Members of the Salvation Army refer to death as a “promotion to glory” for fellow Christians. They believe that although the physical body dies, the spirit or soul of a Christian continues living in another dimension with God called heaven or “glory.” Because of these beliefs, Salvation Army funerals are characterized by sadness and grief but have underpinnings of hope and joy. In order to outwardly express this hope and joy, the traditional funeral color at a Salvation Army service is white and not black.
Cremation and burial are both accepted practices within the Salvation Army. Unique funeral traditions practiced by members of the Salvation Army include: a bonnet or cap, Salvation Army songbook, and a Bible being placed in the coffin with the deceased; a white ribbon being flown at the top of the flagpole; a brass band leading the funeral procession; and all those in attendance are encouraged to accept God. In some cases, a Salvation Army Honor guard will also participate in the funeral service.
Services are conducted in a Salvation Army hall or a funeral home chapel. The service typically lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour and includes Biblical readings and secular readings and songs when appropriate. The complete program for Salvation Army funeral services usually includes all of the following: congregational singing, prayers, readings, brief eulogies and tributes to the deceased, and music. Specific choices are determined by the family according to the deceased’s wishes, if known.
After a Salvation Army burial service, there may be another memorial service that is scheduled on the Sunday after the funeral and interment. In addition to readings from the Bible, the service may focus on giving God thanks for the life of the person who has died. Close family members and friends may share their personal stories and fond memories in this more intimate setting. At this special gathering, a meal or simple refreshments may be provided for family and guests following services. However, typically it is not acceptable to consume alcohol at the gathering.
It is customary to offer condolences to the family immediately upon hearing of the death or at the time of services. For people who wish to express their sympathy to the grieving family, donations to the Salvation Army’s charity programs are often appreciated as a memorial gift. Flowers are also acceptable and are incorporated in the church service and at graveside.