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Thursday, July 27, 2006

INTERVIEW: Belinda Chapman of Light on Life

This is an interesting post for me (and for you too I hope!) because I get to wear my Ethical Weddings hat and my Brighton & Hove hat at the same time!

Celebrant Belinda Chapman of Light on Life works from Arka Eco-Funerals in Brighton and from nearby Lewes. She got in touch to see how Light on Life might be able to work with Ethical Weddings and I was keen to meet her, not least to find out exactly what being a celebrant involves...

EW: Nice to meet you Belinda. I'm really intrigued by what you do. We're meeting in an Eco-Funeral parlour but you're interested in Ethical Weddings. Can you tell me exactly what it is a celebrant does?

BC: My main job as a celebrant is to create ceremonies for all life events. Those occasions that mark beginnings, transitions and endings in our lives. Each ceremony is designed to meet the individual's needs.

EW: Is this the same idea as having a Humanist ceremony?

BC: It isn't, that is a common misconception actually. Humanism has a clear set of beliefs and a Humanist ceremony would not have any religious elements at all. As an independent celebrant, I can make the ceremony suit the people at the centre of it whether this involves no religious reference, a combination of different beliefs (if the couple getting married were from different religious backgrounds, for example) or an emphasis on the green and ethical issues which are more and more a part of our lives - as you have found with Ethical Weddings.

EW: And as a celebrant, are you able to perform the legal side of a wedding ceremony?

BC: Not at present - a Registrar would still need to contract the marriage or civil partnership - and I often work with one. However, I am in the process of setting up an association of independent celebrants (there are about 30 of us in the UK at the moment) so that as a body we can lobby for the right to legally contract a marriage or civil partnership - we had our first meeting in March.

EW: And why did you decide to be a celebrant - where did the idea come from?

BC: As your idea for Ethical Weddings was a result of your own wedding, sadly, for me the path to becoming a celebrant stemmed from my mother's funeral 3 years ago. I was not happy with the funeral, it did not seem to reflect her life, and I thought: if only there was someone to help with this when you were at your most vulnerable, to draw out all the good things and make it an occasion for celebrating and remembering. And it was after this that I began my research into becoming a celebrant.

EW: How did your previous experience qualify you for this role?

BC: I came from a performing background - theatre, TV, radio and community theatre - and was involved in Lanternhouse International [a theatre company started over 25 years ago to create 'poetic, daring, visually stunning, emotionally arresting works of participative and celebratory arts and performance']. I attended their 'Rites of Passage' course looking at ceremony and ritual with artists and performers, and now teach on these courses myself.

EW: And where do your clients come from - what are they looking for when they get in touch with you?

BC: The circumstances are different in each case - I have done ceremonies in a front room, on a beach, in a hotel - although more and more people are looking for the greener options such as the eco funeral we offer at Arka or a green wedding, such as one I did in Lewes recently in a field with all the food sourced locally.

At first, people came to me through word of mouth, friends of family and friends of friends. They wanted a ceremony that wasn't just about tradition or the way things had always been done, but that was about them, that reflected who they were and the lives they led. I talk everything through with the family or couple and find out what is important to them and from that I create the ceremony - through songs, poetry, literature, whatever they choose. Before the Civil Partnerships were introduced I created ceremonies for many same sex couples - although now many are opting to go via the Registrar only.

EW: And what do you find you do more of, weddings or funerals?

BC: In the last 12 months it has mostly been funerals - people are increasingly interested in the idea of the eco coffin and leaving as small a footprint as possible on the earth when we leave it.

But I am very keen to develop the wedding side and hope to get the word out through Ethical Weddings. The latest development is to open a ceremony shop in Lewes - and to make the service and products on offer as green as they can be!

EW: Best of luck with that, Belinda. And I'm looking forward to working with you through Ethical Weddings!

If you want to get in touch with Belinda about your ceremony or celebration, visit Light on Life or click here - she will be more than happy to hear from you.

Take care,


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