Baptist Funeral Traditions

May 24, 2010 | 8 comments

This post highlights funeral practices of Baptists in general, not specific to any convention, association, or denomination. The actual practices of individual families and congregations will vary within this religious tradition.

The 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge post about the service for Jim Henderson provides an example of a Baptist memorial service.

Treatment of the body: The body is usually viewed, either at a visitation event at the funeral home and/or during the funeral. Embalming and cremation are accepted.

Funeral or memorial services: Funerals usually take place within one week. The service may be held in a church or a funeral home and last 30 to 60 minutes, or possibly longer. A pastor performs the service, musicians contribute songs before, during and after the service, and family or friends give eulogies. A program indicating the order of the ceremony is distributed to attendees. The order is often an opening scripture, an invocation, music, the obituary, a scripture lesson, music, a sermon, music, and the benediction, before proceeding to the cemetery. A wide variety of readings from the Bible Old and New Testaments and Psalms may be used.

Do’s and Don’ts: Sign the guest book. Ushers will advise where to sit. If arriving late, do not enter when the bereaved family is entering or during prayers. It is not appropriate to take pictures or record the service (both audio and video). Guests of other faiths are expected to stand, kneel, read prayers aloud and sing with those present, unless this violates their religious beliefs. If choosing not to kneel or stand, remain seated. When viewing the body, which is optional, join the line of viewers and observe silently and somberly. Express your condolences to the family after the service. It is appropriate to visit the bereaved at home after the funeral, but call first.

Interment: Guests should attend. At graveside, a brief service includes Scripture reading, prayer recitation, committal of the casket into the ground, and a benediction.

Post-Event Reception: The family may hold a reception at the church, home, or a restaurant. Food is served, but no alcohol. No religious services are held in the home.

Gifts: Upon learning about the death, telephone or visit the bereaved to offer condolences and sympathies. It is appropriate to send flowers to the home before the funeral or to the location where the funeral will be held. The family may request memorial contributions in lieu of flowers, which will be specified in the obituary. Charitable contributions may be given to the spouse or adult children of the deceased before or after the funeral. Food may be sent to the bereaved at home after the funeral.

Mourning period: There is no official doctrine regarding how long a mourner stays away from work or socializing. A mourner might return to work after a week and return to a normal social schedule within two months.

Mourning customs: There are no specific Baptist mourning customs or formal remembrance in church, but the family of the deceased may hold their own commemoration at the anniversary of the death.

Notes: At funerals, many pastors will take the opportunity to remind attendees, whether Baptist or not, to seek salvation while they still live. While some will make a gentle reference about coming to Jesus, some can make non-Baptists in the audience quite uncomfortable.

For more details on this religion’s history, beliefs, and funeral practices, you may wish to consult this excellent resource: The Perfect Stranger’s Guide to Funerals and Grieving Practices: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People’s Religious Ceremonies (SkyLight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT). 

Or visit the web sites of these Baptist organizations, which represent about 92% of Baptists—the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC); National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.; (NBCA); American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABC); and Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI).

A Good Goodbye