The Funeral Rites of the Presbyterian Church

by M-Gillies
Fairfield Presbyterian Church, Old Stone Church

The Presbyterian religion was founded in the 16th century and has more than 325 years of history in America. The Fairfield Presbyterian Church in NJ is the oldest Presbyterian Church in American, established in 1680.

Basing their theology on the majesty of God, and claiming His essence is truth, will and purpose, the Presbyterian Church was founded on the beliefs of John Calvin during the 16th century, who taught that a church should be a democracy under the authority of God. With this held belief, many practitioners of Presbyterian worship recognize that they are fulfilling God’s purpose in one’s own life and thereby are often social activists who view their efforts as doing God’s work.

Similarly to many funeral practices, Presbyterian funerals are held typically two to four days after the death and are held in the church sanctuary. Depending on the person, funeral practices may vary, however a pastor or minister will preside over the ceremony.

Though the Presbyterian religion does not have a formal death-related rite or ritual that requires mandatory performance, family can request for prayers to be said.

Interment rituals within Presbyterian worship are customarily held in a person’s own home, funeral home, place of worship or crematorium, with arrangements being made by the next of kin alongside the minister and funeral director. However, while a plain cross (as a symbol of Christ as the risen Lord) may be present, candles, prayer beads or crucifixes are not considered appropriate within the tradition and it is discouraged that these religious symbols be displayed in mortuary areas.

While the Presbyterian denominations usually organize their church services inspired by the principles in the Directory of Public Worship, there is not only one style of worship in the Presbyterian churches, however the Bible is central to the funeral, with prayers that include thanksgiving for a person’s life, recognition of the resurrection of Christ and prayers for the family and friends of the person who has died.

During the funeral service, eulogies are included with the casket remaining closed.

While the use of secular music, readings and other feature have not always been considered appropriate for traditional funerals, the move towards the inclusion of secular music, readings and other features has reached some more flexible Presbyterian congregations.

Memorial services can take place prior to or preceding a burial, however, a Presbyterian church is unlikely to condone a farewell party linked to a memorial service.

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