I Don’t Want a Celebration of Life, I Want a Burial Service

By |2018-08-30T20:00:31+00:00August 30th, 2018|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , , , , |19 Comments

When I die, please don’t call my burial service a Celebration of Life. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that people will want to celebrate my life. I just don’t want this to replace my Christian burial.

I want to be buried according to the rites of a Christian. I want to be one more brother in Christ, saved by grace, who died in him and will rise with him. I want to be buried like those who have gone before me.

Grief and Joy

Death is a terrible thing. The burial rite acknowledges the grief and pain of death. It doesn’t hide away from sorrow and loss or need to pretend that death doesn’t happen. Yet it includes both sorrow and joy. “Happy are those who die in the Lord” and “O worthy and eternal Judge, do not let the pains of death turn us away from you at our last hour.” It’s all there in a beautiful both/and.

Sometimes Celebrations of Life try to avoid the grieving process altogether. Instead, I hope my family and friends have a real chance to gather and to grieve together. To face and rue death together.

The Book of Common Prayer has a beautiful prayer summing this up:

O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day  our brother (or sister) N. We thank you for giving him to us, hisfamily and friends, to know and to love as a companion on  our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate  of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We don’t need to pretend that death is not painful, but we can only face this in the light of God’s grace and the Resurrection of Christ.

I’m a Sinner

Sometimes the contemporary celebrations of life avoid stating that the person was a sinner. The Christian burial rites don’t need to pretend that I was, on balance, good enough to get into heaven.

I’ve let a lot of people down in my life, including God my creator, and I’m sure I will do it again. I hope those who knew me will be given the chance to forgive me, rather than pretending there is nothing to forgive. God has forgiven me, and so please celebrate that. I don’t need you to pretend I’m not a sinner.

These rites actually pray for me, a sinner. Facing my body, the Celebrant says,

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of  your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your  own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy,  into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the  glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

I don’t want to spend my whole life believing, saying, and preaching that I’m a sinner saved by grace, only to have people gather to proclaim that I was a special person who did more good than bad.

I’ve tried to live in a good way as best I can, but I don’t want to be portrayed as better than anyone else. If I’ve done any good for anyone, I’m thankful for that because it was a gift from God. But my salvation and peace don’t come from that. I’m just one lamb in my Savior’s flock. I like that. He loves me, and I love him.

If my life is eulogized, let it be in the context of God’s marvelous grace and the love that he puts in our hearts. Let it be the story of how God wove our stories together. Let it be a story of forgiveness, and let it leave room for even more forgiveness.

Worship Is The Center

The Christian burial rite is worship. We are gathering for a worship service that is about God and in that context we are mourning the death of a believer.

We gather and pray. We read the Scripture lessons. We hear a sermon. We recite the Creed. We receive Holy Communion together. We are dismissed into the world.

The funeral service is not separate from Sunday. It is a day of Christ.

I’ve been worshipping Christ with his Church my whole life. I don’t want my last service to be any different.

Remembering and Honoring Our Loved Ones

I have attended gatherings of family and friends to remember and celebrate the life of a loved one who has died. I have attended ceremonies to honor the achievements of a person who has passed on. I’ve buried my mother and other family and friends. I honor them. I’m thankful for them, and I am thankful for the ways I’ve been able to celebrate their lives. There are so many important and necessary ways to celebrate and grieve.

So, if you find it in your hearts to celebrate my life, thank you. I know I won’t deserve it, but I do appreciate the thought.

But please do it over a bottle of beer (or diet Coke) in the fellowship hall after the burial, not in place of it.

When that time comes, please bury me according to the Book of Common Prayer.

And if I’m allowed to say it about myself, may I rest in peace and rise in glory.

And so may you.

This post originally appeared on June 13, 2017. Updated August 30, 2018.

Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.


  1. Melinda June 13, 2017 at 9:04 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. You have put words to my feelings. At age 67, after attending an Anglican Church for over a year, I knew for certain that I wanted to be an Anglican​ when I attended a “burial service,” which followed the BCP.

  2. Stephanie June 13, 2017 at 11:16 am - Reply

    My thoughts exactly

  3. Sandy Monahan June 13, 2017 at 11:37 am - Reply

    It is a great thing we do as Anglicans to come together and mourn the loss of our loved ones, and still celebrate them as precious, not just to us, but even more so to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In death there is parting, but there is also uniting, for to be absent from the body is to be home with the Lord. In our service of Christian burial we acknowledge both the death and the new life in heaven our loved ones, and someday we, receive.

  4. Dale Hall June 13, 2017 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Even before I became Anglican I would use the BCP prayers with any funeral I was asked to do, we give the loved back to God in those prayers, a necessary part of the grieving and healing process.

  5. Terry Sweeney June 13, 2017 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    I have prepared a thumb drive that contains three files. One is my burial liturgy. It’s taken from the ACNA authorized form for Christian Burial. It was a profound experience to prepare that which I trust will be followed upon my death. Anglicans know how to baptize, marry and bury. God is given great glory in these liturgies. I have shared the content of the service with my wife and sought her thoughts as well. She will know what to do when necessary. Over the years I have presided at a number of funerals. The vast majority of the time the families are caught off guard and unprepared. It’s a strain to work through the many options the rubrics provide. Even though my wife is more familiar with the liturgies of the Church than some, I wanted to provide something that might ease her burden when the time comes. One last thought, I’ve also indicated the clothes I’ll be buried in: clerical shirt, collar and trousers, socks, alb, cincture and white stole.

    To God be the glory.

    • Ralph Morgan June 16, 2017 at 10:45 am - Reply

      Thank you for sharing this Terry. Sounds like it will be a nice celebration and burial rite. Hope they will know what a thumb dive is 30 years from now. Blessings

  6. Sara Hayes Sommer June 14, 2017 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    Thank you Thank you. I have shared this with my husband, our children (& their spouses),our Clergy & a close friend or two… Thank you again for this wonderful piece.

  7. Paul Lutz June 16, 2017 at 7:06 am - Reply

    I tend to call the service a Celebration of Life:Rite of Christian Burial because it includes all the aspect of the rite for Christian burial. I have found that an effective way to teach and provide those who grieve with the best aspect of their dear departed relatives life – they rest in peace and rise in glory.

  8. Wil MacFarlane-Goldstein June 16, 2017 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Being a “baby Anglican” I find this piece most moving. There is “comfort” in knowing what will take place when the time comes. This is something that my wife and l joke about but deep down inside l never want to acknowledge. We are all well versed in a good ole “Irish Wake” but there is much more to the process than that.
    I agree and I thank you for sharing this with us.

  9. […] Is a “celebration of life” service adequate when someone dies? […]

  10. dbridge57 June 19, 2017 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    It is wonderful to have the opportunity to have input into what happens when we die rather than have someone else tell us what must happen!

  11. Carolyn Hinkle June 19, 2017 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    In the Presbyterian Church we call it a Service to the Witness of the Resurrection, for we are a Resurrection people. My husband is a pastor, and he incorporates all of these pieces into his services. We mourn, we commit the person to God’s keeping, and we acknowledge that it is God’s grace that saves us sinners. Thank you for this moving and meaningful article.

  12. allinadayofme June 20, 2017 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    My mother died at 99 1/2 years. She declared she did not want a celebration of her life! She didn’t even want the word celebration used in her memorial service! I couldn’t understand her feelings. But after reading this I see and I understand! AND I agree! Thank you!

  13. Kay Weaver June 20, 2017 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    I respect what other writers are saying, but I would like to share my experience with my mother’s celebration of life, or actually, it was my brothers’ and sister’s celebration of my mother’s life. Mom suffered with stage 4 lung cancer for months so we knew the end would be coming soon. We are lifelong Episcopalian/Anglicans. We have a loving but far-flung family from California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Texas. When my Mom died in January, everyone was invited to her funeral in Oregon, but we specifically asked cousins who lived out of state that if they could only come out one time, we would prefer for them to come to the Celebration of her Life that we held in March in my brother’s home rather than the funeral in January. There were many phone calls of condolences in January and we mourned deeply. The service in the prayer book is a blessing.

    But when all our cousins came from all these different states and we gathered as a family, and feasted and shared stories about my mom, and also about the grandparents we shared that have been in heaven for decades, it was a blessing beyond amazing! Instead of a short and sad visit with them in January, we had a warm and loving family weekend together in March. It was the beginning of Springtime in California where we gathered, and many said how appropriate that felt. We strengthened family bonds of love and promised to try to see each other more often and stay in touch. The Celebration of Life for my Mother was one of the best days of my life, and my cousins, brothers and sister said the same. So if you’re reading this, and you hated the idea of a celebration of life, I hope I give you pause to reconsider. It isn’t a substitute for the blessed funeral service we have. It’s an extension of sharing and remembering the loved one you’ve lost with loved ones alive and around you, and I am so very glad our family did this. Thank you for letting me share my story.

  14. Pastor Ken Suetterlin, Marshalltown, Iowa June 24, 2017 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I’m a retired UMC pastor; I’ve also been an organist since I was 13, played my first Eucharist then, and my first funeral at 15. I’ve played for the Presbyterians, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Disciples of Christ, Anglicans, UCC’s, Requiems in Catholic Churches, and UMC’s. I was an active pastor for 36 years. I started in my first parish in 1969, using the Book of Common Prayer (’28), and then the ’76 BCP when in was published….colleagues would ask, “Why not the Book of Worship (UMC)” my response being: The Episcopal church knows how to marry, bury, Baptise, and celebrate the Eucharist. This is essentially the same liturgy the Fr. Wesley used, which the ”modern’ Methodists threw out in the 1920’s because “it’s too CATHOLIC!” The liturgical renewals in the ’70’s through 1989 and publication of the new hymnal have made things a good deal better. But the UMC and others are STILL afraid they’ll offend somebody if they try to discuss both the theology and practices the are our traditiions.

  15. Eunice Marie July 7, 2017 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    All I can say is AMEN AND AMEN.

  16. Maxine Schell July 8, 2017 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    When there is no Anglican Priest available (as there will not be at my burial) does the church “permit” a family member to read the burial service (1928 BCP) at the grave? I will be buried “back home” beside my husband, and there is no ACNA congregation near where I live or where I will be buried.

    • Greg Goebel July 8, 2017 at 5:19 pm - Reply

      Hello Maxine. Great question. Yes, a lay person is authorized to read the burial rite with the normal exceptions of the priestly blessing and celebration of Eucharist.

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