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5 steps to choosing the perfect celebrant

Your celebrant is one of the most important people involved in your big day, but that doesn’t mean the process of choosing one has to be daunting or overwhelming. 
It can actually be super straightforward, and not unlike the process you'd use to find a photographer or florist. There are interviews and meet-ups, research and must-ask questions. After all, choosing who will help you say 'I do' isn't quite like pulling a name from a hat (unless that's how you want to decide, of course). We asked three celebrants how you can start your search off on the right foot...

1. Don’t go into it blind

Like other areas of wedding planning, choosing your celebrant starts with one thing: an idea. “It’s a vague word, but you need to have an idea of the 'vibe' you are going for,” explains Matt Finch, a seasoned celebrant. Having an idea of what you want your ceremony to be like will make it easier to sort out which celebrants can deliver your vision. Think of it like this: why would you visit swanky city venues if you have your heart set on a rustic country celebration? You don’t need to have a set-in-stone concept, but having a loose idea about ceremony length, style, acknowledgements, music and any readings will come in handy. “Another good starting point is to think about who you actually would like to be involved - family, friends, your pet parrot?” says Matt. “Who is most important to you? Who is creative or talented? Who speaks well? The options are endless. It’s about what is important to you. Make your ceremony reflect who you are and what you like.” 

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2. Ask the right questions

You’ve likely heard or read about how important it is to ask potential wedding vendors certain questions before you book them, so why should meeting celebrants be any different? It’s not, and asking celebrants particular questions should definitely be on your to-do list. Asking practical questions tends to be the most helpful and will give you an idea of a celebrant’s operating style. Their answers will also help you decide if they are the celebrant for you, plus give you peace of mind if something unexpected happens on the big day. Sarah Aird, a celebrant based in Melbourne, suggests these questions:

  • What is your process? How many times will we meet before the wedding?
  • Do you provide a draft of the ceremony for us to review?
  • Do you provide an on-site rehearsal?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • What happens if you're sick on the day?
  • How many ceremonies do you book in a day? How much time do you leave between ceremonies?
  • Is there anything you won't do during a ceremony?
  • Can we show our support for marriage equality during the ceremony?

Other must-ask questions recommended by Sarah include enquiring about fees, additional costs and paperwork. It’s also worth sussing out how a celebrant manages music during the ceremony, what they wear (remember: your celebrant will be in a couple of your photos) and if they are able to help you write your vows.

Asking practical questions tends to be the most helpful and will give you an idea of a celebrant’s operating style.  

3. Understand what your celebrant needs to do

A big one here is looking after the legal requirements. “A celebrant should be extremely thorough with all legal aspects,” Matt explains. “For instance, one of you needs, by law, to sign the Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM) at least one month prior to your ceremony. All of your paperwork needs to be completed perfectly.” Your celebrant should also look after other legal documents, or be able to guide you through the process of completing any paperwork. There is a code of practice all Australian celebrants are legally bound to follow, which includes providing assistance to compose a ceremony that meets your needs and requirements, conducting a rehearsal if necessary and making an effort to ensure the ceremony can be heard by guests present. “You need to be heard. When the nerves strike and you can’t help but whisper your vows, every person in that space should be able to hear every word. Your celebrant needs to provide their own decent PA system.” You can check out the code here. You can also find a complete list of registered celebrants (for both civil and religious ceremonies) on the Australian Attorney-General’s Department website.
You can do pretty much anything you like with a civil ceremony. The legal portion only makes up a tiny portion of the service.

4. Know what you can and can’t change

Good news! You can do pretty much anything you like with a civil ceremony. "The beauty of a civil ceremony is that it is written for and about you," tells Rita Cohann. "The saying 'The devil is in the detail' really rings true here. Getting things right is important so you have a memorable, enjoyable and uplifting ceremony that reflects your personalities and energies, and ensures all the compulsory legal requirements are completed properly." The legal part only makes up a tiny portion of the service. The Monitum is a paragraph every Commonwealth Registered Marriage Celebrant is legally required to say; it cannot be changed or altered. The Monitum is:

As a registered marriage celebrant, I am duly authorised by the Government to solemnise your marriage according to the laws of Australia. Before you are joined together in my presence and in the presence of these witnesses, I am bound to remind you publicly of the serious and binding nature of the relationship into which you are about to enter. Marriage according to Australian law is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others and voluntarily entered into for life. 

You and your partner must also recite the legal vows, but from there what you want and don’t want to include is up to you (as long it doesn’t contradict the law, that is). You might choose to include a sentence stating your support of same-sex marriage before or after the Monitum. You could opt to have a friend or family member read a favourite verse or poem, involve your guests by asking them to repeat an oath where they promise to dance up a storm at the reception, or you could keep your ceremony short, sweet and straight to the point. 

"The sky's the limit! I've had a flash mob choir, drones as ring bearers, Chinese tea ceremonies and all sorts of wonderful, individual elements designed specifically for the couple. All added something so unique," says Rita. Your celebrant will be your number one point of reference for tips on how to tailor your ceremony, what can be done and what must be done. So if you’re up for having fun and holding a one-of-a-kind ceremony, look for a celebrant that will support, help and guide you through that process. 

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5. Look for the click factor

This is arguably the most important thing that goes into choosing your celebrant. “Couples need to click with their celebrant,” says Sarah. “They need to feel confident that the celebrant they choose can work with them to create and perform a ceremony that reflects them and their relationship. The celebrant will set the tone for the rest of the day, so it’s important that couples feel a connection with their celebrant and can trust them to do their job.” Getting along with your celebrant will play a major part in you feeling comfortable on the day and how much you enjoy the overall process. “We’re so lucky in Australia that marrying couples have the freedom to choose their celebrant, whether they want a male or a female, an older or younger celebrant, someone traditional or someone quirky. Couples should use this privilege and really make sure they find the celebrant that suits them best,” Sarah says. “Find a celebrant who makes you laugh and who you feel you could have a good time with. Find a celebrant who feels like they could be a friend and who ‘gets’ you. If you find all of those qualities in a celebrant, you’re bound to have an amazing wedding ceremony.” 

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