Tell Me Everything: Advice from a Wellington Wedding Celebrant
by Phil Costello (23/07/18)
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 romantic option.
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 celebrant.
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 wedding ceremony.
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 sense.
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 arise.
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.