Stunning Ceremonies

Stunning Ceremonies

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:

Lovely People

A St Peter Port sight

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.

Lovely Venue

Perfect setting for a wedding

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!

Lovely Ceremony

Handfasting wedding

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.

What Can You Celebrate?

What Can You Celebrate?

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.


Looking forward

Looking forward

It’s mid-November. Christmas adverts on TV are already the norm. It will soon be time for wall-to-wall carols on the radio. The New Year will be upon us sooner than we realise.

A year ago, nobody could have foreseen the direction the new year would take. Without exception, everybody has been affected, to a lesser or greater extent. Job losses, health issues – even, deaths – isolation … the list goes on.

So, what will the future hold? Can we look forward to the next month or two? Dare we be positive about 2021?

Of course, I have no crystal ball. The threatened ‘spike’ may materialise. The virus may, however, have done its worst. Whether improved testing and the emergence of a vaccine will actually make a difference remains to be seen. We simply cannot tell.

All we can do is to let life go on, as best we can.

That means making plans again.

If you have forthcoming happy events, do consider marking them. It’s important to us as humans to celebrate. It might be a wedding, or an anniversary (especially, one ending in a -5 or -0). It might be a naming or a handfasting. It could certainly be a vow renewal. Just possibly, a promotion at work. But don’t ignore it.

Of course, whether you hold a micro-event or something larger depends on the date of your ceremony and what the current regulations will be.

So it may be a gamble. Thus it may be easiest to arrange something that can be adapted at fairly short notice. That probably entails liaising with your venue (if you’re booking one at all) and/or suppliers, and checking how flexible they are.

I believe that things will ease up in 2021 (may my words not come back to haunt me!). As social animals, we do need to break the isolation at some point. Hopefully, this can be done in a controlled way, and a ceremony may be exactly what the doctor (!) ordered.

If you are thinking of organising something a bit special, then please have a chat with me.

Paying for a Civil Celebrant

Paying for a Civil Celebrant

People sometimes think the civil celebrant cost for a ceremony is not justified. Uncle John can do that just as well – and for free!

But will Uncle John be able to put together – let alone present – a ceremony that is memorable (for the right reasons)? Does he have the writing and presentation skills, for example?

A lot of people think that all a civil celebrant has to do is to rock up at the ‘gig’ and deliver a few well-chosen words and then go home. Money for old rope, as they say.

However, it’s actually a lot more than that for me.

The ideal

My mission is to cultivate a relationship between myself and the client. I want them to trust me and feel there’s rapport. That’s especially important if I’m going to be conducting their ceremony on the most important day of their lives!

I make it my goal when we meet to ask the right questions and actually listen to the responses. Then I can understand the clients’ vision and be in a position to help them realise it.

I compile a ceremony that reflects their personalities and beliefs and which is everything they want.

I take pride in conducting an impeccable ceremony.

Finally, I appreciate that I am privileged to be part of the couple’s excitement and joy.

How do I achieve that?

Firstly, cultivating a close relationship takes time, as well as patience and tact. (I do not end up working with every person who enquires about my services.)

I don’t assume I know the clients’ wishes better than they do. I will advise them, if I feel, from my considerable experience, that something might, or might not, work; however, it is their big day, and I never forget that.

I am happy to give advice, if the clients are unsure what to do. The goal is to draw up a unique, personalised ceremony that fulfils the clients’ dreams.

Either way, we normally exchange drafts until the clients are happy with every word.

I always bear in mind that it’s not about me, but the clients. I present clearly and beautifully. I won’t accept second best.

The bottom line

I trained both as a funeral celebrant and as a celebratory celebrant, and that training was not cheap.

I have considerable experience – I graduated as a celebrant in late 2012 and have now conducted over 150 ceremonies (including weddings (same-sex and heterosexual), vow renewals, handfastings, namings and funerals). It’s difficult to put a price on such experience.

My many testimonials demonstrate that I am professional but friendly, and focussed on achieving my clients’ goals.

On the day, I will normally arrive an hour early. I check everything is in place at the venue and reassure the groom! I am a calming influence at a frenetic time.

When I conduct the ceremony, I use my considerable presentation skills. I foster a warm atmosphere and make the guests feel included too. Such skills come at a price.

All this is why I charge a fee. if you try me, I hope you’ll agree that I do earn it!

Ceremony Legalities

Ceremony Legalities

Yum! You’ll be licking your lips at the prospect of this blog, after reading the title!

Well, I’ll try and keep it light, but it’s an important area.

As far as legal registration is concerned, we’re only talking about births, deaths and weddings. You don’t need any paperwork to celebrate a Vow Renewal or handfasting.

With births, the registration is almost always done at the hospital (although I realise that not everybody has their baby there). For deaths, the doctor (either at home or, again, at the hospital) usually provides the death certificate, and you take it to the local Register Office.

With weddings it’s a little more complex.

Religious weddings

If the wedding is conducted in an Anglican church or synagogue, or according to the Quaker service, then there is normally a member of the church (etc.) present who is a registrar. They will ensure the legalities are carried out.

If you’re having a marriage anywhere else, then things are different. That’s where it gets more complicated!

Register Office

You need to register your intention to marry at least 28 days in advance. Then you go to the Register Office (by appointment) with two witnesses, and can get legally married. The ceremony will be totally secular and fairly standardised (so next-to-nothing to differentiate one service from the next).

You don’t necessarily have to go to the Register Office. Legislation is going to change, but for now, provided the wedding venue has four solid walls and a roof (basically), the registrars can come out to the venue and conduct the wedding for you there. (This will cost several hundred pounds more than attending the Register Office.)

Another alternative

You can have a civil celebrant-led ceremony. This may allow you a religious (or partially-religious) or a secular ceremony – but the choice is ultimately yours. The big thing – setting this option out from the other two – is that you can have the ceremony of your dreams. Why? Because the celebrant should work with you in advance to respect and enable your vision. It’s all about personalising, rather than following a standard rubric. That means your ceremony will be unique, and can reflect your personalities and beliefs.

The downside is that (again, there is new legislation in the air for England & Wales) currently a civil celebrant’s ceremony has no legal validity. So you still have to have the Registrar-led ceremony (either in their office or at your chosen venue, if it’s suitable) in addition.

Either way, once you’re legally married, you can have the dream ceremony, conducted by the celebrant, afterwards. To all intents and purposes, that will be your real wedding!

Hopefully, not so painful, was it? But if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.

Photo: Matt Penberthy