Whether you want to carry out your loved one’s final wishes to be buried with a favourite bottle of whisky, fancy having a non-religious baby naming ceremony for your new arrival or have always dreamt of being married on top of a skyscraper, in the middle of the woods or on a beach, newly qualified civil celebrant Jane Gower can help.
The 65-year-old from Duston, Northampton, has retired from her previous high flying career as chief executive officer of a group of independent electrical wholesalers and switched to become a civil celebrant.
“I have had more than 25 years experience in event management for business conferences and then in early February, I took the course in the Fellowship of Independent Celebrants (FOIC) which qualifies me to conduct baby namings, hand fastings, weddings and funerals,” says Nuneaton-born Jane.
“From speaking to people there seems to be a lack of awareness of what celebrants can do, especially when it comes to funerals if the family do not wish to have a religious ceremony. I like being able to advise a family at what is a very difficult and emotional time for them. I can help them decide what readings to have and suggest poems and words for them to be said at the funeral; it’s really satisfying.”
That advice can include whether requests from dearly departed family and friends can be carried out.
“If someone said to me ‘I want to bury uncle Jim with a bottle of Scotch in his coffin’ I would be able to tell them what we could do. That kind of request is fairly normal.”
While Jane is not a counsellor for a bereaved family, she is there to help give them a fitting send off for their loved one.
“I never know what a family are going through when I knock on their door or call,” she says. “It could be a funeral for an elderly person who has lived a full life or a young man killed in a car accident, so there could be a completely different set of reactions. I am there to make sure their final goodbye is the best I can make it. Some people want a lot of humour, while others want it to be serious.”
A civil celebrant is not allowed to conduct any ceremonies in a church or register office.
“Funerals can take place at the crematorium, a green burial site or some funeral directors have their own chapel which can seat up to 50 people,” she explains. “We are becoming a more secular society so a lot of funerals are conducted by civil celebrants rather than a priest.
“I can help people source music, readings and poems for the service, and have no problems with what anyone’s religious beliefs are so am happy to read from a passage of the Koran or a Hindu prayer.”
It’s a world away from Jane’s previous, long-running and lucrative career as a CEO.
“I worked for Fegime UK for 30 years and worked my way up the company from secretary to become their first ever CEO,” she recalls. “I took the turnover up from £70 million a year to £340 million and was the first woman president on the board of Fegime European.”
Part of her role saw her organise large events for the company and that led her to set up Rainbow Romance, offering wedding planning and party celebrations. In turn, that led to Jane’s new role.
“A couple may decide they want to be legally married at the register office and then have another ceremony elsewhere,” she explains. “They can turn up at the register office in jeans and a T-shirt and two witnesses; then a few days or six months later, have another ceremony in a field, on top of a skyscraper, in their back garden . . . because the marriage itself is already legal. The venue itself doesn’t have to be licensed, because they are already married.
“Ceremonies can include special touches like a unity candle, lit to symbolism the joining of the couple, or a loving cup, known as a quaiche (pronounced quake). Couples drink the traditional honeymoon toast of mead from it or you can merge red and white wine to have a pink coloured wine to symbolise the joining of the two.”
Jane is currently completing a course in Pagan weddings and already incorporates hand fasting into current ceremonies.
“This is all about tying the knot and the bonds of marriage,” she explains.
Baby-naming ceremonies are becoming increasingly popular as society becomes less religious.
“These can take place in someone’s home, a hotel or in a garden and people coming from previous marriages with other children, call them a welcoming ceremony as they welcome all the children coming together,” Jane explains.
Instead of godparents, people choose good parents and rose petals can be sprinkled over the baby’s head to symbolise certain virtues like white for innocence, yellow for friends and friendship, pink for love and compassion and red meaning a passion for life.
Vow renewals are another growing trend for couples wanting to reinforce their marriage and people celebrate them for all kinds of different things.
“It may be at a special anniversary, or if one of them has recovered from illness, or someone has a serious illness, and also if one of them has been naughty and they want to get back on track.”
Whatever the ceremony Jane is officiating at, she is enjoying her new change of direction.
“It’s been really strange, because being CEO, meant people came to me because they wanted to sell me things like sockets and lengths of cable, but this is about me selling what I can do for people.”
For more information, call Jane Gower on 07774 142810 or visit www.uk-celebrants.com