The short answer is “no”, but, in fact, I am much more than that. A Humanist is not supposed to include religious elements (or even the word “God”) in their service. However, if you want a secular service, you don’t need to resort to Humanists.
A civil celebrant can conduct a non-religious ceremony (as well as a part-religious or mixed-faith one). So that’s simple enough.
How much contact time is there between myself and officiant?
You will only meet the registrars for the first time at the marriage ceremony. The same may go for your vicar, if you’re having a church service. That’s not normally the case with a civil celebrant.
Apart from an introductory, discovery call (or visit) after your initial contact, you have access to your celebrant at all reasonable times from the time of booking until the day of the ceremony. So if you have queries or issues, it is easy to resolve them and you will feel more relaxed on the day because you will have established a close relationship with your celebrant.
How much control do I have over what goes into the service?
Only if you are working with a civil celebrant will you get free choice. Of course, you will also get guidance and advice, if wanted. Your ceremony will not be not standard or pre-ordained. You can have your own readings, vows or rituals – anything to make your ceremony personal and unique.
A church service is set in stone and the registrars offer a standard service, although sometimes they offer a modicum of choice.
So the content is basically unrestricted, if you work with a civil celebrant.
What about location and timing?
The church or Register Office ceremony is normally limited to “office hours”. A civil celebrant has no restrictions on when the ceremony can take place.
Likewise, with the location. A civil celebrant will conduct a ceremony for you almost literally anywhere. That’s clearly not the case with church weddings, and there are conditions to be complied with, in the case of Register Office services.
Hopefully, this will have clarified things a lot, but if you have further questions, please feel free to ask me!
Do you get value for money when you engage a civil celebrant? Well, how much are you paying, for a start? How can you be sure that your supplier will provide what is wanted? What value do you put on a bespoke ceremony, impeccably delivered? Why bother with a Civil Celebrant in the first place – what’s wrong with DIY?
Let’s take the last point first.
Doing it yourself can work out. It’s obviously cheaper getting an amateur to compile and conduct the ceremony, but the key could be in the word “amateur”.
It’s quite a challenge to understand what is required, what the couple’s vision might be. Then choosing readings that are appropriate is not the easiest thing in the world. Finally, projecting and delivering a meaningful, memorable ceremony on the day is not something everybody can successfully do.
A civil celebrant will be trained to do all these tasks and, with luck, will have experience of the whole process. They take pride and pleasure in doing a good job. They are also aware that their reputation as a professional is at stake.
So what can they offer you, and how much can you reasonably expect to pay?
Again, “it depends”!
The celebrant will consult with you and ask questions (as well as answer them). They will endeavour to eke out your vision for the day so that they can include the most suitable elements. These may include rituals such as a wine ceremony or handfasting, but there is a huge variety available.
They will suggest and advise what might work best and what, if anything, to be wary of.
Celebrants will discuss the processional (entry) and exit, music, readings, choreography and participants. They will offer guidance with the preparation of the vows.
After agreeing the ceremony order and content with you, the celebrant will know what to do on the day itself. Experience will be invaluable, especially when checking that everything is prepared beforehand and calming the nerves of all concerned.
Finally, the celebrant’s presentation skills will make all the difference to the actual ceremony.
To some extent, you get what you pay for. The amount charged may fluctuate depending on how complicated the work is likely to be. I might charge more for a foreign language ceremony, as I would have to put in quite a bit of extra work to get it perfect.
Whatever the quote, be sure you understand what is included. Is travel extra, for example?
Some celebrants will ask over £1,000 for the whole thing; others may barely charge half of that. So how can you judge which will give better value? I think the answer also depends!
If you’ve seen the celebrant in action or you know somebody who has worked with them, then you’ll have a feel for them. Otherwise, start at the website (including testimonials) and see if the celebrant appears to be on your page. Whatever you do, have a call (face-to-face, zoom or even just by phone), so you can see if you like the celebrant. Ask plenty of questions. Do they listen to you and understand what you have in mind?
Most civil celebrants are professionals in the best meaning of the term. This one would love to make a real difference to your big occasion, and you have only to contact me to set the wheels in motion.
I’m often asked to talk about my favourite ceremony. Wow! I’ve conducted nearly three hundred in my nine or so years as a civil celebrant, so which to choose?
And why would it be my “favourite”? Because of the people involved, the venue, the ceremony itself, or a combination?
Even if we ignore the funerals, baby blessings and vow renewals, and stick to weddings, there’s quite a choice!
I shall force myself to settle for three, so these might be them:
This category could encompass so many families, but I particularly enjoyed my rapport with a Guernsey family. They had to pay for board and lodging for me when I came over to officiate. That was standard: I had to stay two nights to accommodate a rehearsal and the wedding itself. What I didn’t anticipate was the beautiful hotel they booked for me in the centre of St Peter Port. They even suggested a restaurant for me, which they paid for, and it certainly was not one of the cheapest!
The family treated me so well, wanting me to have positive memories of Guernsey, and they really succeeded. I wasn’t “just a supplier”.
But the icing on the cake came when I left.
Despite glorious sun in St Peter Port, dense fog greeted us at the airport, and all flights for the rest of the day were cancelled. Not the family’s fault, but, when they found out we had had to stay at a hotel (a different, but still very acceptable, one) for another night, they reimbursed me fully.
I’ve been so lucky to have officiated in some stunning country houses and hotels. Any of them deserve a mention, but I’m going to be disciplined and plump for one only.
Thanks to my knowledge of Russian, I was booked to conduct a ceremony in Cyprus (that sounds illogical, but it wasn’t!). The couple took over a 5* hotel about 45 minutes’ drive up from Paphos. The venue overlooked the ocean and the terrace was decorated with hundreds of pink flowers. Quite unforgettable!
At the other end of the scale regarding budget, I experienced a really memorable ceremony one January. The couple arranged for me to set up (which I did an hour in advance) in the open air at Old Sarum. This is a very exposed Iron Age fort overlooking Salisbury.
The couple were to get legally married at the local Register Office before driving up for the bespoke ceremony. Unfortunately, traffic delayed them about 45 minutes.
Remember, this was January and I was in a spot with no shelter for what turned out to be a couple of hours, even before the ceremony started!
Somehow, despite local flooding and although it poured the night before and there was a thunderstorm later that afternoon, the weather held off for me and the wedding party.
The ceremony – already special – stood out because it was a half-Jew marrying a pagan, with elements from both religions being included (and explained by me!). I’ll never forget the Unity Cup ritual, where, rather than drink a modest drop of wine, the groom virtually demolished the whole bottle on the spot!
I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me down memory lane (I certainly did!). If you want me to help you create some unforgettable memories, just have a word.
A lot of folk don’t need much of an excuse for a celebration.
Well, that was the scenario up until a couple of years ago. Now people tend to be more cautious. They are often hesitant to plan ceremonies. What if social distancing spoils things? What if lockdown kicks in again, and everything has got to be cancelled or postponed?
I don’t know if my opinion may start a backlash, but I feel that things in England seem to have calmed down, both politically and in terms of the epidemic. Relatively speaking, at least.
Ceremonies are being booked these days – including some large, high-end ones.
So, given that we have a (faint) green light, what sort of ceremony might you want to mark?
Major life-cycle events are back in demand – and rightly so. People really ought to mark a big event. It’s criminal to ignore a one-off that really means so much to so many people and is a vital milestone in individuals’ or couple’s lives.
Clearly, this highlights weddings, which need little introduction on these pages. Suffice it to say, that I believe that your big day should be celebrated the way YOU want it. (One major reason why I became a civil celebrant!)
More cautious or budget-conscious couples can opt for micro-weddings, but a lot of people are choosing a bigger ceremony, and that’s as it should be.
Other Causes for Celebration
Other events that deserve to be marked include Vow Renewals. There are a number of reasons (apart from an excuse for a get-together) why people opt for this ceremony. These include a milestone, like an anniversary ending in -5 or -0. There may be a desire publicly to declare one’s love (again), or it may be that circumstances have changed. You might want to replace your original vows with more relevant ones. Or perhaps you have children now, and wish to include them in your ceremony. You might even want to acknowledge coming out of a bad time, such as illness, unemployment – or even infidelity!
A Vow Renewal ceremony can be a way to cement your family harmoniously. The bonus is that you don’t need to register the ceremony legally and you can arrange it exactly as you want. (Step up the independent celebrant!)
If nature is particularly important to you, a handfasting may be a great idea. You can have it as part of a ceremony – or it can be the major focus. Most people find it beautiful and spiritually uplifting.
Naming ceremonies are popular. You can celebrate one on behalf of a baby or toddler, but you can also welcome step-children into the family after a remarriage. Again, a civil celebrant can draw up an appropriate and memorable service to mark the occasion.
There are other less conventional celebrations, such as marking a divorce or pet birthdays, and your celebrant will normally be happy to accommodate these too.
We are social animals. Let’s not allow ourselves to be deterred from having an occasional knees-up! These bring people together and put smiles back on faces. Let’s celebrate major life-cycle moments as they deserve and rejoice that we can do so!
I’d be happy to chat with you about any issues that may come up.
When you buy a car, you usually know what features you will be getting. The same with most products. So when you’re booking a service like that of a civil celebrant, why should things be any different?
However, not that many people really know what a celebrant does. For example, they assume that a civil celebrant and event planner are the same.
No! The event planner usually books and organises the venue and suppliers. The one thing they don’t do is to organise the ceremony itself. (That’s usually their only time out the whole day!)
The weight of the ceremony falls squarely on the shoulders of the civil celebrant.
A lot of people also assume that a civil celebrant is either a “vicar” or a humanist. An independent celebrant can be anything they want to be – the clue is in the word “independent”. They may be prepared to include religious elements despite their own personal belief, and the opposite may be true too.
So what does a civil celebrant do (apart from conducting the ceremony on the day)?
Behind the Scenes
There’s normally a discovery conversation to start the ball rolling. That way, the couple can see if they even want to work with the celebrant – and the reverse is true too! What is also important is to discuss the couple’s vision for their big day. If the celebrant feels they can’t achieve it or opposes or even ignores it, it ain’t goin’ ta work!
Assuming the Ts & Cs have been agreed and both will work together, the celebrant prepares a draft and e-mails it to the couple in due course. They will probably want some changes, and there’s some toing and froing to be expected before the final version is agreed.
That way, there are no unpleasant surprises on the day, and the couple get exactly what they want.
On the Day
The visible role of the celebrant comes into play on the wedding day. As for me, I like to arrive about an hour before the ceremony is due to start. I can check that everything is set up correctly and sort it, if not.
I nudge relevant people, such as Best Men (“have you got the rings?”) and make sure any Event Planner knows I’ve safely arrived. The same goes for the bride (where accessible) and groom. A lot of it is about putting their minds at ease. I also collaborate with musicians (do they have the same playlist as me?) and photographers (“who is standing where?”). I try and remind those in the bridal train to process in slowly and remind them where they should end up.
As for the half hour or so in the spotlight, that’s our big moment. As celebrant, I never forget that it is not about me, but about the couple standing with me. I conduct the ceremony in the tone we have already agreed – usually solemnly, in places, humorously, and welcoming in others. I facilitate the events calmly and clearly. Sometimes there’s the unexpected to deal with. Then I rely on my years of experience.
The important thing is to make the ceremony memorable, enjoyable, meaningful and special for all concerned.
Much of what goes towards making the ceremony so special happens in the days and months preceding the wedding, and that is what a civil celebrant can do for you!
Feel free to have a chat to find out about how you could put together your special ceremony.