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Humanist Funeral Services

Finding an ordained officiate for the memorial service of a Humanist can be very difficult. However if you are able to perform this valuable tribute to commemorate the life of a friend it can be extremely emotionally rewarding and of great comfort to the family and friends of the deceased. Typical funeral services by traditional clergy often lack a personal imprint from the departed. Any one can complete our ordination process and perform religious services. By encouraging family and friends prepare some words to address to those gathered can make the memorial extremely powerful, and even uplifting.

In the following service for my friend Kurt Schweiker, the order of service has space allotted for additional eulogies and personal reflections. Kurt's sister Karla, brother Kevin, and friends Steve, Craig, and Jim all all spoke and presented a truly unique portrait of Kurt.

The service I put together used much material from Larry Reyka's fantastic Humanist Memorial Service, And from the American Humanist Association's Humanist Graveside Interment Ceremony, and from Robert Green Ingersoll's Tribute to Courtlandt Palmer.

A Tribute to Kurt Schweiker

4/18/2006

 

Opening Words

Let us be honest. Let us not pretend that it is less than it is. It is separation. It is sorrow. It is grief. But let us neither pretend that death is more than it is. It is not annihilation. As long as memory endures, Kurt’s influence will be felt. It is not an end to love -- humanity's need for love from each of us is boundless. It is not an end to joy and laughter -- nothing would less honor one so vibrant than to make our lives drab. Let us be honest with death, for in that honesty we will understand Kurt better and ourselves more deeply.

Candle Lighting

No one entering this world can ever escape sadness. Each in turn must bear burdens, though rich or poor, and in turn bid loved ones farewell as they set out upon life's ventures. Each one must suffer that sad farewell when loved one's embark on the last voyage, and each in turn must take that final journey. But for those who make this life a pledge to the human spirit, there comes the assurance of a victory that redeems life's pain.

 

[LIGHT CANDLE] Each life may be as the feeble glow of a single flame, but for the one who keeps it burning bravely to the end, death is not defeat. We light our candle today to tribute the life and living of Kurt.

Address

We gather here today to honor the memory and life of Kurt whom we have known and loved.

Unfortunately death is an indispensable and unavoidable part of nature. Humans, being a naturally created part of the cosmos, could not exist with out death. In order to evolve, all species of living things are required to make room for subsequent generations. Each of which may include some subtle improvement over those that passed before.

So death is something we inherited from our most ancient ancestors, from the times when life here on Earth was just beginning. But life with its inevitable end, is not entirely an unfair proposition, because without death there could be no love, no friendship, no appreciation for the beauty and wonder of nature, nor even any people at all.

The process of evolution that has created each us, which has allowed every one of us to enjoy life’s pleasures and happiness also implies that one day these things must end. So I ask each of you gathered here to now take a moment of silent meditation, and think of Kurt and contemplate the many joys he experienced in his life, and how privileged Kurt was to live, love, and be loved by those gathered here.

[After roughly 1 minute . . . ]

Reading

I’d like to share a reading with you. Over a century ago, the great humanist orator Robert Green Ingersol wrote the following:

He denied the supernatural -- the phantoms and the ghosts that fill the twilight-land of fear. To him and for him there was but one religion -- the religion of pure thoughts, of noble words, of self-denying deeds, of honest work for all the world – the religion of Help and Hope.

     Facts were the foundation of his faith; history was his prophet; reason his guide; duty his deity; happiness the ends; intelligence the means.

     He knew that man must be the providence of man.

     He did not believe in Religion and Science, but in the Religion of Science -- that is to say, wisdom glorified by love, the redemption of humanity -- the religion that conquers prejudice and hatred, that drives all superstition from the mind, that ennobles, lengthens and enriches life, that drives from every home the wolves of want, from every heart the fiends of selfishness and fear, and from every brain the monsters of the night.

     He lived and labored for his fellow-men. He sided with the weak and poor against the strong and rich. He welcomed light. His face was ever toward the East.

     According to his light he lived. "The world was his country -- to do good his religion." There is no language to express a nobler creed than this; nothing can be grander, more comprehensive, nearer perfect. This was the creed that glorified his life.

Eulogy/Personal Reflections

I’d like to talk about some of my own personal memories of Kurt, and some of the memories of others that I have talked to over the past few days.

Kurt was one of the smartest, most intelligent people I know. He was extremely well read. There seemed to be no subject no matter how obscure, and I often come up with some very obscure topics, that he was not well versed in and knowledgeable about.

He had a high regard for the sciences and nature. He liked astronomy. I remember him telling us about his and Meg’s trip to Aruba to observe a solar eclipse.

He was generous and supportive of the creative, artistic, and philosophical projects of his friends. Without his help I, and many others here, could not have accomplished many important projects that make the world better for every one.

Kurt was a member of a book group with me some years ago, where we would all read a title and meet to discuss it. Several of the members were aspiring authors and Kurt’s words of encouragment and guidance were supportive of their efforts, and help sustain their spirits as they navigated the road of rejection to eventual publication.

He and Meg contributed to their friends hopes and dreams, and helped pay for recording studio time that enabled musically talented friends to secure a recording contract. He was a musician. He and Meg would host gatherings with many bands, and Kurt would often take the stage and play along.

And he supported my efforts. Without his advice and assistance I personally could not have accomplished many endeavors that are my proudest achievements.

Kurt had strong beliefs about religion. He was not afraid to use his wisdom and knowledge to reach bold conclusions, and then stand by his convictions, to support what he knew to be right and condemn what was wrong. He was a free thinker and an atheist, and a humanist. Confident and sure of his abilities, and determined to make the most of this life here on Earth.

He did this by celebrating human creativity. In this vein he participated in events like the Burning Man festival, which he attending twice with Meg and their close friends Jim and Norma.

He made time to enjoy the beauty and awe of nature.  After attending their niece and nephew, Erin and Eric’s wedding in Hawaii he and Meg toured the big island to soak in  its vibrant natural beauty.  On that trip he managed to squeeze in a helicopter ride, a thrill he always attempted to justify on any vacation where it was conceivably possible.

Kurt loved to travel to see the world, and to vacation with his family. In recent years he joined them half a dozen times for group trips to places like North and South Carolina and Tennessee. He told me of his pleasure and enjoyment of these reunions, and also of how much fun he had on the commute there and back on a particular trip when he and Meg first got their Miata sports car. He spoke of how he relished taking the long way home, driving the back roads, though mountains and wooded countryside.

Kurt often indulged his adventurous tendencies and sometimes it got him into trouble, but more often it satisfied his innate curiosity and the thrill of amazement he embraced whenever he learned something new about the world and the universe.

As some of you might be aware, Meg chose to donate Kurt’s organs, his eyes, bone, and skin. From this perhaps some one may regain their sight, another the ability to walk, and another victim of burn may be healed.

All of us here have cherished memories of Kurt.

It is within each of us that the memories of Kurt's life are committed. There will now be a period of silence. I ask that each of you use these moments to remember Kurt as only you can. Let us enter this meditation with reverence and with love.

[After roughly 1 minute . . . ]

Now, as you feel moved to, please share your memories of Kurt with the rest of his family and friends. If any of you would like to stand or come here and share your thoughts of Kurt with all of us, I invite you to do so now.

Additional Reflections/Readings

 

Summation

No person can sum up the life of another.  Life is too precious to be passed over with mere words, which ring, empty.  Rather, it must remain as it is remembered by those who loved and watched and shared.  For such memories are alive, unbound by events of birth or death.  And as living memories we posses the greatest gift one person can give to another.

Closing Words

We bid loving farewell to Kurt.

We are profoundly glad that Kurt lived. We are glad that we saw his face and felt the glow of his friendship and love. We cherish the memory of his words and deeds and character. Carrying him thus in our hearts, let us now proceed in comfort and in peace, assured that even in this time of loss and sorrow, life remains precious and good. May we also on this day rekindle in our hearts an appreciation for the gifts of life and other persons. Let us honor the life of Kurt by living, ourselves, more nobly and loving in the days ahead. As you return to the routines of your lives, go in love, and may an abiding peace go with you.

********************

 

A HUMANIST MEMORIAL SERVICE

Compiled by Larry Reyka
Humanist Chaplain
Humanist Society of Friends

ORDER OF SERVICE:

Musical Opening
Opening Words
Candle Lighting
Address
Readings
Eulogy/Personal Reflections
Additional Readings
Summation
Closing Words


MUSICAL OPENING:

[About 20 minutes of appropriate music, live or recorded, to be played as family and friends gather.]

OPENING WORDS:

Let us be honest with death. Let us not pretend that it is less than it is. It is separation. It is sorrow. It is grief. But let us neither pretend that death is more than it is. It is not annihilation. As long as memory endures, his influence will be felt. It is not an end to love -- humanity's need for love from each of us is boundless. It is not an end to joy and laughter -- nothing would less honor one so vibrant than to make our lives drab in counterfeit respect! Let us be honest with death, for in that honesty we will understand him better and ourselves more deeply.

CANDLE LIGHTING:

No one entering this world can ever escape sadness. Each in turn must bear burdens, though he or he be rich or poor, and in turn bid loved ones farewell as they set out upon life's ventures. Each one must suffer that sad farewell when loved one's embark on the last voyage, and each in turn must take that final journey. But for those who make this life a pledge to the human spirit, there comes the assurance of a victory that redeems life's pain.

[LIGHT CANDLE] Though we be but the feeble glow of a single flame, for the one who keeps it burning bravely to the end, death is not defeat. We light our candle today to honor the life and living of Steve.

ADDRESS:

We have gathered here in this room to acknowledge the death of Steve whom we have known and loved. When someone we have cared for dies, family and friends gather with sorrow in their hearts. At times when we must face death and loss, we need one another's company for understanding and support. Just to be together, to look into one another's faces, takes away some of our loneliness and draws our hearts together in the healing which we can offer one another. At such times, the ways that sustain us separately come together in a virtual harmony that acts across all creeds and assures us of the permanence of human goodness and hope. So we are gathered here today in grief and sorrow, but we have also gathered to celebrate a life. We have come together to give thanks we knew this vibrant person, to express our gratitude for the days and years we were able to share with him. We are here to remember and memorialize a good and caring life. By remembering the best of this person, by recalling some his finest qualities, by honoring the principles, values, and dreams which guided his life, some of Steve's enduring nobility flows into us, that we ourselves might be more noble in the days ahead. We are gathered for all these things. But our first task is to face, full and unafraid, the reality of this death and the grief and loss we feel.

READING:

Centuries ago the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote:

"In the presence of death, we must continue to sing the song of life. We must be able to accept death and go from it's presence better able to bear our burdens and to lighten the load of others. Out of our sorrows should come understanding. Through our sorrows, we join with all of those before who have had to suffer and all of those who will yet have to do so. Let us not be gripped by the fear of death. If another day be added to our lives, let us joyfully receive it, but let us not anxiously depend on our tomorrows. Though we grieve the deaths of our loved ones, we accept them and hold on to our memories as precious gifts. Let us make the best of our loved ones while they are with us, and let us not bury our love with death."

PERSONAL REFLECTION:

No one person can sum up the life of another. Life is too precious to be passed over with mere words which ring empty. Rather it must remain as it is remembered by those who loved and watched and shared. For such memories are alive, unbounded by events of birth and death. And as living memories, we possess the greatest gift one person can give another. It is each of you, then, that the living memories of Steve's life are committed. To your hearts and minds go the enduring remembrances of this life. There will now be a period of silence. I ask that each of you use these moments to remember Steve as only you can. Let us enter this meditation with reverence and with love.

[After roughly 1-3 minutes . . . ]

Now, as your spirit moves you to do so, please share your living memories of Steve with the rest of his family and friends.

ADDITIONAL READINGS:

Some of you have selected several readings which are appropriate on this day as we acknowledge the death and celebrate the life of Steve. [Readings are shared.]

SUMMATION:

And finally, the Native American Ishi people of the Pacific Northwest, who imagined that their dead spoke to them saying "When I am dead, cry for me a little, think of me sometimes, but not too much. It is not good for you to allow your thoughts to dwell too long upon the dead. Think of me now and again as I was in life, at some moment which is pleasant to recall, but not for too long. Leave me in peace, as I shall too leave you in peace. While you live, let your thoughts be with the living."

CLOSING WORDS:

It is done. We have bid loving farewell to Steve.

We are profoundly glad that Steve lived. We are glad that we saw his face and felt the glow of his friendship and love. We cherish the memory of his words and deeds and character. Carrying him thus in our hearts, let us now proceed from this place in comfort and in peace, assured that even in this time of loss and sorrow, life remains precious and good. May we also on this day rekindle in our hearts an appreciation for the gifts of life and other persons. Let us honor the life of Steve by living, ourselves, more nobly and loving in the days ahead. As you return to the routines of your lives, go in love, and may an abiding peace go with you.

Copyright 1999, Larry Reyka

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So long as profit is not your motive and you always include this copyright notice, please feel free to reproduce and distribute this material in electronic form as widely as you please.

Nonprofit Humanist publications have additional permission to republish this in print form. All other permission must be sought from Larry Reyka

 

Humanist Graveside Interment Ceremony

A brief interment ceremony originally done by James T. McCollum for the family of a person who died of AIDS. Mt. Hope Cemetery 21 December 1993.

In the presence of life, we say no to death. In the presence of death, we say yes to life!

We come to this place, that we may give expression to the depth of loneliness and the longing-after-new-life, which the death of Hamish MacTaggart has brought upon us. Thus do we share the sights and sounds of loss and comfort, of fear and courage, of bitterness and love. But especially of love - a love which can triumph over all pain, bringing us again to the font from which all meaning, beauty and truth eternally flows.

No person can sum up the life of another. Life is too precious to be passed over with mere words, which ring, empty. Rather, it must remain as it is remembered by those who loved and watched and shared. For such memories are alive, unbound by events of birth or death. And as living memories we possess the greatest gift one person can give to another.

It is customary for our species, when one we love dies, to bring together those whose lives were touched significantly by the life of the one who has died. This is the reason for a funeral or a memorial service.

While such services have been understood in many varying ways, the human function is to set an experiential marker at the end point of life to place a cairn at the conclusion of one human being's journey.

The Cairns along a wilderness trail are built of rocks of various shapes and sizes. The memorial cairn at the end of a life is also a composite, but an experiential one. It is made up of the memories, the thoughts and the feelings of all who are gathered to celebrate the life of the departed. It is a recollection of what was for a time together and is now scattered and scattering. Here is the one we knew. We think of how our lives were touched by him and what he meant and his memory continues to mean to us.

At the end of a life, we compose a symphony, an ordered creation whose notes and themes are the experiences of the people gathered. Themes dark and bright are sounded to recollect and order the impact of the life of the one who has died - honestly, fully, tenderly - and in the spirit of thanksgiving for the quality of
that lived life.

Our recollections of Hamish should strive to evoke remembrance, thanksgiving, a sense of the uniqueness of his life, a sense of the privilege of having known him, a sense of loss, of sadness, a feeling of emptiness, of unsureness and a hint that the ending of his life is a rehearsal of what is to come for everyone of us, ultimately.

Transcending our memories of Hamish should be a developing sense of trust in the slow, but steady, grace of healing and the affirmation that we live on and will live on, blessed by his life and by the memory of he who once was and is now gone, but who is and will be present in the world and in us in mysterious and
hidden ways.

We should also be mindful that existence, ours included, is a continuum, ever changing, yet, in a real sense, not really. Elder Olson put it so well in "The Exegesis:"

Nothing is lost; be still; the universe is honest
Time, like the sea, gives all back in the end,
But only in its own way, on its own conditions:
Empires as grains of sand, force as coal,
Mountains as pebbles. Be still; be still, I say;
You were never the water, only a wave;
Not substance, but a form substance assumed.

And in the words of Langston Hughes:

Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing -
Never to kill -
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same -

Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.

Finally, it is important to remember that, albeit death awaits all of us along the path of life, it is, nonetheless, part and parcel of life. For without it, there would be no life. And as stated by one far more eloquent than I:

Look to this day! For it is life, the very life of life.
In it's brief course lies all the verities and realities of
your existence: The bliss of growth, the glory of action,
the splendor of beauty;

For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a
vision; but today, well lived, makes every yesterday a
dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!

The Commitment

In placing the ashes of Hamish MacTaggart in this hallowed ground, we think again of all that our dear son, brother, companion and friend meant and means to us. We dedicate this simple plot, amid these natural surroundings, to every beautiful and precious memory associated with him.

We lay these ashes in that gentle earth which has been the chief support of humankind, since first they walked beneath the sun. To all human beings, to all living forms, the soil has ever provided the sustenance that is the staff of life. To that good earth we now commit the ashes of our friend and say with the poet Shelley:

He made one with Nature: there is heard.
His voice in all her music, from the moan.
Of thunder, to the song of night's sweet bird;
He is a presence to be felt and known.
In darkness and in light, from herb and stone…

He is a portion of the loveliness
Which once he made more lovely.

Benediction

Now the work is left to us, the living, to carry forth the beauty and joy of that life which has been taken from us. Where we weep, Hamish would have us laugh. Where we mourn, Hamish would have us rejoice. But we know that he will forgive us our grief, for to grieve is to love, to love is to cherish, and to cherish is to give praise and thanksgiving for the life which has blessed us all.

To that life we pray courage and strength, that our frailty be forgiven, our sorrows redeemed, the wounds of our loss healed, in the sure knowledge that life moves forward and does not tarry with yesterday, and that the life before us beckons to greater glory as the only memorial that is fitting and just.

Let us depart in peace and look to the morning, assured that tomorrow the sun will rise again. Life gives and life takes away:

Blessed be life, above all, forever.

May the truth that makes us free, the hope that never dies and the love that casts out fear lead us forward together until the dayspring breaks, and the shadows flee away. Amen.

Permission to reproduce this material in toto in electronic or printout form is hereby granted free of charge by the copyright holder. Free permission to reprint the essay is granted to nonprofit Humanist and Freethought publications. All others must secure advance permission of the author through the American Humanist Association, which can be contacted at the address at the end of this file. For more information on Humanism and the AHA, please contact http://www.americanhumanist.org Phone: (800) 743-6646

***************

A TRIBUTE TO COURTLANDT PALMER.

by Robert G. Ingersoll

New York, July 26, 1888.

 

     MY FRIENDS: A thinker of pure thoughts, a speaker of brave

words, a doer of generous deeds has reached the silent haven that

all the dead have reached, and where the voyage of every life must

end; and we, his friends, who even now are hastening after him, are

met to do the last kind acts that man may do for man -- to tell his

virtues and to lay with tenderness and tears his ashes in the

sacred place of rest and peace.

 

     Some one has said that in the open hands of death we find only

what they gave away.

 

     Let us believe that pure thoughts, brave words and generous

deeds can never die. Let us believe that they bear fruit and add

forever to the well-being of the human race. Let us believe that a

noble, self-denying life increases the moral wealth of man, and

gives assurance that the future will be grander than the past.

 

     In the monotony of subservience, in the multitude of blind

followers, nothing is more inspiring than a free and independent

man -- one who gives and asks reasons; one who demands freedom and

gives what he demands; one who refuses to be slave or master. Such

a man was Courtlandt Palmer, to whom we pay the tribute of respect

and love.

 

     He was an honest man -- he gave the rights he claimed. This

was the foundation on which he built. To think for himself -- to

give his thought to others; this was to him not only a privilege,

not only a right, but a duty.

 

     He believed in self-preservation -- in personal independence

-- that is to say, in manhood.

 

     He preserved the realm of mind from the invasion of brute

force, and protected the children of the brain from the Herod of

authority.

 

     He investigated for himself the questions, the problems and

the mysteries of life. Majorities were nothing to him. No error

could be old enough -- popular, plausible or profitable enough --

to bribe his judgment or to keep his conscience still.

 

     He knew that, next to finding truth, the greatest joy is

honest search.

 

     He was a believer in intellectual hospitality, in the fair

exchange of thought, in good mental manners, in the amenities of

the soul, in the chivalry of discussion.

 

     He insisted that those who speak should hear; that those who

question should answer; that each should strive not for a victory

over others, but for the discovery of truth, and that truth when

found should be welcomed by every human soul.

 

     He knew that truth has no fear of investigation -- of being

understood. He knew that truth loves the day -- that its enemies

are ignorance, prejudice, egotism, bigotry, hypocrisy, fear and

darkness, and that intelligence, candor, honesty, love and light

are its eternal friends.

 

     He believed in the morality of the useful -- that the virtues

are the friends of man -- the seeds of joy.

 

     He knew that consequences determine the quality of actions,

and "that whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap."

 

     In the positive philosophy of Augusts Comte he found the

framework of his creed. In the conclusions of that great, sublime

and tender soul he found the rest, the serenity and the certainty

he sought.

 

     The clouds had fallen from his life. He saw that the old

faiths were but phases in the growth of man -- that out from the

darkness, up from the depths, the human race through countless ages

and in every land had struggled toward the ever-growing light.

 

     He felt that the living are indebted to the noble dead, and

that each should pay his debt; that he should pay it by preserving

to the extent of his power the good he has, by destroying the

hurtful, by adding to the knowledge of the world, by giving better

than he had received; and that each should be the bearer of a

torch, a giver of light for all that is, for all to be.

 

     This was the religion of duty perceived, of duty within the

reach of man, within the circumference of the known -- a religion

without mystery, with experience for the foundation of belief -- a

religion understood by the head and approved by the heart -- a

religion that appealed to reason with a definite end in view -- the

civilization and development of the human race by legitimate,

adequate and natural means -- that is to say, by ascertaining the

conditions of progress and by teaching each to be noble enough to

live for all.

 

     This is the gospel of man; this is the gospel of this world;

this is the religion of humanity; this is a philosophy that

contemplates not with scorn, but with pity, with admiration and

with love all that man has done, regarding, as it does, the past

with all its faults and virtues, its sufferings, its cruelties and

crimes, as the only road by which the perfect could be reached.

 

     He denied the supernatural -- the phantoms and the ghosts that

fill the twilight-land of fear. To him and for him there was but

one religion -- the religion of pure thoughts, of noble words, of

self-denying deeds, of honest work for all the world -- the

religion of Help and Hope.

 

     Facts were the foundation of his faith; history was his

prophet; reason his guide; duty his deity; happiness the end;

intelligence the means.

 

     He knew that man must be the providence of man.

 

     He did not believe in Religion and Science, but in the

Religion of Science -- that is to say, wisdom glorified by love,

the Savior of our race -- the religion that conquers prejudice and

hatred, that drives all superstition from the mind, that ennobles,

lengthens and enriches life, that drives from every home the wolves

of want, from every heart the fiends of selfishness and fear, and

from every brain the monsters of the night.

 

     He lived and labored for his fellow-men. He sided with the

weak and poor against the strong and rich. He welcomed light. His

face was ever toward the East.

 

     According to his light he lived. "The world was his country --

to do good his religion." There is no language to express a nobler

creed than this; nothing can be grander, more comprehensive, nearer

perfect. This was the creed that glorified his life and made his

death sublime.

 

     He was afraid to do wrong, and for that reason was not afraid

to die.

 

     He knew that the end was near. He knew that his work was done.

He stood within the twilight, within the deepening gloom, knowing

that for the last time the gold was fading from the West and that

there could not fall again within his eyes the trembling lustre of

another dawn. He knew that night had come, and yet his soul was

filled with light, for in that night the memory of his generous

deeds shone out like stars.

 

     What can we say? What words can solve the mystery of life, the

mystery of death? What words can justly pay a tribute to the man

who lived to his ideal, who spoke his honest thought, and who was

turned aside neither by envy, nor hatred, nor contumely, nor

slander, nor scorn, nor fear? What words will do that life the

justice that we know and, feel?

 

     A heart breaks, a man dies, a leaf falls, in the far forest,

a babe is born, and the great world sweeps on.

 

     By the grave of man stands the angel of Silence.

 

     No one can tell which is better -- Life with its gleams and

shadows, its thrills and pangs, its ecstasy and tears, its wreaths

and thorns, its crowns, its glories and Golgothas, or Death, with

its peace, its rest, its cool and placid brow that hath within no

memory or fear of grief or pain.

 

     Farewell, dear friend. The world is better for your life --

The world is braver for your death.

 

     Farewell! We loved you living, and we love you now.

 



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