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.
Do you fancy a traditional full religious wedding service? Many still do, although these are becoming less popular. You know what you’re getting with such a service – and that’s precisely what drives some people away. They prefer a unique, personalised ceremony to a standardised, predictable service.
The same criticism can be levelled at Register Office services. They tend to follow the same pattern. Moreover, some registrars have not been trained in public speaking and sometimes fail to deliver a memorable service.
An unexpected option
Not everyone’s aware of this choice, but a civil celebrant may be a better bet. They can offer a tailor-made order of service, which will make the ceremony very special and individual. Additionally, they will be very experienced in public speaking and can ensure that nobody is disappointed with the presentation. And what they offer does not have to be way-out or woo-woo!
Another advantage of a civil celebrant is that you can be married by them wherever you choose (subject to permission etc., of course!). So indoors or outdoors is not a problem. Conventional venues, like hotels, are available, as are quirkier ones, such as castles, marquees, beaches, warehouses, in woodlands, beside canals, etc.
You can individualise your wedding further by choosing original décor. Put your stamp on the invitations, seating plans and general signage.
Flowers are another way to personalise the proceedings. One example is the display at a Cyprus wedding I conducted (see photo above). You may choose a floral arch, unique bridal bouquets and table furnishings.
The days of obligatory formal dress have gone for many people. The bride doesn’t have to wear white; the groom might not wear a suit. They can still show originality and style, however. For example, the groom might wear coloured socks or a special cravat, the bride may wear sandals.
I’ve already hinted at this, but a civil celebrant ceremony allows you individualisation. You can write your own vows. These can be moving and sometimes very funny! You can include ritual – a simple example would be the Loving Cup.
You could also include some religious elements, if you want.
You can invite family and friends to participate in the service, and, of course, the register (ie the degree of solemnity) is something you and the celebrant can agree on.
All of this, especially preparing the ceremony, is something I’d love tohelp you with.
No, no! Not “when you’re totally tanked up with booze”!
What I’m actually referring to is the most advantageous time, day and type of ceremony for you.
Of course, depending on the type of ceremony you have in mind and the venue, there are major decisions to be made.
If you choose to marry at a Register Office, you need to make an appointment and go down (with two witnesses) on a working day.
At the time of writing, most (if not all) registrars conduct the ceremony from their base, rather than attending a licensed venue. (If they come out, they require certain criteria to be met, such as venue specifics and timings. They also charge quite a lot for this service.)
A bill is going through Parliament (slowly!) to allow certain celebrants to conduct legally-binding weddings, which may obviate the need to involve the registrars.
Which brings me on to your next possible choice.
Less Conventional Ceremonies
If you want a unique, tailor-made service, then, once your marriage has been made legal by the Registrars, you can use an independent celebrant. Such a ceremony can take place at the venue of your choice, be it a hotel, an iron age fort, a canalside, or wherever (subject to permission). It can also take the form you choose (eg personalised), which is where the celebrant comes in.
When to Marry
As a rule of thumb, you may be able to make savings, if you avoid high season. That may also suit your guests better. If you choose New Year’s Day, for example, there might be problems for those travelling by public transport or indeed for those nursing hangovers!
Valentine’s Day makes sense at one level, but suppliers often raise their prices for a day like this. You often need to book such a date very far in advance.
Summer is popular, but is not always the best bet. Prices are usually higher. Moreover, weather (as we are seeing this year!) is not guaranteed, and you may be safer booking Spring or Autumn. If you leave it too late to book for the Summer, you may find that many of your potential guests have already reserved their holidays and can’t attend your wedding.
Destination weddings also need considerable notice for most guests.
It’s often worth investigating possible discounts with your supplier. The worst that can happen is that they refuse!
Possible bargaining levers are holding the wedding out of season (as mentioned), holding it in the morning or afternoon, and choosing a Monday through Thursday.
There’s plenty to think about, then, but I hope that these remarks shed some useful light, at least. You may need to be flexible and should certainly do some research, but the results can be so worthwhile.
Never forget that it is your big day, and you deserve to get it right.
Do speak to me, if I can help you further.
I’m often asked what is my role. How can I conduct a wedding? Surely, that’s got to be either a priest (or equivalent) or else the registrars?
What people often don’t realise is that those are not the only options.
As we’ll find out, there’s also a civil celebrant (like me!) who can do the job.
If you opt for a full religious service in England & Wales, then of course you go to your church (or equivalent). They will explain all that’s involved. Not every branch of Christianity is catered for here, though. Church of England, Quaker or Jewish are the only types of religion included.
For other sects, you can marry in a non-C of E church (say), but the marriage will not be legal until you have made an appointment and been to the Register Office. Without the registrars’ participation and the pronouncing of certain words, you will not qualify as legally wed.
If you choose the civil route, you need to know that the service must be totally non-religious. You can be sure that it will be a totally secular ceremony, even though the content may vary a bit from registrar to registrar.
The Register Office service will cost in the region of £100. Pre-COVID, they could come out to a venue licensed for weddings, albeit for another £500 or so. As I write, this is no longer possible, and, anyway, wedding numbers are still limited severely.
There is another option, however, which all too few people know about. It is particularly useful if:
- You may not want a full religious service
- You may want one, but are prevented from marrying in your church/synagogue etc. For example, you are a (Catholic) divorcee or yours is a mixed-faith ceremony
- You (or even your parents!) want to have just a smidgen of religion in your service
Note that, a humanist celebrant, like the registrars, will not allow any religious references. So go for an independent celebrant, and you can enjoy a personalised ceremony with as much or as little religion as you want.
Again, this is not a legal ceremony, so you still have to go to the registrars. Afterwards, you can enjoy the ceremony you actually want, compiled and conducted by your civil celebrant. It can be in the venue of your dreams, and, to all intents and purposes, be your actual wedding. It can reflect your personalities and beliefs, with inspiring spiritual – or even funny – readings, and contain personalised sections, such as self-written vows.
So don’t go thinking that your big day can’t be the way you want it! Because it can!
Have a chat with me, and I’ll show you how.