Funerals @ St. Thomas
This page seeks to answer the most frequently asked questions about Christian burial. The Church wants to help Christians prepare for their own deaths, and to help friends and family facing the challenge of burying someone they love. Please know that our clergy and staff are friendly resources who are here to assist you in any way they can.
Dying is the process of returning to the earth from which we came, and of turning toward God from whom we came. Death is the sacramental moment of our returning. At burial, the Christian community gathers to celebrate its faith.
The burial is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the Resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, Christians, too, will be raised. Christian burial reflects joy in the certainty that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38) We offer prayers for the dead, entrusting them to God's love and mercy.
Alongside our Resurrection hope, our human grief remains. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So while we give thanks for the Resurrection of Christ, which enfolds us all, we who continue in this life grieve our loss. Therefore our liturgy also asks God to comfort those who mourn.
The Book of Common Prayer notes that Christians are normally buried from their parish church. This implies that either their bodies, or their cremated remains, will be present for the burial liturgy, and then committed to a permanent place of rest. Our physical bodies, Scripture tells us, are temples of the Holy Spirit, visible signs of our spiritual presence in the world. It is fitting that they be honored in Christian burial.
In Anticipation of Death
Our society routinely avoids speaking about death, but the Church does not. Over the centuries we have gathered Scriptures, songs, and prayers which enfold the pain and trauma of separation and loss within a larger vision. The Church is not afraid to speak of death because we are a community of faith, hope, and love.
It is prudent to begin thinking about your own funeral well beforehand. Thoughtful foresight allows the liturgy to express your Christian faith authentically while helping family and friends understand your personal wishes. The parish clergy are pleased to meet with you to review the options available for prayers, hymns, and Scripture readings appropriate for burial.
It is also prudent to discuss with your physician, and put into writing, the types of medical treatment that you desire in case of debilitating illness.
At the Time of Death
Before making any arrangements for the body, please confirm with the clergy what services will be needed from a mortician. Often these are fewer than expected. People's Memorial Association in Seattle (206-325-0489) is a nonprofit organization that provides simple, affordable services. More elaborate arrangements can be made with the funeral homes listed in the telephone directory or online.
A bulletin listing the order of service, as well as the names of pall bearers, readers, ushers and others assisting with the service, will be prepared by the parish office. A second brochure from the mortuary is not needed. The parish will also arrange for musicians when requested by the family to do so.
The parish clergy, organist, and staff are here to help you with all aspects of planning and celebrating Christian burial. Please call on us whenever the need arises.
About the Funeral
The church is the appropriate place for funerals. It is customary for the remains to be present for the service, either in an urn (for ashes) or a coffin.
Flowers are symbols of resurrection and are always appropriate at funerals. However, since urns and caskets are covered with a cloth called a pall, which symbolizes our equality before God in death (and recalls the white garment of baptism), floral casket sprays are not used. A family arrangement may be placed at the urn or on a stand near the altar. Additional floral displays are unnecessary, but if they are delivered to the church, they may be placed on the shelves in the narthex (entry hall). Flowers from the narthex or the stand in the church may be taken to the cemetery. Flowers are also appropriate at the reception or delivered to the family, but many families prefer to recommend charities, including St. Thomas, that well-wishers may want to support instead of giving flowers.
The family usually gathers in the parish Conference Room before the service, although some prefer to be seated in the front pews as they arrive. At the appointed time, the procession forms in the narthex, led by the crucifer. The family is appropriately included in the procession.
You will find several forms for the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer on pages 468-507. It is appropriate for family members to participate in leading the service by reading lessons or prayers.
The Eucharist (Holy Communion) is an appropriate part of the service, making the funeral similar to Sunday services at St. Thomas. All baptized persons are welcome to receive the Sacrament at this special time, an occasion of solidarity and solace for all who grieve. Sharing Communion among those who mourn is itself an occasion for comfort and hope, and it reminds us again of the Heavenly Banquet which surpasses all limits of time and space. In the Eucharist all Christians, the living and dead together, join in celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus.
Eulogies are not customary in the Episcopal Church. The focus of Christian burial is properly on Christ's victory over the powers of darkness and death. It is an Easter service. Since those present already know the one who has died, review of years past is not necessary. If it is desired to share such remembrances they may best take place at a reception following the service.
At the conclusion of the service, it is customary for the family to follow the crucifer and clergy out in procession. If the Committal takes place in the St. Thomas columbarium, the family goes to the columbarium for the Committal, while the guests go to the Great Hall for the reception. If the burial is in a local cemetery, the family and guests follow the funeral coach there in procession.
A Word About Cremation
Cremation, an ancient practice anthropologists have discovered in many ages and places past, is gaining popularity in our day. St. Thomas has a columbarium for the convenience of members of the parish and community who may wish to use it for loved ones or themselves.
Accordingly, we treat the deceased body reverently, not simply out of respect for the departed person, but out of reverent awe in the presence of God’s handiwork. Whether we burn or bury the body, it passes from our sight, but it can never pass from God’s sight.
Planning for Death: a checklist
Options for Scripture Readings during the Service
Old Testament Readings
New Testament Readings
Receptions in the Great Hall
We are pleased to offer the Great Hall as a place for family and friends to gather following the burial liturgy. The family may bring prepared foods to the church, or we will provide the names of caterers familiar with holding receptions at St. Thomas to assist the family in the reception. The parish has tables and chairs, dishes, and flatware available for use. Should the family require assistance with setup and clean-up, an hourly fee for the sexton is asked when the reception is held outside the sexton’s normal work hours. Please call the office with any questions: 425-454-9541.
Guidelines for Florists
Flowers are symbols of resurrection, so they are always appropriate at Church funerals.
The parish Flower Guild is responsible for the main floral display at the church. It is placed in front of the pulpit and remains there following the service.
The family may place an arrangement at the urn or on a stand near the altar. Additional floral displays are unnecessary, but if they are delivered to the church, they may be placed on the shelves in the narthex (entry hall).
Copyright©2013 St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Last updated February 2013