What is a celebrant?
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.
The space holding element of ceremony is an art that has ancient roots and just the act of sitting to take part in ceremony can be extremely moving.
What’s the difference between a celebrant, a registrar and a religious ceremony leader for a wedding?
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.
What different options do couples have available to them in a celebrant ceremony?
When planning a wedding ceremony with a celebrant the possibilities are endless! From venues-anywhere goes! I have weddings in private gardens and country manor houses and everywhere in between!
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. Finding a celebrant that really listens to you will be crucial in achieving your perfect wedding day vibe.
There are many different rituals and symbolic actions that your celebrant will talk to you about. It is advised to include only elements that resonate with you, are personal or hold significant meaning. For example, I worked with a couple who enjoyed a date at a gin distillery each blending their own signature gin so for their ceremony they combined 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.
Hand tying ceremonies which include children are a beautiful way for a family to make their ceremony inclusive of the smallest guests and are a fun and meaningful way of making family vows.
Different coloured ribbons either plaited or left loose add to the sense of theatre and each colour’s meaning is carefully explained to the guests. Couples I am working with have chosen to add bead cages to the ends that will contain gemstones that hold special meaning for them and pebbles from their favourite beaches.
Nature-loving couples can choose to plant a favourite tree using soil from each parents’ garden and seafarers have opted to tie a fisherman’s knot to seal their union.
An Anglo-Indian fusion wedding I am writing will include traditional Indian dress and the exchange of flower garlands.
Including guests by sending wedding rings around during the ceremony, known as the warming of the rings is a beautiful way to include people as is the group vow where your guests get to affirm their support by standing and saying ‘We do!’
A few couples are inviting their guests to turn and hug their partner/loved one when they kiss which I think is just gorgeous.
Music in ceremonies can be so moving-we all know a song that can move us to tears with just four bars so discovering music choices of my couples that is emotive and joyful is always a highlight to me. Usually, music is chosen for the entrance, certificate signing if a couple choose to have one and exit. But of course you can have a musical interlude mid ceremony-particularly beautiful if you have musical friends who would like to contribute. Or perhaps a friend who is a singer to sing you down the aisle?!
And of course, sing alongs! Da Doo Ron Ron Ron anyone?! I imagine the 220 guests at this wedding will make this moment magnificent!!
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.
I cannot stress enough how not only the words chosen can resonate but the actions taken in your ceremony too. Each ceremony is totally bespoke and you are free to choose what to include.
Are there any restrictions or things couples must consider when choosing a celebrant-led ceremony?
Separating out the legal paperwork is simple. Contact your local register office to arrange the giving notice and registration of your marriage which can take place at one of their working offices. Then you are free to have your humanist ceremony whenever and wherever you like! During normal times 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?
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. Humanists UK is a charity that practises humanism through ceremonies, education services, pastoral support and campaign work both here and worldwide. Training is robust and celebrants are regularly peer reviewed to maintain high standards.
We are required to log our continuous professional development, be members of Humanists UK and as celebrants pay an accreditation fee to support the work Humanists UK does.
In choosing a humanist wedding ceremony couples are able to create a celebration as unique as they are and one that is reflective of their own values.
A humanist wedding is a non- religious celebration, embracing our shared experiences and is inclusive of all faiths or none.
Couples do not have to be Humanist to have a humanist wedding but quite often find that their views do align anyway.
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. My take on it is this, 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-I am a great advocate however of making new traditions so it is certainly a case by case basis!
Similarly, a couple who would like to smash glass as is tradition in Jewish weddings is perfectly acceptable.
I draw the line at reading anything deemed as an act of worship-a prayer for example.
There are cultural and traditional elements deep within families that I always aim to respect and in unpicking the family dynamics and historic expectations a bit I can better understand why certain elements might be very important. Having said that all of my couples come to me for a non-religious ceremony, for them it simply isn’t part of the fabric of what they want their wedding ceremony to reflect. They want their love, values and commitment to one another to be witnessed by their community of family and friends in joyful celebration and they can achieve that without reference to religion. The nuance lies in is it a religious or cultural inclusion.
An Independent Celebrant is one who may be trained by and affiliated with one of many associations. They are usually happy to include religious elements in their ceremonies though this will vary from celebrant to celebrant.
What tips or advice do you have for couples looking to choose their celebrant?
Find someone who shares your enthusiasm for your wedding ceremony AND your relationship, quite often after meeting with a couple they reflect and tell me how refreshing it is to actually talk about their relationship with someone and that it has given them the opportunity to really think about what marriage means to them.
Find out about their values-do they align with yours? Personally, I am an earth-loving, anti-racist, LGBTQ+ ally and neurodiverse embracing celebrant which basically means I love everyone and embrace difference.
Check their social media or online presence then talk to them! Any good celebrant will encourage you to chat with several you like the sound of and then go from there. If anything, talking to some will help you to clarify what you are looking for.
Can a celebrant ceremony still include some of the iconic and traditional ceremony elements such as the ring exchange?
Absolutely yes! Vows and ring exchanges are usually included in my ceremonies, though I have heard of couples exchanging watches, bracelets or even tattoos.
How far in advance of the wedding should couples choose and begin working with a celebrant?
As soon as you have a date for your wedding I would say get in touch with a few celebrants. Some are happy to travel far and wide and some prefer to work more locally so 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!
My shortest turnaround was 48 hours and my longest lead-in was 2 years.
Finally, what is the best thing about being or choosing a celebrant?
The satisfaction of journeying with a couple over many months from meeting to delivering a ceremony full of love and hope for their future 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!’
My top 3 reasons to choose a humanist celebrant are Choice, Collaboration and Confidence which you can read about in my next blog post!
This blog formed part of one written with Hannah Mullens, Eco Friendly Wedding Planner at https://greensoulweddings.co.uk/what-is-a-wedding-celebrant/
Images in this feature were brought together by this team and featured on Rock My Wedding https://www.rockmywedding.co.uk/sustainable-wedding-inspiration
Humanist Celebrant: Jamie Walker
Planner: Hannah at https://greensoulweddings.co.uk
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