Funeral Info

The Role of Funeral Clergy and Celebrants

A clergy or a celebrant is someone who leads or officiates a service or a ceremony, such as a funeral.

Clergy are ordained by a religious denomination or by an inter-faith or spiritual religious group.

Celebrants differ from clergy in that most celebrants are not professionally affiliated with a religious or spiritual group. Celebrants are trained to design a service that is personal, incorporating unique stories, songs, and experiences based on interviews with the departed’s family and friends. Celebrants can provide either secular or religious ceremonies. A celebrant funeral is generally more focused on the wishes of the family and the deceased rather than a clergy who is following a particular religious practice.

Common expectations for clergy/celebrants

  • Meet with the family - The clergy or celebrant will often meet with the family prior to the funeral service to learn about the person who has died and to offer support to the family. If the clergy or celebrant is helping with the eulogy, they will gather memories, anecdotes and defining moments in the loved one’s life to prepare the eulogy.
  • Greet the guests and family - The clergy/celebrant should arrive at the ceremony site early before any guests arrive.
  • Stand out as an official - The clergy/celebrant often wears a special robe or stole to signify their role as ceremony leader.
  • Assume leadership of the gathering - The clergy/celebrant stands in front of the gathering of people to welcome guests and begin the ceremony.
  • Act as master of ceremonies - The clergy/celebrant often acts as the master of ceremony at the funeral introducing other people who provide special music, readings or eulogies.
  • Close the gathering - The clergy/celebrant generally offers a poem or prayer to conclude the gathering.
  • Offer a sermon or eulogy - Often the clergy/celebrant will offer a sermon or message during the gathering. Sometimes the clergy/celebrant presents a eulogy or chronology of the life of the deceased.

A funeral is not a legal ceremony; the ceremony leader is not required to have any education, ordination or certification in order to officiate. No laws or regulations prohibiting someone from hanging a shingle and declaring they are open for business as a funeral clergy or celebrant.

When looking for someone to officiate a funeral ask questions – where did they receive their training? How many funerals have they officiated? Ask for references or letters of recommendation. Talk with the clergy/celebrant to understand who they are and how they will preside over the ceremony.

There are two organizations in the United States that train funeral celebrants – the Celebrant Foundation and Institute and In-Sight Institute. The Celebrant Foundation and Institute offers an eight-month certification program. Students study the history of ceremony as well as religious death and dying rituals, including the study of symbols and traditions. They also learn to observe and critique actual ceremonies; and how to interview and write funeral services, memorials and end-of-life celebrations. The In-sight Institute offers a three day celebrant training program.