Expecting the Extraordinary

Expecting the Extraordinary

The extraordinary is part and parcel of the work of a celebrant.

“I want a Jewish wedding. My boy friend’s not Jewish, but he’s fine with it. At first, my parents wouldn’t have anything to do with the wedding. Now they’re coming round to it, but refuse to allow Jewish traditions in the ceremony. Can you put something suitable together?”

“I’m going to propose to my girl friend in the [5 star] hotel. When she accepts, I want you to come across and conduct an appropriate ceremony. Knock her off her feet!”

“We’re planning a naturist ceremony. Can you compile something for it?”

“Do you do pagan?”

“Actually, we want something quite conventional. Could you do that for us?”

“Can you collaborate with me alone, as I don’t want my fiancé to have anything to do with the ceremony except to be there?”

As a wedding celebrant, I have been asked these, or similar, questions. They give an idea of the range of desires of clients – (well, potential clients, as I didn’t work with all of these) – that I may deal with.

The beauty of what I offer is that the client has freedom to choose exactly what they want for their big day. They may be open to advice and guidance from me; they may have a very clear vision of what they wish for.

Usually, at the preliminary meeting, we have a chance to see if we’d be comfortable working together and start exploring the possibilities. Do they want religion? Yes? Then, how much? Who will be participating in the ceremony? Will any rituals be included? What tone is wanted?

Once the enquiry turns into a booking, I e-mail a draft as soon as possible. This is for the clients’ approval. If they don’t like something, it goes out! They may suggest readings themselves – usually, they’ll be included automatically, as I always bear in mind that it’s the clients’ day. (That doesn’t mean that I haven’t occasionally advised against a certain reading!)

By the end of the process (and the draft may need several partial rewrites), the client should be left with the ceremony of their dreams – every word of which they will have approved.

So, extraordinary as their requests may sometimes be, I can normally take them in my stride. There’s certainly never a dull moment in my job!

Who wants to be a Funeral Celebrant?

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that one of my remits is funeral celebrant. “Why would you want to do that?” is the most common reaction. Then they tend to ask “What is that, anyway?”

I’ll try to answer both those questions now, in reverse order.

What does a funeral celebrant do?

It may surprise you to learn that funeral and wedding celebrants have much in common. In both cases, after initial contact is made, there is likely to be a face-to-face visit.

When I am with clients (wedding or funeral), this first meeting is vital so that we can get to know each other and see if we feel we can work together.

The clients need to feel they can trust me, that I can answer their questions and make appropriate suggestions, and have their interests at heart. Our goal is to build a service or ceremony that suits their needs and desires. I want them to like me and to feel confident in my all-round professionalism.

I ask a lot of questions too. Partly, this is to determine the sort of service or ceremony I am to write and conduct and also the sort of readings, music, ‘choreography’, register, language and style  desired. Should it be informal or formal, religious, part-religious or non-religious?

Questions also enable me to build up a picture of the person or persons the ceremony is focusing upon for any address I may make on the day.

Once taken on, I write a draft of the service, which can be amended by the client (possibly, several times). The idea is to ensure that it is memorable and unique.


Why would anyone want to be a funeral celebrant?

Obviously, dealing with bereaved people can be difficult. Each client is different, and I have to tailor my visit accordingly. Often, clients are confused and apprehensive, but I can quickly put their mind at rest by answering their questions and explaining the options they have. They have an opportunity to speak about the deceased, which they often enjoy.

Our meeting can be rewarding on both sides, and, hopefully, by the time I have left, we can be sure that we can work together to write a service that will honour the deceased, permit grieving, but also be a celebration of a life. It should also fit in with the beliefs of the deceased and, if possible, the family.

Choosing the readings and writing an eulogy are tasks that are challenging, but often very rewarding. Usually, the client is happy with the service I submit to them (there will be a few minor changes, of course), and every detail – who is reading what, who comes in with the coffin, what music is played when, etc. –  is agreed beforehand.

Before the service, I introduce myself to as many of the mourners as possible (having checked with the authorities that all is set up). I take pride in my presentation skills, so conducting the funeral service is not as scary for me as people imagine! I take nothing for granted,though!

After the service, I often have clients and mourners come up and say that they actually ‘enjoyed’  the service and felt it did the bereaved justice, and that he/she would have wanted it like that.

Mission accomplished!

So, you see, there’s a lot about this work to love.


Michael can help plan your funeral service in your lifetime.

Michael Gordon can help prepare and conduct a tailor-made life-cycle ceremony in or around London or, indeed, in Europe.