Creative Ideas for a Service of Thanksgiving for a Young Person
Here are resources for a service to celebrate and give thanks for the life of a young person. These ideas are suitable for use after a sudden and unexpected death – maybe after an accident, suicide or sudden illness. At the heart and centre of this service are the siblings and young friends of the deceased. This is a time which allows young people to celebrate the life of their friend in a dignified but contemporary way. Because it is not a funeral service there can be some time before the service to plan what will happen. Some of these plans might well involve a large number of people. See the ideas below.
Before the service starts prepare the space for the gathering. If there are chairs, arrange them in a semicircle around the focal point. Make the space feel informal. If the service is in a church remember that young people may feel very daunted about coming into the building, so make them feel as comfortable as possible. If there is a solid wooden door into the church make sure that someone is there to open it, to greet people and to show them where to sit.
Speakers at the service
Ask some of those coming, either friends or family or those involved in the deceased’s life, to speak at the service. This will have to be planned in advance and it is wise to write down what is going to be said. Choose several people and allow them, together, to discuss who will speak and about which aspects of the deceased’s life. Each person should speak for no more than a few minutes.
Invite the friends and family to write poems or prayers that can be read out at the service.
Items or pictures
When the announcement about the service is made ask everyone to bring something that reminds them of the young person who has died. This can be something they have written or drawn, or photographs or an item.
Print some large photos of the deceased and place them on or around the focal point.
Prepare a service sheet so everyone knows what is going to happen.
Altar or table frontal
Make an ‘altar’ or ‘table’ frontal with simple words on it like ‘we remember N with love’, ‘we thank God of N’s life’, or ‘we thank God that we knew N.’ This can be made by some of the deceased’s friends, maybe using ‘graffiti writing’. If the deceased had a ‘tag’, that can be used.
Before the service ask everyone to make a ‘quilt’ square. This can be made in either paper or fabric. Ask everyone to put something on their square that reminds them of the deceased. Make sure that everyone makes their square the same size. T-shirt Inkjet Transfer Paper can also be used to put pictures or designs onto quilt squares. Put the ‘quilt’ together before the service and place it somewhere prominent in the church. The quilt can be given to the bereaved family after the service.
On arrival at the service give everyone a helium filled balloon tied with a ribbon. Place a card on the end of the ribbon and ask everyone to write something about the deceased on the card. The balloon can be released or everyone can give their balloon to someone else, so everyone reads someone else’s card, or the balloon can be taken home.
Give everyone a candle when they arrive in the church. Have a supply of permanent marker pens and invite everyone to write a message on their candle. Invite them to write about their memory of the deceased. During the service everyone can light their candle and place it on the altar or table.
If everyone is going to put something down, invite them when they do this to pick up a candle. Suggest that they take it home and light it at a certain time, pointing out that there will then be many candles burning in different homes as people remember the deceased.
Decorate chunky candles with the person’s name and suitable words. These can be placed around the church and small nightlights can be put around them as part of the liturgy (see How to Make)
Rent doves to be released at the end of the service, a beautiful symbol of the spirit being released from the body and flying free.
Plan to use some of the deceased’s favourite music, using a CD or live music. Ask the friends or family to help choose the music.
Invite everyone to write something on a memory card. Give the cards to the deceased’s family at the end of the service.
As people come into the building give them a flower. Have empty vases placed on the altar or altar. At a given point in the service invite everyone to put their single flower in one of the vases. Use this to illustrate that no one is alone in their grieving. As the vases fill up we see that there are many gathered together to share their grief.
Collect together digital photos of the person’s life and show these as part of the service.