Baptist Funeral Traditions
At some point in your life, you may be asked to help plan the funeral service of a friend or loved one who has been a practicing Baptist. You may also be planning to attend a Baptist funeral or memorial service and aren’t sure what to expect. In either case, there are some basic Baptist funeral traditions you can expect to see followed.
Important Elements of a Baptist Funeral Service
To plan a Baptist funeral, whether it will be held at a church or funeral home, the first decision to be made is who will lead the service. It is common practice to have the pastor of the church the deceased was attending direct their funeral service. If the person who has died has not been attending a church regularly, due to illness or other circumstances, the funeral director can help identify local Baptist pastors who might be available.
Once that decision has been made, you can meet with that person and discuss an order of service that both honors the wishes of the deceased and her family, as well as the traditions of their church.The central theme of a typical Baptist homegoing or funeral service is belief in eternal life and the hope that represents. This can be expressed in many ways, for example, most Baptist funerals include the reading of Scriptures that speak of the resurrection of the dead.
Depending on which Baptist convention an individual church is a part of, you might also expect the funeral to include a sermon or homily by the pastor. As with many other faith traditions, it’s typical for a Baptist memorial or funeral service to include the reading of an obituary, special music and congregational singing, and sharing of memories of the deceased by one or more friends or family members.
The sharing of communion, with an invitation for all believers in Jesus Christ to participate, is also considered an appropriate part of a funeral at many Baptist churches.
One final note on the elements of the service—while Baptist churches aren’t bound to denominational guidelines when it comes to rituals, it’s important to honor the beliefs and traditions of that church when planning a funeral. This holds true whether the person who has died was part of a National Baptist (generally African American) church, was a Southern Baptist, or was part of a different Baptist convention. This doesn’t mean you can’t also include personalized elements such as slideshows, music, and poems or other readings.
Baptist Funeral Programs
Another important element in Baptist funerals are printed funeral programs. Funeral Programs are given out at the Baptist funeral service and are typically documents that contain some kind of decorative artwork, cover photo, memorial caption, details of birth and death, the funeral order of service or outline and and obituary or life sketch. It is still common today to keep these documents as records of death. Many years ago, these programs would be the only record of life and accomplishments for loved ones, especially if nothing was printed in the local newspapers.
Music in a Baptist Funeral Service
When selecting the music to be played or sung at a Baptist funeral or homegoing service, speak with the person officiating to learn what’s considered appropriate for that church. Some Baptist churches emphasize choir music and the singing of traditional hymns during funerals. Others may offer the services of a worship band, with more contemporary Christian music selections available.
What kind of music did the person who has died enjoy? Classical pieces aren’t out of place, especially when played during the prelude or communion. Secular music might be more appropriate as background music for a memorial slideshow. Again, the pastor can advise you on what is typical for funerals held at an individual church.
What to Expect at a Baptist Graveside Service
During the burial or graveside service, you will probably hear funeral scriptures read about eternal life and the hope of the resurrection. There is usually a closing prayer, and perhaps an invitation to a dinner or other gathering following the burial service.
If you are planning the service and would like to include a joyous final note, ask the pastor if that particular cemetery (and city) allows balloons to be released to honor your loved one. Some Baptist congregations have a tradition of singing a hymn or having a soloist play or sing a favorite song at the graveside. Think about the preferences and personality of the person who has died and don’t be afraid to request a unique graveside tribute, as long as it is in keeping with their Christian beliefs.
The loss of a friend or loved one is normally a sad and stressful event. Knowing and following Baptist funeral traditions, as practiced by their home church, is the first step in planning a loving and appropriate tribute.