Guide to Celebrants
Have you ever been to a wedding or funeral ceremony where you felt the person leading it had really captured the essence of the individual or couple? If so, it may well have been led by a celebrant. If you’re keen to learn more about what a celebrant is and how they can work with you to create the perfect ceremony, our guide to celebrants seeks to answer all your questions…
What is a celebrant?
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 licence 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.
The majority of celebrants are Independent Celebrants, who work independently of any particular belief system. With an independent celebrant you can hold a completely non-religious ceremony or you can include some religious or spiritual content if you choose, such as prayers. Other celebrants work within the Humanism framework and conduct personal, non-religious Humanist Ceremonies. Humanist celebrants cannot lead an act of worship, but they can include religious or spiritual readings and music chosen by the couple, if meaningful to them. If you’re looking for a celebrant, you can find a wide range of both independent and humanist celebrants in our Directory.
Can a celebrant perform legal marriages?
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.
So if you choose to have a celebrant-led ceremony in England or Wales, 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.
A review into the wedding law of England and Wales is currently underway, led by the Law Commission. This review could potentially lead to changes in the law that would allow other groups, such as celebrants, to perform legally binding marriages and civil partnerships. Final recommendations are expected to be passed to government in summer 2021. For more on this, you may wish to read our Outdoor Wedding Laws article.
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.
How do celebrant-led funerals work?
Celebrants are also a very popular choice for funeral and celebration of life ceremonies, as they endeavour to find out as much as they can about the person who has died and work in accordance with their and your wishes to create personal, fitting ceremonies. Celebrants can conduct funeral ceremonies in crematoriums, or celebration of life ceremonies before or after the committal at any venue you choose.
Celebrants can be booked through your funeral director if you choose to use one, or see our directory of celebrants to find the right person for you.
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 licence, such as a woodland, field or garden. Often 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 your outdoor ceremony, just head to our celebrant directory to browse the professional, qualified celebrants working in your area.