One of the great purposes and privileges of the church and its ministry is to help mark a death and honor the deceased. Most Unitarian Universalist families choose to conduct a memorial service at the church to accomplish this, but other options are possible. The church’s ministers can assist in planning, writing, and/or conducting various services.
Please contact the church as soon as possible when there has been a death in the family. Messages left at the church over the weekend are not checked until Monday. If it is after hours or a weekend, please call one of the ministers at home. Even in the middle of the night, they are available and want to be of help. If you cannot find any of the ministers at home over the weekend, you may call the church administrator at 505-433-7219.
What Kind of Service?
- A memorial service serves to gather mourners in community, to give voice to deep feelings and offer words of comfort to all at the time of death, as well as to honor the deceased and celebrate his or her life. The body of the deceased is not present, having been cremated or buried with a private ceremony. The service can take place at any time after the death but is usually conducted 4 to 20 days after the death.
- A funeral is similar to a memorial service, but the deceased’s body is present. It is often held at the funeral home and followed by a committal service at the cemetery. The service is usually shorter and more formal and is conducted 2 to 4 days after the death.
- A committal of the body or ashes is a relatively brief ritual that occurs at the time and place of burial or scattering of ashes. It can be formal or informal in tone.
Planning the Memorial Service
Who will conduct the memorial service? Most families want the memorial service conducted by a minister, though a family member or friend who is an experienced public speaker can conduct an informal or secular service. Except in very unusual and informal services, immediate family members should not attempt to conduct the service. Memorial services are for, rather than by the immediate family of the deceased. If you want one of our ministers to help you conduct the service, you’ll need to arrange it directly with them. Each minister has their own fees.
When should it be held? A memorial service and the attendant visits from out-of-town friends and family provide a good sense of closure for everyone. The optimum date for a service, therefore, is far enough from the time of death so that those who want to come can make the arrangements, but still close enough that the loss is still “fresh.” This window is from about 4 to 15 days after the death. If significant people cannot gather in that time frame, sometimes two events are held. For instance, if all the deceased’s children dropped everything to have a visit with a dying parent, it may be impossible for all to return until summer when grandchildren would be out of school. In that case, there might be a memorial service primarily for immediate family, neighbors, and friends within the week, and a larger family memorial and scattering of ashes during the summer.
What time of day should we have the service? First of all, what do you want to do after the service? Will there be a reception or meal at church? Will you return to the house? Go out to dinner? Most memorial services last between 30 and 50 minutes. Receptions often add another hour to the event, and even a simple meal adds at least 90 minutes. Another consideration is when people are available. Travel schedules need to be taken into account. If many people who will be attending, a late morning (11 AM), late afternoon (4 PM), or early evening (7 PM) service is often most convenient for them.
Where should we hold it? You can hold your service in the sanctuary or in a living room or out of doors. Outdoor services are usually very brief and (if not at the cemetery) very informal. You can also have the service at the funeral home, which is much easier if the body is to be present. If you wish to use the church, either you or the minister assisting you will call the church office to arrange a date and time for your service. Please bear in mind that our church is often heavily booked—it is helpful to have several times in mind for your service when you call.
Should we have a reception? A reception offers friends and acquaintances an opportunity to greet the family and speak to each other about the deceased. It is a very important part of the service. The Social Hall is available to church members and friends free of charge following the service. The church’s Care Committee will help members arrange for a reception, and will serve punch and cookies. Families often bring food, even deli trays and other meal makings. One thing you can suggest to all those folks who ask, “Is there anything I can do?” is to bring a plate of cookies or tea sandwiches to the reception.
What Will the Service Be Like?
The most formal services are those in which the minister writes and delivers all of the service, including a eulogy written by gathering material supplied in conversation with family and friends.
The least formal service involves a few readings and time to “pass the mike” (in a large service) or (in a service of fewer than 20 people) an opportunity for persons to light a candle and share a memory or tribute. The minister may only open and close such a service.
Most UU services fall somewhere between these two extremes. The minister writes and conducts the opening and closing parts of the service, and shares the tribute to the deceased with one or more persons. For instance, one family member or friend can do the whole eulogy. Or several persons may speak: the deceased’s business partner, a grown child, and a long-time friend. Generally, only one person from any category of acquaintance (grown child, coworker, and so on) speaks, that person having gathered memories from others. Sometimes people write down their thoughts and the minister reads them. There are many possibilities. Spouses and parents of the deceased do not usually speak, and no one from the family is expected to speak. Once again, the service is supposed to be for the family rather than by the family. All speakers will be expected to speak from a manuscript, and the manuscript will be shared with the minister ahead of time. This avoids duplication and surprises. Sometimes after the formal eulogy, the microphone is passed around for those attending to add their tributes and reflections. This often results in new stories and insights about the deceased that are a delight for everyone.
Additional Things to Consider
If you are making all the arrangements for the service without benefit of a funeral home, here are a few more things to think about:
- Obituary: You will want to put an obituary in the newspaper. Look through the paper and get some ideas of how to write an obituary. Obituaries usually can be submitted online, or you can take them to the newspaper office. Consider running the obituary at least in the Sunday paper. You may not be a reader of obituaries, but you will be surprised at how many people are. Some families request that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to a favorite charity. Choose a public charity that most of the deceased’s friends will feel good about donating to.
- Flowers and guest book: You will probably want to arrange to bring flowers yourself to beautify the service. You will also want to provide a guest book and pens. People like to sign in at memorial services, and you will be glad to know who was there.
- Memorabilia: Some families arrange a table of pictures and memorabilia. This can be a good project for a family to do together and is always appreciated by the congregation, but it is not necessary.
- Order of service: An order of service is not necessary, as the minister guides the congregation through the service, but more and more, families are providing memorial folders with a picture, some quotations, dates, or a map to the home included. These are always appreciated, and they are a good project for the desktop publisher in the family.
- Music: Usually families provide live or recorded music for about 15 minutes before the service. Oftentimes there is a musical selection as a part of a prayer/meditation time during the service. Sometimes this music is simply “good music”; at other times it has special meaning to the deceased. Particular pieces and recordings can often be incorporated into the service, but not all music will fit gracefully into a memorial service. Some music is better played for the group that gathers at the home afterward. The minister has final authority to determine what music will be played during the service.
Church members in good standing and contributing friends are excused from the building use fees and from the minister’s fees (normally $250). Your ongoing financial support of the church covers these charges. If you are not a church member, but would like to hold your memorial service here, please click here for rental rates.
You can hire our accompanist ($100) to play for a memorial service or ask us to suggest other musicians for you.
Families appreciate the services of someone to setup the Sanctuary and Social Hall for their needs, and to clean up afterwards. A Facility Host is available to take care those needs, and to run basic sound and video for the Memorial Service or the Reception, or both. The charge is a flat fee of $85 for one room, or $170 for both.