What do you think of when I say ‘wedding ceremony’? What have you thought about ones you’ve attended previously? Whether you view the ceremony as the important bit, the special bit, the exciting bit, or the boring bit, I think we can all agree that it is one of the most iconic elements of a wedding!
It amazes me how many people reflect on ceremonies as being something that’s essentially quite boring and done out of necessity … but in my opinion that’s because they haven’t heard of celebrants! I was only introduced to celebrant led ceremonies less than 5 years ago but … well I feel like I’ve been on a mission to tell everyone how amazing they are ever since!
So today I wanted to spread the word further and introduce you to Kelly Hawes, Jamie Walker and Susan Vieira, three lovely celebrants that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I’ve invited them to join me on this blog post and posed a few questions to them, so grab yourself a drink, settle down, and prepare to learn all you need to know about celebrants! It’s a long but very informative read, so do make sure you bookmark this post or save it with these handy Pinterest graphics ready to come back to it at a later date too!
What is a celebrant?
A celebrant is someone who helps people celebrate life’s milestone moments in their own unique and wonderful ways. (…) … a celebrant can guide you and help you to create a memorable and personal celebrationSusan
The theme of ‘uniqueness’ and achieving a ‘personal’ ceremony ran through the discussions I had with all three celebrants, and is certainly key to this wedding ceremony approach. Kelly also reflected that, in addition to the personal touches, celebrants also allow you to “do things your way without adhering to a rule book!”
Whilst the focus of this blog post is on celebrants as an option for wedding ceremonies, it is also worth bearing in mind the wide variety of ceremonies that celebrants can write and perform, as Jamie so clearly explained – “A celebrant is someone who writes and officiates ceremonies from weddings and vow renewals to baby naming’s, change of gender ceremonies, divorce ceremonies, family blending ceremonies, new business ceremonies, menarche ceremonies, funerals or celebrations of life or any other form of celebration that a person, couple or family want to mark. I have also officiated mother-daughter ceremonies and mother ceremonies.”
What’s the difference between a celebrant, a registrar and a religious ceremony leader for a wedding?
According to Jamie – “A celebrant is someone who works for themselves but may be affiliated or accredited with an organisation such as Humanists UK, of which I am. Other celebrants are identified as being ‘Independent celebrants’ and come from a variety of organisations. A registrar works for the local council to register the births, marriages and deaths of people. A religious leader is someone who will officiate over a ceremony of the faith the individual or individuals identify with.”
In terms of how these differences transpire to create different types of ceremonies, Kelly explains that “The main difference is the ability to work outside of regulations. For example, both a Registrar and a Religious Minister offer a pretty standard script (with a limited choice of some wording). They also have to perform their ceremony either within a licenced venue or a place of worship. A Celebrant does not have any such restrictions, since we are not involved with the legal registration of the marriage. This means we can hold your ceremony anywhere (with landowners permission) so this can open up many options – private land, unlicensed venues even on a boat for example! Another huge difference is the time a Celebrant will work with you to create your personal ceremony – we get to know you and communicate for many months ahead of your day – which means by the time we are conducting your ceremony we are not strangers to you, we would have built up a working relationship with you.”
What different options do couples have available to them in a celebrant ceremony?
So, with no real restrictions in place with a celebrant ceremony and no rulebook to follow, it sounds incredibly flexible, right? Well yes, it really is, and Susan explains that “When a couple or family choose a celebrant they are really choosing freedom! Anything goes! Your ceremony can be held in your garden, a beach, a forest or any other location that is meaningful to you both. You are free to include music, poetry or readings that you really love and reflect your personality rather than being the ‘traditional classics’. You can truly personalise the ceremony by including friends and family (even pets) and can choose from a range of rituals from hand-tying to tree-planting to make the ceremony even more unique.”
As well as having the freedom to choose any meaningful location for your ceremony, Jamie also explained that “Ceremonies do not have to be held at 2pm but any time you like so if you want to say your vows at sunset you can. Couples can choose from a more traditional style of ceremony to an elaborate and theatrical affair. They can choose the tone that they would like their ceremony to take – formal and reflective, romantic and sentimental or fun and laid back.”
Whilst this much freedom is often a great thing, there’s no denying it can also be daunting, but that’s where the relationship you build with your celebrant is so important! As they get to know you they can guide you through creating your ceremony, and suggest elements to add within it, such as personalised vows and symbolic actions, that really work for you. Kelly has recently created a video to guide you through just a handful of the symbolic actions you could choose to incorporate into your celebrant led ceremony
Beyond this, Jamie also kindly gave us an insight into some of her upcoming ceremonies –
- “I am working with a couple who enjoyed a date at a gin distillery each blending their own signature gin so for their ceremony they will combine their two flavours into a new unique and exciting cocktail for them and their guests to toast to their marriage.
- I have written ceremonies that take into account how a couple wants to begin their ceremony with many couples now opting to have pre-ceremony drinks with their guests before parading to their ceremony site together to birdsong, flower petal scattering or a roaming folk band.
- An Anglo-Indian fusion wedding I am writing will include traditional (but not formally so) Indian dress and the exchange of flower garlands.
- A few couples are inviting their guests to turn and hug their partner/loved one when they kiss which I think is just gorgeous.
- Finally, readings and poetry can really accentuate the ceremony. Usually read out by a friend or family member and of course will be something meaningful to you. Readings don’t have to be traditional if you don’t want, they can be song lyrics, children’s poems or stories or perhaps just a collection of messages from guests on the art of le marriage! Favourite memories or a Mr & Mrs style quick quiz.”
Are there any restrictions or things couples must consider when choosing a celebrant-led ceremony?
If a celebrant ceremony sounds like it is ideal for you, then it is important you check their legal status within your country/area. In England and Wales celebrant led ceremonies are not currently recognised as a legally binding marriage ceremony, however in Scotland they are. Don’t let the legality aspect put you off though, it just means there’s an extra step to consider, as Kelly clearly explained –
“As a Celebrant (in England) is unable to perform a legal marriage this must be done separately with a Registrar. In order to keep it simple couples often choose to perform a statutory marriage (also known as a 2+2 marriage). This is a non ceremonial signing of the legal paperwork with the couple and their two witnesses present only. These marriages are performed mid week at your local registry office and still require a notice of marriage a month before the appointment.”Kelly
It is simple to be able to do the extra legal paperwork required, although many Registrars do not make the statutory marriage option easy to find so do make sure you ask for information about this.
Jamie added that “most couples try to arrange their legal paperwork to happen the week leading up to their wedding ceremony with me but it can be done afterwards too.”
What is humanism and what is the difference between a humanist and independent celebrant?
According to Jamie, a humanist celebrant, humanism is “based on the belief that we have one incredible life that we should make the most of. It is a non-religious life stance that seeks to understand the world based on reason logic and evidence whilst treating others with warmth, kindness, understanding and respect. A humanist wedding celebrant will be a member of Humanists UK and have been trained with and is accredited by them”.
So, what differences does this create between weddings? Kelly, an independent celebrant, said of her role that “I love the fact that I can bridge the gap between a religious ceremony held in a place or worship and a civil ceremony held at a venue. Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting that I can give you the full on religious ceremony you would experience with a Minister – but there is no reason to go without completely. So yes, if you want a religious reading I can add it, if you want a prayer read I am happy to read it and I am especially privileged to have had the opportunity to blend two faiths into one ceremony on the occasions that I have been asked to do this – this means that both of your faiths are represented within the day”
In contrast, Jamie explained that “A humanist wedding is a non- religious celebration, embracing our shared experiences and is inclusive of all faiths or none! There is a misconception that humanist celebrants do not allow any religious elements in their ceremonies at all, so I hope to clarify this bearing in mind some celebrants may be firmer with their own personal boundaries”. Jamie explained that for her she takes the stance that “if Grandpa has sung ‘Swing lo sweet chariot’ at every single family wedding since he was a boy rugby player and a couple really want to include it for tradition’s sake then that is fine with me” however she does “draw the line at reading anything deemed as an act of worship-a prayer for example”.
As such, the inclusion of religious aspects does differ slightly between independent and humanist celebrants, however this is also likely to differ between individuals celebrants regardless of their registration, so it is worth finding and getting to know the right celebrant who can offer the ceremony you desire.
What tips or advice do you have for couples looking to choose their celebrant?
As with all wedding suppliers, choosing your dream team is a vital part of the planning process, and choosing such a personal thing as a celebrant is definitely something worth taking your time over! Susan explained that you should “Go with your gut! Start by having a look at websites, social media and testimonials, you will probably already have a pretty good idea from these if they are your kind of person. Ask for a meeting, most celebrants will be more than happy to meet online or face to face for an initial no obligations chat, in this meeting you should get a good idea of their personality and way of working so you can be confident that they are the right person for you. After you have met a few different celebrants just go with you instinct, it may not be the celebrant with the most experience or the one whose website you preferred but you will usually have a feeling who you would like to be part of your big day, trust that feeling!”
In addition, as a sustainable wedding specialist and someone who talks about prioritising your personal values, Jamie raised a very key point –
“Find out about their values-do they align with yours? Personally, I am an anti-racist, LGBTQ+ ally and neuro diverse embracing celebrant which basically means I love everyone and embrace difference.”Jamie
Can a celebrant ceremony still include some of the iconic and traditional ceremony elements such as the ring exchange?
All three celebrants I spoke to here were unanimous in that celebrant ceremonies can, and typically do, include all of the iconic parts of a more traditionally regarded ceremony …
Absolutely! Most of my couples definitely want the iconic moments and they can definitely have them! I’m talking; big entrance, exchange vows and rings, the kiss (of course!) and the exit. We could even include a signing of a commemorative certificate if you want this moment included too. But remember, we can also move it up a gear – why not BOTH have an iconic entrance, or have your beloved dog bring in the rings, read the vows you have written yourself and dance out to your exit song! This is what I’m talking about, have all the parts you SHOULD have, but make them YOURS!Kelly
In addition, Jamie provided some great examples of how recognisable traditions can be incorporated but still given a more meaningful/personal twist, such as “exchanging watches, bracelets or even tattoos” instead!
How far in advance of the wedding should couples choose and begin working with a celebrant?
Kelly explained that you should be looking at and choosing a celebrant “As soon as you have a date and a venue! Most celebrants only officiate one ceremony per day, so when the date is gone it’s gone! If you have found a Celebrant you love, you need to get him/her booked in as soon as possible. This could be anything up to 2 years (though more usually 12/15 months)”. Jamie also suggested that “even if you don’t have a venue booked yet reach out for some conversations-remember you don’t need a licensed wedding venue to use the services of a celebrant which may well open up venue possibilities!”
Whilst those timings are ideal and allow you the luxury of really getting to know your celebrant and creating that perfectly personal ceremony, it is worth also noting that, as a celebrant ceremony does not require the legal paperwork and notice period that registrars do, there is more flexibility with timings … indeed Jamie’s quickest turnaround for a ceremony was 48 hours!
Finally, what is the best thing about being or choosing a celebrant?
I thought I would round off our interviews with this question, and share a little insight into each of the celebrants that have joined me in this blog post, so without further ado:
Kelly Hawes (Independent Celebrant)
“The best bit about choosing a Celebrant: Is the choice available to you. So long as you tell us what you want and what you definitely don’t want to do or feel on your wedding day we will be able to create it for you. Whether this be the location, the vibe of the day, the theme or even to adapt the ceremony because you are nervous of being the centre of attention – we can make it perfect for you!
The best bit about being a Celebrant: Is the couples! I love meeting people and hearing their individual love story and then turning this into their perfect ceremony. When someone tells me I have totally encapsulated their relationship in their ceremony I know I’ve done a good job. Plus, I love weddings – for me it was the natural choice, I only wish I’d known that years ago!”
Jamie Walker (Humanist Celebrant)
“The satisfaction of journeying with a couple over many months from meeting to delivering a ceremony full of love, hope and joy that is written with the profound joy of a friend but with the expertise of a professional. That and taking some from a sense of ‘Absolute dread’ to ‘Now I can’t wait!’”
Susan Vieira (Independent Celebrant)
“Celebrating love and sharing people’s unique stories!
It really is a privilege to meet people at such important times in their life and allow them and aid them in having the ceremonies they wish for and deserve. Celebrating your love for each other and sharing your story and commitment to each other in front of family and friends should be a beautiful reflection of who you are and choosing a celebrant allows you that freedom of expression we all deserve.”
Thank you to Kelly, Jamie and Susan for all taking the time to share their insight and knowledge with me for this blog post. I hope you have found this useful and feel better informed about your ceremony options and the different types of celebrants available. Do make sure you check out all three of these lovely ladies!