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Julian Francis Sleigh

6th October, 1927 – 2nd October, 2013
Funeral Address by Rev. Peter van Breda

Dear Community of Mourners,

We are gathered here today to bid farewell to our very dear friend and brother Julian Sleigh.

This farewell is filled with so many rich and never to be forgotten memories, so many precious human meetings, so many outstanding and far-reaching happenings that we would need days to honour them all. Each part and phase of Julian's biography would be a tale in itself: he was born in Florence, where his father was a lecturer in the British Institute. Julian was baptised in the great baptistery of the Duomo in Florence. He spent his early childhood in that city which meant so much to him, before moving to England, where he passed the war years and was evacuated from London. Already as a schoolboy he showed leadership qualities, being a patrol leader and then troop leader in the Boy Scouts. During his national service he was selected for officer training. While working in Anglesey, Wales as an assistant for an engineering company he met Trevor Ravenscroft (author of Spear of Destiny), and through him heard of Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy. This led to his discovery of the Camphill movement and his growing identification with Camphill which became his home, to begin with in Aberdeen where he worked with Karl König. The destiny meeting with Camphill provided Julian not only with his central life’s task; it was also the place where he met the love of his life, Renate. They say that behind every great man one finds a woman; Renate, not only stood behind Julian but also alongside him and not seldom in front of him leading the way forward. Their remarkable community of life has born an exceptional harvest of fruits. Apart from their five children, this place Alpha where we commit Julian's body to the earth was a result of their constant hard and devoted work. Julian left Camphill to study for the priesthood in Germany and Britain, and he was ordained in 1965. He immediately returned to South Africa to become, together with Heinz Maurer, the founding priests of the Christian Community in Southern Africa. Julian Sleigh worked as a priest in the Camphill Village for adults with special needs near Cape Town. For many years he was involved in the telephone counselling service, Lifeline. This work led him to write his book, Crisis Points, which has been translated into a dozen languages.

Turning our gaze towards Julian as a human being and placing before our mind's eye this physically dapper, not so tall man, who constantly radiated an aura of warmth, we can only be filled with gratitude. Julian constantly exuded a mood of positivity. Wherever he was present in the social life it became a better place for his being there. He strove to work out of the sphere and realm of his heart. In my experience Julian was seldom judgmental of his fellowman. Some even complained that this was an inherent weakness in him and that he failed to be critical and consequently lacked decisiveness in deed. This trait or talent to genuinely enter into the joys and sorrows of others often left him with much personal pain. He had to a remarkable degree a capacity to empathise with others – resulting perhaps from a mixture of English reserve, irradiated with the warmth of the African Sun and the Italian love of life. Over many years he helped people to feel good about themselves, whatever woes or errors they possessed; there was always a new sun-filled morn awaiting them.

At an early age Julian embarked upon a life long journey of learning and cultivating in himself the art of love. This motif of love stretched from the lofty love of the divine to the intricacies and darts of Cupid. In all of this there lived in Julian an ideal picture of man. I am fairly sure he would agree with the inspired words of Hamlet when he speaks: what a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension, how like God!

There can be no doubt that Julian strove throughout his life to serve the spirit in this way. He gained through his striving a heartfelt capacity for reverence and devotion. With these forces streaming within him, he developed a real wonder for all that was above him; he possessed also a conscience for all that is to be found below us in creation and he lived out of an empathy and responsibility for his fellow man. This inspired confidence in his priestly work: what he spoke and celebrated with reverence was something that he could stand for. He knew that he stood at a holy threshold and that to cross this threshold one needs to bow not only one’s head but also one’s knee. Julian loved the sacraments, and he loved being a disciple and bearer of the word of Christ. His many helpful books bear witness to this.

In Camphill Julian was an innovator and leader. Along with Renate and other co-workers he transformed the barren, sand dune landscape that was all that was here into the Alpha Community, a centre of life and mellow fruitfulness. His diligence, love, loyalty and service to Camphill and especially to Alpha, coupled with the companionship he shared with so many villagers would be hard to sum up in words; they live on in countless hearts.

Should Julian be listening in at this moment he will probably be saying – 'Okay that's all well and good, but please don't miss out the mention of three additional aspects that I loved in my life!' The first was his deep connection to Italy, the second his relationship and kinship with William Shakespeare, and third is the confirmation of his undying love for his children and grandchildren.

Julian was intimately connected to Renaissance Italy; it was as if he had been born into this renaissance age. Quite often he would say to me: 'Ah yes it was there that we first met on the steps of the great Duomo opposite the ancient Baptistery where I was christened.' The cobbled streets and lanes of Florence and the river Arno that separates the old city from the new were inscribed into the soles of his feet.

His other love was undoubtedly Shakespeare. I am almost sure that Julian attended almost every production of Shakespeare in Maynardville Park over many decades. Julian sensed the greatness of Shakespeare's gift to humankind. Shakespeare not only enriched the English language through the word but also ushered in a new consciousness. This new consciousness can if we so will help us to become cosmopolitan human beings, ones who wish to dedicate themselves to serve the greater needs of the world. Julian carried this Michaelic task into his work. His particular destiny meant that he filled this with a Franciscan empathy and ethic.

Finally a short but heartfelt word about Julian’s ongoing relationship to his family. They can best tell you of the wondrous tales, events and incidents out of their family life. Julian loved his children and was unabashedly proud of them. Whatever they were going through he always spoke in radiant terms about them all, which of course includes his grandchildren.

Julian has now left the restrictions of his mortal body and has entered into the immortal world of the so-called dead. From this place he will gaze down on us as he takes up his new task as a spirit amongst spirits. We on earth can lift our souls with gratitude to this place where he now is. We may seek his help, continue our friendship and feel his love.

Whenever Shakespeare introduces music in his plays it is an indication that we are traversing a bridge from the temporal world into the sphere of the eternal. In the last minutes of his life Julian was drawn to music. It played in his room as he passed on. ‘Where could this music be?’ asks Ferdinand in the Tempest – ‘is it in me, in the air or in the Earth – all at once it sounds no more but be sure it waits upon some God on another island shore.’ Julian has crossed the eternal bridge into the music of the Spheres from where he will move on ever on upwards, up into the atmosphere of the supreme orchestra of all creation in which each one has his part to play.

Peter Arend van Breda

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