Celebrant. I’ve always thought a strange and rather clumsy word as well as a relatively new profession in the UK.
I have been a wedding celebrant now for 5 years and I am still explaining to friends and strangers what I do. So, it was about time I wrote a blog to explain what a celebrant does do.
Literal definition of a celebrant
To be fair since becoming a celebrant there has been much mirth amongst my friends who have dubbed me ‘the high priestess’ or ‘rev’ and such like. So it came as no surprise when I looked the word celebrant up in my school 1969 Oxford Dictionary and found it defined as a ‘priest celebrating mass or eucharist’.
A more up to date definition in the Cambridge Dictionary says it’s a priest who leads a religious ceremony, or more relevantly, a person who leads a ceremony such as a marriage or a funeral. Interestingly there are clearly still some ecclesiastical undertones.
But for today and for simplification in our modern world it is a person who celebrates and officiates ceremonies for life events such as funerals and weddings.
For the purposes of this blog I shall be explaining exactly what a wedding celebrant does.
What does a wedding celebrant do?
They play a pivotal role in your wedding ceremony as the officiant but more pertinently also during the process leading up to it; working closely with you to create that very personal and unique script.
They ensure that the content focuses on what getting married means to you, on your relationships with each other obviously but also that with your friends and families who, let’s not forget are your witnesses, to that all important moment when you commit to one another.
Finally, celebrants make sure that the script sounds like you and represents you accurately.
Why use a celebrant not a registrar?
A celebrant will ensure that the focus of the ceremony is on you; that it is memorable and one of the highlights of the day. It is a completely original experience. No templates. No filling in the gaps.
A celebrant will make your ceremony warm, entertaining and engaging. A celebration of your lives, your story. A ceremony with the feel of a party. Tailored to your exact wishes.
This is possible because there are no restrictions on content at all. Furthermore, it can be held literally wherever you want; be that a beach your garden or woodland. Lastly you get to choose who you want to officiate.
None of this applies to a ceremony led by a Registrar.
Is a ceremony led by a celebrant legally binding?
Sadly not. But hopefully things are heading in the right direction with the Law Commission recommendations on the future of marriage law in England and Wales due to be released later this year. It is important to support independent bodies such as the Give Couples Choice Movement who are actively promoting the need for reform of these discriminatory archaic marriage laws.
Until changes are made couples wishing to have a celebrant led ceremony must attend the registry office to legalise their marriage. They should request the basic statutory ceremony which lasts no more than 15-20 minutes requiring two witnesses and costing in the region of £50.00. Most couples get this out of the way a few days before.
An advantage of the legal marriage being undertaken separately is that on the day of your wedding ceremony you can relax and enjoy it with your friends and families without any official formalities at all.
Choosing your celebrant
This is important. And to me right up there in the priority list with the venue and photographer. It is essential that you choose a celebrant that matches your vision for your ceremony and with whom you feel entirely comfortable. Not only will they be playing a hugely important role on the actual day but for them to do their job properly they will be expecting you to spill the beans on your life and relationship.
It is therefore essential that you meet your celebrant before you book them. And I really mean meet them face to face either online or in person – a phone call isn’t good enough. Just like when you meet anyone new you will know in your gut whether you will get on with them and that they are the right person for you. So follow your gut.
What’s it like working with a celebrant?
Fun fun fun. It really is. Of course all celebrants work slightly differently so I will explain the process if you were to work with me. It all starts with some homework; a questionnaire which will be sent to you to complete – full disclosure is required. I recommend a glass of wine, or whatever your tipple is, a quiet night in and have some fun with it. I’m told by my couples that they find it really cathartic.
The questions can include everything from the simplest ‘why do you love your partner’ to ‘what things does your partner do that drive you mad?’ The answers to all these questions provide me with the background into your lives and relationship.
We then make a plan to meet again and I rarely do this any other way except face to face. This is honestly my favourite part of my job. It is when I really get to know you both. I vaguely following the line of questions in the questionnaire but really I am watching how you both interact, your banter etc. I like to get to know you inside and out – equally you will get to know me and so on the day it’s a friendly face that will greet you.
We discuss the minutiae of your ceremony the tone, the style, readings whether you want to write your own vows and so on. Often we get side-tracked and distracted as you relax and trust me to tell me your story hence why the meeting ends up being so long. It really is fun fun fun though.
A celebrant writes your ceremony
Meeting done. I go home and write your ceremony script from scratch. It will go back and forth between us until you are entirely happy and it is perfect.
I am on hand with guidance and advice on writing of your personal vows if that’s what you decide you’d like to do although this is by no means obligatory. I always suggest you send them to me in advance so that we can be sure they are balanced in length and tone. Many couples choose to adapt the more familiar ‘repeat after me’ vows of which I have a raft of examples which they can use as inspiration.
I will make suggestions if you’re not exactly sure what you want and be there to support you every step of the way with recommendations, advice and ideas on how to ensure your ceremony is completely personalised and unique to you. Don’t be afraid to challenge traditions draw upon and adapt them according to your tastes and personal beliefs. Together we will work out what feels right for you and celebrate your relationship in your ceremony script.
What your celebrant does on the actual day
Most celebrants only officiate at one ceremony. This means that they can arrive in good time. Personally I introduce myself to family members and groomsmen, after all I will have heard all about them and it’s so lovely to put a face to a name. So often they are surprised that I know their name. This very simple act ensures a more informal and relaxed atmosphere.
I then of course officiate the ceremony. After five years of officiating I still find that moment emotional when a couple, the bride with her father or whatever the combination first approach me during the processional.
I consider myself a reassuring presence throughout the ceremony. It can be nerve wracking for couples. Some don’t like the feeling of all eyes on them. Some revel in it. But whichever camp you are in I promise I will be there supporting you all the way.
This is the culmination of months of work. Our collaboration. There is nothing better than that sense of achievement when I look out and see the joy and sometimes tears in the eyes of your guests. When they recognise those familiar traits of you as individuals and in your relationship and sometimes even learning something they didn’t know before.
So what does a celebrant do?
A celebrant doesn’t make magic; your story makes the magic which a celebrant turns into a magical unforgettable script.
They inject sparkle, joy, sincerity and most importantly you into a wedding ceremony creating an occasion that will kick off the rest of your celebrations in a way that your guests will never forget and not want to end.
I hope I have inspired you and informed you. If you want to know more please do get in touch and we can make a plan to meet and start making some magic together.