Quaker Funeral Traditions

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Because Quakers have different views about what happens when you die, Quakers emphasize how members of their community demonstrate the grace of God during their lives rather than after their deaths. Here’s what you can expect at a Quaker funeral.

What happens at a Quaker funeral

The traditional funeral service is held in the same meeting house at which the community holds weekly gatherings and follows the same basic format. A designated member of the community—usually a family member of the deceased or the clerk of the meeting—may open with a brief description of how the memorial will begin, what participants can expect, how they will know when the memorial is over, and whether or not refreshments will be served afterward. As there are no ministers or priests in the Quaker religion, an elder of the congregation may offer a prayer, story, poem, or eulogy, and then lead them into Open Worship, in which anyone present—regardless of their age, gender, or faith—can stand up and speak freely about whatever they like. The service lasts between half an hour and an hour.

To end the formal service, the person who opened the meeting will shake hands with another person, and the rest of the group is encouraged to greet their neighbors. If the deceased wished to be buried rather than cremated, the group at the funeral service adjourns to the cemetery beside the meeting house for another brief ceremony (consisting of short prayers and remembrances) beside a small, simple gravestone.

Planning a Quaker funeral

Because of Quakers’ emphasis on simplicity, preparation for funeral services is relatively uncomplicated. When a Quaker dies, his or her meeting’s Ministry Oversight committee should be informed as soon as possible; that committee will help direct subsequent preparations. Viewings and wakes are rarely held before the funeral service at the meeting house, and the body of the deceased is present but not displayed at the meeting itself.

Frequently asked questions

Can Quakers be cremated?

Yes; there are no uniform Quaker rituals related to the disposition of remains, and cremation is permitted.

Can Quakers be embalmed?

While there are no specific Quaker regulations that prohibit embalming, many Quakers may prefer natural or “green” burial, in which refrigeration is used for preservation.

Can Quakers donate their organs?

Quakers believe the decision to donate organs and tissues is a personal one—and that organ donation is an opportunity to perform a good deed.  

What is the dress code at a Quaker funeral?

Because Western cultures associate black with mourning and Quakers commemorate their dead by celebrating their lives, they do not wear black at memorial gatherings. Both plain, formal wear and more casual, modest clothing are acceptable.

What happens after a Quaker funeral?

Quakers often hold post-funeral receptions in their meeting house’s social room, where refreshments are served and guests can offer condolences to their departed community member’s immediate family.

Is it appropriate to send or bring flowers to a Quaker funeral?

As with many things in Quaker observance, this is a personal choice. It’s good to ask the family if they would prefer monetary donations to the deceased person’s favorite charitable organization.

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