Life Events

Funerals at St. Mary’s Church

or conducted at the Crematorium

by a member of the clergy or Ministry Team

Every person living within the parish of Portchester is entitled to have their funeral service at St Mary’s Parish Church, or to be held at the Crematorium conducted by the Vicar or a member of the Ministry Team, whether they were religious or not…..

……but not everyone realises this, and some people have misunderstandings which we hope this page will help dispel. 


Some common misunderstandings

‘He wasn’t religious’

If your funeral director asks you ‘was he/she religious?’, and the answer is ‘no’, that does not mean you cannot have a religious funeral. Most people think that having a ‘religious’ (as opposed to a humanist/secular funeral) means the deceased prayed every day and went to church every Sunday.  If that was the case, we wouldn’t be doing many funerals!  Most people whose funerals we do are not very religious, but that doesn’t make any difference to us.  The service would take into account the beliefs and non-beliefs of the person. 

While not wanting to compromise the integrity of what would still be a Christian funeral, we would not go ‘over the top’ about life after death, angels, God, etc, if that did not reflect their beliefs.  Things can be toned down.  Not every service is the same.

‘She didn’t go to the church or had stopped going’

Again, that’s not a problem.  We realise that most people don’t go regularly to church, but we would like them to know that their parish church will be there for them at the end.

‘He fell out with the Vicar or doesn’t care much for him’

It’s a bit like the local doctor’s surgery – some we relate well to, others we are not than keen on.  But for most of us, we are not that bothered – we just want to see a doctor.  At St Mary’s we have a Ministry Team consisting of several clergy and lay ministers.  If you know one better than others, and have a good relationship with them, you are welcome to ask for them. 

‘We want to have our own music.’

At St Mary’s we have a very good public address system which can play CDs.  The coffin can go in and leave to music of your choice (within reason – after all, it’s still a church!) You can have music in the middle.  You can bring along your own musicians and singers.

‘We don’t want to sing hymns’

You don’t have to sing hymns.  Hymns, if any, are your choice.

We just want a simple ‘no fuss’ ceremony.

Again, we can do ‘simple’ as much as we can do ‘grand’.  Several services are short, non fussy and with just a few people. 

‘We don’t live in the parish’

That might not be a difficulty, providing there has been a connection with Portchester, or the possibility of some ongoing pastoral relationship with the family.  Out of courtesy, we will contact the vicar of the parish where your loved one lived. 

The Vicar didn’t know her.

Through talking to the family, we often do get to know the person in a sense, and often people have commented ‘that was exactly her’ or ‘it’s as if he knew him.’  Of course, other members of the family and friends are also welcome to take part, especially by giving the tribute or sharing memories.

Most funerals are conducted entirely at the Crematorium.  These are held on the half-hour, and 25 minutes are allowed for each service.  Within that time we are able to have a dignified service including two hymns, prayers, readings and a tribute. 

Some advantages in having a service in the church

Numbers attending

Unlike the Crematorium, we are not so limited by numbers.  Although St Mary’s comfortably sits around 200 people in the nave, at Christmas we pack 400+ by using the overflow transept and chancel.

Length of service

The service can be as long or as short as you want.  Unlike other venues, there is no time constraint, providing we are able to get to the crematorium in time.  It’s just a case of working backwards.

Personal symbols

Personal symbols can easily be accommodated in the church. Also the use of candles can be very atmospheric. This would be especially important for a child or younger person.

A sense of ambience and history

St Mary’s is a beautiful 11th century church within the grounds of Portchester Castle.  Walking through the churchyard to the sound of the toll bell, gives a sense of history and connection with countless people from Portchester who have walked that same path physically and emotionally. The plain but beautiful church, gives a sense of peace and ambience which can greatly enhance the service.


Most importantly, there is the spiritual aspect.  The presence of God can be almost tangible through prayer and worship.  The words of the service give a sense of future hope and not just about the past.  Commending your loved one to God’s ongoing care can be very reassuring for some. 

Pastoral care

Pre funeral visit

The minister conducting the funeral will meet with the family at home, and will help you plan the service.  A member of the family or a friend can give the tribute, or the minister will do this.  If the family live far away or even abroad, we can communicate by phone or e-mail.

 After the funeral

Unlike other celebrants and self-appointed ‘funeral ministers’, we care for relatives after the funeral, sometimes years after.  The minister who has conducted the funeral, or a member of the pastoral care team will contact you to see if you would like a visit. 

Tea and Company

On the first Sunday of the month at 2.15pm we have a group called ‘Tea and Company’ who are people who have been bereaved, and would value a group like this. 

Other bereavement services

At St Mary’s, we have a lot more to offer as well as the funeral service itself.

Memorial Services

Sometimes the funeral service was rushed and important people could not be there; or perhaps the funeral was held overseas. There are also the sad occasions where there is no body, or where the body has been donated to medical science.  In these cases, we can provide a memorial service at a time to suit you. 

Annual All Souls’ Day

Relatives are invited to St Mary’s in the autumn for our annual All Souls’ Day service. At this, the names of all those whose funerals we have conducted in the past year are read out, remembered in prayer, and family members invited to light a candle in their memory.

Burial of ashes

You may wish the cremated remains of your loved one to rest in ‘God’s acre’ – the peaceful church yard within the castle walls. 

If you would like St Mary’s to be involved, we will usually be contacted by your funeral director, and will then visit you at home to discuss your requirements.  You are always welcome to contact the Vicar directly.

A Celebration of Life

We at St Mary’s recognise that attitudes to death and funerals have changed over the past few years, and that a traditional religious funeral is not always appropriate, or would not reflect the wishes and beliefs of the deceased or their families. 

While many people who contact us still want a fairly traditional religious funeral, we recognise that others do not wish this, and so we are able to offer a more contemporary personalised service which is more ‘a celebration of a life’ than funereal.

There is also the fear the hypocrisy of a religious funeral when they only go to church for weddings and funerals. We sense that most of these people are not against the religious element per se but do not want it to dominate or to make the tone too downbeat. 

Of course for those who are adamant that they do not believe in God and wish no religious element, a funeral conducted by a ‘humanist celebrant’ seems the most honest way forward.

However, many who still wish for some minimum religious content are still under the misapprehension that these can only be conducted by a ‘civil celebrant’. We want you to know that the Church is here for you, and is happy to conduct the sort of service you require.

Of course, there would need to be some minimum reference to religion, and we would assume that a prayer (perhaps a hymn) and a committal and blessing would be appropriate. 

There are certain strengths we can offer which other celebrants may not be able to offer:

  • You can be assured that the person conducting your service, and leading a hymn or prayer actually believes in the God they are speaking to! This tends to create a greater sense of sincerity.
  • Our involvement with you need not come to an end once the service is over. We are able to provide ongoing pastoral support and visits if required.
  • Your loved-ones ashes could at some stage in the future be buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s at Portchester Castle. This would not be appropriate if your service had been conducted by a civil celebrant. 
  • You would be invited to our annual All Souls Service in November when a candle is lit and your loved one is remembered.
  • The minister conducting your celebration is not doing so for any personal financial gain. All money, even the ‘minister’s fee’, is given to the church so that it can continue to provide ministry for the people of Portchester and beyond.

A contemporary celebration of life would consist in the music you have chosen; readings which reflect what was important in their life; a tribute either by the minister conducting it, or by a member of your family.  We would meet with you and plan the service with you. We could help create a specially themes service such as Celtic, environmental, emphasis from a particular country or background, or whatever would make the service more personal.

The minister conducting the service need not even wear robes, as these things are not actually essential to who we are and what we do. 

We have increasingly been conducting life celebrations much to the satisfaction and appreciation of the families.  Here are a few recent words written in ‘thank you’ cards. 

‘Thank you for such a wonderful service for Ron’s cremation, he would have been delighted and we were lucky to have found you.  It was very moving.  You got Ron spot-on.’

‘Thank you for not judging us, and for providing exactly what John would have wanted.’

‘Thank you for conducting such a lovely service for Sue.  It was a great comfort to have you officiating.  You have been so kind and understanding through the whole process.’

 Please consider carefully before choosing your celebrant and feel free to contact me if we at St Mary’s can be of help at this difficult time.