What Happens at a Funeral for a Jehovah's Witness?

Person holding a rose in front of casket at funeral.
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Jehovah's Witnesses are a millenarian Christian denomination known for their door-to-door evangelical work around the world. Ultimately, their belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible has shaped their beliefs on death and their funeral customs. As with other Christian denominations, funerals consist of readings from the Bible. However, they may differ slightly in the length of the service, its simplicity, and accepted behaviors during the service.

1 Beliefs on Death

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that death is the end of a person's existence. They do not believe in an immortal soul that exists beyond one's earthly life. Witnesses also do not believe hell exists, or that a person is punished for eternity. They do, however, believe that heaven exists, and that "the anointed," a group 144,000 humans described in the Book of Revelations, will be brought to heaven at the End Times by Jesus Christ. The rest will be raised to live eternally in an earthly paradise.

2 Funeral Practices

Jehovah's Witnesses are discouraged from mourning or celebrating the death of a loved one. Instead, the funeral service is typically modest and discreet with an emphasis on quiet reflection. Witnesses eschew the use of wakes, memorial services and any other practices outside their scriptural guidelines. The funeral may or may not feature an open casket, and Jehovah's Witnesses can choose to have a burial or cremation.

3 The Funeral Ritual

The actual funeral service usually takes place at a funeral home or at Kingdom Hall, their place of worship. The service takes place within a week of the individual's death, and does not last long, normally 15 to 30 minutes. The Congregation Elder conducts the funeral service, giving a brief talk about the deceased person's life, ministry, and any wishes or thoughts the individual wanted to share before death. Readings from Scripture are given, and a prayer is said at the gravesite, with an emphasis on hope and resurrection for those who believe in the faith and God. The overall atmosphere of a Jehovah's Witness funeral service is to be comforting, highlighting the belief and promises of resurrection, made by Jesus Christ's sacrifice.

4 Etiquette

Non-Jehovah's Witnesses are welcome to attend a funeral service and participate as much as they are comfortable. Men should dress in a suit and tie, and women should dress modestly. They may also offer flowers or food to the family of the deceased before, during or after the service. During the service, cameras or video equipment are not permitted, but the Elder's talk may be voice recorded. After the ceremony and burial, a few friends or family members might visit the family of the deceased, as there are no rules for ceasing social activity or work after a funeral.

Dianne Laguerta is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor's degree in history and Middle Eastern studies. She studied and conducted research in Cairo, Egypt during the 2012 Egyptian elections, and has traveled throughout the Middle East.