Quaker funerals: community and contribution
6 April 2018 by Paul Parker
Government legislation permits the holding of funerals in places of worship if certain strict measures can be put in place. PLEASE read the guidance below to be clear on what this requires.
Could this be the path to a new sense of unity, the community of those who had known pain, and thence had found depth, so that creeds and traditions became but signposts to an acceptance of sadness and an entry into a depth where we found harmony with each other? Was this the way forward to a deeper unity with people of other religions or indeed of none? Perhaps we could start with the simple discovery that words divide and sadness unites
Robert Tod, 1989 Quaker faith & practice 22.82
Government legislation allows for funerals to take place in places of worship.
Guidance about arrangements for funerals varies in different parts of the UK. Links to the relevant guidance are at the end of this article. Also check information from your local authority. It may have information which relates to local circumstances.
Please read the guidance carefully before planning. It may be sensible to consult with insurers or legal advisers.
Funerals may also be held at a crematorium or at a graveside. Funerals may therefore be held at a graveside in a Quaker burial ground. A Quaker funeral could also be held at a graveside in another burial ground, such as a natural burial ground. All government guidance on attendance and social distancing must be followed. Make sure that you know if the funeral is to take place in a region with additional local Covid alert restrictions as this may affect how other aspects of the funeral commemorations are conducted.
Take advice from the local authority guidance or funeral director about how many people can attend. This may include close family who are considered extremely vulnerable and there will need to be sufficient protection in place for them. All funerals should give due regard to safe social distancing. The venue will decide how many people may safely be present.
Guidance permits “a celebrant of choice" to attend a funeral. This also means that this person can travel to the funeral. For Quakers this would be the elders who have responsibility for the “right holding of meeting for worship" (Quaker faith & practice 12.12.f). People attending the funeral for work or in roles are not considered part of the maximum number permitted to attend.
Normally there would be two Friends who are elders for a funeral or memorial meeting. The attendance of two Friends during the pandemic would be at the discretion of the venue, and personal safety needs to be considered. Quaker Meetings should think about the best people to do this. If current elders are in a high-risk group, it may be sensible to appoint someone at lower risk to carry out this service.
Most crematoria can live stream or record funerals. Some are currently more lenient than usual about people doing this informally.
General information about Quaker funerals and memorial meetings can be found in
There are different rules on funerals during the pandemic in the different jurisdictions of Britain. See below for government advice:
Quaker Social Action has a guide (offsite link) on how to organise a meaningful funeral during the pandemic and explains how to involve people who cannot be present. Quaker Social Action also provides guidance on other aspects of funeral planning and dealing with a death.
The National Association of Funeral Directors' website give practical guidance on arranging and holding funerals and explains some of the current guidance.
Quakers often hold memorial meetings for Friends who have died some time after their funeral. There is no set time period between death and a memorial meeting and this often allows the rawness of death to have passed allowing a celebration of an individual's life to take place at a memorial meeting.
It may be helpful to think about holding a memorial meeting at some point in the future when public gatherings and meeting together for worship is allowed.
However, there is also great comfort in sharing together when the loss is new. Try to focus on the needs and wishes of those who were closest to the person who died. It may be helpful to arrange a formal or informal time to share memories and come together in grief, using suitable technology.
If you are thinking of holding a memorial meeting it is important that you read the guidance carefully to ensure that you are holding it within the legal framework. A memorial meeting may not be able to take place in the same way that a funeral might. Please check local guidance on post-funeral events such as wakes, memorials and other commemorations.
An option that many Quakers are embracing is use of on-line memorial or tribute pages. Britain Yearly Meeting has information about how to set up a memorial page for Friends. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Many faith and other groups have made suggestions about ways to come together when people cannot gather in person. Some links are below – there are many others.
There is advice and guidance available in Funerals and Memorial Meetings: Volume 2 of the Eldership and Oversight handbook series. It gives an outline to planning a funeral or memorial meeting and step-by-step guidance including helpful things to remember.
At this time supporting bereaved Friends will be a real challenge and one that meetings will need to consider carefully. Bearing in mind that not everyone's needs are the same, think about the following:
This is a time that we all need to help support those in our Quaker community who have responsibility for conducting funerals. Help Friends with eldership and oversight responsibility by having a conversation with them about your wishes or by filling in the form below. It is particularly important now in case arrangements need to be made by a person not known to an individual who has died or their family.
It is a good idea to make other preparations for death and incapacity. This includes having an up to date will, financial planning, living wills and organ donation wishes. Further information on these matters can be found on the Money Saving Expert website. The Fundraising Team can also provide guidance on leaving a legacy in your will for Quaker Work.
6 April 2018 by Paul Parker