Many Christian sects have very similar funeral and mourning customs. This post includes practices for Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Disciples of Christ, Christian Congregation, Church of the Brethren, Church of the Nazarene, Churches of Christ, Evangelical Free Church, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Pentecostal Church of God, Reformed Church in America/Canada, and United Church of Christ.
Treatment of the body: The body is usually viewed, either at a visitation event at the funeral home and/or during the funeral. Cremation and embalming are accepted.
Funeral or memorial services: Funerals usually take place within two or three days, or up to one week after death. The service may be held in a church or funeral home and last about 30 to 60 minutes, sometimes less, sometimes more. A pastor performs the service and musicians may contribute songs. Family or friends may deliver eulogies. A program with the order of the ceremony is distributed to attendees. The funeral usually includes singing or music, scripture reading, prayers, a sermon by the pastor, and eulogies. Readings from the Bible Old and New Testaments, including selected Psalms, and hymnals 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. Policies regarding taking pictures or recording the service (both audio and video) can vary with each church. Check with the local pastor before using such equipment during a service. Generally, it is optional for guests of other faiths to kneel, read prayers aloud and sing with the congregation, but it’s polite to stand when others stand up. When viewing the body, which is optional, approach 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, depending on how close a relationship you have.
Interment: Guests have the option of attending, except if the interment is private. At graveside, the service may include Scripture reading, prayers, songs, and committing the body to the ground.
Post-Event Reception: Guests may visit the bereaved at home after the funeral, or there may be a reception at the church. Length of time for the visit can vary. Food may be served, and in some homes, grace will be recited first. Some sects will not serve alcoholic beverages. Religious services are rarely, if ever, held in the home.
Gifts: Upon learning about the death, telephone, send a card, or visit the bereaved to offer condolences, sympathies, concern and assistance. It is usually appropriate to send flowers and food. The family may suggest memorial contributions be made in lieu of flowers.
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 or two and return to a normal social schedule within two months. In many cases, the individual and local cultural traditions determine when to return to a normal schedule.
Mourning customs: In general, there are no specific mourning customs or anniversary observances.
Notes: Each sect has its own emphasis on different doctrines, but share many similarities in funeral practices.
For more details on the history, beliefs, and funeral practices for each denomination, 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 Funeralwise.com.
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