What is a Funeral Celebrant?

Maria Powell, Katie, Doug Manning, Glenda Stansbury, Scott Copeland

What is a Funeral Celebrant? A person, clergy or layperson, who is trained and certified by InSight Institute to meet the needs of families by providing individualized services during a time of loss. The focus is on celebrating the life of an individual who is either near death or had recently passed away.

A Funeral Celebrant schedules a meeting with the family to listen and gather their stories. After the meeting, a Celebrant actively starts writing a personalized eulogy to reflect the belief, personality, and lifestyle of the individual who passed away and then performs the ceremony on behalf of the family.

Funeral Celebrants can officiate a ceremony independently or in cooperation with any funeral home. Also, we can fluidly work in partnership with Spiritual Leaders by incorporating them as the spiritual element of the ceremony. Funeral Celebrants do not impose their personal beliefs, biases or preconceived ideas while writing the eulogy. The family can decide how religious or non-religious they would like the ceremony to be if they do not wish to have a traditional religious ceremony. In the end, everyone deserves an honorable funeral tribute because the ritual of saying our final goodbye honors our loved one memories and it is the first step towards emotional healing.

A Celebrant has access to a library of extensive resources for music, special ceremonies and eulogy readings which helps design a unique service that honors the lifestyle and beliefs of the individual.

The Origin of Celebrants

Funeral Celebrants originated in New Zealand and Australia in 1975 sprouting from civil celebrants who performed marriage ceremonies where 80% of the population chose cremation and many people did not attend church.  An acknowledged pioneer of civil celebrants, Dally Messenger III, performed the first celebrant funeral for Helen Francis (née Grieves) on July 2, 1975, at the Le Pine Funeral Parlour in Ferntree Gully, a suburb of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. Civil Celebrants are licensed by the government in those countries and perform over 50% of the funerals and weddings.

As Civil Celebrants became widely accepted, the Celebrant Foundation and Institute (formerly known as the USA Celebrant Foundation) was established by graduates of the Australian-based International College of Celebrants in 2003. It emerged as the leading organization in training and educating civil celebrants that offer education, licensing and training for celebrants to perform weddings, funerals, and business events in the USA. 

The Growing Demand of Funeral Celebrants

Since 1978, Doug Manning has served his gentle wisdom with compassion and conviction leading him to become a best-selling author, sought-after speaker and a grief expert relied on by the media. His calling as an author and lecturer began after serving as a pastor and counselor for 30 years in churches in Oklahoma and Texas. 

He had grown increasingly concerned at the lack of knowledge and comfort that he and his fellow ministers had to offer to families when a loved one died and began to study the concept of grieving and the role that the funeral played in assisting a healthy grief journey and recovery.

As a result of this study, he wrote his first book, A Minister Speaks About Funerals, in 1978. He self-published the book and sold it primarily to funeral homes. In 1979, he wrote his first best-selling book, Don’t Take My Grief Away From Me. He became more aware of the need for resources and seminars in the area of bereavement and life transitions.

Dough Manning wrote When Love Gets Tough: The Nursing Home Decision in 1983. With the immediate success of that book, he made the commitment to follow this dream full-time. So, with a lot of hope, luck, and faith, he changed careers and founded InSight Books in 1983 as his publishing and seminar company, now known as InSight Institute.

InSight Institute has grown over the years and now specializes in books, video and audio productions specifically designed to help people face some of the toughest challenges of life. Not only is the site a resource for grief care books and seminars across the country but now it expanded to incorporate Funeral Celebrant training and certification.

Over 3500 Funeral Celebrants in the United States were born out of the example set by Civil Celebrants in Australia and New Zealand. Nearly half of the Funeral Celebrants, trained by the Insight Institute, are an independent liaison like myself. We have a heart for this sensitive profession and are willing to serve any firm or family members. We come to training from a myriad of professions and talents such as clergy, hospice, education, business, wedding officiant, healthcare, or public speaking. 

In a recent article by StarTribune, it stated that every seven years the Pew Research Center releases a comprehensive Religious Landscape Study. In 2008, 16 percent of those polled claimed no religious affiliation. By 2015, that number had grown to 23 percent, with the drop noted across denominations, genders, generations and racial groups.

That leaves nonreligious families without a person (such as a clergy member) or place (a house of worship) to turn to when they experience loss.

Increasingly, funeral celebrants are offering instead is a customized service designed to suit the needs of the grieving. “Funerals are changing and families need new options and ceremonies that speak to them,” said Glenda Stansbury, co-founder of the InSight Institute Certified Celebrant program, based in Oklahoma City.

“Churches take care of churchgoers,” Stansbury said. “People on the fringes think no one can or will meet their needs. We can be there for the ones who say they’re spiritual but not religious or who clearly state they don’t want to be preached at.”

A meaningful funeral can be a healing first step for families as they begin to mourn. But funeral professionals see more people forgoing funerals altogether because they can’t find a service that will allow country music, quotes from Harry Potter or unvarnished storytelling.

“We know that people need that gathering to share their loss and get support from their community. Without funerals, we’re setting up a nation of people who are not dealing with grief, and unresolved grief is at the root of a lot of persistent problems,” Stansbury said. She is a licensed funeral director and certified celebrant, Stansbury estimates she’s delivered 500 life tributes in her 17-year career.  [Resource: StarTribune]

Who Needs A Funeral Celebrant

  • Individuals with NO church connection or affiliation. A Funeral Celebrant offers an alternative to a traditional service, which is normally performed by a clergy person and for those families not affiliated with a church or who do not wish to have a traditional religious funeral service.
  • The Wounded or Disenfranchised – those who were hurt by a funeral home and had an unfavorable service experience and would only want to be cremated and leave.
  • The Liturgical Option – relationship and collaboration with a priest or spiritual leader, a dual partnership in the service or ceremony.
  • The Spiritual but Not Religious – individuals who want a personalized ceremony and may want some passages of scripture from their particular faith.
    • Funeral Celebrants perform ceremonies for every religious and non-religious believer:

      Adventist, Anglican, Assemblies of God, Atheist, Baha’i, Baptist, Buddhism, Christian Science, Congregational, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalian, Free Church, Hinduism, Holiness Traditions, Islam, Jain Jehovah’s Witness, Judaism, Mormon, Mennonites, Methodist, Orthodox Christian, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Quaker, Roman Catholic, Scientology, Shinto, Sikhism, Unitarian, Universalism, Voudun, Yoruba-Lukumi, Zoroastrianism

How Do I Work With A Funeral Celebrant?

It is very simple, Funeral Celebrants will work in partnership with any funeral home, spiritual organization, and family members upon request. Take a moment to reach out to me and I can answer further questions or concerns.