Do Jehovah's Witnesses Have Funerals?

by Aaron Charles
Jehovah's Witnesses comfort people about death via their volunteer ministry.

Jehovah's Witnesses comfort people about death via their volunteer ministry.

Jehovah's Witnesses hold "memorials" -- to honor the deceased person's life, to grieve and to reflect on the brevity of life and a hope for the future; namely, a time in which the dead will be resurrected. The Witnesses' belief in the Bible is mostly what determines how their memorial services are conducted.

How They're Conducted

Family, friends and acquaintances are invited to attend the memorial service by word of mouth or by means of an obituary in a local newspaper. The service is held usually in a Kingdom Hall, which is what the Witnesses call their houses of worship. There a mature man, oftentimes a family friend, gives a public discourse about the person, his or her life, and some scriptural comments about why people die and what hope there is to reunite with with dead loved ones in the future. There's usually a special arrangement of flowers made for the service. Those who attend may receive a small leaflet about the person.

Why They're Conducted That Way

To explain why their memorial services are kept to mostly a modest gathering in the style of a public talk rather than a more dramatic ceremony, such as a Catholic Mass, the Witnesses cite the Bible verses of Ecclesiastes 7:1, 3, which say that sorrow is better than laughter and that the day of one's death is better than his day of birth. They take this to mean that a person's death is an opportunity to celebrate, with seriousness rather than merriment, what good things a person has accomplished in his life, and also to reflect on divine promises regarding the future.

Beliefs Associated With The Funeral

Jehovah's Witnesses believe the Bible teaches that when a person dies, he enters a state of nonexistence, in which he cannot think, feel or interact with the world around him. They base this belief on scriptures such as Ecclesiastes 9:5, which says that "the dead know nothing at all," and Ezekiel 18:4, which says that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." Therefore, they do not put on large, highly publicized funerals or parties. They do, however, maintain a hope in a global, earthly resurrection in the future, using Jesus' earthly resurrection of Lazarus and the words at Acts 24:15 -- which say that there will be a "resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous" -- as a precedent and justification for that belief.

Comfort and Community

In addition to spiritual reflection, the Witnesses also seek comfort from these memorial services -- comfort that they even invite the public to experience. For instance, in October 2012, a young woman named Whitney Heichel, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, was murdered, sending widespread shock and pain throughout the local community. The Witnesses, before having a private memorial service for close friends and family, organized a public service to which they invited the entire community. Clint Heichel, Whitney's husband and also one of Jehovah's Witnesses, said that they all wanted to "give the community a hug" and thank them for their support.

About the Author

Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."

Photo Credits

  • Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images