their sadness as well as celebrating a person's life in a simple, sincere way.

Where can a non-religious funeral take place?

A non-religious funeral can be held anywhere. The ceremony can take place at a crematorium or cemetery chapel, natural burial site or in a non-religious venue such as a parish hall or hotel. Services can also be held in some of our larger funeral homes or even in your own home.

If your loved one had a favourite place to visit and you’d like to arrange the service there, speak to your local funeral director and we’ll see if we can help arrange this for you.

Who can conduct a non-religious funeral?

Anyone can conduct a non-religious funeral ceremony. This could include family members or friends, or you could use a non-religious funeral celebrant. You can plan what you’d like to be included in the ceremony and the order of how the memorial will run. Here’s some things you’d might like to include:

  • Pick a selection of music, favourite songs for the beginning, middle and end of the ceremony
  • Readings, by a non-religious celebrant or family members and friends
  • You may choose to read a poem at the funeral, whether it be one that was personal to the person who has died, or one that is special to you
  • Share stories of your loved one

What do you wear to a non-religious funeral?

This is similar for those attending a more traditional funeral. The etiquette for what to wear can be a choice previously made by the person who has passed away. They may have wanted everyone to wear bright colours or wear something that means something to them, for example a favourite flower of theirs. Whilst there are no set rules for what to wear at a non-religious funeral, it’s good to dress respectfully, therefore darker colours may be more appropriate, unless otherwise specified by the family.

What do you say at a non-religious funeral?

Offer condolences and words of comfort appropriate of the tone of the funeral ceremony. You may wish to share a heartfelt story with a mourning loved one and reminisce about a shared experience. However, if the non-religious ceremony has a more somber tone, perhaps offer sincere condolences and simply acknowledge their loss.

If you’d like to contribute to the ceremony, speak with a family member or someone who's helping arrange the memorial, to see is this would be possible.

If you’d like to know more about non-religious funerals speak to your local funeral director who will be able to discuss the different options.

*SunLife (2020), Cost of Dying Report,

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