Wedding Celebrants – a guide

by | Feb 25, 2021 | Wedding Info and Advice, Weddings Info | 1 comment

A guide How they work and why they could be the perfect solution in a more detailed look at different ceremony options, focusing on the role of celebrants in weddings and the benefits of choosing one.

If you are early on in your planning stages, you might not be sure as to which overall direction that you want to go in. I might suggest first that you head on over to a more general post Ive created to show you all some different ways to get married and different types of weddings.

More specifically, in regards to ceremonies, you have to make some key decisions. A legal ceremony is this country is relatively restrictive and can only take place in a licensed premises or be part of an accepted and registered religious ceremony. You need to make this decision quite early in your planning and before you can ‘give notice’ at your local register office. You can find the official government advice on the subject here.

The marriage rules are always under discussion of being ‘relaxed’ to fall more in line with many other countries, but 15 years in the industry and I am yet to see any of these changes. You may have see movies where couples in other countries sporadically decide to marry on a beach, or in a back garden or even a mountain range! Unfortunately, legal civil/religious ceremonies at exotic locations are very difficult under current UK law and celebrants can offer the perfect solution. A registrar may be perfect if you consider the ‘marriage’ making declarations of love and commitment in front of your gathered loved ones as opposed to the emphasis being when the legal paperwork is signed.

Asking the experts

I can selfishly talk about the benefits of a celebrant led wedding for myself, they usually do what they do mainly for the love of it and us such are often so flexible in listening and actioning what you as the couple actually want. This translates into spectacular outdoor ceremonies for me and multiple angles on your vows. I love to work with a great celebrant and for the purpose of this blog, I have utilised the experience and brilliance of two of the best in the business!

Ali Moore from BeMoore is just wonderful, relaxed and a generally awesome and inspiring person, she is an experienced celebrant and has conducted services at many different kinds of weddings over the years. Our second expert for this discussion is the lovely, highly experienced Kelly Hawes who runs Kelly H Celebrant and also works locally, she is friendly, professional and full of information to help out potential couples thinking of going with a celebrant for their marriage service.

What are the benefits of having a celebrant over a registrar/religious ceremony?
A brief idea of situations where a celebrant can really help you to solve logistical issues about how and where you want to marry

  • Sometimes on peak date, the register services (and busy places of worship) within any region can become extremely busy. This is especially true on peak dates and peak times, with most people still choosing to marry between May and October and ceremonies starting between 12 – 2:00pm. It can be especially tricky to secure the times that you may want if you are booking things quite late, registrars can offer you the chance to still celebrate with your family and friends. Of course, the same goes for great celebrants, so either way, act as quick as you can!
  • If you wanted to enjoy an outdoor ceremony at a venue without a licence for one.
  • If you would like some religious influence in your wedding (you can also employ various denominations to come and bless your wedding), or if you are blending religions/cultures together and want everything to take place on one day.
  • If you find the rules of a traditional service too binding – a lot of people do not know there are restrictions upon things like songs with ‘halo’ in them or a reading with a religious element. These are usually not allowed in registrar ceremonies.
  • If you want to get married somewhere utterly breathtaking or perhaps special to you, maybe a beach, mountain or a home property? The rules of marriage in our country only accommodate approved and licensed venues. Using a celebrant can bypass all of these restrictions.
  • If you are eloping, or maybe having an intimate ceremony first before a larger celebration, a celebrant can be a fantastic way of bringing a little formality and focus to the event and allowing your larger friends and family to feel a part of it all.
  • Bringing in a personal element to the ceremony such as a family unity ceremony if blending step-families together.
  • A couple who want to make it all about them and their personalities. Something completely bespoke and personal to you. Or, as Kelly puts it “a couple who want their personalities to shine throughout their whole day – even the ceremony, where we could use wording and stories that makes their guests say “this is so them!”

Benefits according to the experts

I used Kelly and Ali’s expertise to create the above list, but in discussion, both came up with many more.

Kelly: “you will have an ongoing working relationship with the person who will conduct the biggest day of your life!  Rather than being face to face with a stranger you will find a friendly face who has got to know you and who has involved you in every step of the creation of your ceremony – this friendly smile alone should put your nerves at ease, and there are no surprises as you have personally approved every part of the script.” with Ali adding that “Having a Celebrant gives you the opportunity to create something that really reflects your own views, makes it unique and can also bring people together by going across the waves of beliefs and faiths. It is such a flexible and creative way to build your day”

Question Time

I asked some of my couples who have not yet finalised all of their plans to ask our experts some questions on things they would like to know about having a celebrant. We have talked a lot already about the benefits of choosing to have one, let’s delve in to some practicalities.

Is there a Difference between a Humanist Celebrant and an Independent Celebrant?

Ali “Yes a humanist celebrant works with the humanist organisation – they are a recognised body who do not have faiths or beliefs – so not religious elements will be included – so music and words will need to reflect this. An Independent Celebrant can do either and bring in a mixture”
Kelly adds “Humanism is a non religious belief system in itself.  In simple terms Humanists believe you have one life – the one you live now – there is no spiritual world and no afterlife for example.  This being the case many Humanist Celebrants will not include religion or spiritual aspects to your ceremony and it may or may not be important to them if you follow Humanist beliefs or not – they will each have their own individual feelings about this of course.  An Independent Celebrant is just that – independent from any particular belief system and many will be happy to incorporate religious or spiritual content from any faith. 
For those interested in a humanism and weddings you will be able to find more details for Humanist specific ceremonies.

What are some things to consider before to choosing to have a celebrant?
Kelly takes this one for us “The main consideration would be the fact that a Celebrant cannot conduct the legal marriage – this needs to be done separately with a Registrar.  It is simply a formality and you register your marriage in a similar way that you register a birth or death – across the desk with you two and two witnesses.  You only need to repeat the declaration and contractual wording, then signing the register.  Most of my couples would do this on a weekday leading up to their weekend ceremony with me.”

Can we incorporate their own beliefs or vows? 
Both Ali and Kelly are clearly enthusiastic about this answer, unsurprising as one of the major benefits we have mentioned is being able to do it your way. Ali says “Definitely and this is a big joy of having a celebrant  – being able to create those words together that sum up your relationship – and as a celebrant I am on hand to help you – it can be nerve wracking for some and you don’t have to read your own words although many do – and it’s nearly always emotional.”
Kelly clearly agrees with this “Certainly with the help of an Independent Celebrant  we would love you to incorporate anything you believe in, whether faith, tradition or cultural rituals and as for writing your own vows – quite simply in my opinion these promises are the whole point of the day so YES – if you feel you are up to the job, please do it!!Your Celebrant will be more than happy to guide you and work through drafts with you until you are completely happy with your vows

We love the idea of choosing how it goes, now how do we choose how best to make it personal?

Kelly: “A lot of the content will simply be your love story, how you met, the proposal and all your adventures to date.  Your Celebrant will find out what makes you tick and will have lots of ideas as to other aspects you can add, from readings to more symbolic actions such as sand blending, lighting candles, hand tying etc.  I would like to assure you that if you are looking for something that still has a traditional element and feels like a wedding you can have this!” 

Ali: “I always say think about your relationship – how would you describe it ? what do you love , really anything goes – I am creating a Arthurian legend /pagan themed wedding and also one with a strong lord of the rings tone to it with readings from the books – the main thing is make it yours”

A few practical considerations
It was really nice hearing from Ali and Kelly with some more official and experienced words of advise. Speaking completely anecdotally, I usually feel that celebrant led weddings have a more relaxed feel to them with the couple generally feeling under much less pressure. To finish off, I asked a couple of more practical questions in case any of my couples are thinking of going with a celebrant for their special day

How should they go about choosing the right celebrant for them?

Kelly: “A great way to choose a celebrant is to scope them out on their website and social media to get a feel for their personality.  You will know which ones you like the sound of, and then I encourage you to  have a chat over the phone (I know it’s old fashioned but there’s nothing better than a proper chat!).  You should ensure that you are compatible with your Celebrant and that they are totally on board with your vision and anything you wish to include in your ceremony”

Ali: “You will just know – you will speak to a few and you will find one which you feels gets you both and feel that they are your person .. trust your instinct .. but do make sure they are qualified and insured!”

How far in advance should a couple get you booked in?

Ali: “Ideally, at least one year – although there are usually some gaps – key dates such as solstice dates and august dates for me are always first to go so get in there fast! It is always worth getting in touch though”

Kelly: “Personally I’ve had couples book with just 2 months notice and up to 2 years!  This varies massively, I’d say many couples are looking at this at the same time as their venue.  If you are looking for a peak date (June, July, August) then the earlier you book the better”

Final Thoughts

I have seen the benefits for using celebrants since I was first introduced to what they do around ten years ago, and I am often a little surprised at the gentle resistance that I feel from some couples when I am suggesting them. I think for some couples, the wedding equates to the vows, the legal paperwork and the celebration. That is fine, and everyone should do what is right for them. However, if your personal view allows for some flexibility, why not also find ways to personalise your ceremony? Or if the crazy dream that you both shared seems impossible due to the restrictions of licensed venues, a celebrant might just be the perfect way to achieve it.

A huge thank you once more to the wonderful Kelly and the lovely Ali I can certainly personally, highly recommend either of this ladies if this blog has helped to sway you.

– Esmé


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