Quaker funerals: community and contribution
6 April 2018 by Paul Parker
Government legislation permits the holding of funerals in places of worship, as certain strict measures can be put in place. PLEASE read the guidance below to be clear on what this requires. No other worship or activities may take place in Quaker buildings with the exception of essential voluntary or public service. Updated 29 April 2020
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 UK administrative areas. 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 making a decision. 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.
Families are asked to keep funeral attendance at a minimum. However, close family and, in some cases, close friends are permitted to attend. This may include close family who are considered extremely vulnerable, with 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.
Friends are encouraged to consider holding a memorial meeting at a later date when gatherings are permitted.
Guidance permits “a celebrant of choice" to attend a funeral. This also means that this person is allowed to 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).
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. 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 are able to 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 Chapter 17 of Quaker faith & practice (offsite link).
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.
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.
Winston's Wish (offsite link) for ideas on supporting children and young people.
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 Friends who have responsibility for conducting funerals. Help Friends with eldership and oversight responsibility by filling in the form below, or conversation with local Friends about your wishes. 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 also a good idea (pandemic or not) 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.
Quakers in Britain and Woodbrooke are developing help and support for the challenges which we all face in the pandemic.
We are working on ideas for upholding one another, funerals and memorial meetings during and after the pandemic. We will be updating these pages over the next few weeks.
Quakers in Britain and Woodbrooke will be offering a range of online conversations on these topics over the next few weeks – please see below for details.
If you have particular experience in this field and would like to be involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. For instance, experience in Death Cafés, bereavement counselling, or being a celebrant or funeral director etc.
Also use this email address to send any thoughts, questions, ideas or experiences which you think might be helpful.
6 April 2018 by Paul Parker