How to choose a funeral celebrant

Jane Morgan, funeral celebrant, standing in front of coffin speaking into microphone | Poppy's funerals | London funeral director

Five minute read

At Poppy's, we work with dozens of different funeral celebrants as they craft and deliver meaningful funeral services for a diverse range of people. Find out how to choose the right celebrant for you and how we can help.

What is a funeral celebrant?

A celebrant is a person who is trained and experienced in creating funeral services. You might choose a celebrant, rather than a religious minister, if you want a non-religious funeral — but many celebrants will happily include prayers, hymns or religious readings in the services they lead.

A humanist celebrant will lead a service that reflects a world view which celebrates positive human achievements and experiences. Find out more about humanist funerals.

How could a celebrant help me plan a funeral service?

A celebrant will want to talk to you in detail about the person who has died. Celebrants can be fantastic at asking the right questions to really draw out the essence of a person. They'll want to know about their life, their personality and what made them tick. Together you’ll discuss how to create a funeral service that reflects that person and how you wish to remember them.

A good celebrant will help you set the tone that’s right for you, guided by your choices of music, poems, readings and words of farewell or by suggesting choices to you.

A celebrant can write and deliver the entire service, or they simply 'top and tail' it for you, assembling family contributions into a helpful running order and making sure everyone knows what they are doing on the day.

What's the celebrant's role on the day of the funeral?

At the crematorium, a celebrant will know how all the tech works. They can take responsibility for making sure everything is in place and that the right button gets pressed at the right time.

They'll encourage you to speak on the day, if that's what you want to do. They can also create ceremonial rituals that involve all attendees, add humour or bring a sense of solemnity.

In short, a great celebrant — such as those who work with Poppy's — will take a load off your shoulders. Then you can focus on getting what you need from the funeral without worrying about how everything will come together.

What should I look for when choosing a funeral celebrant?

Deciding whether or not you want to include religious content is a good starting point. Some of the celebrants we work with are trained religious ministers and will deliver a shortened version of a religious service. Others will include a little or no religious content at all.

Often the most important thing is the type of person you'd like to lead the service and the tone you want them to set. Many of Poppy's clients tell us they want a light tone, to enable a celebration of life that is not too mournful. But that might not feel right for you. Perhaps you feel that a traditional or formal style is more appropriate, or you would prefer an honest sharing of grief and the pain of loss.

We find the best celebrant matches are ones where the celebrant really 'gets' the person who died. The match could be because of religious or spiritual beliefs; their philosophy or outlook on life; shared experiences or specific character traits.

Training is important — being a celebrant is not an easy job. It requires thought and hard work to support families. Being part of an organisation can help celebrants feel supported themselves, particularly with more difficult or complicated funerals.

How can Poppy's help me choose the right celebrant?

We have seen a lot of celebrants in action, and we keep details for those that we think would be a good match for our clients.

We ask each client what they need from a celebrant and how many celebrant recommendations they would like. We give them a small amount of information, and then we encourage them to make contact with each one so that they can make their own choice.

We will also ask about who will be there on the day. Should we look for a celebrant with expertise at delivering funerals written with certain people in mind? Do you need to think about elderly parents, for example, or someone with dementia? How about children? Is there a cultural aspect that we should consider?

We also like to know if the person who has died had any particular passions or interests. Was the person a gardener? A keen reader? A traveller with a love of India? Any of these things can help us find the perfect celebrant to work with you.

How do you know when you’ve found the right match with a celebrant?

Every pairing we make is a thoughtful connection. Here are some examples of where the relationship between celebrant and the family and friends planning the funeral resulted in a really meaningful occasion.

We organised a funeral for an older Scottish lady who loved watching Westerns and Strictly Come Dancing and had a great sense of humour. We found a celebrant who shared her sense of humour. She brought along a cowboy hat to place it on the lady's coffin, and finished the service with Strictly style score cards. These touches made the service really special for her family.

We paired a lapsed Anglican — whose family thought she would have wanted some prayers but did not want the structure of a church service — with a celebrant who was for many years a vicar. He was able to include prayers, non-religious readings and the family's own words in a service that began with the Doctor Who theme tune.

Celebrants are often only needed to play a supporting role. One woman, who had completely planned and written her mother’s funeral, thought she’d only want a celebrant who could present the service on the day. However, the celebrant was able to add two extra touches.

The first was placing the lady's bank teller name sign in front of her coffin for the service, and at the end, turning it to display 'till closed'. The second was giving out Werther's originals to everyone on the way out of the funeral as a reminder of the lady's favourite treat.

The tragic death of a school child left a family wanting a celebrant who shared their child’s love of science. We found a humanist celebrant who was also a science teacher and who delivered for them a beautifully reflective service that celebrated a short life, but did not shy away from the pain of their loss.

Read more of our #HowToTuesdays blogs — find out about how to plan a meaningful memorial or how to choose flowers for a funeral.

Image courtesy of Jane Morgan Funeral Ceremonies

Discover more articles