The expression of grief on behalf of a lost loved one is unique and personal. The period of time spent in mourning will depend upon the relationship shared with the deceased and the personality of the individual who grieves. Protestant Christianity, though less formal than some religions, offers structure, comfort and hope during the time of loss.

Types of Services: Visitation, Funeral & Burial

Protestant Christians traditionally have a time of visitation, sometimes called a wake, a funeral service and a service at the grave site prior to the burial. The visitation (sometimes called a viewing or wake) is usually held the evening before the funeral. If large numbers of people are expected to pay their respects with their presence at the visitation, the family may choose to have two days of visitation prior to the funeral. Many will also add a short visitation period before the funeral.

The visitation is generally held at the funeral home, although it would be appropriate to have the visitation at a home, church or public assembly. Unless circumstances or family preferences dictate otherwise, it is common for the casket to be on display and open. The body is often dressed nicely, reflecting the traditional religious or professional dress of the deceased. If a closed casket is preferred, a formal photo or picture of the deceased is displayed in a prominent position on or near the casket.

It is common at the visitation for the family to display photographs or memorabilia representing the life of the deceased. Sometimes prized possessions, awards or recognitions, and items representing hobbies or duties at work will be presented. Many times the funeral home will help create a DVD with pictures and videos, accompanied with music, to be played throughout the visitation.

The funeral service at a Protestant Christian church usually includes the following:

  • An invocation or welcome statement, usually presented by a member of the clergy, is often given followed by a prayer.
  • Readings from the Bible, which traditionally were given by the clergy but often now are given by family or friends, are given at various times of the service.
  • Prayers and hymns are presented throughout the service, some individually while some encourage congregational participation
  • A eulogy or recollections about the life of the deceased, which was traditionally offered by the clergy, is often presented by family or friends
  • A message of hope and condolence for the family is presented by the clergy. Some denominations traditionally use the message to encourage all present to make peace with God.
  • A benediction or concluding statement of dismissal, often given by the clergy, followed by a prayer.

While each Protestant denomination has its own distinct teachings, the Protestant funeral is usually held within three days of the death. Exceptions are made because of special circumstances around the death or when family members have to travel. The service is typically performed at a funeral home or church. The ceremony may be private for family and close friends, or open to the public.

Following the funeral, many denominations encourage a brief graveside service to be held. This very intimate time has the casket readied to be put into the ground. Family members and closest friends are traditionally present, though it is certainly appropriate for the service to be open to anyone wishing to attend. The Twenty-third Psalm is often read, along with reference to “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” from Genesis 3:19.

Mourning Traditions, Customs, & Rituals

Because of the diversity among Protestant Christians about practice and theology, there are few universal rituals or customs associated with mourning and grieving among the believers.

While some believe that Christians should rarely show open displays of grief and should be much more stoic because of their assurance in the afterlife, most affirm that it is natural to spend time in grief.

But the Christian would be driven to grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Because of their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead, Protestant Christianity teaches that all who believe in him will one day rise as well. While it is natural to feel sadness because of the loss of a relationship, there is also a knowledge that God’s ultimate purposes will be accomplished.

In some areas, it is traditional to have a gathering and meal after the funeral and burial. While it can be held in homes or public places, it is often hosted by the local church. The purpose of the time is to share memories of the deceased, to comfort the grieving family and to show hospitality to those who have traveled a long way to attend the services. Often these meals demonstrate more of a celebration of the life of the deceased than displays of mourning or grief.

There are many variations of this tradition of a meal. In some cultures, it is customary for those gathered for the funeral to be invited to a restaurant. Often the family of the deceased will pay for the bill of the meals. If such a gathering is held in the home of the family, friends and others will often supply the refreshments to relieve the family of those additional details.

Length of the Mourning Period

Protestant Christianity does not have a prescribed amount of time for the actual period of mourning. Since the funeral is usually held within a week of the death, that period of time from the death to the burial is considered the time of mourning. For many that is the only official time that can be set aside. Most will return to work as soon as the actual vocational bereavement period has ended.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is a unique and personal experience, depending on several things including the depth of the relationship shared and one’s own acquired skills at coping with grief. While the length of time required for the process of going through the stages of grief to a point of acceptance will vary, it would not be uncommon for individuals to experience intense pangs of grief at birthdays and anniversaries, special holidays, and on the actual anniversary of the death of the loved one. Such experiences of grief may continue for years.


The cemetery is a place for families and friends to mourn and remember the life of the deceased. Visiting the grave site is a tangible way to convey respect and honor. Many will find comfort and peace by visiting the cemetery several times during the first month following the passing of the loved one. If a headstone or monument was to be prepared and erected at a later time, it would be appropriate to use such an occasion to gather friends and family at the site.

Though there is no set schedule of when the cemetery should be visited within most Protestant traditions, it would be appropriate to do so on the birthday or anniversary of the deceased. Many use religious or political holidays, such as Christmas, Easter or Memorial Day, to visit the cemetery, reflect and remember the life of the departed, and to adorn the site with new flowers or wreaths.


While most denominations do not forbid cremation, burial is still the most common method for securing the final resting place of the deceased. While the choice is a personal one, it is sometimes influenced by the location or culture as well as the religion. The number of cremations has increased annually for the last decade. If there are questions about the traditions of a specific Protestant Christian denomination, a pastor or leader of the church should be consulted.

If cremation is a desired choice, it can usually be done either before or after the funeral service. If it is held after the service, it is usually so that the family and friends can view the body of the deceased one final time. Some denominations will hold a special service at the mausoleum for a final commitment.

Comforting the Bereaved

It is appropriate to visit the home of the family to offer comfort and support. Though there is no official mourning period in Protestant Christianity, thoughtful words and a listening ear will always be appreciated. Cards and phone calls or visits can be a meaningful way to show respect for the deceased. Such gestures will help the bereaved know that they are cared for and that their loved one is remembered.