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Interview with a vendor: Jean Francis, interfaith minister and celebrant

June 12, 2018, 1:07 p.m.

This month we spoke to Jean Francis, an interfaith minister and celebrant for funerals. Jean founded Circle of Life Celebrations and here she is to tell us all about her views and approach celebrating life, why it’s important to talk about death before we die and how funerals can be a good healing power...

So, you’re a celebrant for most of life’s big events. How did you get into your line of work?

I spent 36 years running a wedding/party planning and catering business. In 1995 I catered for a very special wedding; for Robert and Miranda Holden who brought the then, Interfaith Foundation into this country from the US.

On the morning of their wedding the couple visited the register office to complete the legalities of their marriage. In the afternoon guests gathered for a ceremony of blessing, which took place in grandmother's beautiful rose garden and was conducted by an Interfaith minister. This personalised and heartfelt ceremony was followed by a reception; all arranged with such beauty and grace I knew I needed to know more about these incredible people and the organisation they represented. Miranda and Robert continued to set up the OneSpirit training programme as it is today, which now has a network of over 600 ministers spread throughout the world.

When I retired, I took a part time job as a funeral arranger and soon realised that I could use my wedding/party planning skills when arranging funerals.

What was your first experience of death? What went through your mind?

As a child I even cried when flowers in a vase died and had to be thrown away. My first real experience of death was the loss of pets and a deep fear of my beloved dad dying and how could I possibly go on living without him?

When he died many years later I had several amazing experiences. I was in the library and a book literally fell off a shelf at my feet. The book was 'Life in Spirit' by Harry Edwards the renowned spiritual healer, with who we as a family had had earlier connections. Having devoured every word in this book, I somehow knew that my Dad was in a good place and felt deeply comforted.

Walk us through a typical week as a celebrant…

I would love to carry out more funeral and memorial ceremonies but I find most local funeral directors are very conservative; using mainly church ministers or humanists.

There is a beautiful place in between where many people are deeply spiritual and this is where I fit in. I encourage people to hold services/ceremonies at home, in the garden or a beautiful place in nature.

Add Circle of Life Celebrations to your plan!

As well as funerals I am called upon to conduct wedding blessing and naming ceremonies. In fact, I profess to be able to write a ceremony for any occasion thrown at me. I recently carried out a Sunset Earth Healing Ceremony on a glorious beach in Montenegro. I never know where my ministry will lead me next. I am currently involved with community events in Horsham, West Sussex where I live; taking part in running Repair Cafes, Share Fairs and working towards a Greener future for us all. Such activities are interspersed with a ceremony or two; never are there two days the same!

We see that you’re a OneSpirit minister, what does this mean?

Throughout my life I have attended various places of worship but have never, until now, felt I fit comfortably into any niche. I feel deeply blessed to have found the all inclusive and open approach to spirituality offered by the OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation.

While training to become ordained ministers we studied all the main world religions, spiritual counselling and the art of creating ceremonies. During this time we visited churches, mosques, temples and meeting houses, all of which helps to equip ministers to work with people of any faith or none.

During our two year training programme we wrote and carried out ceremonies that mark the milestones of life including of course our own funeral. My personal roots are earthy, thus I gain much inspiration from Mother Nature.

It gives me great joy to be invited to carry out burials in woodland settings, such as the one carried out recently for a herbalist. The committal was: 'Ruth, we release you into the oneness, Where your heart really lies, Into the light of the sun and the moonshine we let you go. Into the stars and planets, we let you go. Into the spirits breath and the love of the Star maker, we let you go. Go safely Ruth, knowing that you are early loved.'

We then passed around a basket full of herbs and edible flowers which we tossed into the grave, conveying our own personal message as we did so. Every ceremony is uniquely personal, reflecting the hobbies, life-style and philosophies of the person involved. For instance, should the deceased be a joker I would suggest including a joke or two where appropriate; always spending as long as it takes with the family so that they are comfortable with every detail.

funeral celebrant and memorial

Some people have a fear of death, some are accepting of death’s inevitability - how do you feel about death?

Many years ago I attended two amazing funerals, both pre-arranged by the elderly gentlemen concerned. I learned that it was possible to be buried in your back garden, I was away and have never looked back!

It was at this point that I was inspired to write my first book 'Time to Go, the importance of saying goodbye,' which was published in 2004. I also run Last Wishes Workshops where I explain the many choices available when pre-planning a funeral. Questions are answered, the consequence our final choices have on our precious planet explained, also I tell people that a funeral does not have to cost a fortune and much, more. Delegates leave with a folder containing their final wishes plus useful hand-outs.

Sign up to Jean’s Last Wishes Workshop

Those who have attended the workshop leave saying how much more comfortable they feel having learned more about the subject.

Why is death still such a taboo subject? How can we create a more ‘death positive’ approach to life?

I only wish I knew the answer to this question, to which I have given much thought! People generally seem to watch and even gain pleasure from movies, computer games and celebrate Halloween surrounded by skeletons. In these situations, death occurs on a massive scale but I guess people seperate themselves from such situations. When it comes to our own mortality it appears to be a different matter!

You’re an advocate that a ‘good funeral has healing power’ - how can we use funerals as a way to heal?

Just prior to my ex-husband’s death he asked if I would write and conduct his funeral. My answer was yes, it would be a privilege but please can we agree on the wording now? He had never been one to show his emotions but on this occasion he opened up and our hearts actually touched for the very first time. I am so aware that if such conversations had taken place earlier I would have been far more compassionate and understanding within our marriage. This is why from personal experience I encourage people to pre-plan their funerals while they are fit and healthy, which offers an opportunity for any healing to take place.

We notice you hold ash scattering ceremonies...what does this involve? Why is it so important for families to take special time out to scatter their loved ones’ ashes?

All too often funerals are arranged at great speed and with little thought due to numbness and shock involved when a loved one dies. A memorial ceremony offers people time to gather their relatives, friends and thoughts together and celebrate a special life in a more relaxed way.

How would you like your life to be celebrated?

I wrote about my own funeral in my book: Time to Go...and again during my training. I have already chosen and purchased my grave in a beautiful natural burial ground on the South Downs, overlooked by the Jack and Jill wind-mills.

I plan to be placed into the arms of Mother Earth in a place of natural beauty; a haven for wildlife where my family can visit and bring a picnic knowing that the place will be kept safe from developers, at least for some time to come.

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