Nowadays, a wedding is not the strictly traditional affair it used to be. Couples have a choice of saying “I do” at any licensed venue, at any time of day, and on any day of the week. The only part of this day that remains inflexible is the ceremony itself – ironically, the most meaningfully important part of the day. Why can’t you take your vows exactly the way you want? Gwen Rule, a professional celebrant based in London, says you can!
To be legally valid, a UK marriage ceremony must be performed by an authorised person (for example, a registrar, a vicar or a priest) and be witnessed by two people. This means couples must choose between: an approved religious ceremony, a registry office ceremony, or a registrar who will attend the wedding at a licensed venue.
The ceremony is truly the most important part of the wedding day, and while couples can make the reception as individual as they please, they can’t quite do that for the ceremony itself – there are rules to follow and even pre-written vows. Some couples are perfectly happy to have that sense of occasion that comes with following the traditional vows and order of the ceremony set by someone else. The reality is that the ceremony is likely to be very quick, and with restrictions on readings, music, vows and sometimes even photographs. For example, civil ceremonies may not include anything that’s related to religion, such as hymns (even as quotes), Bible references, or even songs that indirectly refer to religion. In some cases, churches will not allow photos to be taken during the ceremony, or they restrict the photographer’s access.
You may not realise that there is, in fact, a way to have the ceremony exactly how you like it – that is by having a Wedding Celebrant in charge. Wedding Celebrants are not widely known in this country, but in fact have been in existence for over 40 years. In England, Scotland and Wales you must be legally married first at the registry office, and then you are free to design the wedding ceremony of your dreams.
Using a Wedding Celebrant allows you all the flexibility you wish for (even if you want to get married in a shark tank, like one couple we know…) You will be able to have your wedding wherever you choose, at any time, and it’ll be entirely up to you how the whole occasion flows and reflects your personal beliefs and lifestyle. You will choose your own vows, readings, poems, music, decor and anything else you fancy, without restriction.
How to choose a wedding celebrant
Find a celebrant who really resonates with you – it’s a wonderful option to have someone you really like performing your ceremony.
Arrange an initial face-to-face meeting, which should be free, so you can see the celebrant’s demeanour, speaking style, and whether they’re friendly yet professional. Ask all the questions you want, and they should be able to advise on things you are unsure of, and make appropriate suggestions.
Whilst there isn’t currently any official industry body for celebrants, there is the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants who provide a network of celebrants throughout the UK and beyond. Their website professionalcelebrants.org.uklists all their trained professional celebrant members, all of whom carry £5million Public Liability Insurance. Expect to pay upwards of £350.00 with possible travel expenses on top.
How to arrange a celebrant wedding
Arrange for an official registration of your marriage at an applicable registry office, where you will legally become a married couple. The costs for this are usually a fraction of what it costs for a registrant to attend at a licensed venue, or hiring the ceremony room at the registry office. There is usually a basic fee for filing the marriage application, then another small fee for a basic ceremony on a scheduled date with two witnesses. You should check with your local authorities for applicable requirements.
Meet with celebrant to set the date for your ceremony, define the overall structure and programme, how you want to enter the venue, the vows, other readings, speeches, music, flow and timings. You can even discuss releasing balloons, or a rose or sand ceremony, or involving your pets! Your celebrant will draft your vows for you and review and finalise the ‘order of service’.
Schedule and hold a rehearsal with your celebrant.
Get ready to say your ‘I do’s”!
Carl and Amy had Gwen Rule as their Wedding Celebrant at their Surrey wedding in September 2012 and have this to say:
We chose a celebrant because we were not going to be able to work things out at the Register Office – we could have no more than 50 people at the marriage ceremony so we had reached the point where we were considering inviting friends without children to the Register Office plus lunch and then inviting them back again for the Sunday with their children. Crazy and unworkable. Hence, in desperation, I looked into having the wedding in the back garden, was given the word ‘celebrant’ to google and never looked back.
The first celebrant I spoke to was unable to make the date we had reserved in people’s diaries so she recommended Gwen, who came to see us. She was fabulous: so calm and diplomatic. Carl and I were practically at war when she came to see us and I could barely speak without crying. She brought joy to an event which had lost its joy and she was lovely to work with, understanding us and who we were. She wrote a fabulous ceremony and conducted it beautifully. Everybody loved her. What more could any Bride want? What more can I say?
Gwen Rule is an independent celebrant based in London. She’ll be happy to provide further information – please visit Gwen’s Unique Ceremony page to contact her.
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