The Protestant Funeral

Protestants are non-Catholic Christian members of any of a large number of denominations, including Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Baptist. Protestantism resulted from a reform movement, started in 1517 when Martin Luther “protested” Catholic Church corruption and the selling of indulgences by nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

While each Protestant denomination has its own distinct doctrines and practices, all revolve around the Christian theme that there is life after death for those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. The funeral ceremony emphasizes the afterlife and is designed to celebrate the deceased person’s life through testimonials and remembrances. Protestant funerals may incorporate various customs, depending on the beliefs and wishes of the deceased and the family.

The Protestant funeral is generally held at a funeral home or church, typically within three days following the death. It is a common practice for the body of the deceased to remain at the funeral with scheduled hours for visitation, also known as a "viewing." Depending on the family’s wishes, the casket may be open or closed. Visitors may express their condolences to the family, pay their respects to the deceased and visit with other guests. Depending on their ties to the deceased, visitors are welcome to stay for the full viewing period or leave after a short period of time.

The funeral ceremony may be either private for only family members and invited close friends, or open to the public. A funeral announcement in the local newspaper indicates if visitors are welcome to attend.

A minister usually conducts the service, but there is a trend toward more participation from family and friends. The service will typically consist of instrumental music, a sermon, prayers, the singing of hymns, eulogies and group readings from the Bible. Some services allot time for spontaneous remembrances of the deceased.

Cremations are increasingly popular in the Protestant community as a whole. The body is typically cremated before a memorial service is held. An urn holding the deceased’s ashes, or “cremated remains,” may be displayed during the service.

After the funeral ceremony, the body is transported to the cemetery for burial. Depending on the family’s wishes, guests may join at the graveside or the burial may be private.

Depending on location and ethnic group, it is often customary for attendees to gather after the ceremony to offer condolences to the family, share memories of the deceased, and provide hospitality for out-of-town guests. If the gathering is held at the home of the deceased’s family, relatives and friends will typically supply refreshments.


Appropriate expressions of sympathy include sending a card, attending the visitation or funeral, sending flowers to the family home or funeral home, donating to a charity designated by the family, or bringing food to the family’s home. Funeral guests should dress respectably, although most people no longer wear the traditional black clothing.

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