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Can you have a non-religious funeral?

Many people ask us, "can you have a non-religious funeral?". In short, the answer is yes, you can have a non-religious funeral. Although funerals have traditionally been held at religious establishments or lead by a religious leader, a funeral does not need to have any religious elements or be lead by a religious figure, anyone can lead a funeral service.


Arranging a funeral

If you’re planning ahead for the future, or if a friend or family member has passed away, then arranging a funeral for everyone to say goodbye can seem like a simple, one choice affair: Contact a Funeral Director, speak to a local religious leader, then organise a date and time for the funeral at a nearby place of worship.

Even though many people in the UK go down this route when the time comes, there are actually a lot of alternatives to the ‘traditional’ religious funeral that is often the go-to when someone dies.

According to the 2011 census, almost 25% of the people surveyed stated they had no religion, showing that there’s a sizeable chunk of the adult population who aren’t religious at all. So what are the non-religious funeral service options? Read on to find out. 


Funeral laws

Questions about funeral laws are often the first to crop up when someone starts arranging a funeral. Do you need to have a religious funeral? Can you have a non-religious funeral? Do I / does the person who has died, need to have attended the place of worship for a funeral to take place there?

The answer here is that funerals in the UK can be very flexible, with some guidelines and rules that vary from establishment to establishment. The only law that governs funerals comes from the Births and Deaths Registration Act, which states that the body must be disposed of in the correct way -  so there isn’t actually any legal obligation to even have a funeral. You can read more about whether a funeral is definitely the best option in our do you have to have a funeral? article.


How to conduct a non-religious funeral service?

When it comes to places of worship, many religious establishments in the UK will happily deliver a funeral that caters to the requirements of the family or sticks close to the person’s beliefs or wishes. Many religious funerals don’t have to be overtly religious and most religious leaders will discuss what will happen at the funeral beforehand. If this involves leaving out certain elements of religion, then it may be possible for the person leading the funeral to amend their usual ceremony to be more in line with the person’s beliefs.

However, some religions and religious leaders require that the person should have been a part of the religion in some way, or won’t deviate from ‘the norm’ when it comes to funeral ceremonies or rites. Cases vary, but many religions have a set of rules surrounding funerals that can’t be altered.

This is where things can get tricky, so the decision to be made here if you aren’t sure if a religious funeral is right is to look at what’s possible, and maybe go for a completely non-religious funeral to avoid any doubts.


Non-religious funeral options

Humanist funerals

This is one of the easiest options if the person who has passed away wasn’t religious in any way, or had no association to a place of worship, but would still like the common elements of a funeral. 

A humanist funeral includes a non-religious funeral service, led by a person known as a ‘celebrant’ and focuses on the person and their life, rather than religious readings or rites. Celebrants work with the family of the person who has passed away, or even the person themselves to create a unique and meaningful funeral. Humanist funerals are a great option if you want to create a customised funeral delivered by a great public speaker, without having to rely on a religious leader.


Family-led funerals

Anyone can conduct a non-religious funeral service. A lot of people opt for a non-religious celebrant, but if handing over the important job of leading the funeral to someone who didn’t know the person doesn’t sound appealing, then leading the funeral yourself with friends or family members could be an excellent option.

Family-led funerals are not just meaningful but also a great way to ensure nothing important gets missed. It’s also a much more personal way for close ones to say goodbye and gives everyone a chance to get involved if they want to.

As with any funeral, you can include music, readings and eulogies in the ceremony. We’ve included some popular non-religious funeral readings you may want to include in the service.

A great way of holding a family-led funeral but still getting the correct guidance and support is by using our Attended Funeral service. The benefit of using an attended service is that you’ll be able to get help and advice on what to include, help with dealing with any logistics or funeral directors, as well as any further support if things get difficult. Attended services are ideal if you’re keen to keep things personal, but aren’t sure where to start in terms of organisation or structure of the ceremony itself.


Direct funerals

If you don’t want any fuss once you’re gone, or if the person who has passed away wasn’t keen on having a ceremony at all, then a direct burial or cremation could be the best option. This type of non-religious funeral takes place without any mourners present and without a service beforehand. A direct funeral is a good option if any kind of ceremony, whether it is religious or non-religious, is unwanted.

Simplicity offer a direct cremation service from just £995.


The key takeaway when it comes to non-religious funerals is that funerals in the UK don’t have to fit into a certain mould. The most important function of any funeral is to create positive memories of the person’s life for those in attendance, no matter what format that takes.

Many people request colourful or even happy funerals with jokes and funny anecdotes, whereas other funerals involve a few of the person’s favourite songs and maybe a eulogy and some reading from close ones. Religion certainly doesn’t have to be part of any funeral, but it can also play a small part if required – flexibility should be the word kept in mind when planning a funeral.


If you’re still struggling to figure out the best way to arrange a funeral or if you’re having trouble coping with the loss of someone close, don’t forget to check our help and advice section, as well as our online grief support service. As well as providing guidance, we can also be there just to listen and provide some support, so feel free to contact us at anytime.

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