Presbyterian Funeral Service Rituals

Presbyterian Funeral Customs
First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City, Utah

The Presbyterian Church was founded on the beliefs of John Calvin (1509-1564) who taught that a church should be a democracy under the authority of God. Historically, many differences led to various schisms that were overcome in 1983 when at least ten different denominations merged to form the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.

As other Christians, Presbyterians recognize Christ and the Holy Spirit as divine.

Their theology focuses on the majesty of God whose essence is truth, will and purpose. For a human being, this means fulfilling God’s purpose in one’s own life. To this end, Presbyterians are often social activists who view their efforts as doing God’s work.

Presbyterians believe that “The central doctrine of the Christian faith is the resurrection…Christians should seek to make the occasion of death a time in which they reaffirm with joy the hope of the gospel.”—Presbyterian Book of Order. The funeral service is based on this principle.

A funeral service is held a few days after the death and is arranged in association with the church. The service may take place in the church sanctuary or at a funeral home. Guests are free to sit where they please and not expected to view a body. The pastor or minister presides over the ceremony. Programs are often distributed and non-members are invited to participate to the extent that they feel comfortable.

In general, Presbyterian funeral services is intended to remember the deceased, give thanks for this person’s life and acknowledge God’s power over death. A Pastor leads the service with appropriate scriptures, prayers, readings, and hymns. The pastor will often present a short sermon. Presbyterian funeral services are closed casket but a viewing may be held prior to the service.

According to information provided on the website of Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, IL, the content of the funeral or memorial service is the responsibility of the officiating pastor and is guided by the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order and the Book of Common Worship.

The Service of Witness to the Resurrection has some basic components which include:

  • Call to Worship;
  • Prayer of Invocation;
  • Readings from the Old and New Testaments;
  • Tributes and Remembrances (optional);
  • Homily;
  • Pastoral Prayer;
  • The Lord’s Prayer;
  • Music, hymns, or solos (optional);
  • Benediction.

The pastor will consult with the family to determine the exact order of the service and the particular reading, hymns, and remembrances that are included in the service.

After the service, mourners may go to the home of the bereaved, but there is no set tradition for these gatherings.

Presbyterian Funeral Service Quick Reference Guide
Length of Service 30 – 60 minutes
Flowers? Yes, but usually kept to a minimum.  (See our Sympathy Flowers)
Food? Yes
Dress Code? (Men/Women) Dark & Somber / Men: Jacket & Tie
Recording Devices? No
Source of Readings? The Bible & Presbyterian Hymnal
Open Casket? Rarely
Return to Work? (Days) Usually one week, but depends
No. of Days to Mourn? Depends
Embalming? May be required if a viewing is held
Cremation? In-ground burial is preferred but cremation is acceptable
Body/Organ Donation? Donation is encouraged and supported

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