Serving the Living and the Dead

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Serving the Living and the Dead: Course Outline

This online course leads you through a process of reflecting on all the skills and qualities needed to work with families at times of loss and trauma; to serve them in creating and conducting unique funerals to celebrate the lives of their loved ones; and to help lay the foundations for a healthy grieving and healing process.

Beginning with an exploration of your motivation, and what you bring to this important and privileged task and role, the course goes on to explore celebrancy from the perspective of each direction. You’ll be guided through the practical considerations of organising and conducting funerals, and liaising between bereaved families and the funeral professions. The course will help you develop your listening, writing and speaking skills, and equip you for each stage in the process of serving bereaved families as a funeral celebrant. You’ll look at how to create fitting celebrations of life, whatever the age or circumstances of death; and reflect on the deep emotional and spiritual processes which a good funeral can support. Underpinning the whole course will be an approach to celebrancy as service, in the context of nature-based spiritual practices, but in a way that is applicable to all religious perspectives, or none.

Each session is followed by assignments to be completed in your own time. A certificate will be awarded to all students who complete and submit the six mandatory assignments.

About the Courses
The course is open to all. No special software is required to access the course. The courses are delivered via six online lessons, which you can work through at your own pace. Course materials include video and audio presentations; downloadable documents, and many examples drawn from real-life ceremonies; resource lists and suggestions for your own research; two guided meditations and a ceremony of completion. The course and all materials will remain accessible and free to review at any time.
These self-access sessions are supported with a forum where students can ask questions and participate in discussions. Each lesson invites you to submit assignments and receive feedback on your work.

Session 1: Foundations

We begin the course with an exploration of what makes a good funeral, and you are invited to identify your own strengths and areas for development as we look at the skills and qualities, experience and gifts needed for the work of funeral celebrancy. We take an overview of the many and varied tasks of the funeral celebrant, and your first assignment invites you to draw upon your sources of spiritual support and inspiration as you begin to develop a strong foundation for your future practice.

Session 2: NORTH / EARTH

In this session we explore the historical context of our work, and focus on the practicalities of funeral celebrancy. We look at the funeral business, from its origins to the latest developments. We examine the overall structure of the funeral service; and consider some practicalities, basics and traditions, and what might be expected of you in working with funeral directors, crematoria and burial grounds. The session completes with a discussion of the sources of wisdom and tradition that can we draw upon from the realm of ancestors, and a guided meditation to help us access these.

Session 3: EAST / AIR

Here we focus on the communication skills which are vital to our work as celebrants.

You are guided through the process of working closely with a bereaved family to prepare, write and conduct a funeral service. We explore the skills needed at each stage in this process: focussing on listening, writing and public speaking. You are given a list of top tips for gathering material, writing and delivering eulogies, and the opportunity to practice all of these skills in your next assignment.

Session 4: SOUTH / FIRE

Here we focus on serving the living, as we consider the importance of celebrating each unique life, and how to put together a funeral service which reflects and honours the individual as well as bringing together and involving the family and community they leave behind. We also reflect on the power and responsibility which comes with the role of celebrant, and explore the kinds of challenges we are likely to encounter through this work: the situations we may be called upon to deal with; and the aspects of ourselves we may be confronted with. This lesson’s assignments entail planning a celebration of life, and gathering a store of resources in the form of readings, prayers and blessings.

Session 5: WEST / WATER

As we move to the West, our focus is on honouring the great mystery of death, and on navigating the emotional depths we will encounter through this work; both our own, and those of the newly bereaved. We consider the role of celebrant in serving the dead, and examine the transformation which the funeral service is designed to facilitate as we focus on the moment of committal. We also look at the role of the celebrant in supporting the bereaved, and at how the work of funeral celebrancy relates to our own healing journey, before completing the session with a guided journey to the Otherworld to seek inspiration, guidance and spiritual support for this work. There are two assignments following this session: one to build upon the meditation, and the other around finding words to support the onward journey of the bereaved as you bring each funeral to a close.

Session 6: Practicing Celebrancy

In this, our final session, we review the journey made on this course, and also look ahead at the journey you each now embark upon. You are guided to explore your aims and aspirations, set some practical goals, and consider your needs for ongoing learning and support, and we offer practical suggestions for finding work as a funeral celebrant. We look at the wider context of this work, and at how we can all help to challenge the taboo and denial which has become endemic in modern society. The course ends with a Ceremony of Completion, to be enacted when the time is right for you.

You can work with the material at your own pace, and if you would like to be awarded a certificate you will need to complete and submit six assignments.

The School of Celebrancy is an accredited CPD (Continuing Professional Development) Provider.

Any questions? See the FAQs below or email [email protected]

What others say about the course:
I have no hesitation in recommending this course to others. It is warm, engaging and thoroughly informative. River responds to her students in a lovely way, patiently answering our questions and offering constructive criticism and good advice.
The course content seems to be very comprehensive covering all that we should know to get started as a funeral celebrant. – Leonore Newson

I find the OBOD training excellent, well prepared and presented, it was a sensitive subject handled with great compassion, especially when discussing the more personal aspects. I feel like I can now go ahead and plan people's funerals in a professional and caring manner. – Brytta Baganz

I am very impressed and inspired by the way River conducted this course and the knowledge she has about the subject. She has so much experience and I was especially interested in her experiences, family meetings and obstacles she met on the way. I could have listened to her for many more hours. Also I very much appreciated all the material and examples that she offered. - Nicole Maessen

I really appreciated the way the content was structured and the very practical hand outs with checklists and bullet points for a family meeting and Order of Service and so on.
It made me confident to continue my path as a celebrant and it was very good to share with others ideas and worries.
River was talking from a wealth of experience and gave us very positive feedback. She shared much of her work with us, eulogies and so on, which was very helpful indeed. – Britta Holden

River is an excellent teacher who has a way of capturing the audience with her passion for the topic of the course. – Adrian Rooke

The content was exactly what I was hoping for and more! Using the directions as the framework for each aspect of celebrancy was spot on. – Heather Pfeifer

It has encouraged me to do this work, given me confidence. It is a comprehensive course and answers practical issues as well as spiritual ones. – Harriet Sams

Your Instructor

River Jones
River Jones

River Jones, joined OBOD in 2000 – a year after conducting her first Handfasting. Since training with the UK College of Celebrancy she has become a full time celebrant, and has conducted over 500 rites. Previously River worked in adult education, designing and managing outreach programmes and teaching creative writing, personal development and life history courses for the University of Sussex. River will share her knowledge, resources, and many examples of rituals drawn from her wide range of experience as a celebrant . To find out more about River’s Celebrancy work see

Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.
How much contact will I have with the tutor and other students?
You will get personal feedback on each homework assignment you submit, and can message the course tutor with any questions you may have about the lessons and assignments. There are also discussion topics at the end of each lesson, with the comments section providing a space for students to interact with one another and share inspiration, learning and resources.
Will these courses qualify me to act as a celebrant?
No formal qualification is required for you to act as a celebrant and conduct ceremonies such as funerals, handfastings, renewals of vows, and baby namings and ceremonial wedding blessings. It is only legally binding marriage services that must be conducted by an authorised person (e.g. Registrar or Minister of Religion). There is increasing demand worldwide for celebrant led weddings as more and more couples choose to celebrate their marriage with a bespoke ceremony held after (or sometimes before) a brief legal service. If you complete the School of Celebrancy courses, you will be sent a certificate and will be fully qualified in the sense that you will be equipped with all the skills and knowledge you will need in order to work as a celebrant, and offer a professional service.
On completion of the course, will I be registered anywhere for people to find my services?
If you are an OBOD member, you will be able to join the celebrant listings on the OBOD website at The courses also include support and advice about publicising your services more widely.
Would I need insurance to practice as a celebrant?
Insurance may not necessarily be required, but may be advisable if you are offering your services professionally. In the UK cover can be provided by Blackfriars: We are not able to offer further advice regarding insurance as the provisions and requirements vary widely in different countries.

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