Tips for Designing Worship Elements for Online Memorial Services

"in loving memory" etched in stone

When designing an online memorial service there are some worshipful elements that can enhance the experience. These are a few ideas that will hopefully spark creativity for your own situation and context. Again, there is no right way to do this! We humans need to be together during times of grief, and an online service cannot meet the deeper needs.

Center Yourself

Being online takes a special kind of energy. Prepare yourself so that you can be fully present.

Visual Elements

Provide a slide show with photos of the deceased while people are gathering before the service and to play afterward. You may want to include interesting "facts" that didn't fit a eulogy.

If possible, make the space of the service leader free from distractions. You may want to include elements such as fresh flowers, a bowl with water, candles, etc. Don't be tempted to use a video background - authenticity is more important than optics.
The family or other primary mourners may also display flowers, if any were sent to their homes. They also may want to have objects of special meaning with them such as a prayer shawl or stuffed animal.

Also find creative visual ways to mark the beginning and endings of the service elements.


Grief is a time of deep emotion, and music is the most poignant vehicle to express and process emotion. Plan for music between all of the spoken elements


Sometimes ritual can provide a container for emotions that are hard to articulate. Encouraging participants to each have a candle to light or an object to share on screen may provide a feeling a connection.

If communion or another ritual is part of the family's practice, you may want to incorporate this into the service. Participants can have their own bread and wine to be blessed and shared during the service.


Silence may feel awkward online, but taking time to turn off cameras and mics will create space for tears and reflection.


Online, shorter is better. Encourage the family to save most of the stories for the physical memorial service.

Pastoral Online Housekeeping

The Rev. Alexa Fraser offers a sample script to welcome people to Zoom with a tone appropriate to the occasion.

This is a different format of service. Different and yet the same. The same because it is a tradition a millennia old to gather to grieve when a person dies. We gather for all but maybe particularly when the person was so loved, so filled with life and love and so young.

And it is different because we are in different physical places. We use this tool called Zoom to be together today, and it will be enough. But it will be different so let me mention to those of you who aren’t familiar with the tool a few features that will help you participate fully.

  • You will notice you are muted. That is so background noise in one home doesn’t impact all of us.
  • Please look at the upper right corner of your screen. You go there to click “speaker view” to see the person who is talking. The alternative is “gallery view” and you might want to see all of us assembled together, but mostly we recommend you use “speaker view”. Also the Order of Service for today’s event has its own screen. You can click on that as you would to look at a paper program of the service.
  • There is a chat button at the bottom of your screen. If you click on that you can see any comments anyone has made and that will serve as a virtual guest book. We invite you to send love through chat, and we’ll save that and provide it to the family.
  • At the end of the service we will create a virtual receiving line by breaking into groups. The family will visit you in each group or room.

Last, a recording will be made of the service as a permanent record for the family of this day.

At the end she explains about the breakout rooms and how we will use them so the family can first be together and then join the larger group.


Webinar: Distance Funerals, Complicated Grief: Gathering to grieve during COVID19 - Chaplaincy Innovation Lab

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

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