Finding a celebrant is easy. Finding the right celebrant is a different story. To find the right celebrant, you have to ask the right questions - the questions any couple should ask a marriage celebrant to help them choose well.
Most Celebrants offer an obligation-free first meeting. This initial chat gives you a chance to see if the ‘fit’ between you is right. It's a good idea to arrive prepared with a list of questions that you want answered. As a minimum, the following are the questions I recommend any couple should ask a wedding celebrant. Feel free to add more of your own!
Here are the 12 questions I recommend any couple should ask a prospective wedding celebrant:
Question1: What are your qualifications and experience?
To be a marriage celebrant in Australia they are required to have:
Start by confirming that your prospective celebrant has the necessary qualifications to legally perform your ceremony. Then take a look at their experience and reputation.
Being new doesn’t necessarily mean a celebrant won't do a good job. It’s just that the wisdom to craft a beautiful ceremony and the ability to cope when things don’t quite go to plan can really only come from experience. If experience is important to you, then be sure to ask how many wedding ceremonies they have conducted so far.
Reviews and testimonials are always a great guide to past performance. Check out reviews online and ask for contact details of past clients you can talk to. Video is another good tool in helping you make your decision. Ask to see videos of previous ceremonies they have conducted.
Question 2: Will you help us write our wedding vows?
Before you can share your personal vows, your celebrant has a legal obligation to recite specific words from the marriage act (the monitum) and you must recite your legal vows:
I, (Groom/Bride), call upon these persons here present to witness that I take you, (Bride/Groom), to be my lawful wedded wife.
I, (Bride/Groom), call upon these persons here present to witness that I take you, (Groom/Bride), to be my lawful wedded husband
Outside of these requirements, there is no limit as to what you can, or can’t, say in your ceremony.
I believe writing your own personal wedding vows brings a whole new level of meaning to your ceremony. Publicly declaring your love and commitment to each other in your own words is a truly beautiful experience. An experience you will remember for the rest of your life.
Be clear. Will your celebrant simply help you take care of your legal vows or will he/she also guide you in writing personal wedding vows that will express exactly what is in your hearts.
Question 3: What kind of wedding ceremony can we expect?
It’s your day. It’s your wedding. It's important that you understand exactly how your celebrant goes about putting a wedding ceremony together.
Personally, I create all of my ceremonies using the exact same process . While they may all be created the same way, each ceremony is very different. I take great pride in the fact that each ceremony I create is as unique as the couple I am creating it for. You can read more about how I go about creating the unique and truly personal wedding ceremonies here.
What about your celebrant? Will your celebrant simply use a question-and-answer form as the basis for writing your ceremony? Or, will they also meet with you and really get to know you so they can inject what they learn into your ceremony? Will they offer guidance along the way? Will they share their experience? Will they provide examples and resources? Will they work closely with you to craft the perfect ceremony: a ceremony that tells your story the way you would like it told?
Your wedding ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime event. You really need to know what you can expect.
Question 4: Are you happy to include cultural rituals or family traditions?
Some couples like to include something a little bit extra-special. Something that defines their wedding ceremony.
Take the hand-fasting ceremony for example; this is a beautiful ritual popular with people of a Scottish or Celtic heritage. The Sand Ceremony; this is a ritual that is perfect for a blended family. The wine box and letter ritual offers something a little more personal for the Bride and Groom. Then there is the rose ceremony, or jumping of the broom... the list is endless!
Personally, I love the inclusion of rituals. But, not all celebrants are comfortable with them, and not all couples want them. If you do want to include something special in your wedding ceremony, make sure you select a celebrant that has the understanding, experience and ability to help you create exactly the ritual you want.
Question 5: Can we include loved ones in our ceremony?
We all know how it goes. Right? A beautiful bride walks down the aisle on her proud dad's arm. Her dad blesses the union before handing his little girl over to her husband or wife-to-be.
Job over! Family involvement: done and dusted.
Not any more!
The restrictions on who you can include and their involvement in your ceremony have changed dramatically in recent years.
Families today can be very complicated. So, it's important to include the people you want to include, even if it goes against accepted tradition. It's your wedding ceremony. It should be a reflection of who you both are as individuals. You can make it as inclusive as you like. If you are breaking tradition to stay true to you and not just for the sake of it, then you really can’t go wrong!
Involving and honouring your loved ones can also help you create a ceremony that is meaningful, memorable and a ton of fun. If this is important to you, then your celebrant should have the knowledge and experience to guide you on how best you can do this.
Question 6: Will you provide a draft of our ceremony?
Most celebrants will provide you with a draft of the ceremony beforehand so you can review it and make changes. But, some will turn up on the day with a ceremony that is a complete surprise to the couple. Hopefully a pleasant one!
While I'm happy to perform ceremonies that are a surprise for the guests, the promise and commitment I make to each of my couples is that there will be no unforeseen surprises when it comes to their ceremony. Everything is planned, agreed and signed-off well before their big day.
I believe thorough research is critical in planning a successful wedding ceremony. For me, it all begins with the initial conversation but I really get busy approximately 2 months before the ceremony date. I find this is the ideal time. By then, most other arrangements are locked-in. Couples now have ample time to focus fully on their ceremony.
I meet with them and pull out my celebrant's 'bag of tricks’. I help them tease out loads of information about the kind of ceremony they want and the vision they have for the day. With this information and my experience and expertise, we are well placed to lay the foundation for a meaningful and memorable ceremony.
About a month before your scheduled date I will send a provisional plan of the ceremony for review. Over the coming days and weeks we will rework and refine the plan for the ceremony together. Then finalise decisions on:
Based on these discussions, I will revise the plan of their ceremony to ensure that everything will flow smoothly and run efficiently.
Finally, at least 2 weeks before their scheduled date, we will all sign off on the final plan for the ceremony.
If you're keen to avoid unwanted surprises, I suggest you insist on receiving a draft of your ceremony. And, insist on receiving it in ample time for review, revision, and agreement - well before your big day.
Question 7: How does the legal process work and what do you need from us?
Your celebrant should guide you through the legal process and the lodgement of all the documents needed. It is the correct lodging this paperwork that makes your wedding legal. It is important that you are clear on your legal obligations regarding the documentation and when it should be lodged.
Ask for a schedule of documents so you can be sure your celebrant has everything required to register your marriage legally.
Question 8: What is your fee and what does it include?
Pricing can be confusing. Some celebrants offer an all-inclusive fee. Others offer a basic fee plus extra add-ons. You may, for example, face additional charges for;
Be sure to ask for an itemised list of what their fee includes. Also ask for a list of any add-on charges and how much these will cost.
That way you will be able to compare ‘apples with apples’ and work out which celebrant truly offers the best value for you.
Question 9: What happens if we cancel or postpone our wedding?
Most celebrants charge a fee to secure your booking. But, what happens to the money you have paid if unforeseen circumstances lead to the cancellation or postponement of your wedding?
Generally, a booking fee is non-refundable if a wedding is cancelled. Depending on the specific celebrant’s terms and conditions, it may be transferable and used to secure an alternate date.
Each celebrant is different. To be clear on your position, be sure to ask prospective celebrants for a written copy of their booking and payment terms and conditions.
Question 10: When will you arrive at the venue?
Most celebrants plan on being at the venue half an hour or more before guests are due to arrive. This gives them ample time to get familiar with the venue, set up their PA system, and hold a final briefing with those involved in the ceremony.
Please note: It is common for popular celebrants to perform multiple ceremonies on any one day. Experienced professionals will plan for this and make sure there is ample time to travel between venues comfortably.
Ask the celebrant if they have another booking on the day and when they plan to arrive. If they have another booking, make sure you are comfortable that there will be plenty of time between the ceremonies so that things won’t feel rushed and last minute. The last thing you want is a celebrant set to arrive only five minutes before the ceremony start time!
Question 11: What is your 'Plan B'?
Accidents happen. People fall ill. It’s a simple fact of life. The question is, does your celebrant have a 'Plan B' to cope with life's little surprises?
We always hope that nothing untoward would happen. But, if the unexpected were to happen, it would be good to know that your Celebrant is well prepared.
Does the celebrant have a stand-in available in case they fall ill on the day? What happens if they are unable to perform the ceremony? You won’t want to be left in the lurch.
Question 12: What equipment do you provide?
Most celebrants provide a PA system (it does pays to check if it’s a good quality one though).
Although it's not mandatory, some also provide a table, chairs and a pen for the signing of the register ceremony.
Some celebrants will even help you select pre-recorded music for your ceremony, guide you on hiring musicians, or even help you with items you need for a ritual you wish to perform.
What equipment will the celebrant provide as standard? Are they willing to provide you with, or help you locate, anything else you may need?
Q13: What are you likely to wear on the day?
(I know! I said 12 questions. Let’s call it a baker's dozen!)
This may seem like an odd question - but it’s not. Unfortunately, not all of us possess the gift of style! Your celebrant is going to be standing right there with you in your wedding photos. The last thing you would want is for your celebrant to turn up in a polo shirt and shorts to your black-tie event!
It's important that you are comfortable with how the celebrant will dress. You should be confident your celebrant will come dressed to co-ordinate, not clash, with your wedding party.
What is their usual attire? If you have a specific dress code, colour scheme, or theme in mind, will they happily comply?
How will you choose? By gut feel? Or, will you ask the right questions - the questions any couple should ask a prospective wedding celebrant?
Sometimes you just get the right feeling for a celebrant. You just know that they ‘get’ you and they share the same values that you do.
Over and above that ‘just right’ feeling, if you ask the right questions - the questions any couple should ask a prospective wedding celebrant - you will choose the celebrant that's perfect for you. And, if you choose the right celebrant, they will help you create whatever you have in mind for your big day.
I wish you all the best in your quest. If you feel that I might just be the perfect marriage celebrant for you, then please don't hesitate to get in touch. I would be delighted to meet you over a cup of tea or coffee to chat about your ceremony and find out if we really are a good fit for each other.