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I live in an old barn, in the south west of France, with my husband and a menagerie of, mostly rescued, creatures - donkeys, dogs, cats, hens and the occasional praying mantis.

Having lived a busy life,  before our move to France ten years ago, we took early retirement, renovated the barn and made a garden - the vegetables from which keep us well fed - unless the hens get to them first...

I have been, in my working life, a writer, a teacher, an events organiser, an examiner and have run drama workshops. Most of these I performed, or still perform, in a senior management role, where it is essential to have a sense of responsibility for other people.

When I look at a new group in a drama workshop, I'm aware that my job is, not to find the next great actor, but to instil confidence and create a non- threatening place where we can be creative and have fun; when I teach or organise an event I know that detailed planning and the ability to adapt and think on my feet is all important.

It is this integrity, creativity and flexibility that I bring now to my celebrancy.

The life events, both joyful and sad, in the lives of my family and friends, have instilled in me a strong belief in the need to celebrate life whenever we can, be it simply with a glass of wine because it's a lovely day, with food with friends - just because they are, or whether it's with a big, more elaborate and more important ceremony to mark a special moment in life.

Whilst having been brought up in a staunchly Roman Catholic family, I have long found it impossible to believe in the demanding, punishing God of my peers, and have searched for alternatives - I can find none in organised religions with their stress on our unworthiness and, usually badly-sung, sad hymns. So what do I believe? I believe in the here and now - that we don't get a second chance and we need to get it right this life round - hence good music, good wine, good friends, much dancing!

So normal, run of the mill services are not for me, and our family's important life events have been celebrated by independent celebrants.

I met my first one when we were looking for an alternative farewell ceremony for my father. He was certainly alternative - an amazing guy, he turned up on a huge motorbike - and turned out to be the kindest, most sensitive soul we could have chosen. His ceremony, which of course he made ours, was unique and special. Since then our weddings, naming ceremonies and vow renewals have all been joyful, spiritual but decidedly secular and my practice has been influenced by celebrants I have met along the way.

It is hard to write about ourselves, but I tell my students that when we are analysing a character we judge them by what they say about themselves, by what others say about them and by what they do. So, people tell me I have authority, I am organised but creative, that I make a ceremony "profound without prayer" and "meaningful without the mumbo-jumbo."

I like that, but I think I would settle for caring, creative and professional - and hope that is always conveyed in the way I approach my work.





Moira Stephen - UKSC(M)

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