Choosing and Using a
Professional Celebrant for Your Marriage Ceremony
Your wedding ceremony is the opening act in the
multi-act experience your guests will have of your
wedding. So it sets the tone for the day. There are
quite a few major advantages to hiring an experienced
professional to perform your wedding ceremony. But with
so many celebrants in Australia, and more being
authorised virtually every day, how do you choose?
My father used to say "The Advertisements speak highly
of it" if he thought we were taking somebody's claims at
face value. Truth be told, nobody who is in the business
of providing a wedding service is going to tell you they
are mediocre, average, or anything other than fantastic,
amazing, and awesome (all imprecise descriptions that
depend on subjective opinion!).
First and second
The first step is to a successful choice is to
understand exactly what you need when you set out to
find a celebrant to marry you.
While some jurisdictions allow anyone to be licensed to
marry people by being 'ordained' free on the internet,
Australia is not
one of them. In this country an
aspiring celebrant must obtain a vocational
qualification and meet the test of a 'fit and proper'
person and must also acquire resources and
infrastructure in order to meet the requirements of the
Code of Practice in order to apply for registration.
This involves not inconsiderable expense and some time.
In order for your marriage to be legal it must
be solemnised by a professional celebrant, a government
officer based in a courthouse or a registry
office, or member of the clergy authorised to do
so by the Australian Government. While you are free to
include family and friends in the ceremony (with the
agreement of your chosen celebrant), there are
legal requirements before, during and after the ceremony
that only an authorised marriage celebrant can fulfil.
The second step is to understand what your ceremony
There are many advantages to hiring a professional
celebrant who has the necessary knowledge,
experience, and skill to understand what you want,
use that understanding to create a quality and
emotionally satisfying ceremony and to deliver it
with poise and grace. Ask any photographer or
videographer whether they prefer to work with an
amateur or a professional celebrant and they will
tell you that knowledge, experience, and skill count
so there is no contest.
- Writing a ceremony is very different from writing
a speech, a presentation, or any of the other
categories of public speaking or performance.
- A ceremony is not a monologue. It includes others
so the script needs to accommodate interaction from
the key players (the people who are the focus of the
ceremony) and others.
- A ceremony is not about the person who leads it.
The focus should be on you.
- The ceremony is not an essay read out loud. It
needs to sound right when spoken to an audience.
- The ceremony script needs to incorporate staging
and stage directions - not quite 'exit left, waving'
but prompting the flow of the ceremony.
- The ceremony script needs to take into account how
the ceremony looks, feels and flows as well as how
it sounds. It needs an internal logic.
choose a professional celebrant?
Most people choose a
professional celebrant to develop, create and perform
their ceremony for the benefits a good choice brings.
The number one reason to choose a professional
celebrant is experience. The environment in which
your ceremony will take place is unpredictable.
Things happen. Your celebrant has to do more on
the day that just read the ceremony. Multiple
things are going on at the same time. Guests can
be distracting - they can chat amongst themselves,
children can cry and run about, the photographer
and videographer will be moving about, guests can
be popping up and down in their seats or moving
around to take photos on a range of devices. It
can start to rain. Planes can fly overhead. And
random people can wander into the ceremony space.
And don't forget dogs and other animals. All of
this can seriously throw someone who has little or
no experience at leading a ceremony. On the other
hand, a skilled and experienced celebrant will
remain calm and focused, will know when and how to
intervene if necessary.
Wisdom, and Guidance: With experience comes
not only knowledge, but wisdom (which I once saw
defined as experience combined with common sense,
a definition that has stuck with me). A skilled
and experienced celebrant will be able to give you
advice about things someone with less experience
wouldn't even know to ask about. A skilled and
experienced celebrant will be able to fairly
accurately gauge how long your ceremony should be,
and will be, will be able to identify any
logistical challenges or risks and work with you
to minimise the impact of these, offer you options
for traditions, customs, and/or rituals that
reflect your heritages, your circumstances, your
personalities and your vision for your ceremony.
This is where professional experience really
shows. Whether or not your celebrant has ever
worked at the venue you have chosen, or with the
photographer, videographer, wedding planner,
musicians, or other wedding service provider you
have hired, a professional and experienced
celebrant will know that the key to success is
teamwork. All of these service providers have
responsibilities that overlap or are related. Each
depends on the competence and consideration of the
others to make sure your ceremony runs smoothly.
It might seem simple, but it is extremely
complicated. Where one is not experienced the
others will, of necessity, have to adopt a
babysitting role rather than being able to totally
concentrate on what they have to do. You need your
photographer to be concentrating on capturing
fantastic images, not having to coach your
celebrant in where to stand, where to move and
what to do next, or worse, having to try to
navigate around a celebrant who just gets in the
way of good shots.
- Reliability: The last thing you want is to
have the person you thought you had locked in as
your celebrant cancel the arrangement. The less
experienced the person you've tapped to be your
celebrant is, the more likely they will get cold
feet or decide that they would rather go away for
the weekend. A recurring theme on bridal forums on
Facebook is Help, I need a .... my wedding
is on .... and my ...... has just cancelled on
me. An experienced professional
celebrant will understand that accepting a booking
to officiate at a ceremony is a serious commitment,
a matter of professional integrity.
A skilled and
experienced professional celebrant will:
- Capacity to Retain Control: When you hire a
professional, you are the customer. This immediately
gives you much more control than if you are using a
friend, for example. When you have a personal
relationship with someone who is providing a
critical service for your wedding, things can get
somewhat awkward if you have to worry about
offending them if you don't like what they suggest.
With a professional, who is focused on finding out
what you want, and working with you to achieve that,
you don't have to worry about being clear about what
you like and don't like!
- abide by the Code
of Practice, as required by the Attorney
- understand what you want to achieve in your
- be dedicated to helping you have the ceremony
- be creative and sensitive in making suggestions
to ensure your ceremony meets your needs and
delights and engages your guests
- write your ceremony from scratch, ensuring that
the tone of the ceremony is authentic to who you
- involve you in the ceremony development process
- be flexible about the way he/she approaches your
ideas and requests
- provide a PA system for all but a very small
ceremony to ensure that everyone present hears
- deliver the ceremony in a warm and friendly
fashion with an appropriate mix of dignity and
- work collegially with other wedding service
providers to ensure that your ceremony runs
- manage and diffuse any issues that might arise
during the ceremony
- ensure that your ceremony is truly memorable for
all the right reasons.
to choose a professional celebrant
Choosing a celebrant is like choosing any other
professional service provider. You should
- Provide the celebrant with the full details of
- what type of ceremony you wish to have
- who the ceremony is for
- where the ceremony will be held (if you don't
have a precise venue you should at least provide a
clear idea of the approximate location)
- the date and time of the ceremony
- the number of guests
- Speak with the celebrant to gauge whether you can
establish a rapport
- Be sure to clarify the detail of what the
celebrant provides and the fee. In particular be
sure you understand what is included in the fee and
what may be added at an extra charge.
- Ask the celebrant for their list of terms and
- Ask the celebrant about their qualifications and
experience in general and with your type of ceremony
a friend lead your ceremony
Having a friend lead your ceremony gives you the
benefit of having someone with whom you already have
a relationship and who understands your personality
and your likes and dislikes. While this is
common in the US, where in many states it is legally
possible for any adult to be authorised for one day
to conduct a single wedding, in Australia an
authorised celebrant must be present and must play a
significant part in the ceremony.
At a marriage
ceremony, the authorised marriage celebrant must:
- consent to be present as the responsible
authorised marriage celebrant
- take a public role in the ceremony
- identify themselves to the assembled
parties, witnesses and guests as the celebrant
authorised to solemnise the marriage
- be responsible for ensuring the validity of
the marriage, according to law
- say the words required by section 46 of the
Marriage Act in the presence of the parties,
the formal witnesses and the guests before the
marriage is solemnised
- be physically close to the couple when the
vows required by subsection 45(2) of the
Marriage Act are exchanged. It is the exchange
of vows that constitutes the marriage and the
authorised celebrant must see and hear
the vows being exchanged and ensure that
the vows include the legally required words
- be available to intervene (and exercise the
responsibility to intervene) if events
demonstrate the need for it elsewhere in the
- be part of the ceremonial group or in close
proximity to it; and
- sign the papers as required by the Act
Before you choose a friend to create and
deliver the ceremony in tandem with an authorised
celebrant it would be well to consider a number of
- the extent to which your friend understands
what is required to deliver a satisfying
- whether your friend understands how much the
ceremony means to you
- how reliable your friend is
- how confident your friend is not just speaking
in public but orchestrating and facilitating the
- whether your friend will go along with your
vision for your ceremony rather than imposing
ideas on you (it can be very wearing to have to
continually deal with "you can't" and "you must"
responses to your plans and ideas
- who will write the script
- whether your friend will stick to the script
- whether your family and friends will take the
ceremony seriously if it is lead by your friend
(this can be a real issue as family and
friends are less likely to view it as a serious
event if the ceremony is conducted by someone
other than a professional celebrant)
- what backup plan you will have in place if
some unforeseen emergency prevents your friend
from conducting the ceremony.