8 alternative order of service ideas for a funeral

The funeral order of service. 

It seems like the ‘done thing’ to have one, doesn’t it? 

It’s often one of those questions on a mile-long list of ‘funeral things to be sorted’. It seems like a simple yes/no question, but ‘would you like to have an order of service?’ often prompts families into asking what other families normally do. 

And, as other families have been in the same situation and asked the same question, the default has become to have an order of service printed. 

There’s no right or wrong here. As with so many ceremony traditions that feel like a ‘should’, the ‘done thing’ is not the law, but the urge to go along with it because that’s what everyone else does, is strong. 

But when it comes to orders of service (or just about any other decision you are making for the funeral, for that matter), it’s worth considering all the options before you make your choice. Here are a few things you might like to think about:

5 ideas for a personalised order of service

You may be having your order of service printed by your funeral director or a local printer, or perhaps you’re doing it yourself and scouring the internet for a template to copy. If so, the chances are that you have come across this standard layout: 

  • picture, name and dates on the front 
  • running order in the middle
  • another picture and donation/wake details on the back

There are many ways of making this layout look lovely with the careful choosing of photographs, fonts and colours of course, but there are so many other things you can do to make the order of service a keepsake that nobody will be tempted to put in the recycling bin a few days after the funeral.

1. Talk to your funeral director or printer about your loved one’s interests.

Maybe your aunty was an archetypal ‘cat lady’? Or your dad was into playing the ukulele? Perhaps your friend was a keen fisherwoman? Ask if any decorative aspects of the order of service (eg borders, backgrounds or spacing flourishes) can be cat/music/fishing themed. This can be done subtly or otherwise, and you’ll always be shown a first draft to approve or tweak.

2. Add – or subtract – pages

The traditional order of service is a folded single sheet of A4 card but again, that doesn’t have to mean you go with tradition. I’ve conducted funerals where their service sheet was postcard-sized, and some others where they have added another folded page into the middle, giving them lots of ‘real estate’ to fill with photos, poems and the like. 

3. Think outside the box

You most likely want this order of service to be a keepsake of your loved one. It’s really not something you ‘need’ in order to know where you are in the funeral service (a good celebrant will signpost the ceremony so you won’t need to have the running order written down anyway). And you want you and your guests to be able to immerse yourself in the ceremony without feeling the need to follow along with the words. So whilst it might be called an ‘order of service’, that’s actually a bit of a misnomer. Abandon the thought of it being some kind of aid to the service and think of it instead as a visual memento or souvenir of the person the funeral is for. Which leads me on to my next (possibly contentious) idea…

4. Consider scrapping the running order

Gasp! An order of service without the order of the service?!? I know it’s unconventional but, as I mentioned just now, there’s no real need to have a running order (although if you want your guests to sing a hymn or song you might need to include the words). That said, if you can’t bring yourself to scrap it altogether, you can at least give it less room and add other things instead…

5. Alternative things to think about including in your order of service

So if there’s no running order, what do you put in there? Well this is where you can let your imagination run riot! You want to add things that reflect your loved one and so that’s going to vary hugely but, once you let yourself free from the template, anything goes. Here are some ideas to give you some inspiration:

  • A favourite cake recipe for a keen baker
  • A playlist of a music lover’s favourite tracks
  • A poem someone has written for them (or they wrote themselves)
  • A collage of photos from throughout their life
  • A piece of art they created (this worked well on the postcard size I mentioned before)
  • A list of little sayings they had
  • A family tree, complete with photos
  • A selection of their ‘top 10s’: books, films, podcasts…
  • A compilation of their worst ‘dad jokes’
  • A photo of a message they’ve handwritten

The main idea is to create an order of service that people will still want to be looking at in months or years to come.

3 alternatives to having an order of service

You might decide not to have an order of service at all and that’s completely fine. Nobody will call the funeral police, I promise. And it doesn’t mean you love the person any less. Plus you get eco brownie points from Greta Thunberg and you save some money into the bargain. 

If you’d still like something for people to have as a memento though, you might consider some of the following ideas:

1. A small, relevant ‘favour’ 

This could be a sprig of rosemary from the bush in their garden, a handful of wildflower seeds for guests to plant and to watch grow, a biscuit baked to your loved one’s recipe, singles from their record collection, a piece of sheet music, little stuffed hearts made from their t-shirts (a beautiful idea from a recent funeral)… anything that is connected to the person whose funeral it is.

2. A photobook

You can create memory books of photos and get them printed (there are plenty of options on the internet) or, if you want to keep those Greta brownie points, you could put them on a USB stick or make a private website page. 

3. An online memorial page

There are a few online memorial sites that you can use to collate messages and memories of your loved one. Your funeral director might offer such a service on their website or alternatively, you could try using a site like Much Loved which also gives you the option to fundraise for a relevant charity. 

So you can opt for the traditional order of service with a personalised design flourish, jazz it up with added ‘keepable’ content, or reinvent it entirely. Alternatively, you can dispense with the thing completely, guilt-free. There is no right or wrong – there’s only what feels right to you. So free yourself from the temptation to go along with ‘what everyone else does’ and trust your gut. Do let me know if this post has inspired you in your order of service choices – and I’d love to see your alternative creations if you’d be happy to share them!

(And if you’re looking for the services of a funeral celebrant in the Sussex area, do get in touch.)

8 alternative order of service ideas for a funeral ~ Sussex celebrant Claire Bradford of Creating Ceremony