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Homegoing Funeral ServiceFor many people, the funeral is a somber ceremony that formalizes the final disposition of the remains of a deceased person. Like weddings and other religious rites, this ceremony varies between cultures and faith systems, but often there are prayers offered up in remembrance and honor of the person who has passed. In many Black families, including other members of the African diaspora, the lives of the departed are honored with what is known as a homegoing celebration, and while this occasion tends to be inspired by Black church services, there are some elements that are reminiscent of weddings.

Origins of Homegoing Services

A homegoing service is named for the idea that the deceased person has “gone home” to Heaven or joined the ancestors, which calls for rejoicing as opposed to outpourings of grief. As with many Black American cultural traditions, the homegoing service finds its origins with enslaved Africans in the Americas who believed that their souls would return to Africa after dying. Death was viewed as an end to slavery and, thus, freedom. With the introduction of Protestantism and its concept of Heaven as life’s reward, enslaved Africans embraced dying with jubilation. Although slave owners initially banned congregations due to fear of uprisings, the death rituals were the basis of the homegoing service, and an expression of nascent Black American culture.

An Emerging African-American Tradition

In the early 20th century, there were few if any funeral homes that were owned or managed by Black people. Mourners had to depend on the charity of white-owned funeral businesses for embalming and burial services. Irrespective of denomination, Black churches were usually where services took place while these white-owned businesses handled preparation of the deceased person’s remains. Black entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to start funeral homes that could serve their communities. These enterprises were some of the first Black-owned businesses, and the funeral director emerged as a visible and trustworthy role in the community. Today, Black people of various faiths and cultural traditions hold homegoing celebrations in churches.

Similarities to Other Types of Funerals

Homegoing services share some similarities with other Western memorial settings. The deceased person’s remains are present in an open or closed casket, and pallbearers are present to help move the casket in and out of a hearse. There is usually a program created that contains an obituary of the departed person. Additionally, floral displays are included alongside the casket during the service, usually held in a church, and at the graveyard. Some attendees mourn in spite of the celebratory nature of the service.

Traditional Homegoing Service Elements

Thanks largely to the strong influence of Black churches in America, a homegoing service is reminiscent of a typical church service, and in some cases, a wedding ceremony:

  • Processional and Recessional: A formal entry, seating and exit of family members is often a part of many services.
  • Music: A choir or praise team opens the ceremony with hymns or praise and worship music. They, as well as loved ones, may also sing selections throughout the service.
  • Sermon: A pastor or preacher who is often affiliated with the church venue delivers a message that may eulogize the deceased.
  • Flower Girls or Nurses: Some funerals have women available to tend to grieving family members. Often, they provide aid-like ushers to overwhelmed mourners.
  • Scripture Readings: Loved ones are often called on to read verses and passages from the Bible as part of the ceremony.
  • Benediction: The memorial usually ends with a prayer led by a pastor or officiant.

Homegoing services tend to extend the celebration to the interment ceremony, which often includes elements from the funeral, particularly singing, prayer and words of encouragement. Observers often bury personal items of significance with the casket, a tradition that traces its origins back to various countries in Africa. Many homegoing services end with a meal known as a repast, that is analogous to a wedding reception.

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