It’s understandable that I get asked what a civil celebrant actually is. I hope this blog will give you answers and paint a clearer picture, so you can see the potential benefits of working with one.
Here are a few questions I get all the time.
Are you a Humanist?
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!
You’re getting married? Congratulations! Have you decided who will be the officiant? Will it be a priest (or equivalent), a registrar or a civil celebrant? Did you even realise that you have a choice?!
[This post is designed for English or Welsh couples, although laws are set to change in the not-too-distant future. Separate rules apply to Scotland and Ireland.]
If you are marrying in an Anglican church, this is as simple as it gets. You will be able to combine religious and legal in one ceremony. The same applies for Jewish and Quaker weddings.
Otherwise, you will have to arrange a trip to the register office and to the (non-C of E) church before you can be declared married.
The registrars come at the other end of the spectrum to priests, although both services are pretty much standardised. The registrars are not permitted even to mention God or religion. What they do, however, is to pronounce the legal words. Without these being uttered and witnessed, no marriage is currently valid.
You need to make an appointment with the registrars and go to their office with two witnesses. Or the registrars may come to the venue of your choice (currently, there are restrictions, such as a minimum requirement of four solid walls, although this is changing). Be aware that this will cost you substantially more.
The registrars will offer you a minimum of choice as to the service structure. And their presentation skills can vary profoundly!
Until the law changes, possibly in late 2022, civil celebrants cannot marry people legally. They can bless them, conduct a part-religious (or even wholly-religious) service, hand-fast them, get them to sign a marriage certificate afterwards, but none of these make the marriage legal.
So what normally happens in these cases is that the couple marries first. The venue is the register office, unless the registrars come out (which is hardly happening under current restrictions). The ceremony takes place in a private room or in front of guests.
When the registrars have left, the civil celebrant can stand up and publicly conduct the personalised ceremony the couple have been dreaming of. It may be religious, or partly so; it may be (partly) humorous; it may contain ritual; active participation may be invited; favourite readings or music may be chosen; it is going to be unique to the couple.
At the end, the celebrant may declare the couple legally married (as long as the registrar service has been completed!).
The point is that, by using a celebrant, you have free choice as to the tone and content of your ceremony on your big day.
It’s all a bit confusing, I know! But if you want any further clarification on this issue, please feel free to contact me.
I confess that I am approaching this subject tentatively. When I last wrote about it, a year or so ago, micro-weddings were almost the only type of weddings taking place. It made no sense to talk about wedding trains, processions, and the like.
Things have changed somewhat, although I dare not surmise for how long. As I write, weddings are unrestricted and many are back to being big events. So this may be relevant to more people.
The groom has probably the easiest job. He needs to welcome guests arriving for the wedding ceremony. Otherwise, he may only have a few words to say (“I do”, for example?), at least until he gives a speech at the reception.
He also may have the Best Man and ushers (groomsmen) to help him.
The bride does have the easiest job! She needs to look beautiful and negotiate walking in her bridal dress.
She may well do some socialising afterwards (and, nowadays, possibly, give a speech), but, mainly, she has to shine!
Depending on what has been agreed, parents may only have a welcoming job (after their financial contribution, perhaps), but the bride’s father may have to give a short speech. He has to welcome everybody and thank them for coming.
The Best Man (or Woman) is there to support the Groom. One task is to keep him calm; another may be to fetch something for him or, perhaps, liaise with suppliers. The idea is to keep things moving smoothly. He may well have to look after the couple’s rings until called forward to present them.
His speech at the reception should be a highlight. He should avoid making it all groom-centered and being too rude; he should steer clear of politics, religion and crudity too!
Bridesmaids and Groomsmen/Ushers
All participants should be clear about their cue for entry, where they go to and what happens when they’ve got there! A rehearsal isn’t always possible, I know, but is a good idea. It should be stressed that they process in slowly. Their role is decorative, but important.
Ushers may direct guests to their seats and be of general help.
A potentially stroppy child usher can be entrusted with the task of marshalling any gifts that are brought.
The officiant can normally oversee what may be needed, but, if everybody knows their role, then the potential for disaster is significantly minimalized!
Although micro-weddings can sometimes be the cheapest option, the accumulation of expenses associated with a wedding can seem relentless.
Why the expense?
Some suppliers sense ‘easy pickings’ when a couple approaches them. Prices can be raised just because it’s for a wedding. These vendors may sense an opportunity to exploit excited, bemused, inexperienced people. The couple may not know what is a fair price or what to expect from a supplier. They may simply stop at the first enquiry.
These suppliers can include venues, dressmakers, caterers, florists, make-up artists, celebrants (yes, even some celebrants!), photographers, planners, entertainment arrangers, vehicle hire – anyone and everyone! But don’t be alarmed – the vast majority are honest!
Of course, suppliers with integrity will still be charging for what they do. And some do a very great deal. Bear in mind that much of what wedding suppliers provide happens behind the scenes.
For example, as a celebrant, I don’t just turn up early on the day, deliver the ceremony and then go home. There is a massive amount of liaison and work beforehand to ensure that the ceremony is perfect on the day, and fully reflects the couple’s personalities and beliefs.
Depending on your budget and desires, a wedding may seem expensive. Your expectations matter. If you want specialists, then it’s fair that you will be paying to benefit from their unique training, experience and expertise.
There are ways to reduce costs without sacrificing quality. You can get married Monday to Thursday and/or in the morning or afternoon. That should get you cheaper rates. Avoid peak times (Bank Holidays and summer in particular). Choose flowers that will be in season. Have a cash bar. Only supply a limited amount of alcohol (a surprising amount gets wasted anyway). Be creative!
It’s certainly an important part of the buying process to shop around. The cheapest supplier may well not be the best (although the dearest doesn’t have to be, either!). You need to feel confident that the suppliers you choose will deliver what they claim. Although their testimonials are a useful guide, you probably need to go with your heart. Again, from a celebrant perspective, I would not want to be married by an officiant I didn’t feel comfortable with.
With judicious ‘homework’, you might be surprised at what good value your wedding turns out to be!
Most people have little, or no, experience of putting together a ceremony. The internet can offer some help, but consulting a professional is wise. However, how do you know which supplier is going to be a match for you?
Of course, you’ve got to decide what you want and how much you are willing to spend. One rule of thumb is that, if you really like someone but they’re just out of your price range, it’s worth going with them. You can probably cut a corner elsewhere to cover the shortfall.
I’m not going to talk here about the reception, as my brief is the ceremony. There are still decisions to be made, though.
The venue and the officiant are paramount – and will each have their own advantages as well as potential drawbacks.
If you are not marrying in church, you essentially have two choices: the Register Office or a venue such as a hotel. If the venue is not licensed for weddings, you need to go to the Register Office first (with two witnesses). Then you can have the wedding of your dreams (see next section) in the venue of your dreams.
If you’re choosing a hotel, say, make sure you have visited – and love – it. Ensure you have spoken to the Event Planner and understand exactly what the terms and conditions are. For example, does your hire cover the whole venue? What about payment terms? What social distance safeguards are they employing? What happens if you have to cancel?
If you’re going with a celebrant as officiant, there are many different types. Humanists should not even mention “God” or include any religious elements in their service (though a few do seem to be doing that nowadays). Wiccan celebrants will include pagan (nature-related) elements. Then there are independent celebrants who will include some conventional religious readings or rituals, if desired, but who are comfortable with secular ceremonies.
To clarify, an independent civil celebrant will normally tailor the service to your expectations and beliefs, so you can have as much – or as little – religion as you want. Your day really can be special and the way YOU want it.
Finally, you need to be sure of venue and celebrant (especially, as you’ll want to be comfortable for your actual marriage).
Personal recommendations are always good. Otherwise, websites will give you an idea, but personal contact is even more revealing. Is this a venue that excites you? Will this celebrant listen to your wishes and be someone you can feel confident about?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Check Terms and Conditions and query anything unclear.
If you have any questions in the meanwhile, please feel free to ask me!