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8 mistakes to avoid when leading a funeral

Leading a funeral requires compassion and sensitivity towards a grieving family, their friends and parishioners. Everyone is preparing to say goodbye to a loved one, so the person guiding a funeral has an incredibly important role.

The involvement of clergy or a celebrant may vary based on the wishes of the family, however the general role of the leader when conducting a funeral service is to address the following:

  • Formally eulogise the person who has passed away
  • Deliver thoughts and prayers
  • Invite attendees to speak, sit, stand, sing and attend events after the service
  • Lead the order of service

If this is your first or hundredth time leading a funeral, there are always a number of things to be mindful of, and to avoid! We have identified a number of common blunders that can occur when conducting a funeral service:

  1. Mispronouncing names of the deceased or family members.
    Go over the order of service beforehand and ask the family members to clarify the pronunciation of other family member’s names. Make notes to ensure you pronounce correctly. You may want to highlight tricky names in some way to remind you to go slow when you get to them.
  2. Meeting the family, the day of the funeral.
    Organise time to see and talk with the family before the funeral. Get to know them and allow them time to share information about their loved one. Use these conversations to gather ideas for your material. Gaining some insight into the person who has died will reflect in your delivery at the Funeral.
  3. Using generic messages.  This is obvious, but try to avoid the clichés and stock-standard messages. Use the stories and discussions that the family and friends have shared to honour their loved one to personalise the service.­­­­­
  4. Rushing to begin the service before people are settled.
    Allow time for people to be seated and calm before beginning. A funeral director, clergy or celebrant may be the person to indicate when the service is beginning.
  5. Forgetting to welcome family members and shake hands.
    Be sure to greet family members by shaking hands and offering encouraging words about the service. Be available to the family by offering your card with your phone number for before or after service.
  6. Forgetting to invite attendees to reception or post service event.
    Confirm the details of where the family would like the congregation to go after the service and remember to warmly invite attendees to the post service event close to the end of the service. If there is a burial or cremation service to follow be sure to confirm WHO is invited to attend – it may be a private gathering for family and their invited friends only.
  7. Becoming unsettled when something unexpected pops up.
    Funerals are filled with emotions and can bring out interesting experiences. Families can fight, conflicts can occur, guests may faint, some may shout and funeral etiquette can be misunderstood. It is a good exercise to think through some potential problems and how you would respond. This mental preparation can help you to think clearly and act wisely when the unexpected does pops up.
  8. Expecting yourself to have all the answers for the family.
    As a leaders you may be expected to be many things to a family – but if you aren’t a trained grief counsellor, don’t attempt to be one! You have the special task of supporting and guiding a family through a service which plays a large role in processing grief – trying to take on grief support after the funeral can be putting too much onto your plate. If you can be prepared ahead of time with materials, resources, books and support information for the grieving family you can always be ready to point them in the right direction should they need any extra help
    Here are some helpful resources you could use

You have a critical and difficult role to play for families at this time. Praying for wisdom and being prepared will help you avoid making preventable mistakes when leading a funeral.

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