Funeral Types

Victorian Attitudes

Following Victoria’s example, it became customary for families to go through elaborate rituals to commemorate their dead. This included wearing mourning clothes, having a lavish (and expensive) funeral, curtailing social behaviour for a set period of time, and erecting an ornate monument on the grave.

This idea of a “good death,” requiring painstaking detail and a small fortune. Failing to properly mourn on a grand scale was considered a societal and moral failure. Considering that there was a high mortality rate at the dawn of the 19th century, especially among children (at around 50%), families found themselves perpetually ensconced in this macabre business during the Victorian era.

Current Attitudes

However, things are changing as people accept that death does not have to be foreboding, mysterious or expensive. The past 20 years have seen more people move away from traditional, formal religious ceremonies, to create events that more accurately reflect the life and loves of the deceased. 

Hybrid funeral ceremonies which mix religious and secular elements reflect the UK’s diverse society and have effectively become the modern British funeral. The popularity of such events stems from the ability to accommodates greater personalisation. People are no longer willing to be told what is, and what isn’t, appropriate when remembering a loved one. They  can instead request an event that’s part grieving, part celebratory, remembering  the uniqueness of the individuals

Modern British funerals are characterised by:

  • a mixture of secular and religious music and readings;
  • greater participation of family and friends in reading tributes, specially written poems, contributing live or recorded music;
  • informal dress code and colourful eco-friendly coffins and caskets;
  • greater accessibility to mourners of other faiths and no faith.

Religious Funerals

Christianity has many forms, adapts to different cultures and is historically diverse. A key belief in Christian funerals is the belief in life after death.

*       Church of England

Common Worship now allows for more flexibility within the funeral service, together with permission to use approved material found within the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Within a church, the current Vicar / Priest / Minister has absolute authority and their permission is needed if the family wants another minister to officiate. Committal can be either burial or cremation in the Church of England.

A funeral service might be held in the church or crematorium. In the case of burial, the committal is usually brief, although some families may wish for a hymn to be sung. The church service is halted at the point of committal in church, to be resumed at the church graveside or cemetery where the grave has been dug.

Everyone has the right, regardless of church attendance, to be buried in the churchyard of the parish in which they die, if they have one and space is available and is not closed to new burials. Each diocese has Churchyard Regulations explaining graveyard rules including headstones and memorials.

 *       Roman Catholic Funerals

Funeral requirements have changed in recent years. It is now possible for families to have a service in church that is not a requiem mass. The body may be cremated or buried and priests may even take a graveside service only.

For many practicing Roman Catholic families, it is important to ensure that a priest has attended the body at, or shortly after, death and that the coffin is received into church the evening prior to the funeral. For many, it is important that a requiem mass is held and in many cases the family will provide their own bearers, who will carry the coffin.

*       Other Religious Services

See end of page for a short overview of various religious beliefs and diversities.

Non or Partly Religious Funerals

There is an increasing secularisation in the UK and families who have no contact with religion during their lives may find it inappropriate to have a funeral service tied into a particular faith.

*       Civil Funerals

“A funeral that is driven by the wishes, beliefs and values of the deceased and their family, not by the beliefs or ideology of the person conducting the funeral”    Institute of Civil Funerals

The term ‘Civil Funeral’ (Anne Barber – 2002) is now integrated into the funeral industry and most funeral directors and bereavement professionals are now aware of what a civil funeral celebrant can provide.  

The following two points are the main differentiations:

>       Religious content can be easily included if wished

>       The client will be unaware of the religious or philosophical beliefs of the celebrant

*       Humanist

The following definition of ‘humanism’ applies to funerals:

‘An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters’.

Humanists UK describe humanists as:

‘Non-religious people who believe that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity’.

For more information – visit their website at:

*       Do It Yourself Funerals

There is no obligation to use a funeral director at all. Arranging and conducting a funeral without employing one can be rewarding.

If this is a consideration, it is recommended to contact the Natural Death Centre for free advice and help. Click Here for the pages on DIY Funerals

 Other Definitions

*       Definitions:


One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.


A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena.


Not connected with religious matters.

Other Funeral Types

*       Public Health Funerals

This is where a family chooses to refuse to dispose of the body, in which case the local council have a statutory obligation to bury or cremate it and then attempt to recover the cost from the estate.

If the estate has no money, the council has to pay for this ‘public health funeral’ (modern term for a ‘pauper funeral’).

*       Council Funeral

Some councils have contracted with a particular local funeral director to arrange a ‘council funeral’.

This option severely reduces choice, not least the choice of funeral director and the total cost may still exceed what the government’s Social Fund (Funeral Payment Scheme) can cover.

*       Jewish

Judaism does not speak of an after life but a World To Come, upon death you are to be judged. 

There are also different types of Jewish religion; 

– Conservative

– Reconstructionist

– Reform

– Orthodox

Each may denote a different requirement for service and burial.

*       Muslim

Islam is a collective of many different sects and has different belief systems and observances, so a Muslim funeral can differ from location to location.

Many believe in entering Paradise which is achieve by being a good person in their own life. At the point of the end of the known universe – the Day of Judgement, souls will either rise to Paradise or descend to hell.

*       Buddhist

Buddhism and Hinduism are very similar, originating within the same Indian Subcontinent this shouldn’t be a surprise.

The basic difference is the contradiction, Hindus will seek Atman and the self / the soul to reach a goal of ‘heaven / nirvana’, whereas Buddhists will seek the Anatman, the not self / not soul, to cancel out the progeny of existence in a bid to live within Nirvana.

*       Baptist

What is known as a form of Christianity is also further split within the Baptism Church.

With no strict adherence to faith guidelines, each Church that is Baptist could have slightly different beliefs meaning a funeral service could differ also.  

At the heart however is the idea that faith in Jesus Christ will deliver eternal life in some form.

*       Anglican

The clue is in the name but Church of England and Anglican Church are not world’s apart, on some issues however they do differ. On English soil the Anglican church is the Church of England. 

Elsewhere in the world, the equal of C of E in Wales would be the Church of Wales and this continues across almost 160 countries.

While their leaders respect hierarchy of the C of E, the Anglican Church is split across many lines, Episcopal, Evangelical, Continuing, Realignment, Liberal and Communion. All pretty much believe in there being a real heaven and hell and upon Judgement Day those that had faith will be reborn

*       Eastern Orthodox

There are many atheists that believe heaven is the life we lead now. 

Without wishing to simplify the many veins of the Orthodox religion, this belief is similar. 

In Orthodoxy both Heaven and Hell is not the final destination but the life you have shared with God.

If you love God and observe a Godly life yours time on Earth will be enriched and be a form of Heaven. 

However, if you lead a Godless life and hold traits that are not in tune with God, your life may well be Hell on Earth.

*       Sikh

Sikhism is centred around the reincarnation of the soul or transmigration. The human form of this cycle is seen as the pinnacle of the continual journey.

It offers a single opportunity to be in union with God – Waheguru, the Giver of Knowledge, through what most people understand to be living a respectable life and meeting the terms of Karma

*       Non-Conformist Protestant

You may think this subscribed to history but there are still a few churches today with great followings that have split from the state. These so called free churches or non-conformist do not conform to anything a Presbyterian or Anglican / C of E religious leader may convey.

These churches are accepted and vary from The Quakers, Unitarian, Pentecostal, Methodist and Baptists to the Church of Christ, Scientist. There are still many other smaller and individual free of state churches and free churchman in the UK.

*       Hindu

Rather than a spiritual form of after life, Hindus believe reincarnation and the basis of the next life will be judged upon that of the previous, most of the world understands this as Karma.

In Hinduism this cycle of rebirth into another life force (Samsara) can only reach a higher stage – Moksha. 

Like Karma, most in the world would understand this to be equal to the Buddhist term Nirvana.