Mennonite Funeral Customs

by Daniel Ketchum

The Mennonites are a group of Anabaptist Christians, a belief system that originated during the Protestant Reformation. This Christian sect centers on following God as demonstrated by Jesus Christ, with a strong focus on the separation of church and state, leading a pacifistic life and serving as peacemakers in the world. In accordance with this peaceful philosophy, Mennonite funerals focus on creating hope for the living.

Preparation and Community

Mennonite funerals include the community of deceased -- while bodies are typically buried three days after passing, friends and neighbors are invited to a visitation one or two days before the funeral. Officials who help prepare the service include bishops, elders and ministers, with deacons or evangelists often tending to the congregation in their stead. Funeral directors play a limited role, often overseeing embalming -- an accepted practice in the modern Mennonite community -- or the purchase of a hearse or coffin. Some Old World Mennonites do not partake in the funeral business, preferring instead to build a coffin and hold the funeral at home, placing the focus on the spiritual element of passing rather than on the material body.

Service

Family homes or churches host Mennonite funerals. In the latter case, a procession of horse buggies -- often led by a horse-drawn hearse -- leads mourners from home to church. Mennonite funerals generally last for about two hours. The service often includes no eulogies, only expressions of respect -- not praise -- for the dead. With these expressions, Mennonites hope to encourage a righteous path for the living. Some Mennonite mourners speak hymns during the service while other Mennonite communities sing them.

Traditions

Typically, men sit on one side of the church while women sit on the opposite side during the funeral service. Traditions may vary per community. For instance, some traditional Mennonite communities conduct their funeral services in German. In most communities, the family of the deceased shares a meal together after the funeral service and burial.

Burial

At the conclusion of the service, a procession of mourners follows the body to the grave, which is dug by hand. The deceased, dressed simply, is buried in a plain wooden coffin free of ornamental carvings or fabrics. In an effort to maintain simplicity and encourage equality, flowers are not present at a Mennonite funeral or burial, and all graves are marked by a simple tombstone.

About the Author

Daniel Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in publications such as "Word Riot," Salon.com, AZ Central, Global Post, USA Today and "Bazooka Magazine." He specializes in topics related to the arts, manual labor, green living, style and fitness.