What is a “celebrant” and what does a funeral celebrant do?

Sitting in a pub a few days ago and the conversation turned to death.

I was in Taunton with a good friend and a chap he has known for a much longer time told of his experiences after his mum died.

She had reached the age of 97 and had lived for most of her life in great health, only stopping walking to the town centre on her own at the age of 90. Even after then she’d get a taxi in and potter about.

Although advanced age doesn’t make the death of someone so close any easier, I was heartened to know that the funeral director and the celebrant had played their part in making the ceremony go as smoothly as it possibly could.

As a celebrant, I see the most important part of my role to be getting the family and friends through the moments when everyone says farewell to their loved one, at the committal.

There are other titles for people like me. Officiant is one, minister is another – that’s normally a religious minister.

But I prefer the word celebrant, because we are celebrating a life full of memories.

We stand at the lectern and/or at the graveside and say a few words.

We usually have about 30 minutes to do our bit, and then there is some time to get everyone in and out.

At The Vale Crematorium in Luton, Bedfordshire for example, the whole of one ceremony is allocated 45 minutes. That’s 7.5 minutes to get everyone in and seated, 30 minutes for the ceremony, and 7.5 minutes to exit and for the staff to prepare the crematorium for the next family.

It’s a part of my role to make sure we keep to time.

To make sure I play my part, I prepare a timed script, which I will practice with my stopwatch at least twice before the ceremony to make sure that we don’t over run.

Going back a few stages now; to make sure that I can help a family say farewell in the most appropriate way, I will ask them about the beliefs of the loved one.

As a humanist celebrant it would not be appropriate for me to talk about Jesus, or the afterlife, or any other prophet or religion. That is because I personally don’t believe in God or any supreme creator of the universe. I think it would be hypocritical of me to pretend to believe when I do not.

If anyone does want religious content, say The Lord’s Prayer, or to say anything from religious text, then I would ask a member of the family or a friend who believes to say those words.

Personally I think it has much more impact if someone who believes says the words than if I do. At a recent ceremony I led, the brother of the deceased said a prayer, and it was much more powerful because of that.

In my experience, many people book humanist funerals not because they are fully paid up members of Humanists UK but because Humanist Ceremonies are bespoke and focus entirely on the deceased.

My scripts are bespoke and built around recalling the personality of their loved one.

Once that I have been booked, either by the family or the funeral director, I will seek to arrange a meeting as soon as possible with the next of kin.

Such meetings last between one and two hours and I will ask a series of questions, aimed at finding out everything I can about the loved one. I will ask to see pictures, and try to get to know the deceased loved one.

I am not a grief counsellor by any means but I am sure that families do find it useful to tell a stranger about their deceased partner, parent or friend. Sometimes I hear one person say in a meeting “oh, I didn’t know that” and it adds to the memories, and knowledge of the person who we are setting out to remember.

With a folder filled with notes I will create the best possible tribute, and liaise with the family regarding music choices and whether any of them wish to say anything by way of a eulogy. I will always make sure that family members and friends get to say what they want to say.

That is more important to me than me talking at the microphone! On a number of occasions I have effectively been more Master of Ceremonies than celebrant.

And that more than suits me.

After all, giving a human being the most appropriate farewell is at the centre of any funeral.

That’s why I was so pleased to hear the positive feedback about the process during my short trip away from Bedfordshire.

If you would like to contact me to ask me more about what is involved, please do not hesitate to use any of the channels in the link HERE to contact me.

About me

Hello and welcome to my website

My name is David Tooley and it is a privilege and an honour for me to be invited to lead non-religious funeral ceremonies and to be trusted by families to deliver appropriate ceremonies for their loved ones.

I first considered starting a career as a Humanist celebrant in the Bedfordshire area when events in my own life conspired to get me thinking about what is most important to me.

In one particularly horrible year, three of my neighbours died in a short amount of time, including one in a fire in the flat below me. I also reached 50 years of age and thought deeply about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Having attended a number of Humanist ceremonies over the years I was deeply impressed by the way the celebrants were able to mark the lives of those who had died, without reference to a “greater being.”

I found out some wonderful new things about people I had known for years and I thought it was an amazing skill to have. I feel that doing this work is a wonderfully fulfilling way to use the skills I have built up over a lifetime (including 25 years as a journalist).

If you are looking for a Humanist celebrant to lead a non-religious funeral ceremony in the Dunstable, Luton, Leighton Buzzard, Ampthill, Flitwick or Bletchley (Milton Keynes) area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch to see if I can be the right person for you.

You are welcome to find out more about me and how I can help you celebrate the life and achievements of your loved one by emailing bedscelebrant@gmail.com or by phoning (01582) 872915.