Etiquette for a Church of Scotland funeral
The Church of Scotland is the largest Protestant church in Scotland. It is Presbyterian, which means that it is governed by its elders, and it refers to itself as reformed after having reunited several Scottish churches, all of them Presbyterian.
Through its parish system, the Church of Scotland seeks to serve all the people of Scotland and not just its own members, and in Scotland it is estimated that some 40% of the population regard their religion as Church of Scotland.
Faith and teaching
For members of the Church of Scotland, their faith is based on the worship and love of God, and in living their lives in accordance with His Word, as set down in the Old and New Testaments, and in following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
Worship is the responsibility of the minister in each parish, and the style of worship can vary, because the Church of Scotland does not have a compulsory prayer book as does the Church of England, and because of the importance which is attached to preaching and informal prayer.
The Church of Scotland’s Book of Common Order 1964 includes a section covering its recommendations for an order of service for a funeral, and this section has been printed and published separately and can be bought online from various sources at a price of £3.99.
As with most funerals the service can take many forms, according to circumstances and the wishes of the deceased and their family. It can, for example, be short and simple with only a few members of the family present, or much longer, with many more people present, and with hymns and music and prayers and tributes to the deceased.
The funeral may take place in a parish church, or in the chapel of a crematorium, or even at home or in an undertaker’s parlour.
Church of Scotland funerals usually follow the traditional order of service which includes the gathering, the address and tributes, readings and sermon, prayers, commendation and farewell, and the committal.
During the gathering the family and mourners will arrive and the minister may meet the coffin at the door of the church. The minister will welcome everyone and introduce the service. Prayers will be said and a hymn may be sung. The minister and others may then make their tributes to the deceased.
This will be followed by readings from the Bible and by psalms or hymns. The Minister will preach a sermon, and will lead the congregation in prayer, beginning with thanksgiving for the life of the deceased and prayers for those who mourn.
The service ends with the commendation and farewell, in which the deceased is commended to God.
The committal may take place at the side of the grave, or in the crematorium, or possibly in the church before the body of the deceased is taken to the crematorium.
If the deceased is to be buried, the coffin will be taken to the grave, and as the coffin is lowered into it the minister will commit the body to the ground “in sure and certain hope of Resurrection to eternal life” (or words to that effect).
Reception after the funeral
The funeral may be followed by a reception in the family’s house, or at some other location, where food and drink is served.
Many families will hold a memorial service or another event to mark the anniversary of the death of the deceased.
Some families may choose to arrange a small private funeral and then invite more distant relations and friends to a memorial service a few weeks or months later.
The deceased person may have asked for a charitable donation to be made instead of flowers, in which case they will usually have specified a particular charity or good cause. The announcement of death made in a local or national newspaper is usually the place where the choice of the deceased or their family is made known.
The Church of Scotland has recognised that it is increasingly common for families to ask for a collection to be made during the funeral service for a charity of their or the deceased’s choice, and for this collection to be made by the funeral directors.
The Church has drafted a style of undertaking which it recommends that funeral directors should be required to sign. This document can be accessed on the Church’s website.
For those attending a Church of Scotland funeral, formal clothing in subdued colours is usually expected.
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