Click HERE to download a copy of the Sutton Quaker Funeral Guide.
By Overseers of Sutton Local Meeting, June 2021
QUAKER FUNERALS AT SUTTON MEETING
“Friends should come to a funeral with both heart and mind prepared. We want to experience a deep sense of communion with God and with one another, which we hope will comfort and strengthen those who mourn. There are at least two aims in our worship: to give thanks to God for the life that has been lived, and to help the mourners to feel a deep sense of God’s presence.” (Quaker Faith and Practice 17.01)
“For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity. Death, then, being the way and condition of life, we cannot love to live, if we cannot bear to die.” (William Penn, 1693, Quaker Faith & Practice 22.95)
This document offers suggested guidelines for the right holding of funerals to those in the meeting responsible for this task. It is based on documents originally produced by the former Sutton Meeting Funeral Co-ordinator, which had used Quaker publications and drawn on tried and trusted experience of previous funeral practice in the meeting. The Overseers have been asked to jointly act as Funeral Co-ordinator for the meeting, so we have taken the opportunity to combine and revise the original documents, particularly including references to funerals being held during social restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
INCIDENTALLY, PLEASE NOTE THAT IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW WISHES TO CONTACT THE OVERSEERS IN THEIR CAPACITY AS FUNERAL CO-ORDINATORS, PLEASE PHONE THE LETTINGS CLERK ON 073080 34969 WHO WILL GIVE YOU THE CONTACT DETAILS OF ONE OF THE OVERSEERS.
Requests for a Quaker funeral cover a wide range of scenarios, which require a very flexible approach to the arrangements on the part of the meeting. The deceased person may have been well-known in the local meeting or not very well known at all; he or she may have been a life-long Quaker or may have had only tenuous connections with Quakers; it may be the next-of-kin who have the Quaker connections, rather than the deceased person.
When a death is anticipated, it may be appropriate for elders to start preliminary consultation about the holding of the funeral. Also, because of busy scheduling at crematoria, it is sometimes necessary for elders to contact the next-of-kin and make decisions very quickly.
The Quakers in Britain website, www.quaker.org.uk has a wealth of up-to-date information, including the holding of funerals and memorials during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as more general information. There is a page called “Funerals, Memorial Meetings and Dying” which can be found in Our Organisation in the Support for Meetings page. The following sections are covered and are worth reading carefully:
- Current advice on funerals
- Memorial meetings and other ways to commemorate and celebrate
- Pastoral care
- Helping your Quaker Community to prepare for your funeral
These pages include links to government advice and regulations for conducting funerals in England during the Covid-19 pandemic. They also include links to 5 further documents, including blank forms for people to complete about their wishes for their own funeral and legacies. There is also a blog describing two Quaker funerals, which would be helpful for someone unfamiliar with them to read.
Other very useful websites with current pandemic, as well as general information are:
- Down to Earth, practical support for people struggling with funeral costs, at quakersocialaction.org.uk
- National Association of Funeral Directors, https://nafd.org.uk
Area Meetings, according to Quaker Faith & Practice17.07, are responsible for funerals, but for practical reasons they usually delegate responsibilities to the Local Meeting. In June 2020 Sutton Elders stated that they intend to continue their role in conducting Quaker Funerals or Memorial Meetings, but proposed that Overseers between them co-ordinate with next-of-kin in the case of a death. A separate designated person may be invited to represent the meeting and fulfil duties at a crematorium or other chapel.
It is of primary importance that the next-of-kin and close friends of the deceased are aware of the loving, thoughtful, and caring support of the Meeting. The co-ordinators, and other close Friends, should seek to convey our desire to discern and to carry out their wishes to the best of our ability. It is hoped that the family will be guided to a choice that will be most satisfactory, both for them and the Meeting.
The Quaker booklet, “Funerals and Memorial Meetings” gives many helpful suggestions for keeping funerals as simple as possible. On the subject of simplicity, the website for the Natural Death Centre (www.naturaldeath.org.uk), gives a lot of helpful background information, as well as comprehensive and up-to-date details of local burial grounds which are registered with the Association of Natural Burial Grounds. Finally, Gordon Steel has researched and written briefly about direct funerals (see below). There will also obviously be many further considerations to include in the conversation with the next-of-kin as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions.
Some of the possible funeral options are:
– Meeting for Worship at a crematorium, followed by a Memorial Meeting at the meeting house
– A brief committal service at a crematorium or other burial place, followed by a Meeting for Worship or Memorial Meeting at the meeting house
– A burial, with a Meeting for Worship at the Meeting House, cemetery chapel or round the grave. The short period of silence round the grave calls for great sensitivity and two elders should stand together near the grave and close the meeting in the usual way.
– A celebratory tea at the meeting house: We have found in the past that family and Friends have very much appreciated the opportunity to come back to the meeting house for tea after a funeral. The atmosphere then is relaxed and celebratory and we have the opportunity to get to know one another. This event could also include the opportunity for those present to speak about the deceased in a more relaxed way than at the crematorium (a ‘wake’ as it were). However, notice of this reception should make clear whether it is just a tea party or includes a Memorial Meeting.
– A “direct” funeral is simple, reduces funeral costs by more than half and does away with formality. Co-op Funeralcare is among the firms providing this service. A chapel is not used at all and the undertaker will remove the body to the firm’s mortuary, deal with legal paperwork, provide a simple coffin, arrange an unattended cremation and scatter the ashes or return them to the family. As we have a Quaker Meeting House available for Memorial Meetings at no cost, this option could appeal to some people.
– Another increasingly important aspect to funerals held during pandemic restrictions is the recording and livestreaming of funerals, carried out either informally or professionally by crematoria staff. This, of course, enables a much wider number of people to “attend” the funeral than would otherwise be the case.
Some additional practical checks for the co-ordinator(s), elders and designated Friend:
– check if the deceased has donated their organs for medical purposes
– consider going with the next-of-kin to meet the undertakers
– make sure that the usual “minister’s fee” is not included in the funeral bill
– check if the deceased has left any specific requests regarding the funeral details and try to accede to them
– check that the next-of-kin has registered the death
– check if the deceased had close contact with another faith group, which may entail inviting a representative from it (eg a vicar or priest) to take part in the funeral
– notify the clerks of other Meetings in the Area Meeting and any other relevant Meetings about the time and place of the funeral
– check whether the next-of-kin is able to afford the funeral costs
– consider a double booking at a crematorium to allow ample time
– do the family want music at the funeral?
– does a family member want to give a eulogy, reading or poem during the service or Meeting?
– do the family want a funeral card to give out, which could also explain the Quaker form of worship (or give out “Your first time in a Quaker Meeting” leaflets)?
– do the family wish to leave the cross which is in place on the altar or have it removed?
– how many Friends as well as the designated Friend should sit at the front in the chapel?
– The designated Friend should make an opening statement, welcoming everyone, explaining for the benefit of non-Friends the nature of a Quaker Meeting for Worship in which anyone may offer ministry. Speakers should be asked to stand and speak clearly from where they are in the chapel, leaving space between contributions. The introduction should indicate how long the meeting will last, how the committal will take place, and how the meeting will close.
– Should the designated Friend speak about the life of the deceased? Or do the family wish to do so?
– The designated Friend will need to operate a signal for the committal and a second signal to indicate to the waiting undertakers that the meeting is finished. S/he should then close the meeting by shaking hands with the chief mourner.
– Friends, especially elders, who attend a funeral should come with heart and mind prepared, aware of the need for deep and spiritual ministry that centres the meeting in a spirit of thankfulness for the life of the deceased and upholds those who are experiencing loss.
– After the funeral the needs of the bereaved will of course be in the minds of overseers, elders, and other Friends. The possibility of bereavement counselling should be raised, and arranged for as required. Practical help may be needed in a variety of ways, including placing and paying for an announcement in The Friend, disposal of possessions, transport to carry out the necessary legal and practical arrangements. In rare cases it may be necessary for elders to be responsible for disposal of the ashes.
– An option that many people, including Quakers, are choosing is the use of an on-line tribute page, where friends and relatives can contribute memories, writings and photos. A popular website for this is Much Loved, which also allows people to donate to a chosen charity, including Friends, and both BYM and funeral directors can assist the bereaved with setting up a tribute page.
1 Quaker Faith and Practice, Chapter 17
2 Funerals and Memorial Meetings (Quaker Books, 2012 edition, available electronically at https://quaker-prod.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/store/e5e9a53dc156c0e9f289d0aa4fc5c1661b134322da2924e486131d53aeb3
3 What to do when someone dies (Which? Essential Guide)
4 Horizon, An anthology of readings for Quaker funerals, by Beatrice Saxon Snell, Friends Home Service Committee
(2, 3 and 4 all available as hard copies in Sutton Elders & Overseers “Funerals” wallet in library)
5 What to do after a death (government website) https://www.gov.uk/after-a-death
6 The Quakers in Britain website, www.quaker.org.uk (Our organisation/ Support for meetings/ Funerals, Memorial Meetings and Dying)
7 Down to Earth, website of practical support for people struggling with funeral costs, at www.quakersocialaction.org.uk
8 National Association of Funeral Directors, https://nafd.org.uk
9 Natural Death Centre www.naturaldeath.org.uk