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Sharon Hunter - March 2022

How To Find a Funeral Officiant

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Officiant, celebrant, master of ceremonies; these are the interchangeable names we use for the person who leads a funeral. It’s an important job. This is the first person that gathered family and friends hear from and therefore sets the tone for everything that follows. Here are some tips on how to choose the officiant that’s right for you.

1. Is it a rule that I must have a funeral officiant?

Simply put, no. You don’t have to select a funeral officiant if you’d rather not have one. Some people have the person who anchors the first eulogy also act as master of ceremonies. They welcome everyone before giving their own eulogy and then introduce the person who comes after them. Ditto the next person and so on. That way there is some order and structure, but no single person is acting as the officiant. It’s a little more relaxed and that might suit the tone perfectly.

2. Do I need a professional officiant?

Again no. Unlike a wedding, a funeral is not a legal event and therefore does not require a licensed person to lead proceedings. Anyone can lead a funeral. You might have someone in the family or friendship group who has the skills for this role. If you do, you’ll have a funeral led by someone who knew the deceased well and who perhaps travelled some of life’s journey with them. The result is something deeply personal and authentic.

3. What if a professional officiant is the best solution for our family?

The good news is you will be in excellent hands. Professional officiants have the skills to gracefully step in and run the service. They’ll have advice and thoughts to share if you’re struggling on what’s needed, and on the day you can be confident that an experienced and well briefed officiant will give you plenty of support.

4. Faith leaders as officiants

For some families, it is the leader at their place of faith that has the honour of leading a funeral service. They may have had the privilege of attending a number of important events for your family such as weddings, baptisms, confirmations, and even other funerals. They may know your family well and are therefore perfectly placed to take the lead. If it is not someone well known to your family but you still wish to have a faith leader officiate, they will meet and discuss your needs and instructions.

Officiant, celebrant, master of ceremonies; these are the interchangeable names we use for the person who leads a funeral.

5. What to look for in an Officiant

Here are some guidelines for getting the best officiant for your Great Goodbye.

A. As with everything else at the funeral, aim for genuine and authentic. If the deceased was a casual, down to earth type then avoid going for an overly formal approach with your choice of officiant. Were they an eco-warrior? A bohemian hippy flower child? Select someone whose own personal style, background and beliefs are a good match.

B. Ask around your friends and community. Most officiants also handle other major life events like weddings and anniversaries. You may have been somewhere an officiant particularly captured your attention. Get recommendations.

C. Read their profiles. Many now have online listings that outline their skills, values and ethos. Find the match that seems best on point for you. Search through our funeral officiants in Portland, OR to find a great officiant for your service.

D. Brief them well. This goes for whether it’s a family friend, faith leader or professional officiant. Nobody can do a good job in a vacuum. Make sure they understand the style of Great Goodbye being arranged so they can match their tone to this.

E. If the deceased isn’t known to the person officiating they will need a full briefing. They’ll want to meet with you and get a sense of the person they are there to speak about. Who were they loved by? What were their passions? Where did they find joy and fun? The community they participated in and the family they belonged to. In short, a picture of the person. They will also need details of close family, as acknowledging them will form a key part of welcoming everyone to the service.

F. Develop a run sheet. Even if you’re going for a more casual approach without anyone formally leading the service, it helps everyone if the order of speakers, readings and music is understood.

6. After the Service

If you are moving on to an after-service reception (and we always advocate that people stay gathered together if they can) then ensure you have someone give people a few guidelines. Let people know where to go, and what to expect. Once there, while you can dial down the formalities, it can still help to have someone gently take the lead. They may ask if anyone wants to tell a few stories; a good idea if there were limited chances to give a eulogy at the service. It could be they lead some toasts, or a song. The after-service gathering can be a really key time for everyone. Giving it a little structure helps.
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