Funeral Etiquette for Ministers

by April Sanders, studioD

Funerals are another part of the job for ministers, but they should not be treated casually. The family of the deceased looks to the minister for guidance and more importantly, for comfort. For these reasons, although funerals are an expected part of a minister's duties, they can rightly be called one of the most important parts. As such, ministers should be very careful to follow the accepted rules of etiquette when conducting a funeral.

When Someone Dies

Once you have heard that a member of your church has passed, visit the family as soon as possible. Don't wait for them to come to you. Go to where they are, and spend some time with them. Express your sorrow and ask them if they want to talk about it. They may just want to grieve, or they may want to talk about how it happened. Offer to pray with them, and then offer to help in any way possible. They may not know what to do next, so go over the steps with them. For example, you may gently ask if anyone in the family has contacted or met with the mortician, and if not, if they would like you to accompany them. Offer to meet with the family again soon to plan the funeral, but do not try to plan anything immediately after the death.

Planning the Funeral

Meet with the family at a time and location that is convenient for them to plan the funeral. If they don't know where to begin, gently offer some suggestions for the order and content of the service. For example, you may offer some relevant scriptures or suggest the services of a fellow church member who might be able provide some music. Otherwise, listen to and respect the wishes of the family. Take notes as you discuss the deceased, as the family may want you to include some warmhearted stories during the service.

During the Funeral

Arrive at least 20 minutes early so that you can prepare for last-minute changes, upset guests and other final details. Obtain a copy of the program, if there is one, so that you can double-check your duties. Be open to changes, such as a granddaughter wanting to say a prayer, and write that into the program. Ask the family if they would like you to walk in with them or be seated near them. As the funeral ends, stay near the casket in the event that anyone would like to come up and pray or pay their respects, and then walk the casket to the hearse. If there is a grave-site service, again, be available to the mourners and remain near the grave until the last guest leaves.

Other Considerations

Attend the viewing, if there is one, and bring your wife as a show of respect. Money is sometimes a tricky issue, and it is also a personal one. Some ministers ask for pay upfront, based on a flat fee that they usually charge, while others do not bring it up at all and instead hope to receive an honorarium, or gift of money. Finally, don't forget the family after the funeral. Call them often -- once a week for six weeks is recommended by -- and offer them the resources of a professional grief counselor if needed.

About the Author

April Sanders is a writer, teacher and the mother of three boys. Raised on an organic farm, she is an avid gardener and believes that good growth starts with a rich, supportive foundation -- a philosophy that serves her well in both gardening and teaching. Sanders has written for Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, Smarted Balanced, PARCC and others.

Photo Credits

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