A major purpose of the Baptist funeral is to offer hope and comfort to the family and friends, and to remember the life of the departed. This hope is based on the belief in the resurrection of the dead. Because of its goal to comfort the family, condolences, visitation services, and eulogies play an important role in Baptist funerals.
Due to the congregational nature of Baptist churches, there is flexibility in the way funerals are organized and the local pastor will always be the best authority on customs appropriate in a specific church.
Because a major purpose of the funeral is to offer comfort to the family; visitations, typically at a funeral home, are an important part of the tradition. At these visitations condolences are offered to the family, remembrances of the departed are shared, and friends and family provide each other mutual support. The body is usually available for viewing in an open casket, but viewing the body is optional. Women and men should be dressed in dark clothing. Guests who do choose to view the body should do so in a quiet and dignified way, showing respect both to the departed and to the family.
Both embalming of the body for viewings and cremation services are accepted, but traditional viewings of the body are more typical in the Baptist tradition.
The funeral or memorial service, which may be held in a church or funeral home, is a religious service. Its primary purpose is to offer hope to the family based on a firm belief in the resurrection of the dead. The service, performed by a pastor, will be 30 to 60 minutes long but can be longer. The local pastor and the wishes of the family can help shape the exact nature of the service. Typically, there will be an invocation, obituary, readings from Scripture, hymns, eulogies, a sermon, closing readings and closing music. The focus of the prayers and readings is to ask for God’s help in preparation for the soul to meet God, and provide hope to the family. There are a variety of readings from the Old and New Testaments that will be of great value, and the pastor or funeral director will be able to share selections from which the family can choose.
Traditional music and hymns sung during the funeral service typically contain words of encouragement and hope. More contemporary music may be included as long as it is religious. Attendees should sing unless it violates their religious beliefs. The family will typically be able to choose the hymns that are most meaningful to them.
A service is typically held at the graveside following the funeral. The service may be as simple as a reading from Scripture, for example Psalm 23, (“The Lord is My Shepherd”) followed by a prayer, or it may be much more elaborate, especially if military or other ceremonies are involved. The wishes of the family determine how brief or elaborate the service is. Both family and guests usually attend. Once the casket is committed to the ground a blessing by the pastor follows. Quite often a reception may follow at the church, a home or a restaurant, where people share food, stories, and remembrances of the departed loved one.
Due to the congregational nature of Baptist churches, and because there are approximately 43 Baptist denominations, a Baptist pastor will be your best advisor on arranging a funeral service to match local customs and traditions.
As a sample of what a “Going Home” service in the National Baptist Convention entails you can click on this link. To learn about the basic beliefs in the Southern Baptist Convention around “Last Things” and additional core beliefs, you can click on this link