Government legislation permits the holding of funerals in places of worship if certain strict measures can be put in place. PLEASE read the guidance below to be clear on what this requires.

Could this be the path to a new sense of unity, the community of those who had known pain, and thence had found depth, so that creeds and traditions became but signposts to an acceptance of sadness and an entry into a depth where we found harmony with each other? Was this the way forward to a deeper unity with people of other religions or indeed of none? Perhaps we could start with the simple discovery that words divide and sadness unites

Robert Tod, 1989 Quaker faith & practice 22.82

Current advice on funerals

Government legislation allows for funerals to take place in places of worship.

Guidance about arrangements for funerals varies in different parts of the UK. Links to the relevant guidance are at the end of this article. Also check information from your local authority. It may have information which relates to local circumstances.

Please read the guidance carefully before planning. It may be sensible to consult with insurers or legal advisers.

  • The responsibility for allowing a funeral to take place lies with the group with legal responsibility for the building. This would normally be the trustees of area meeting or London Quaker Property Trust.
  • Guidance from the relevant government should be read in detail on issues. See links below. Guidance for England gives clearest details including:
    • restricting the number of mourners, and respecting government guidance on who may attend
    • enabling appropriate social distancing to take place, taking into account the health and vulnerability of each person
    • availability of handwashing and sanitising facilities
    • cleaning of the building before and after the event
    • managing the flow of guests on arrival and departure
    • maximising ventilation

Funerals may also be held at a crematorium or at a graveside. Funerals may therefore be held at a graveside in a Quaker burial ground. A Quaker funeral could also be held at a graveside in another burial ground, such as a natural burial ground. All government guidance on attendance and social distancing must be followed. Make sure that you know if the funeral is to take place in a region with additional local Covid alert restrictions as this may affect how other aspects of the funeral commemorations are conducted.

Take advice from the local authority guidance or funeral director about how many people can attend. This may include close family who are considered extremely vulnerable and there will need to be sufficient protection in place for them. All funerals should give due regard to safe social distancing. The venue will decide how many people may safely be present.

Guidance permits “a celebrant of choice” to attend a funeral. This also means that this person can travel to the funeral. For Quakers this would be the elders who have responsibility for the “right holding of meeting for worship” (Quaker faith & practice 12.12.f). People attending the funeral for work or in roles are not considered part of the maximum number permitted to attend.

Normally there would be two Friends who are elders for a funeral or memorial meeting. The attendance of two Friends during the pandemic would be at the discretion of the venue, and personal safety needs to be considered. Quaker Meetings should think about the best people to do this. If current elders are in a high-risk group, it may be sensible to appoint someone at lower risk to carry out this service.

Most crematoria can live stream or record funerals. Some are currently more lenient than usual about people doing this informally.

General information about Quaker funerals and memorial meetings can be found in

Chapter 17 of Quaker faith & practice (offsite link).

There are different rules on funerals during the pandemic in the different jurisdictions of Britain. See below for government advice:

Quaker Social Action has a guide (offsite link) on how to organise a meaningful funeral during the pandemic and explains how to involve people who cannot be present. Quaker Social Action also provides guidance on other aspects of funeral planning and dealing with a death.

The National Association of Funeral Directors’ website give practical guidance on arranging and holding funerals and explains some of the current guidance.

Memorial meetings and other ways to commemorate and celebrate

Quakers often hold memorial meetings for Friends who have died some time after their funeral. There is no set time period between death and a memorial meeting and this often allows the rawness of death to have passed allowing a celebration of an individual’s life to take place at a memorial meeting.

It may be helpful to think about holding a memorial meeting at some point in the future when public gatherings and meeting together for worship is allowed.

However, there is also great comfort in sharing together when the loss is new. Try to focus on the needs and wishes of those who were closest to the person who died. It may be helpful to arrange a formal or informal time to share memories and come together in grief, using suitable technology.

If you are thinking of holding a memorial meeting it is important that you read the guidance carefully to ensure that you are holding it within the legal framework. A memorial meeting may not be able to take place in the same way that a funeral might. Please check local guidance on post-funeral events such as wakes, memorials and other commemorations.

An option that many Quakers are embracing is use of on-line memorial or tribute pages. Britain Yearly Meeting has information about how to set up a memorial page for Friends using the website Much Loved. Contact [email protected] for details.

Many faith and other groups have made suggestions about ways to come together when people cannot gather in person. Some links are below – there are many others.

Pastoral care

There is advice and guidance available in Funerals and Memorial Meetings: Volume 2 of the Eldership and Oversight handbook series. It gives an outline to planning a funeral or memorial meeting and step-by-step guidance including helpful things to remember.

Caring for the bereaved

At this time supporting bereaved Friends will be a real challenge and one that meetings will need to consider carefully. Bearing in mind that not everyone’s needs are the same, think about the following:

  • How can you make an opportunity to listen to what the needs of anyone bereaved are?
  • Can your Quaker community offer care and support to a person or people who you will not be in contact with face-to-face? If there is more than one person in the affected household, can you offer them support which is tailored to their individual needs?
  • Can you arrange a daily or regular call or conversation with someone in your eldership and oversight group?
  • Can you arrange daily worship in a small group?
  • In what way can you be alongside anyone bereaved?
  • Is there someone who can offer some practical support such as liaising with the funeral director
  • Could someone prepare food and arrange for it to be left in a suitable place outside or near their home?

Helping your Quaker community to prepare for your funeral

This is a time that we all need to help support those Friends who have responsibility for conducting funerals. Help Friends with eldership and oversight responsibility by filling in the form below, or conversation with local Friends about your wishes. It is particularly important now in case arrangements need to be made by a person not known to an individual who has died or their family.

Dying, death and end of life resources

It is also a good idea (pandemic or not) to make other preparations for death and incapacity. This includes having an up to date will, financial planning, living wills and organ donation wishes. Further information on these matters can be found on the Money Saving Expert website. The Fundraising Team can also provide guidance on leaving a legacy in your will for Quaker Work.

[undated, before November 2020]