Typical Ceremonies

Typical Ceremonies

You may have seen my recent blog about sample wedding and handfasting ceremonies. (Thanks for showing up again, then!) I promised also to show you some typical ceremonies that I might offer for Vow Renewals and Funerals. I shall be true to my word, as I hope you’d expect.

I’m a Civil Celebrant, so I create and conduct tailor-made ceremonies. That means that there’s no such thing as “typical”, actually. And I’m not now taking into account whether you want religious or humanist, or something in between! Nonetheless, I trust this will give you at least a flavour of what you might expect.

Vow Renewals

Rings are symbolic of the completed bond. The ring is without a beginning or end the ring goes on forever.
Circles of life, circles of love, these rings are given and received as a token of continuous never- ending love and devotion. They are an outward symbol of your inward promise that each of you have made to one another.

D., take C.’s hand… touch the ring that you have given to your Bride as the lasting symbol of your love.

Repeat after me, D: C., with this ring, I promise to continue to grow with you, to build our love, to speak openly and honestly, to listen to you, and to love and cherish you now and forever. This ring serves as the pledge of my love and as the symbol of our unity.

C., take D.’s hand… touch the ring that you have given to your Groom as the lasting symbol of your love.

Repeat after me, C.: D., with this ring, I promise to continue to grow with you, to build our love, to speak openly and honestly, to listen to you, and to love and cherish you now and forever. This ring serves as the pledge of my love and as the symbol of our unity.

Canalside VR


“This Unity Candle is a symbol of the marriage, representing the two becoming one

Having recited their vows, the couple will now light each of the individual candles and jointly light the Unity Candle as a symbol of their recommitment to each other.

As C. and D. light the Unity Candle from their individual candles, they combine their own flames into one. As each candle may light another without diminishing its own light, so may two join together without diminishing each other. Marriage is a partnership where each may give of themselves, without losing that which makes each one unique.”




 (Name’s) earthly journey has ended (too soon) and yet we know that all that lives must die. Nothing prepares us for days like today because we are never ready to lose someone we love.
Grief is ultimately the price we pay for love. You know that the light of the most distant star continues to reach the earth long after the star itself has gone out, so (name’s) light and love will continue to shine in your hearts. This light never goes out because love lives in our hearts and love never dies.



But although we mourn a life that has ended prematurely, we are mourning a full life. Wherever a life finishes, there it is complete. Its value lies not in its length but in the use that is made of it. A person may live into extreme old age, and yet have lived very little. It was Abraham Lincoln who said “It’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.” There was certainly plenty of life in (name’s) years and we only have to look around this chapel to see the impact that he/she had on so many people.

And it’s important that our recollections of him/her, even today, are not unduly coloured by the deep sadness we feel at this time. Of course we shall grieve, of course we can’t avoid the sense of injustice, that one we cared about should have been snatched from us. But we owe it to (name’s) memory and everything he/she meant to us to honour and celebrate his/her life, to focus on the positive reminiscences, to recapture some of those things that made him/her the unique and special person he/she was, and to smile as we remember him/her. The character, humour and individuality that were so much a feature of (name’s) life will live on in the memories of friends and family much longer than the acute sadness we are feeling at his/her passing.




Vanished Stars

There are stars up above,

So far away we only see their light

Long, long after the star itself is gone.


And so it is with people that we loved –

Their memories keep shining ever brightly

Though their time with us is done.

But the stars that light up the darkest night,

These are the lights that guide us.

As we live our days, these are the ways we remember.


Hannah Senesh


So just an idea, perhaps, of what we can put together for you. If you would like to find out more, please contact me on 07931 538487 or at celebrant@vowsthatwow.co.uk. I look forward to being able to help you further.


Mixed Marriage

Mixed Marriage

Mixed marriage is very common these days.

Not everybody can – or wants to – marry in a religious institution. Catholics will not allow divorcees to marry in church; same-sex ceremonies are not permissible in many churches; Christians and Jews, for example, can’t be married in either church or synagogue.

Michelle & MujoPhotos: Philippa Gedge Photography

Of course, Register Offices offer an alternative (for any marriage, a registrar must always be involved to cover the legal requirements), but their services are standardised and limited (though they will suit some people fine, of course). These services must be totally non-religious. Which means that they often do not meet the needs or wishes of the couple or their families. That’s where the (non-humanist) civil celebrant can come in.

The civil celebrant will work with the couple to design the service that fits in with their beliefs. So it may be religious, part-religious or totally secular. It may contain rituals from a variety of religions and/or cultures.

The service will also be exactly as the couple want. So it is up to them what clothes will – or will not – be worn (I have been asked if I’d do a naturist wedding!). The couple can choose readings or poems, and also readers. There can be an address by the celebrant – checked in advance by the couple. They can have the choreography that they want, including the music. In short, absolutely everything can be approved by the couple before the day.

Logistically, there are a couple of decisions to be made.

  1. Should the register office ceremony take place a few hours – or a day or two – in advance? That way, the legal bit is covered by the time the couple come to the ‘real’ wedding ceremony, and they can relax and really enjoy their bespoke ceremony.
  2. Should the civil ceremony or blessing come straight after the legal marriage (at the same venue)? The ring blessing, for example, could be done by the civil celebrant, as could the vows. This way, the registrars could conduct a 10-15 minute ceremony, and the blessing ceremony could take around as long (depending).

The important thing on such a big day is to enjoy a memorable, meaningful ceremony – one which the couple and their guests will remember fondly for months and years to come. By creating a personalised service and conducting it professionally, a good civil celebrant will ensure this.

A Ghoulish Wedding

A Ghoulish Wedding

Not everybody wants a conventional wedding!

I’ve put together, and officiated at, a few unusual ceremonies – atop an Iron Age fort, a handfasting, a house blessing … However, I have not had the pleasure of conducting a ghoulish one!

Of course, with Halloween approaching, my thoughts have turned to things that go bump in the night, the Undead and nasties in general.

Would anyone want to adopt a Halloween theme for the biggest day of their life, though?

Well, evidently the answer is “yes”. It certainly happens. Gothic weddings are not uncommon. And “jumping the broom”, using a witch’s besom, is really quite popular (although probably unrelated to witches, in truth!)

Barn Wedding 2

But why would you want to have a ghoulish theme?

A growing number of people nowadays don’t see why a wedding should be regarded as a merely solemn affair. They want to include humour (to reflect their own personality), and their choice of music can be eclectic, to say the least. They wish to choose their venue, and that might be quite way-out (literally too!) – under water, in a hot-air balloon, on a mountain top, wherever your imagination might take you.

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

So why not choose unconventional themes for your wedding? You can go with Star Wars or Elvis, or wherever your imagination suggests. Such a theme will bring smiles to the faces of all but the most dyed-in-the-wool sourpusses; it’s a peephole into both your personalities. Why not extend it to the Dark Side, if that’s what turns you both on?

Notice, by the way, that I say “both”. Whatever you do, don’t try and surprise your partner on a subject as big as this!

The important thing to realise is that you are not restricted to a religious wedding in a church, say, if you don’t want it. You almost certainly won’t be allowed a themed wedding at the registrars’ service. However, you can have your theme at a civil celebrant-led ceremony, and, depending how serious etc. you want to be, you may be able to combine it with elements from other cultures etc. Remember that it is your big day, and your wishes should be paramount.

Well, it seems to be growing light – time for me to get back into my coffin. Hope I’ve given you some food for thought and that I may be allowed out to join you in late 2016, and we can share your Halloween wedding together!

Arranging an Outdoor Ceremony

Arranging an Outdoor Ceremony

Who’d have an outdoor ceremony? Especially in the UK!

In the past few weeks of so-called summer, London has enjoyed (if that’s the right word!) temperatures in the high 30s and also spells of torrential showers with maximum temperatures below 20 degrees. I guess I’m rather relieved that I didn’t have an outdoor ceremony to conduct in that period!

So does that mean that you shouldn’t even consider an al fresco ceremony?

The weather cannot be predicted in the UK – or virtually anywhere else, for that matter. (Let’s ignore the Atacama Desert, etc., for the purposes of this article.) So outside is always going to be a gamble. Is that a reason not to hold such a ceremony, then?


  1. One reason to hold a ceremony outdoors is that you can save money. You still have to get permission and pay the appropriate fee (unless you’re using a back garden), but this may well cost less than booking a hotel or restaurant.
  2. You may have a particular attachment to a certain place – maybe you first met or got engaged there. One Vow Renewal I led took place beside a canal for the simple reason that the couple were canalboat addicts.
  3. If it all comes together, there is a wonderful, unique atmosphere about being outside, especially if the setting is special.

vow renewal


Things can go wrong (indoors as well as out), but the main thing to prepare for when outdoors is the weather.

Every venue is different, but if you have a courtyard, say, with a portico, then that offers guests refuge from rain or strong sun. Job done! However, you will still have to consider protection for yourselves and the celebrant in the event of extreme conditions.

The bride will have to consider her footwear, if there’s heavy rain about, and her train, if she has one. Wind can play havoc with her hair, veil and dress.

Parasols or golf umbrellas may be worth investing in, if people are likely to be in exposed places for long. And if you actually get a hot and sunny day, then arrange for water to be available for guests and also for yourselves and your celebrant.

Finally, if the weather is likely to be really cold, then invest in some blankets, at least for older people.

One of the other things you will have to take into account is sound projection. Are you going to need a PA system? How big a ceremony is it likely to be? If you need a sound system, your civil celebrant or possibly whoever is providing music for later may be able to supply one, but you’ll have to investigate.

Some of the most enjoyable ceremonies I have officiated at have been outdoors, but I have not appreciated reading from my script beneath pouring rain! And as for being pursued by an aggressive wasp during the ceremony …!

Three Very Different Ceremonies

Three Very Different Ceremonies

I do appreciate that not everyone understands what I offer. Although there have been civil celebrants in this country for more than fifteen years to my knowledge, there is still widespread ignorance about our role and the benefits that we can provide.

To clarify things, I’d like to focus on three ceremonies I created and performed in the not-too-distant past. I’d like to think that these will shed light on what is on offer and even give you some food for thought.


Imagine holding an open-air wedding ceremony on an Iron Age hill-top fort!

That’s what Annie and Ross organised. They were an interesting pairing: she was pagan and he was half-Jewish. They asked me to put together a ceremony that would reflect both religions. A challenge I enjoyed rising to!

As soon as they had done the legal bit in Salisbury Register Office they, and their entourage, headed up the hill to where I, in my robes, and my table was awaiting them.


After a welcome, explanations were offered before each ritual.

The Jewish part involved the bride circling the groom seven times while he read out certain traditional statements (in English) about a “woman of valour”. He also broke a glass underfoot at the end to the traditional cries of “Mazal tov!”.

The pagan parts included charging the circle, summoning the elements of nature, drawing down the God and Goddess, reciting handfasting vows, and drinking from the Loving Cup.

A very special occasion.


Canalside Vow Renewal

Another happy outdoor ceremony took place at Basingstoke Canal Centre.

C. and S. were celebrating 25 years of marriage and had invited friends and family to their beloved canalside location. It was hot and humid – indeed, it cannot be claimed that we remained totally dry, but nobody minded.

vow renewal

We convened in a grove with benches arranged in a semi-circle. I brought a table and unity candle and off we went. One highlight was the personal celebrant address, which touched on some of the events – happy and a few sad – over the thirty years the couple had known each other. Some favourite songs were played. A simple, cheerful, yet moving ceremony was the outcome.


Wedding Blessing

A completely different setting was the prestigious British Medical Association House in the heart of London. The couple had requested the legal ceremony (with the registrars) before my turn came to bless them. In contrast to the formality of the first part, this was more relaxed and although some beautiful, memorable words were spoken, smiles and even laughter were an integral part of the proceedings (even before the wine in the Loving Cup was shared!) and all went away to the reception more than satisfied with the formalities.

I hope this gives a flavour of the variety of ceremony that a Civil Celebrant can offer. I would certainly be happy to answer any questions this article may give rise to.