Funeral Customary

Most of us would rather not think about death ahead of time, with the result that many families are left to hurriedly arrange funerals for loved ones, wondering if they have done “the right thing” for the deceased. We prepare carefully for our marriages, for the birth of children, for baptism, yet may push away thoughts of our funeral, that important liturgy marking our passage into eternal life, the ultimate victory over death won for us in our Lord’s death and resurrection. Death is a fact of life. Talking about death, knowing what to expect, can lessen our fear of it, help us to accept its reality and die in peace with dignity when it is time. This FUNERAL CUSTOMARY addresses some ways you can prepare for death as well as plan your own funeral. It also explains what services St. John’s offers to the family when death has occurred.

Planning Ahead

There are a number of documents you can prepare at any time during your life. These will represent your wishes and remove the burden from your family of having to guess at what you want done during and after the end-of-life process all of us will experience. An important part of our Christian commitment is to make appropriate preparations for our death. The following documents should be completed in consultation with your priest, attorney and accountant. It is important that family members or friends be aware that you have written out your wishes and where the documents may be found when the need arises. Finally, all of these documents should be reviewed every five to seven years to be sure that they continue to represent your latest wishes.

  • You should prepare documents recognized by the State of Indiana as legal directives to family, friends and health care providers when you are no longer able to speak for yourself. These include Appointment of Health Care Representative, General Durable Power of Attorney, and Living Will Declaration. Copies should be given to your physician and family.
  • You should have a will which directs the disposition of your estate in the manner you see fit. You and your attorney should keep copies of the will in a safe place. The will should name your personal representative (executor or executrix) who will be responsible for administering the estate. If you do not, the court will appoint an administrator. Should you die without a will, the settlement of your estate will fall to the court which has no knowledge of or concern about any wishes you may have had. Please remember to include St. John’s in your will.
  • Your funeral arrangements plan should be prepared in consultation with your priest, family and attorney and kept on file in the parish office. It is important that family members or friends be aware that you have written out your wishes. Our FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS CHECK LIST may be seen here. Our FUNERAL SERVICE PLAN FORM may be seen here.

At a Life Threatening Illness

Because it is important and comforting to be in a right relationship with God at the end of one’s life, the dying person should, if possible, arrange to make a final Reconciliation (BCP p.447) and receive Communion. For the same reason, Unction or Anointing of the Sick should be received at least once during a serious illness. The Book of Common Prayer provides several rites of Ministration to the Sick (BCP p. 453) which should be led by the priest, with family and friends present. They may also (with the exception of private Confession and Absolution) be conducted by a deacon or layperson.

At the Time of Death

The priest should be called at once when death has occurred, no matter what time of day or night (Office 765-362-2331 or Cell 765-225-8554). If the death has occurred at home or where it is feasible, the family and friends should take time to pray over the deceased before the funeral home is called. The survivors may ask the priest to accompany them to the funeral home. In cases where arrangements have not been made in advance, the priest can be a clear head and emotional support in making difficult decisions. The priest will also help the family decide the form of the funeral service if these arrangements have not been made in advance.

Disposition of the Body

There are three basic options for the disposition of the body, all fully acceptable in the tradition of the Episcopal Church. The option you choose should be designated in your funeral planning.

  • Donation of the body to science and or parts of the body for transplant. This must be arranged prior to death. Your physician will help you make these plans. The priest may be asked for help with the decision of how to care for the remains.
  • Burial or entombment of the body which can be arranged through your funeral home staff. Costs vary and should be considered when planning your funeral. If they are not prepaid, they are the first expenses to be paid out of your estate.
  • Cremation with disposition of the ashes by burial, placement in a columbarium or by scattering. St. John’s maintains a columbarium inside the church. Our Columbarium Customary may be seen here.

Although many people choose to have the body embalmed and treated with cosmetics before burial, it is important to know that other choices exist. The state of Indiana does not require the body to be embalmed, though viewing (a visitation or vigil with the body present) would not be permitted. Cosmetic treatment of the body is also not required. In the case of cremation, the purchase of a casket is not required; instead a cremation container may be used to transport the body to the crematory.

Reception of the Body

Many people choose to hold “calling hours” or a “visitation” to receive mourners – that is to keep Vigil – in the funeral home. Vigil may also be kept in the church, either in the Nave or in Whitlock Hall. This is appropriate, for the Prayer Book states in the introduction to the burial service, “Baptized Christians are properly buried from the church” (BCP p. 490). If the survivors choose this option, or the deceased has made this choice ahead of time, the body is brought to the church after it is prepared for burial. If the deceased is to be cremated, the body may still be present in a simple coffin at the church with cremation after the funeral or in an urn or other suitable container if cremation precedes the burial service. The celebrant meets the coffin at the door of the church and says a prayer. The closed coffin – the coffin may not be open in the church – is then covered with a pall, or, in the case of a veteran, a flag, and brought into the nave of the church. The pall covers the coffin as a reminder that we are all equal in the eyes of God. A Bible or Gospel book may be placed on the altar end of the coffin, open to the Gospel lesson to be read at the funeral and the Paschal candle, a reminder of the resurrection and eternal life, burns at the head of the coffin. If the body has been cremated, the reception would be held at the door of the church, as above, and the container of ashes, covered by a veil, would be placed on a table where the coffin usually stands. The Bible or Gospel book and Paschal candle would be placed beside the table.

The Vigil

Whether the Vigil is held at the funeral home or in the church, Christian prayer should be at its center. The priest will offer prayers with the family at the first viewing of the body, as well as at the closing of the coffin (BCP p. 465). Since the Vigil would likely take place the night before the funeral, Evening Prayer or Compline are appropriate forms of worship. If the church is used for the Vigil, refreshments and a place for family and friends to greet visitors may be provided. If the body is not to be present for the Vigil or funeral service, the Committal Service will have already been conducted. Masonic and/or other fraternal organization rites may be conducted at the Vigil. Military rites are typically conducted at the committal.

The Funeral Service

The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.

The liturgy therefore is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn (BCP p. 507).

Although the funeral service may be a simple Burial of the Dead without Communion, the Holy Eucharist, as the Church’s principal offering of sacrifice, prayer and praise, is the preferred form of worship in either Burial Rite I or Rite II. The Eucharist is a service of thanksgiving to God for God’s redemption of an earthly life that has come to an end. The Book of Common Prayer suggests that every effort be made to schedule the service at a time when the congregation has an opportunity to be present (BCP p. 490). The service may take place at the church on any day except Sunday and certain other days such as Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Laypersons – including family and friends if they desire – should take part in the service by reading lessons and the psalm. If the deceased has not chosen the readings, the priest will assist the family in choosing Readings from Scripture that are suggested in the Book of Common Prayer. Other readings or poems of spiritual value to the family may also be approved by the priest. The final order of the service, the appointment of readers and the preparation of bulletins is the responsibility of the priest in consultation with the family and consistent with the decedent’s wishes. No funeral shall be scheduled prior to consulting with the priest about the availability of the church’s facilities and staff to conduct the funeral.

No eulogy is given during the Burial Service. A reception or gathering after the service is an appropriate time for remembrances by family and friends.

The traditional color for funerals is white. The only flowers permitted in the sanctuary are at the usual place on the east wall behind the altar and are an offering from the family. Any other floral arrangements are to be placed in the Narthex or in Whitlock Hall. Any floral arrangement for the coffin must not be placed on the pall. Once the pall has been removed, a floral arrangement could be used to cover the coffin as it leaves the church. Photographs of the deceased may be displayed in the Narthex or in Whitlock Hall. No photography is permitted in the sanctuary. When the deceased has been a veteran, the funeral director may present the family the flag of the United States which may be used to cover the coffin from the church to the grave site. Here, appropriate military honors may be conducted. The folded flag is presented to the family after taps are played and prior to the committal service.

Music may be offered, either by the organist alone, or by the organist and/or choir, soloists or other musicians and the congregation, if there is time for such arrangements to be made and they are acceptable to the organist. Here is a link to Hymns which may be chosen to express both the joy and the certainty of the Christian hope of resurrection. Other music may also be chosen with the approval of the priest and organist.

Seating for the immediate and extended family is reserved in the front pews near the pulpit. It is appropriate, when a coffin is present, to have six to eight pallbearers (men or women) escort the coffin from the hearse to the church and following the service from the church to the hearse to its final resting place. Those chosen as pallbearers (as well as honorary pallbearers who will not assist in lifting the coffin) will be in reserved seating across from the family. There may also be honorary pallbearers for ashes. Two ushers should be chosen to distribute bulletins and assist in seating of the guests.

The Committal

The committal is a short and solemn moment of the funeral service. It takes place either at the grave site or at our columbarium. It may follow the church service or occur at a later date. The committal can be a very emotional moment. Many who are suffering grief find that, even in their sadness, the words of prayer and trust that the deceased now is in God’s hands begins the process of healing the grief of loss. People who have lost someone close to them are often so busy with practical details and arrangements between the death and the funeral that they do not experience the full sense of this loss until later. Grieving is a natural and important part of coming to terms with and healing this loss. It may continue for several months or longer. The priest and lay people in the parish are available to comfort and support those who mourn.


A reception for the family and guests may be held in Whitlock Hall. There is an extra charge for custodial care for the reception. Food and beverage can be provided through a caterer or may be offered by the Sts. Martha and Andrew Guild. Wine may be served if desired.


No one will be excluded from the ministry of the church for financial reasons. These charges serve as guidelines. All fees should be paid prior the funeral. One inclusive check should be made to St. John’s Episcopal Church. The parish treasurer will distribute the funds. For parishioners, there is no fee for the clergy or the use of the church or Whitlock Hall. However, a contribution to the parish (for use and utilities) and the Rector’s Discretionary Fund (for Outreach use) is appreciated. Donations to the Building Fund, the Memorial Fund or other designated fund are always appreciated. If other musicians are to assist with the service, their participation and their compensation is to be approved by the priest. If the family wishes to suggest memorial donations to a charity suggested by the deceased, the funeral home staff will be of assistance.

Use of Churchcontribution$150.00
Use of Whitlock Hallcontribution$100.00
Altar Guild$50.00$75.00
Altar Flowers$50.00$50.00
Standard Bulletins*$50.00$50.00

*St. John’s standard bulletin is a folded four page guide to the order of the service in the BCP and lists the hymns, psalms and readings. Participants in the service are also named. Custom bulletins may be designed and purchased from a local printer, but must be approved by the priest prior to printing and use.

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Last Updated Tuesday 5 February 2013