This post highlights general funeral practices for Unitarian Universalists. The actual practices of individuals, families, and congregations may vary.
Treatment of the body: The body is rarely viewed at the memorial service. Sometimes a visitation is held prior to the service at the funeral home or church. Cremation and embalming are accepted.
Funeral or memorial services: The Unitarian Universalist end-of-life ritual is called a memorial service, whether the body is present or not. The service usually takes place at a funeral home or in a church within one week, but can be held up to a month after death. The scheduling of the service is up to the family. The ceremony may last 30-60 minutes, possibly longer. A minister delivers a sermon and meditation, a eulogist, chosen by the family, delivers a eulogy of the deceased, and a music director and organist/pianist provide music. The service may include affirmations, meditation, poetry, music, the eulogy, and a benediction. A program indicating the order of the ceremony is distributed to attendees or displayed near the front of the room. The hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, may be used.
Do’s and Don’ts: Sign the guest book. Sit wherever you like, except for the first two or three rows, usually reserved for close family of the deceased. If arriving late, enter and take a seat quietly. In the rare case of an open casket, guests are not expected or obligated to view the body. If you choose to view the body, walk slowly with reverence past the casket. It is not appropriate to take pictures or record video of the ceremony, but audio may be recorded with prior approval of the family. Guests are expected to stand with congregants when they rise for songs or prayer and have the option to read prayers aloud and sing with those present, unless this violates their own religious beliefs.
Interment: It is optional for guests to attend interment. At graveside, prayers are recited, led by the minister, and the body is committed to the ground.
Post-Event Reception: The family may have visitors at home or a restaurant. Food is served, and possibly alcohol. No religious services are held in the home.
Gifts: Upon learning about the death, telephone or visit the bereaved to offer condolences and share your memories of the deceased. It is appropriate to send flowers to the home before the memorial service. Also, memorial contributions may be made to a fund or charity designated by the family of the deceased. Food may be sent to the bereaved at home, either upon hearing of the death or after the memorial service.
Mourning period: The length of time the bereaved stays away from work or socializing is left to the discretion of the mourner. He or she may resume their usual schedule after a few days or a few weeks.
Mourning customs: There are no specific Unitarian Universalist mourning customs or rituals for observing the anniversary of the death.
Notes: Many Unitarian Universalists will choose cremation or a “green burial” with no embalming chemicals and a simple casket that allows remains to return to the earth.
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 Funeralwise.com.
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