Tell Me Everything: Advice from a Wellington Wedding Celebrant
by Phil Costello
It usually takes a great deal of organisation and delegation to bring
together the perfect wedding day. Everyone in the wedding party has a
role, but there is so much outside of that needing to be organised -
catering, decor, jewellery, flowers, to name only a few - and your day
will depend on getting all of these elements just right, through open
communication, timing and planning, to ensure that the day you dream
about is the day you’ll get.
In this article you’ll find the celebrant’s 101:
everything you need to know about engaging a celebrant. The role of the
celebrant is a pretty integral one in the whole wedding process. Unless
you are getting married at a registry office or at a church with an
ordained member of the clergy, you’ll need to involve a celebrant in
your wedding day.
Do I need to use a celebrant? What are the alternatives?
If you are not having a religious ceremony and
using a priest, you need a New Zealand registered celebrant to become
legally married. There is the Registry Office option with the Depart of
Internal Affairs but no one has ever voted for this as being the most
The Registry Office also has other limitations.
In New Zealand, they are only open between 9am and 4pm Monday to Friday,
so if you’re hoping for a Saturday, Sunday, or evening wedding, you’ll
need to look at alternatives. Furthermore, there is only room for a few
witnesses in the room for the ceremony, so they can be very limiting.
So this is where using a celebrant brings
considerable benefits: you can use literally any venue (okay, perhaps no
the frozen food section of your local supermarket) but the choices are
boundless for where you would like to get married once you engage a
It also affords you the freedom to have more
control over other factors, including the style and size of the
ceremony, the timing of the vows and generally all aspects of your
A church wedding is similarly restrictive.
Depending on the church and the clergy member, they may only be able to
preside over certain types of unions, and may be unable to inject much
personal flair into the ceremony. Keep in mind that while some churches
are open to performing contemporary ceremonies, many are locked in
tradition and are fairly old-fashioned. This works if that is the type
of ceremony you want, but if you are looking for flexibility and
personalisation, again, it may be best to look elsewhere.
When should I book a wedding celebrant?
You should book your celebrant as soon as you
have set your date and locked in a venue. It is a legal requirement to
identify the location for the ceremony on the Marriage Licence so best
to make sure you have made this decision very early in the piece, then
you will be free to secure your celebrant.
On this point, give some thought to a secondary
backup venue for the ceremony because this is also part of the Marriage
Licence application. It is not a legal requirement to identify one,
however if you are planning an alfresco ceremony it’s good practice to
have a contingency plan in case of elements beyond your control, such as
uncooperative weather. Certainly, you want to avoid a worst case
scenario of being rained out and having nowhere to go, possibly having
to reschedule your wedding date - perish the thought!
Additionally, you also need to identify your
celebrant in the Marriage Licence so getting in and booking your
marriage celebrant at the start of your wedding plan process makes good
There is a more practical reason for the engaging you celebrant early as well.
Because the celebrant will need to write the
ceremony and potentially assist with the vows, they usually like to get
to know the couple a little to ensure that they are tailoring their
service as best they can. Depending on the celebrant, they might also
like to know more about other aspects of your wedding day. Being people
who witness a great deal of weddings and are enmeshed in the industry,
they tend to occupy a good vantage point for what works and what
doesn’t. They might also be willing to keep an eye out for things that
would interest you in terms of decor and so on. At least six months is a
good baseline for this, but it’s best if you have chosen and booked
them by that point rather than just beginning your search.
Of course, good, experienced celebrants tend to book up quickly, so looking even further ahead doesn’t hurt.
What is included in the cost of a celebrant?
In two words: time and expertise.
It starts with an initial consultation, which
usually takes around an hour. Following that, there are usually a few
emails or calls back and forth, as well as the writing of the ceremony,
and additional support to ensure all of the legal obligations are met
for the union. Sometimes another meeting is involved, and then a
rehearsal, and finally the day itself.
The time involved varies from wedding to wedding,
and from couple to couple. However, most celebrants charge a flat rate
for their services. In most instances, negotiation is possible - for
example, for an elopement, a particularly small wedding, or if the
couple are willing to have a template-style ceremony.
Finally, surveys indicate again and again that
the biggest stress for couples preparing for the actual ceremony is the
wedding vows. The two aspects of this are: first, writing them, and
second, saying them.
A good celebrant will be all over this, offering
advice and guidance and possibly even agree to a vow writing session as
part of their fee.
As for delivering the vows when the time comes,
the old maxim, ‘practice makes perfect’ is probably the best advice (oh,
and ask if your celebrant is okay to hold up a copy discreetly in the
background as back up when the moment arrives - with a
once-in-a-lifetime moment, it pays not to take any chances.
What should I consider when choosing a celebrant?
Being selective about your celebrant is
ostensibly better than having “just anyone” presiding over your
ceremony. The celebrant is an incredibly important part of the ceremony,
but at the same time they need to be somebody who doesn’t steal the
spotlight. It’s also important that your values align, and they know
exactly what you want.
While it is uncommon for a celebrant to turn a
couple away, it isn’t entirely unheard of. Beyond meeting with you first
to work out if they are a good fit for you, here’s a list of things to
look out for when choosing your celebrant:
Do they listen?
Your celebrant needs to be a good listener as
well as attentive to your needs and requirements. They are likely to
have plenty of advice to offer as well, but the main thing is that they
are able to understand what is most important to you, and what you want
out of the day. Some good advice here is to talk generally with them at
the first meeting rather exclusively about your wedding - this way you
will be able to determine who they are, what they offer, and ensure
you’re all on the same page.
Can they handle the pressure of public speaking?
It helps if your celebrant already has a public
presence and plenty of experience with public speaking. Obviously, clear
vocal projection is a must, as well as a pleasant tone. Ceremonies vary
greatly in length - they can be anywhere from a few minutes to more
than an hour in duration, though most aim for the 20-30 minute mark.
Regardless, the ceremony is likely to be recorded
and re-watched, so somebody with experience in speaking in front of
audiences would be a much more dependable choice than somebody without.
If in doubt, ask prospective celebrants you are
meeting about their public speaking experience outside being a celebrant
- it’s your big moment, the last thing you want is a “Low Talker”,
guests straining to hear the ceremony, and the whole occasion being
remembered as, well, unmemorable.
What will your celebrant be wearing on the day?
This might seem a little obvious - however if
your celebrant arrives wearing a colour that clashes with your wedding
colours, you’re in for some very below-average wedding photos. Usually a
neutral suit or dress-suit will be the go-to for a celebrant, but they
may also have special outfits, costumes, and/or traditional dress that
you might like to enquire about.
Is your celebrant a problem solver?
A celebrant’s job goes much deeper than showing
up and giving a speech. They might be the last line of defence for any
issues that crop up last-minute - a very late bride, forgotten rings, or
emergency changes to the ceremony.
Can they think on their feet?
Anything can happen during a wedding ceremony.
Despite all of the planning and careful troubleshooting, somebody might
fall over, a baby might start crying, or there might be a disruptive
guest. The celebrant will need to think quickly in order to mitigate any
disruption, and they will need to remain a calming presence for the
couple and the audience. They will themselves need to be someone who is
able to remain cool and collected, irrespective of what situations might
To determine this, ask the celebrants you are
meeting some hypothetical questions about things that might go wrong on
the day (God forbid) and test their responses - this should give you a
clue as to how well they can improvise.
Additionally, ask them what work/life experience
they have in other areas - a project manager or someone well-used to
the pressure of professional public speaking might offer a cooler head
in unforeseen circumstances than, perhaps, than your local librarian (no
offence, none taken).
To conclude this wonderfully in-depth article on
wedding celebrants and how to select them, it comes down to this: ask
the right questions, and go with your gut. Your celebrant is going to be
the guiding light of your wedding ceremony as well as your guru on
marriage legalities, and you need to feel comfortable with them and feel
able to depend on them. After all, you (all things going well), will
only do this once.