Presbyterian Funeral Traditions

While different churches have varying views, Presbyterians commonly believe that when a person dies he or she will either be rewarded with eternal life in Heaven or punished with eternal life in Hell, based on the goodness of the life that he or she led and the quality of his or her relationship with God.

When death occurs

When a Presbyterian dies, a pastor should be notified. The pastor can help to coordinate with the funeral home and the family of the deceased, and will begin planning the funeral service.

Organ donation

Organ donation is acceptable for Presbyterians.

Embalming

Depending on the rules of the state and/or the funeral home that you’re working with, embalming before the viewing may be necessary.

Cremation

Though there is no clear commandment against cremation, Presbyterians generally do not support cremation, and instead prefer that the body remain intact and be buried in the ground.

To learn more about burial, see our article Burial.

Viewing, wake, or visitation before a Presbyterian funeral

The option of holding a viewing is up to the family of the deceased. The location of the viewing should be discussed with the pastor, as some churches prefer to hold the viewing at a funeral home while others prefer to hold it in the church.

To learn more about viewings, wakes, and visitations, see our article Viewings, Wakes, and Visitations.

Where to hold a Presbyterian funeral

The Presbyterian funeral may take the form of a graveside funeral, where the service and interment take place at the same time and location; a memorial service, at which the body is not present and interment has already occurred or will take place later; or a traditional funeral service, where the body is present either in a closed casket or in the form of cremated remains in an urn. Memorial services and funeral services that are not graveside should take place in a church building (rather than a funeral home or cemetery chapel). 

To learn about the differences between funerals, graveside services, and memorial services, see our article Decide to Have a Funeral, Graveside Service, or Memorial Service.

The Presbyterian funeral service

The pastor leads any service. The service will affirm the Presbyterian belief in the resurrection and focus on God’s power over death. The service will include reading Scriptures, singing hymns, praying, and a short sermon. Holy Communion is not usually celebrated, but it may be appropriate on occasion.

Eulogies and tributes at a Presbyterian funeral​

A eulogy in praise of the deceased is not a part of the worship service, although there may be personal reference to the deceased in the prayers. It is permissible to delivery a brief eulogy before the worship service begins, though generally eulogies should be delivered during the visitation before the funeral or memorial service or afterwards, at a reception.

To learn more about eulogies, see our article Eulogies, Tributes, and Other Speeches.

Fraternal, civil, or military rites at a Presbyterian funeral

As the Presbyterian worship service is primarily religious, fraternal, civil, or military rites should not be delivered during the service but rather at the viewing. 

Specific Presbyterian funeral arrangements

In the event that a casket is present for the service, a white pall may be placed over the casket as a symbol of the baptism and to remind mourners that all are equal in the eyes of God, no matter the minimalism or extravagance of the casket. In the spirit of moderation, flower arrangements should generally be simple and few.

Interment

If there is to be a burial after the funeral service, family members and close friends will gather at the interment site for a final service, led by the pastor. Committal services are usually brief, and often include readings from Scripture, prayers, and a blessing as the body is committed to the earth.

Mourning period and memorial events

There is no prescribed mourning period or memorial events for Presbyterians.


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