One of the good things to have come out of lockdown for me has been making a lot of new contacts with celebrants not just locally, but further afield. I thought it might be nice to do a short series of interviews with some of these new friends to make a kind of “celebrant showcase”. An opportunity to speak about their work, why they became a celebrant and what they believe they bring to it.
The first in the series is based on a chat I had with Jill Jones last week. Jill and I met on a forum set up and moderated by Emma Curtis of Ceremony Matters. Since the start of the coronavirus crisis we’ve taken part in regular zoom calls and have become friends.
I started our interview by asking how long Jill’s been working as a funeral celebrant. What was her trigger to entering this profession? Jill replied that she trained in 2013 – “Before that I had written eulogies and even taken part in funerals. Then a funeral director friend wondered if I was interested in doing it differently – as an occupation”
Jill spoke about something that will be familiar to most celebrants – her experience of good funerals…. and not so good. “I’ve had the experience of attending a friend or relative’s funeral and of leaving the chapel and realizing that I hadn’t actually said goodbye to them. The ‘process’ has been gone through but without that chance to say goodbye”. And maybe one of the key triggers to Jill’s move into this work was her work on the service for her own dad.
So now, several years later, I wondered how Jill describes herself and what kind of ceremonies she conducts. “An independent celebrant rather than a ‘civil celebrant’. To me the word ‘civil’ suggests the office of Registrar too much. Also, to a lot of people it means no religious content at all. Whereas I say that, while I don’t conduct ‘religious ceremonies’, I can deliver a ‘ceremony with religion’. I do funerals, weddings, naming ceremonies and vow renewals. But though I enjoy all these ceremonies, it’s the funerals I really love.”
Jill is based in Stockton-on-Tees and she works across Teesside, county Durham and north Yorks areas. Middlesbrough, Darlington, Hartlepool, even as far as York.
So what, I asked, does Jill bring to her services? “Gentleness, calmness. And people skills honed after 30 years in education.” The family visit is clearly central to Jill’s work. She also spoke about active listening and scribing skills to ensure she captures the essence of the person we’re saying goodbye to. In her words, she is trying to find out how we say goodbye. But before we can say goodbye, we first have to say hello. And, for Jill, empathy isn’t enough, there has to be compassion.
We always say that celebrancy is a vocation, a calling, But it can be difficult. It’s emotional work… we’re relatively isolated… the phone doesn’t ring for days. What motivates Jill Jones to keep going? “When I’ve been out and I see someone who waves. And I know it’s because they know me as a celebrant.” So a recognition of important work done well. And Jill added that the networking she does with funeral directors, other celebrants and the continuing advanced professional development (“I took my own CPD into my own hands.”), it all helps her to keep going.
So what does the future hold? What goals does Jill have?
“To do what I do better. And, while I will always be prepared to conduct traditional crematorium and graveside ceremonies, I also want to move in a direction to do things that are green, natural, ecological. And of course, continuing to support families in a bespoke way.” So, natural burial grounds, coffin clubs, home vigils, home funerals even.
Thank you so much Jill! I leaned a huge amount and it was great to speak to you and, as always to share ideas and experience. With very best wishes. Michael
To contact Jill or just read more about her approach to her work see her web site jillvjonescelebrant.co.uk.
And here is a little clip from our conversation…..
Michael Hannah, Dundee, 27rd June 2020