How to have a multi-faith funeral

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Four minute read

Most funeral ceremonies will draw on the beliefs, values and traditions of the person who has died — whether religious, spiritual or cultural. But it’s not always that simple to decide on the right approach.

What if the person who died held different beliefs or traditions from their family or friends? Or if the person whose life you are celebrating had a faith which changed during their lifetime, or one which they didn’t talk about with others?

Planning a funeral which reflects different beliefs or traditions can be a source of tension — especially at a time that’s already difficult, when people are feeling vulnerable or grieving.

At Poppy’s, we come alongside people from many different traditions and faiths to help them plan funerals which are meaningful for the people attending, and that honour the person who has died. Here, we share a few things we’ve learnt along the way.

1. You can ask anything

Trying to bring together different traditions or practices within a funeral might mean having to think differently and push boundaries. We are here to support you in your choices and, if it’s possible, we will help you do it.

Poppy’s funeral director, Hannah, gives an example: “I had one funeral where, sadly, a husband and wife had died within a month of each other. Their children wanted to have a joint funeral, but the parents were of different denominations — one being Catholic and the other Jacobite. The local Catholic church allowed the Jacobite priests to conduct the husband's part of the service in the same church, after the wife's Catholic service.

“This was not something that had been done before, so permission had to be sought from the Church hierarchy. It meant a huge amount to the children. In life, their parents’ love had bridged denominations, nationalities and cultures, so it was right that, in death, they should be honoured in the same way.”

Contact us with any questions about planning a funeral.

2. You can make small changes that matter

Often people will choose a ceremony rooted in one faith or belief tradition, but make small additions or adaptations to include others. For example, a Catholic Mass which invites non-Catholics to receive a blessing during communion, or a humanist service which allows for a moment of reflection, where those of faith are encouraged to pray privately if they wish.

Music, chants, prayers or readings from different faiths can be included within a ceremony, even if it is predominantly non-religious or from a single faith.

3. You can choose the celebrant who is right for you

Choosing a celebrant with an understanding of a particular faith or belief, or experience of blending different faith traditions together, is crucial to help you develop a ceremony that’s meaningful for you.

At Poppy’s, we find out as much as we can about what you want and need, so that we can suggest celebrants who we know well and who we think would be a good match for you.

Read more in our guide to how to choose a funeral celebrant.

“I've yet to come up against any real opposition to including different faith traditions from religious leaders,” says Poppy’s funeral director Amy. “Most clients — at least the ones I have planned funerals for — want to have a service that’s almost totally in line with the tradition of the religious leader they have chosen, but with perhaps some music, a chant or a prayer from another tradition. Even if the leader is unfamiliar with what’s being asked for, they are usually happy to make space and time for whatever the request may be.”

4. You can include everyone

Funeral celebrant Gill Manly, who often leads funeral ceremonies which include Buddhist or Pagan elements, explains how important it is to find simple ways to include everyone in the ceremony: “I explain, in the opening of the service, that I will be using prayers from a certain tradition and talk about how these will be woven through the service. If I’m reading something in a different language, I will always read an English translation as well.

“It’s about finding a balance — honouring the person who has died in a way that’s respectful and true, without complete immersion in a tradition or practice which could exclude people unfamiliar with it. It’s all about gauging your audience and understanding what they need.”

Read how Richard's family planned his funeral to reflect his Jewish and Buddhist beliefs.

5. You can start with what’s most important

Gill explains her starting point with every client, whatever their belief system or faith background. “Sometimes family and friends come to me in a state of paralysis,” she says. “They panic about not doing the right thing. So it helps to go back to something very simple - what did that person love and what mattered to them? That’s where we start.”

Don't miss our other blogs on how to plan your own funeral and how to plan a meaningful memorial.

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