Guidelines for Planning a Memorial Service 


  • Minister, David Bryce, 617-484-1054, x 202
  • Minister of Music, Ian Garvie, 617-484-1054, x 206
  • Church Administrator, Janice Zazinsky, 617-484-1054
  • Sexton, Luis Carrion

First Steps

  • The Minister is available both for grief counseling and for help planning the memorial service.
  • The Church Administrator can discuss dates and times when the church building is available and will direct you to the Caring Connection who can help with planning the reception following the service.
  • Within a few days of the death, you, or a good friend in your place, should notify all the appropriate persons of your loved one’s passing.  This list should include, but not be limited to: extended family, friends within the church, friends from the larger community, business associates, and members of organizations to which the loved one belonged.  You should let them know the date and time of the service, if that has been arranged, or tell them which papers will carry the notice once arrangements are finalized.
  • Once the date and time of the service has been settled, you may want to place a death notice in the Belmont Citizen (781-433-6905; deadline 4 p.m. Monday) or the Boston Globe (617-929-1500).   For church members and friends[1], the Church Administrator can put a notice in the church newsletter.

The Memorial Service or Celebration of Life

  • Each Unitarian Universalist memorial service or funeral is developed by the family of the deceased and the presiding Minister to especially honor the memory of that individual.  There is no set format.  Frequently, although not always, the service includes a time for family, and sometimes friends, to remember the deceased with a story or anecdote. There is usually hymn singing and instrumental music as well.
  • It is usual for the Minister of First Church to be offered the opportunity to conduct the service if it is to be held at the church.  There is no fee for members or friends of the Church.  Others should consult the Minister for his fee schedule.
  • The Minister of Music is available to help with the planning of music at these services.  There is a fee for her services.
  • For members and friends, the Caring Connection can help with recruiting ushers and parking attendants.
  • You should consult with The Church Administrator about plans for overflow parking, as our lot is limited in size.
  • There are two choices for producing the order of service:
  1. With a few days notice, the Church Administrator can prepare an order of service similar to the ones used on a regular Sunday service with the drawing of the church building on the cover.
  2. If you want a photo or other special cover, you will have to make arrangements with an outside printing company.
  • Some families choose to form a receiving line after they move from the service into the reception.  If this is your choice, you should plan ahead where you would like to stand.  An alternative to a receiving line is to station family members around the reception to talk with people.
  • On the day of the service, you should let the ushers know:
  1. How many rows or seats in the sanctuary you wish reserved for family or other special guests.
  2. How the family members wish to leave the sanctuary at the end of the service.  The can either exit by the door to the right of the chancel or they can exit through the back while the guests stay seated.
  3. If you wish them to escort guests out of the sanctuary after the service.   Often the ushers move to the front of the sanctuary and direct the rows to leave one by one.
  • Also on the day of the service, you should let the parking attendant(s) know how many spaces should be reserved for family or special guests.
  • As with any church service, there should be small bottles of water available at the lectern should any of the speakers need them.  The family may also want some bottles available to them in the pews, and near the location of the receiving line.

Planning the Reception

  • Estimate the number of guests you expect.  (A typical memorial service at First Church has 75 – 100 guests, but a few have exceeded the 175 person capacity of the sanctuary.)
  • Decide on whether you wish to use the Upper Gathering Space or the Parish Hall for the reception.  A rental fee will be charged both for members and non-members.  The Church Administrator can provide a schedule of the rental fees.
  • Decide on a menu.  Receptions vary from tea and cookies to full sit down meals, and everything in between.  The menu is typically determined by the time of day the service is held. Mealtimes require more substantial food, such as sandwiches and crudités at lunch, or hot hors d’oeuvres in the late afternoon. Morning and mid-afternoon menus are usually lighter, featuring sweet finger foods and fruit or vegetable platters.
  • For members and friends of the First Church, the Caring Connection can help with the reception by providing:
  1. Volunteers to help with both setup and clean up;
  2. Cookies, brownies, or other finger food contributed by members of the congregation;
  3. A simple selection of beverages including coffee, tea and water which will be charged to you at cost;
  4. Paper goods (plates, napkins, cups).  These items will be free if they are available in the kitchen.  You will be charged at cost if any of these items need to be purchased.
  • For all others, or for members and friends desiring more than simple finger food, we suggest using a caterer.  The Church Administrator can provide a list of names or you can use the caterer of your choice as long as they are registered with the town’s health department.  A catered buffet of sandwiches, vegetable platters and cookies or brownies costs  $10 and up per person plus an additional charge for any staff provided by the caterer.  If the caterer prepares food on the premises, a rental fee will be charged for the use of the kitchen.  For non-members, the Church may request that a member or staff person who is familiar with the facility be present.
  • Someone familiar with the church’s dishwasher should be on hand for clean up if any of the church dishes (including china, silverware or serving platters) are going to be used.  Ask your Caring Connection contact or the Church Administrator if you are unsure about this.
  • At least a few days before the service, let the Church Administrator know how you would like the hall set up.  You will want some chairs scattered around the reception area for those unable to stand for an extended period. A few small tables near the chairs are useful.  The church has banquet size tables that can be used for setting out food and beverages.  Additional tables are available in three sizes (banquet size, card tables, and small round side tables) should you wish.  You do not have to have enough tables for everyone but should have some available.
  • A few days before the service, check that the appropriate tablecloths are clean.  (There is a selection of tablecloths available in the storage area between the pantry and the Parish Hall.)  After the event, any tablecloths used should be returned in clean condition.
  • The church Sexton is often available for help before, during, and after the service and reception.  There will be a charge for his time.  If the Sexton is not available at the time of your reception, you should check with the Church Administrator to see what duties need to be covered.
  • Regardless of what you plan for the reception as a whole, on the day of the service there should be bottles of water and food for the family as they exit from the service into the reception area.
  • The church owns three large coffee pots.  On a typical day, there will be regular coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and hot water for tea.  On the day of the service, you should provide ground coffee, tea bags, and cream.  If you are not using a caterer, the Sexton can help get the pots brewing at least one hour before the reception starts.

Other Items to Think About

  • It is customary, but not required, for there to be a floral arrangement on the chancel table in the sanctuary.  You may do whatever you like, but for reference you should know that on a normal Sunday, the flowers cost $65 (as of 2009).  The head of the Flower Committee can advise you as to which florist the church normally uses, although you are free to use any florist you like.
  • You can ask a friend to whisk the flowers from the chancel into the reception at the end of the service.  You should also consider what other flowers or decorations you might want at the reception.  Some people like to have small vases or centerpieces on the small tables that are often scattered about the room.  (The church’s vases are stored in the old office adjacent to the parlor.)
  • Most families provide a guest (condolence) book in which people can write their name and addresses.  Some books also have room for people to leave a message or for you to record other information.  These books can be found at good stationer, like Bob Slate or The Paper Store, or at some bookstores.
  • At the reception, some families choose to have a display of photographs or other memorabilia.   The church can provide a table or freestanding easels for displaying these items.  Be sure to incorporate any such displays into your setup plan for the reception.
  • You may want to have a supply of facial tissues available in the sanctuary and reception hall.

[1] Friends of the First Church is the term used to indicate those people who regularly participate in the church community and who provide yearly financial support.  Except for the fact that they have not signed the membership book, friends are very much like members of the church.