Funerals and Memorial Services

Guidelines for a Christian Funeral or Memorial Service
(The body of the deceased is present at a funeral, but not at a memorial service.)

What We Believe About Death: "The central doctrine of the Christian faith is the resurrection...Christians should seek to make the occasion of death a time in which they reaffirm with joy the hope of the gospel."—Presbyterian Book of Order

1. Death has been conquered by God in Christ.

2. As Christ's followers, we will share in his victory.

3. Not even death can separate us from the loving presence of God (Romans 8).

4. Hope for eternal life is not based upon our "worth" or our works.

5. Christians can freely commend to God all who die in Christ, regardless of earthly status or merit.

If this is our faith, then a service following death may freely affirm this faith.


[1] What is the first step in arranging a funeral or memorial service? When a death occurs, the church office should be notified immediately. The Book of Order gives the pastor sole charge in ordering the service. He or she will want to meet with the family as soon as possible after a death occurs and help them relate the reality of death to the reality of God's promises in Christ. The pastor will consider the family's and deceased's wishes about the service. A form for recording such wishes may be downloaded below.

[2] What is the appropriate disposition of remains? Presbyterians believe that interment (burial), cremation, or donation for medical purposes are all appropriate. Common Presbyterian practice is that a brief graveside service beheld at the cemetery before a memorial service in the sanctuary. However, other practices may be followed. The guiding principle is that services are worship directed toward God.

[3] What are the appropriate elements of a funeral service? The purpose forthe service is to both remember and give thanks for the life of a loved one,and to remember and give thanks for the promises of God. All elements of the service are to be consistent with the biblical affirmation of God's power over death.
• Emphasis will be placed on scripture readings declaring Christian hope.
• As an expression of common faith, it is appropriate that the congregation join in singing hymns which declare our belief in life everlasting.
• The brief sermon attests to the hope and promises of scripture
• Prayers may be offered in thanks for the God-given life of the one who has died, and of intercession for family members and other loved ones who grieve.

[4] Where should the funeral be held? Usually, in the sanctuary. That's where we are baptized, nurtured, married, and have received the Lord's Supper as the sign of God's continuing grace for us. The familiar setting of our normal worship surroundings brings assurance and comfort.

[5] Flowers & caskets: The purpose of a funeral is to worship God, so we avoid ostentation and undue expense. A pall (white cloth, symbolizing the resurrection) is a more appropriate casket covering than cut flowers. Many Presbyterian families suggest gifts be given to charities and church memorials in lieu of flowers.

[6] What about "open caskets?" Presbyterians leave the casket closed during the service so that attention may be directed toward the Author of our salvation. When desired, the family may view the body—and receive friends who wish to do so—at a funeral home the day before the service.

[7] What about fraternal or civic rites such as the Masonic ritual? The Book of Order says, "The Christian service of witness to the resurrection shall be considered complete in itself, and another hour and place should be appointed for any fraternal or civic rite." Members of such organizations may desire to conduct their ritual at the funeral home, then attend the church service together.