As a Monash postgraduate student studying Civil Ceremonies, I spent several days conducting a survey on attitudes to secular ceremony and celebrancy at my local shopping centre, largely through conversations, though I did have a form. A group of redoubtable older women, quilters from another town, descended. Their enthusiasm riveted me and we talked for quite some time. With Christian childhoods, several were devout church goers, the others were occasional and social. They spoke of the main ways community life has changed in their lifetime, how they miss the continuity and community of their family churches and how sad they were (for this reason) when their children chose secular ceremonies. Still, they were all agreed on the value of ceremonies being more about the people rather than their God. Their greatest grief however was for family stories. “Tell them,” they ordered, pleased to have got hold of someone who could take some responsibility in the matter, “that they simply have to tell their family stories. We know it is difficult these days with families so scattered and both parents so busy working, but we are all in danger of losing our stories and our old folk are dying.” They concluded sadly, “Soon we won’t know who we are.”
I remember the quilters often. I feel them with me, at my back and in my heart. They are my elders remarking how I listen to stories, ask for stories and weave them into ceremonies. Ceremony making with my clients is full of stories that capture a milestone, a turning point, a change of relationships, of high points or of difficulties overcome or insurmountable, of how my clients came to this point, about them now, their families, friends and communities and the things that have happened to them. When stories are shared, real stories, we can all benefit as we bear witness to our transitions and rites of passage, happy and sad, raucous and outrageous, or quiet and tender. We can inhabit the cycles of our common humanity, reminding us of what matters, what sustains us, what is required of us in our world as it is now and how we want to live.
When I published A Celebrant’s Notebook, my instinctive desire was to pass my book from hand to hand when I can, and that still remains. It is a great pleasure, personal and friendly, like co-creating ceremony. I also enjoy wrapping them for postage to people around Australia and overseas.
Some say that producing a book is like giving birth. I once thought this a little sentimental. Now it is obvious to me it is not. I am as struck with the same wonder. I show it with a similar pleasurable glow, whilst shy at times, with a desire to share it, scattering copies like dandelion seeds across the landscape.
Many I’ve spoken to who have read it so far find themselves inevitably, it seems, a-bubble with their own stories, thereby assisting me in fulfilling the task the quilters charged me with.
You can buy it here