"A Celebrant? What is a Celebrant?" This is what I hear the most when I'm asked what my job is, that or I get the 'I'm trying not to be obvious but I have no idea what that is' look. Even better, and funnier: "you're celibate?" If I could make money out of that, that would be wonderful, ha! As you can see, you're not the only one who isn't 100% sure what a Celebrant is or does, and that is ok.
A basic description of a Celebrant is: a person who conducts ceremonies.
If we search google for the meaning of "Celebrant" a lot of dictionaries still tell us a Celebrant is a person who conducts a religious ceremony, which shows us dictionaries haven't yet caught up with current times, here's hoping that changes soon!
Celebrancy or using a Celebrant for a wedding is relatively "new" to the UK. Originally founded in Australia in 1973 by the Attorney general at the time, Lionel Murphy, it was a new way of doing weddings. Lionel felt that those who are secular were also entitled to a wedding of their choice, before that they had to choose someone in the clergy or a civil authority. This meant that those who didn't want a religious ceremony had to settle for the more perfunctory types of ceremonies done by a civil authority. It was only fair to bridge that gap and create a space for everyone to have meaningful ceremonies with substance. It also opened the doors for women & Aboriginal Australians to conduct ceremonies, both types of ceremonies were unheard of before this!
In fact it opened a lot of doors, people could choose their own Celebrant, young people could be Celebrants, inter-faith or non-religious types of ceremonies could be had and be memorable. Even better, they could be done on any day of the week at any time. Wonderful! It was all very radical and it opened the doors to many new and different experiences for a lot more people. Lionel was a trailblazer!
Eventually Celebrancy came over to the UK, and has slowly become more popular in the last 10 or so years, leading to a bit of a boom the last year and a half.
Wonderful, so there are more Celebrants & it's becoming more popular to use them, but why is celebrancy still relatively unknown to the general population? This comes down to UK law, which states that only clergy or registrars can legally marry someone. The legal part becomes a bit of a sticking point for many, mainly because they don't know all the options, nor how it all works.
To help us gain a little more clarity, first, let's understand the difference between 'marriage' and 'wedding' - explained by Cambridge Dictionary:
Let us also define types of Celebrants & those who already officiate weddings which will help us understand even further.
A registrar - a person with legal authority to declare /authorise a marriage but with quite strict rules in place, i.e., no religious aspects whatsoever during your ceremony. (And some other odd rules, for example, the cake cannot be in the room while the ceremony takes place.)
A minister / pastor / vicar - a member of a religious body who can apply to legally marry couples - who of course will also have their own rules, respectively.
A humanist Celebrant - humanists prescribe to a philosophy that humans don't need religion - as such, in England and Wales they cannot do the legal aspect of a marriage. However, they can do your wedding ceremony or indeed any other ceremony. (In Scotland and N. Ireland, they do have the ability to conduct the legal aspect of a marriage - more on that in a future post)
An independent Celebrant - not connected to any religion, even though they themselves might be religious. They can include religious aspects if the couple wish to, which is great for inter-faith couples / ceremonies. Independent Celebrants cannot yet do the legal aspect of a marriage, in any part of the UK, but this brings with it a freedom to include a lot of other things a registrar or minister wouldn't be able to include in your ceremony. (Keep a look out for the next blog post which will discuss why Celebrants can be a great choice for your wedding!)
While a Celebrant cannot do the legal part of your marriage, they can do your wedding ceremony. You'll still want the legal part done, of course, but if you choose a Celebrant for your ceremony, you can book a 2 by 2 appointment at the registry office to make it official (on a date before or after your wedding ceremony. The '2 by 2' means you as a couple & 2 witnesses) and then keep all the ceremonial bits for your wedding ceremony with a Celebrant. The ceremonial bits are things like: vows, ring exchange, the kiss, any symbolic rituals - all of which do not need to be done at your legal exchange (if you didn't want to).
Why is it important to know all this? Well, knowledge is power, but mostly this knowledge means you know the choices available to you. Knowing your options and choices means you can properly decide what you want for your ceremony.
As a Celebrant I am slightly biased in saying a Celebrant led wedding is truly wonderful. Something new, different, not traditional & stuffy but creative and fun. However, everyone has different tastes and likes and dislikes, which is perfectly fine. Some people want to get married by a registrar or at their local Church because that's part of their tradition and that is wonderful too.
What would be a shame is if we weren't told all the options in order to make informed choices, We might like something different, we might want to start a new tradition? Creating awareness is a good step in that direction.
All that said, now you know what a Celebrant is and does - share it with someone you know!
By: T. Ribeiro 2021