Most people have a vague idea about what a celebrant does, but there remains a fair amount of confusion around this fantastic and rapidly growing profession. Terms such as 'humanist' and 'blessing' are often used to describe celebrant-led ceremonies, which can further add to the confusion. So to help clear things up, here's my definition of a what a celebrant is, what they do, and how they can work with you to create a unique and truly personal ceremony.
What does a celebrant do? Celebrants are self-employed individuals who write and conduct meaningful, personal ceremonies, including weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies and renewal of vows ceremonies. They are not confined by any legalities or customs, so ceremonies can be held at any venue (no license needed), and include any wording, readings, music and customs that you choose.
A celebrant will work closely with you in the lead up to your ceremony to hear all about your ideas, provide inspiration where needed, and get to know as much about you as they can to create a truly personal ceremony.
What is a 'Humanist Celebrant'? You may hear some venues refer to 'Humanists' in place of 'celebrants', as some celebrants work within the framework of the Humanist movement and conduct personal, non-religious ceremonies. Humanist celebrants will work with you in exactly the same way but generally do not include any religious elements in their ceremonies.
Independent celebrants, on the other hand, are usually happy to include any content in their ceremonies and will be entirely led by you. Often people do not wish to hold a ceremony in a religious building, but would like to include a short prayer or religious custom, so an independent celebrant would work with you to find the perfect balance.
Can a celebrant perform legal marriages and civil partnerships? At the moment in England and Wales, only registrars and certain religious officials can perform legal marriage and civil partnership ceremonies. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, humanist celebrants are also authorised to conduct legally binding ceremonies.
If you choose to have a celebrant-led ceremony you will need to book a date to legally register your marriage/partnership beforehand. This can be as simple as attending your local register office with two witnesses to sign on the dotted line. No vows, rings, etc. are required for this so you can save all of that for the big day. This is very similar to the continental marriage process, where the legal marriage and the wedding celebration are performed separately.
What is a wedding 'blessing'? This term is very often used by venues to refer to celebrant-led ceremonies, but it can be a little misleading. It seems to have arisen in this context as a way of referring to the fact that celebrants do not perform the legal marriage, but instead 'bless' the marriage, but the word blessing has religious connotations that are not necessarily applicable to celebrant ceremonies.
When I speak to venues and suppliers in the wedding industry, I refer to celebrant-led ceremonies as 'wedding celebration' ceremonies, and make it clear that these can include all the aspects you would expect from a wedding ceremony (and more!), just with the legal signing-on-the-dotted-line bit done separately beforehand.
What's the difference between celebrants and registrars? Registrars are employed by the local authority and are authorised to conduct legally binding marriage and civil partnership ceremonies at licensed venues. They are also responsible for the administration of registering births, marriages and deaths.
Celebrants are self-employed and conduct non-legally binding celebration ceremonies. One key difference is that celebrants will plan a ceremony that is unique and personal to you, getting to know you in advance and working closely with you on the script; a registrar will usually use a standard script and it is unlikely you would meet them before the ceremony day itself.
Registrars are only authorised to conduct wedding ceremonies at licensed venues. In order to be granted a licence, a venue must have a fixed and permanent structure in place (such as a gazebo in the case of outdoor venues), which is large enough to hold the registrar, couple and two witnesses. Celebrants are able to perform ceremonies at any venue you choose, whether or not it holds a marriage licence.
Why choose a celebrant? There are various reasons for choosing a celebrant. Sometimes couples are drawn to celebrants because they have their heart set on a venue that doesn't hold a marriage license, such as a woodland, field or garden. Sometimes couples who live abroad or who each come from different countries choose to hold two ceremonies in order to celebrate with their family and friends in both locations. The idea of meeting and getting to know the person conducting your ceremony beforehand also appeals to many, and the flexibility that celebrant-led ceremonies offer is also a bonus - ceremonies can be traditional, relaxed, quirky, themed... anything you choose!
The celebrant profession really arose from a growing need for personalisation in society, with couples and families wishing to hold ceremonies in a location of their choice and without being bound by any rules and regulations. If this feels like the right choice for you, get in touch to find out more and to discuss your vision for your ideal ceremony.
Sophie Easton is a qualified, independent celebrant specialising in conducting bespoke weddings, vow renewals and naming ceremonies. She works mostly in London and Surrey, but is able to travel further afield if required.
She feels passionately that your ceremony should reflect your needs and personalities. Her role is to listen intently to your wishes, guide you and inspire you with ideas, and work closely with you at every stage to devise and deliver your perfect ceremony.
Sophie would be delighted to hear from you to discuss your big day plans and to answer any questions you may have: