The death and burial customs associated with the belief system of a religion can provide comfort and structure after the loss of a loved one. In Protestant Christianity, the funeral services mark a way to pay final respects and remembrances for the departed, to recall and rely on the teachings of the faith about the afterlife, and provide an atmosphere of support from among friends and family members.

Once the Death Occurs

When time and circumstances permit, closest family members may come together to spend the last moments of the loved one’s life. In some denominations, it is common to ask the pastor of the church to come and offer prayers and comfort during the difficult time, occasionally performing specific rituals during those last minutes of life.

Once the death occurs, the pastor of the church should be notified. In many denominations the pastor is a trusted individual who can help with many of the details and decisions that have to be handled. The pastor will also begin planning the funeral service and coordinating the various people and services that will be involved.

If the services of a funeral home have already been decided upon, the funeral director should be notified. Often the funeral director will take care of many of the other details, like notifications and paperwork, so that the bereaved do not have details to be bothered with and can instead concentrate on gathering the family together.

After the death occurs, if there was a known desire for organs to be donated, notification should be made immediately to the proper authorities. Often the funeral director or the pastor can take care of getting the information to the right people. Organ donation is acceptable in most Protestant denominations.

Preparing for the Funeral

A Protestant Christian funeral service is a blend of remembrance and comfort for those grieving the loss and encouragement of the hope of a better life in heaven. Family and friends will gather to pay respects for the deceased and show support for the surviving family. Funeral services in the denominations range from the very simple to the very elaborately adorned. Personal preference and circumstances often dictate the service.

What Should Be Done

Christian funeral services serve a two-fold purpose: to honor and respect, even celebrate, the faithful life of the deceased and to provide comfort, support and assurance to the bereaved.

A traditional Protestant funeral will likely include most, if not all, of the following segments:

  • An opening statement addressing those gathered serves as the official beginning of the service. Depending on the denomination, this statement will include a statement of gratitude on behalf of the family for those attending and a statement of support for the family. The statement is often followed by a prayer. In more formal denominations this, as well as most sections of the funeral service, will be conducted by the professional clergy.
  • Prayers, Scriptures, and songs or hymns are read and sung throughout the service. Those in attendance are often encouraged to read or sing along, especially when the service is conducted in the church building. Often a friend or family member will sing a solo, offering a song or hymn that was particularly meaningful to the deceased.
  • Readings from the Bible are common in Protestant Christian funeral services, often being used at various times in the service. Denominational preferences may dictate which Scripture readings can be used and the point in the service when they will be given. Some traditions will have all in attendance read the verses together, particularly if a familiar passage like the Lord’s Prayer is used.
  • A eulogy or time of remembrance is often given to honor the life of the deceased. In more formal denominations, this is often given by the clergy or pastor who reflects on the church life of the individual. Family members or close friends may be allowed to offer the eulogies, depending on the traditions of the denomination and the desires of the family. On occasion, anyone in attendance may be invited to approach the front and give a brief remembrance of the deceased.
  • Often the longest part of the service is the funeral message that is delivered by the professional member of the clergy. Depending on the traditions of the denomination, the message may be one reflecting hope and comfort for the bereaved. Sometimes the funeral message is used to warn those gathered about the brevity of life and the importance of living a life that would be pleasing to God. The crowd is urged to make peace with God so that one day they may be reunited with their loved one.

Sometimes denominations will have customs for the funeral service which are unique.

A service within the Episcopal or Anglican Church, for example, will include the distribution of the Eucharist or Communion at the end of the funeral. All Christians in attendance will be invited to participate.

In the Mennonite funeral services, the emphasis is placed upon hope for the living. No eulogies are allowed to be given during the service. Hymns are spoken rather than sung. After the service, family and friends often share a large meal together.

Many denominations will include a special service offered at the grave site. Words representing the final committal of the body back to the ground are offered.

When Should It Be Held

Funeral services within Protestant Christianity are generally held within the week following the death. The circumstances of the death and the convenience of schedule so that friends and family may gather to pay respects is of the utmost importance. The services are often held in a church or funeral home. Services are sometimes held in a more private setting, depending on the needs of the family, or a larger, more public setting if a large crowd is anticipated.

How Should Respects Be Paid

Those attending the visitation or funeral services will want to show respect for the deceased, honor the traditions and religious customs, and support the grieving family.

Visitation services are often held in the evening to allow for friends and family to attend and pay their respects to the mourning family. Many of these people would not be able to leave work for the actual funeral service but would like to be present to offer condolences.

Depending upon the relationship shared with the deceased and the family, people will offer condolences through a variety of appropriate means. Sympathy cards or notes expressing condolences are always an appropriate means of providing comfort to the family. Flowers or other memorial gifts are often sent to the funeral home or family house to share respect. Gifts such as food baskets or donations to favorite charities or organizations is appropriate for those with a closer relationship to the family.

Final Resting State

Views and beliefs regarding the final resting state of the body vary by denomination. Some denominations are firmly opposed to cremation, holding that it desecrates the body and interferes with God’s process of a later resurrection. Others see the physical body as insignificant in God’s scheme and process, and prefer cremation for practical, financial and ecological reasons.


Burial is still the predominant means of providing a final resting state for the body. Often a service will be held at the grave site, usually attended by family and close friends. A brief service will be conducted by the pastor, reading a familiar passage of Scripture, like Psalm 23, and offering a few words and prayer for the final committal.

The body may be buried before or after the funeral service. Most Protestant denominations have no preference for the order. Sometimes the circumstances of the death and the preferences of the family dictate the decision.