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Taking the Lead: the Quaker

Sharon Barnard talks to funeral advisor Gilly Lee who has been serving the West Somerset Area Meeting for the last 10 years

What happens at the pre-funeral interview with the family?

Usually an elder from the Meeting that the deceased attended and I visit the bereaved together. We mainly listen and then begin to talk about what they would like for the funeral, such as any special readings, poems, music, and the eulogy.

Quakers are encouraged to fill in a Funeral Wishes Form which documents what they would like around their funeral. A copy of this is kept with the family and by the Area Meeting. This is really helpful as everyone knows the wishes of the deceased. My role is to honour these in a way that meets the needs of the bereaved.

Sometimes, if the deceased is being buried in a Quaker burial ground – we have two in the area –  I go with the burials officer instead. I am also assistant burials officer. Our job is to do the legal stuff around a burial to ensure that proper procedure is followed as well as all the above.

How do Quaker funerals differ from those of other faiths and traditions?

Quaker funerals are like any other Meeting for Worship: we enter the Meeting House or crematorium and sit in silence until someone feels moved to speak. There is a brief introduction, and often a written explanation of what will happen [is placed] on the seats as our way is unfamiliar to many. Sometimes this is sent out prior to the funeral.

Usually there is a prepared eulogy which is read at the beginning of the Meeting, and there may be a poem or reading, but the rest of the time people stand to speak about the deceased – what they meant to them, their qualities and achievements. It’s usually very beautiful.

At the crematorium, the Committal brings this open period of worship to an end.

The Meeting is often brought to a close with a few chosen words and by the shaking of hands when it is felt that the time is right, or when that is dictated by the constraints of the crematorium.

What is your role at a funeral?

I welcome people to the Meeting, explain what will happen and read anything I am asked to read. I read the Committal if at the crematorium and bring it to an appropriate close. And to time keep if appropriate.

I am usually accompanied by an elder from the Meeting, or another funeral advisor. Sometimes elders will take on the role completely and my role is purely advisory prior to the event.

What valuable advice have you ever received from a funeral director that you frequently bear in mind?

The importance of timing at the crematorium.

This is a preview of a feature article.

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