Funeral Traditions for African American Methodist Churches

May 21, 2010 | 2 comments

This post highlights funeral practices of African American Methodist Churches. The actual practices of individual families and congregations will vary within this religious tradition.

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

Funeral or memorial services: Funerals usually take place within two to three days. The service may be held in a church or a funeral home. A pastor officiates, 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. 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, enter quietly. It is not appropriate to take pictures or record the service (both audio and video). When viewing the body, which is optional, join the line of viewers and observe silently and somberly. Express your condolences to the family. It is appropriate to visit the bereaved at home after the funeral, usually for about 30 to 45 minutes.

Interment: Guests should attend. At graveside, the pastor recites prayers and the body is committed to the ground. If cremation has taken place, the ashes are either buried or put in a vault.

Post-Event Reception: The family may receive visitors at home. No food is served and no religious services are held there.

Gifts: Upon learning about the death, telephone or visit the bereaved to offer condolences. It is appropriate to send flowers to the home before the funeral. The family may request memorial contributions in lieu of flowers, which will be specified in the obituary. Food may be sent to the bereaved at home.

Mourning period: How long a mourner stays away from work or socializing is up to the individual’s discretion.

Mourning customs: There are no specific African American Methodist mourning customs. There may be a service commemorating the anniversary of the death.

Notes: African American Methodist denominations affirm that life is eternal and that, in faith, one can look forward to life with God after death. Local churches are called “charges.”

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). 

A Good Goodbye