The Ultimate Guide to Celebrants and Celebrant-led Ceremonies
Humanist weddings and celebrant-led ceremonies have risen in popularity hugely in the UK. Over 1,000 occur in England and Wales each year. Lots of couples are now considering these as an alternative to a civil ceremony. Here we will guide you through everything you need to know about celebrants and celebrant-led ceremonies.
- Top Wedding Celebrants
- What is a Celebrant?
- What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Celebrant-led Wedding Ceremony?
- Why are Celebrants Popular during Coronavirus?
- Where Can I Have a Celebrant-led Ceremony?
- Can we write our own vows?
- Is a Celebrant-led Ceremony a legally binding marriage?
- How Much Does a Celebrant-led Ceremony Cost?
- What is a Humanist Ceremony?
- Is there a Difference between a Humanist Celebrant and an Independent Celebrant?
- What Happens at a Celebrant-Led Ceremony?
- Should I Have a Celebrant-Led Ceremony?
A wedding celebrant is a professionally trained and fully insured officiant who performs formal ceremonies such as weddings. Celebrants have the skills and experience to help couples tailor bespoke ceremonies that reflect their personalities and love for each other.
A civil ceremony is performed by a registrar, either in a registry office or a licensed venue. While they are both non-religious wedding ceremonies, there are significant differences.
Civil ceremonies are legally recognised, but are bound by restrictions regarding the words spoken during the ceremony. For example, there can be no religious aspect at all.
On the other hand, a celebrant-led wedding is bespoke and meaningful, guided by a celebrant who delivers a personalised ceremony. There are no limits to gender, race, sexual orientation, size, ability or circumstance for the couple.
More people are turning to celebrants during the coronavirus pandemic and it is easy to see why.
- During lockdown, many couples had virtual ceremonies, led by celebrants, on their intended wedding day. While these are not legally binding, they are a romantic, uplifting way to celebrate your intended wedding date.
- As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, there are still certain limitations on weddings. Couples and their guests will prefer the safety and unlimited space by having an outdoor ceremony. In England and Wales, where legal ceremonies have to be held indoors, this will mean using a celebrant. Remember to check your nation’s gathering guidelines before you plan this ceremony as celebrant-led ceremonies may be limited to the current gathering guidelines.
- For those that haven’t been able to complete their paperwork due to lockdown; Banns or a Special Licence for a church wedding or Notice of Marriage for a civil ceremony, you can still have a celebrant led ceremony and complete the paperwork later.
- Although registrars offered weddings as soon as the government allowed them, there is very limited availability. Some areas may be unable to offer civil ceremonies or civil partnerships until later in the year or will only offer them in council-owned buildings and register offices. If you have booked a stunning venue for your wedding, you’ll want to have your wedding ceremony there, and again a celebrant can step in.
- Finally, perhaps most importantly, couples are looking for the flexibility celebrants can offer so they can change their plans if needed. Whether it is the flexibility to be a few minutes late, to move from outdoors to indoors at the last minute or even to move venue to allow for regional lockdowns, with a celebrant you know your ceremony will be able to go ahead.
In addition to all the logistical reasons for choosing a celebrant-led ceremony for a 2021 wedding, there is an emotional one too. Celebrants are dedicated to creating a personalised wedding experience for you and your guests. They will do that calmly and sympathetically, ironing out any issues as they arise. This makes them ideally suited to guide you through the wedding process during this difficult time.
Celebrants are essentially able to perform a wedding anywhere. So, they can be anywhere, indoors or outdoors. It is entirely up to you what you want your ceremony backdrop to be. As well as location, there is no restriction on time slots. So, a celebrant-led wedding ceremony offers couples complete flexibility.
One of the aspects that couples love is that the Celebrant will get to know you before the ceremony and help you decide on the ceremony. As part of this, they’ll help you to write your own vows if you choose to. You’ll normally meet them in person or over a video link and they will ask you questions and take notes to understand more about you and give the ceremony a really personal feel. The celebrant may help you pick out readings, music, and show you the different symbolic acts you can pick.
The celebrant will craft a ceremony script based on your personalities and preferences and will check that you are totally happy with it. They will also be on hand to guide you through the process and discuss or adjust the ceremony all the way up to the wedding day.
Unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland, humanist and celebrant-led weddings are not yet recognised in law in England and Wales on their own. So, couples often go to the registry office to be legally wed before or after but there is no reason that you can’t combine a celebrant-led ceremony with a church or civil ceremony or partnership. There’s no rule that the certificate can only be signed after the ceremony. It can be signed beforehand so you’re technically married before the ceremony even begins. So, as long as you have a signed wedding certificate your wedding will be legal and valid – it’s the paperwork that makes it legal, not the ceremony.
There’s no set fee structure; it’s dependent on geographical location, experience, and local supply and demand. The general guide price can vary between £450-£1,000 however we have found that most people pay between £500 and £600 which is the same you would pay for a typical church wedding or for the registrar’s attendance at a civil ceremony.
A ‘humanist’ is someone who chooses to live a good life without religious or superstitious beliefs. Humanists believe that moral values follow on from human nature and experience. A humanist, non-religious wedding ceremony gives you the opportunity to marry where, when, and how you want. Each ceremony is written specifically for the couple; there is no set format. As a guide, a typical wedding might include readings, poems or music as well as personal anecdotes about the couple. The couple will make vows or commitments to each other and often exchange rings.
Humanist celebrants offer secular/non-religious ceremonies only, as they have no-religious beliefs. So, do not include any religious acts of worship in their ceremonies. However, humanist ceremonies can include religious content if it occurs in readings, hymns or music originally written for praise.
Whilst Humanist ceremonies are always non-religious and are based on an atheist belief system, an Independent Celebrant has the flexibility to include religious and/or spiritual elements if the couple wish to have them. Indeed many couples choose an Independent Celebrant because they have faith but are not a part of any organised religion, they may have faith but are divorced or same-sex couples whom the church have actually turned away for their wedding, they may be of mixed faiths and therefore want a ceremony which includes an element of more than one religious which a celebrant can include.
From the experts
Using an Independent Celebrant puts you in control of your ceremony, whether it’s to be completely non-religious or if you would like an element of religion or spirituality included too. Your wedding ceremony can then be held in any location whether that be an indoor or outdoor venue, even your own back garden. Your ceremony will be written just for you and allows you complete freedom to express your love & personalities in a way which is as unique as you are.Terri Shanks, The Fellowship of Professional Celebrants
Each ceremony is completely bespoke and personal to you. However, here is a basic outline of an example ceremony structure:
- Arrival of the couple (individually or together)
- Introductions and welcomes
- Words about love and commitment from a non-religious perspective
- Reading or poem
- The couple’s story – how they met, their shared values, hopes for the future
- What marriage means to the couple
- Reading, poem, hymn or song
- The couple’s promises/vows
- Meaningful symbolic act (e.g. handfasting)
- Exchange of rings
- Pronouncement as married
- Words of well-wishing
- Closing and departure
There are also several symbolic acts that are an incredibly meaningful part of both humanist and celebrant-led wedding ceremonies. For example, swapping garlands, jumping the broom, gift-giving, and wine or flower rituals. We have outlined the most popular below.
What is Handfasting?
Handfasting is when a cord or sash is used to tie the hands of a couple together. Then, they recite words expressing their commitment to one another. It’s where the phrase ‘tying the knot’ comes from!
What is a Hand-holding Ceremony?
A hand-holding ceremony is when couples face each other, hold hands and look into each others’ eyes as a blessing is spoken over them. Sometimes you’ll cross your arms over to form an infinity symbol that represents a love that will go on forever.
What is a Candle Ceremony?
A candle ceremony is when each of you lights a candle representing your separate lives. Then, together you use two tapers to light a third, different coloured candle to symbolise joining your life together in marriage.
What is a Unity Sand Ceremony?
A unity sand ceremony is where the couple each pour different coloured sand into a third container indicating the intertwining of their lives in marriage.
The ceremony can include religious elements if the couple choose an Independent Celebrant, for example, words honouring deceased loved ones and how they may be spiritually present in this moment or watching over the couple on their special day. Some couples choose to include hymns in their ceremony.
How Do I Choose Content for a Celebrant-led Ceremony?
Celebrants work with you to ensure that the content accurately reflects who they are. There are no restrictions when it comes to music or readings during your celebrant ceremony. So, you can opt for something that you both love, and not feel limited in your choices. You can also add elements of religion, acknowledge your cultural background or even a family tradition.
Celebrant-led ceremonies often use one of three styles of vows. The traditional “I do”, the ‘repeat after me’ vows or personal vows written by the couple. It’s your day so be as creative as you wish, and have a truly personal day. Using a wedding celebrant means you will have a beautifully bespoke ceremony, created just for you, so make the most of the opportunities this by having vows that reflect your feelings.
How Long is a Celebrant-Led Ceremony?
This depends on the content of your ceremony. On average, most celebrant-led ceremonies are around half an hour, very similar to any other wedding ceremony. Of course, it depends on the length of your readings and any rituals you wish to include.
Celebrant-led ceremonies weddings are perfect for couples who would like a meaningful ceremony but think traditional wedding structures are not for them. Celebrants can ensure you have more of a say over what you want to include and exclude in the ceremony and are generally more versatile.
Your bespoke ceremony performed by a celebrant who has become close to you as a couple and knows your story. Celebrants can do more than just preside over the ceremony. They can stay by your side throughout the entire wedding process. Celebrants can also assist with paperwork, writing of vows, and even wedding planning.
Celebrants are also open and inclusive, welcome same-sex and interfaith couples. So, they are an option for everyone. Humanist celebrants undergo gold standard training by Humanists UK, and the service includes public liability insurance. Most independent celebrants are trained by the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants.
With a celebrant-led ceremony, the event is all about the two of you. Just like your partnership, your wedding should be unique to you as a couple. There are no restrictions on where the ceremony can take place So, it gives you the flexibility to create a personal ceremony that is unique.
Thinking about having a celebrant? The best thing is to get to know them, to see if they’re a match for you! We asked some of our favourite celebrants what they think a celebrant brings to a wedding. Here, in their own words, they describe why a celebrant might be right for you.
Image courtesy of Susan Foxall Ceremonies
What can a Celebrant bring to your ceremony? Individuality – no two couples are the same and neither should their ceremony be. Celebrants create beautiful bespoke ceremonies centered around the couple and their story, weaving in symbolic elements and personal vows, ensuring that this magical moment when you pledge your love to each other is unique, memorable, and all about the two of you.
Image courtesy of Yvonne Beck Celebrant
What can a celebrant bring to a ceremony? Well, first of all, we bring a huge amount of support, friendship, and a listening ear – so that our couples have a ceremony that’s completely about their vision, their dream, their relationship and their style and ideas. With a Celebrant, they are free to choose freely in all aspects of their ceremony: theme, content, format, time of day, length, and very importantly, how they want to share their love story and their journey to this point in time, with their family and friends. With no restrictions we can include culture, ritual, religion, spirituality, and language – I myself speak fluent German and am often asked to create a multilingual ceremony! We like to say YES, to all our couples!
Image courtesy of Jennifer Patrice Celebrant
A Celebrant conducts a Wedding Celebration Ceremony, which has all the elements of a wedding, apart from the legal formalities (which are carried out at a couple’s local Register Office within a year of their giving notice of intention to marry). Having a Celebrant means that the couple (having met them anything from two years to three months prior to their wedding day and getting to know them) have a ceremony that is unique to them and very personalised. It can be the way they want it to be: after all, it is their day so it should reflect them in every way.
I take their relationship history and turn it into their wedding ceremony so that when they, their family and friends, hear it they instantly recognise the journey they have made together up to the point of getting married. They have a bridal party, can write their own vows (but, if they would prefer, I can do that for them), or have religious content if they wish to. They can have the songs or readings that they really like and include loved ones by having symbolic elements. The choices are varied and many: for example, they can light a unity candle together, have a handfasting ritual, sand pouring or ring warming [rings are passed around the couple’s guests, held for a short while during which they are imbued with love and good wishes before making their way back to the happy couple for the ring exchange] and, at the end of the ceremony they sign a certificate. I’ve been told that my ceremonies are loving, full of emotion, sincere, and fun; it actually brings me personal joy to work with a couple and be able to create their perfect ceremony with them.
As demand for unique weddings grows, brides and grooms are starting to inject the same amount of personality, inclusivity and detail into their wedding ceremony by having a humanist celebrant conduct their ceremony. With a Humanist ceremony that is religion-free, highly personalised and totally non-boring, couples can include their own vows, their own thoughts on love and marriage, their shared values, their love story and any amount of other ideas that the celebrant can suggest.
I have 15 years of professional writing, event management and video production experience and adore love stories and weddings. Meeting couples and writing and delivering a celebratory, completely bespoke wedding ceremony for them is the best job ever. Each script is completely different because each and every couple is different. I love connecting with my couples, and we often develop a real bond! If you want your dog to deliver your rings, I’m your celebrant! If you want a beautiful, romantic, upbeat and relaxed ceremony with amazing attention to detail, a cracking story and the upmost inclusivity, please get in touch and let’s start planning a ceremony that’ll kick start your wedding day with a bang and be in everyone’s hearts and memories forever!
Image courtesy of Julia Hawkes Independent Celebrant
Electing to have a celebrant led wedding ensures that you can involve everyone that matters to you in your ceremony. Imagine if all of your friends and family could be active contributors to your ceremony rather than just passive observers. The options are many: family unity candle ceremonies, friends and family promises, call and response moments, wishing trees, promise stones, or something uniquely created by your celebrant linked to your ideas, personalities, and passions. All things are possible with a celebrant!
Image courtesy of Elegant Boho Ceremonies
“Hampshire and West Sussex weddings. I will craft and conduct your personal ceremony, written around your love story. Please make contact to discuss your ideas, hopes and dreams for your wedding day”
Image courtesy of Fanfare Ceremonies
A wedding celebrant is more a friend than an official figure on your wedding day. A couple chooses their wedding celebrant rather than being allocated the on-duty Registrar. They choose someone who fits with their vision of their day and that they have a connection with.
During the months prior to their wedding, a couple will meet their celebrant several times. That initial connection will develop and a tremendous rapport and trust will evolve. The couple will feel completely happy to share personal elements of their lives and amusing anecdotes. This collaboration enables the wedding celebrant to craft a highly personalised ceremony that represents the couple and their story accurately. Furthermore, on the day of the wedding, the person presenting the ceremony is a reassuring presence. Not a stranger but more a friend who they know is completely committed to them and will navigate them calmly through the ceremony.
Image courtesy of Alexandra Celebrant
“When you have your heart set on creating a crazy, wonderful, intensely personal, monster of a festival weekender, picking a celebrant that can pull of a ceremony in keeping is a helluva daunting task. Will they get us? Can they deliver a personal ceremony that doesn’t come close to generic? Can they mix humour and poignancy and, in our case, a touch of theatrics? Can they mould to fit the occasion we want to create? With Alex, we got everything we wanted and so much more! She was perfect in every way. “
Your wedding day should be one full of love, laughter, happiness and perhaps the odd tear (of joy). As your celebrant, I work with you to create a ceremony that completely reflects you and your partner. I build the ceremony around your personality and your beliefs. It can be as traditional or radical as you want – the important thing is that it is YOUR ceremony. Creating the ceremony is like going on a journey together – where I get to hear all about you and what makes you both tick. We will talk about music, love, rituals, and readings. We will talk about symbolic elements. We will talk about marriage and what it means. If you have children or friends that you want to take part in the ceremony that is fine by me. On your wedding day, I will be there to guide you through your ceremony, ensuring that you both are able to enjoy it. I arrive at least an hour before to ensure everything is ready – especially you, and I will stay until you no longer need me and you are ready to enjoy the rest of your day.
Image courtesy of Celebrant Services NI
Your wedding ceremony is the most important part of your special day. It should be a treasure trove of smiles and memories. As an independent celebrant, I delight in creating for you the gift of a magical, memorable ceremony. From the quirky to the traditional, a forest glade to a five-star hotel, on any day of the week, your ceremony will be as unique as you are and I promise that it will truly be the most memorable part of your day.
Image courtesy of Celebrant Spain
A wedding celebrant is the third person in your relationship. They are the ones whom you trust to officiate the ceremony at the heart of your wedding day. Your celebrant will hold the space, create the atmosphere, and manage every theatrical element as you affirm your vows to each other in front of your guests as witnesses. They totally “get” you, they respect the privileged position they are in and will use carefully chosen words that 100% resonate with you to reflect your personalities and what is important to you. Quite simply, your celebrant makes your ceremony.
Image courtesy of Cariad Personal Ceremonies
Traditionally Handfasting includes Jumping over the broom with a couples ‘ hands, hand tied together. “ Jumping the Broom” signifies leaving the past behind (as in being single) and jumping together into a new life together. How relevant would this be to have this written into your bespoke celebrant led ceremony – with leaving the horrors of COVID behind and jumping over into a fresh new start.!
Image courtesy of Lynn Tierney
“It is said that “Every love story is beautiful, but ours is my favourite” When you choose me as your celebrant, then your love story will be my favourite, your story will be the only one that matters. I pride myself in being able to quickly distill the very essence of what you want for your special day. One of my earliest brides summed it up when she said, “From that first cup of coffee, Lynn just got us!” And from the very outset, my brain will jump into action, recalling, researching, sharing, agreeing or discarding ideas that would be perfect for you.
It is my mission to elevate your ceremony, your actual ceremony, to become the beating heart of your special day. In years to come your guests will need to look at photos of your dress, your cake, that first dance to jog their memories. But memories of the words you spoke and the symbolic elements they witnessed – they will stay with them for a long, long time.”
Image courtesy of Justine Celebrant
A Celebrant wedding is a beautiful, handcrafted, bespoke service that is written just for you as a couple. It can be as long, as relaxed, as spiritual as you both want it to be, any time of the day (or night) and you can have it wherever you want – as long as you have the landowners permission!
Your Celebrant will get to know the two of you and will write your very individual story. You can have the vows that you want to say to each other – without limitations. This ceremony can be outside, in a non-licensed or even a licensed venue. It could be where you proposed to each other or in a beautiful barn or ancient woodland or even your garden.
Post-COVID, we are going to have so many couples vying for a limited number of Registrars to perform their ceremony on a certain day – there will just not be enough to go around – and why would you choose such an impersonal option anyway? With a Celebrant, you just need to get the legal admin done at the Registry Office at a time that you can find for a small service with 2 witnesses and then book your venue, your Celebrant and all your other suppliers for the day of your choosing – wherever and whenever you want it to take place. It really is a no-brainer!
Image courtesy of Simply Ceremonies
I think a Celebrant brings a sense of comfort to the ceremony. Because we work hard to get to know our couples and build a relationship with them, we are no longer strangers when we arrive on the day.
Image courtesy of Amanda Jane Ceremonies
“In the nicest way possible I have always thought of my role as a Wedding Celebrant to be a little like the old Martini girl advert – any time, any place, anywhere! Celebrants give you the freedom to have your wedding exactly how, where, and when you want. With that freedom comes great flexibility. I can help couples to create a ceremony that is unique to them, no set scripts, no confines. No, I cannot legally marry you but you will already know that!
In the midst of our COVID situation, many of you will be looking to reschedule or sadly may have lost your wedding plans. As a celebrant, I am likely to have strong availability to conduct a service and also be able to prepare it in a reasonably short time frame, which may be of huge benefit to you.
I cover most of Devon, and parts of Cornwall and Somerset, so if you are looking to reschedule your 2020 wedding and are struggling to find an officiant, or if you are hopeful for a ceremony this year but are unable or hesitant to try and book anything just yet (which I totally understand) then I could well be the answer. Get in touch for a no-obligation chat about your plans.”
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