The quick answer is that many couples are not too sure of the differences between a civil ceremony – which is led by a Registrar and a celebrant-led ceremony. Many of us will be familiar with the three options for being legally married in England – a religious service at a place of worship such as a Church of England, a brief service at a Registrar Office or a civil ceremony led by a Registrar at a licenced venue. However, many couples who are not religious assume the alternatives for non-religious ceremonies are quite restricted yet there are a number of possibilities to explore.
We often meet with couples at Tythe where both partners have agreed on a non-religious ceremony, and may have considered a civil ceremony but are not aware that there is a fabulous alternative to tying the knot and one which offers them an incredibly personal expression of their relationship. Together with my husband Will, I have run Tythe our wedding venue in Oxfordshire, for 25 years but it was only recently, when I sat down with Anne O’Brien from Bluebell Ceremonies, that I discovered quite how personal and unique a celebrant-led wedding could be.
I asked Anne what she felt was one of the main differences between a civil ceremony and a celebrant-led ceremony. “Everything about a couple’s wedding day, from the big decisions to the smallest details, reflects their personalities and individual style. Their ceremony should be no different and working with a celebrant gives them the freedom to create an experience which is utterly ‘them’. In celebrant-led ceremonies there are no limits to gender, race, sexual orientation or circumstance for the couple and religious and spiritual aspects can be added to represent the couple’s individual and combined beliefs. Civil ceremonies, on the other hand, are bound by a number of restrictions regarding the wording during their ceremony and there can be no religious aspect at all.”
A few too many coffees in, Anne and I were discussing ‘vows’ and how a celebrant can help a couple create a bespoke and meaningful ceremony. “Making their own vows in front of the most important people in their life is one of the most special moments of a couple’s wedding and you can hear a pin drop when couples read them. They can be funny, or heart-felt; poetic or serious, but every time they’re meaningful and straight from the heart. I can help with lots of tips and resources, or we can arrange a mini vow-writing workshop to take them to the next level!”
Fiona and Ben are big Sci-Fi fans, and Fee’s vows to Ben contained the unforgettable words – “You are the logic to my Vulcan and the stun to my phaser.” Love it!
Is a Celebrant-led Ceremony a Legally Binding Marriage?
I was keen to know more about the legally-binding side of Registrar versus Celebrant ceremonies and this is a question that often pops up during showrounds at Tythe. I was aware that unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland, celebrant-led weddings are not yet recognised in law in England and Wales on their own and a celebrant wedding requires a couple to firstly hold a brief service at a Registrar Office. Hopefully this is changing soon as Anne pointed out “…fingers crossed 2025 couples, and the right to be legally wed via celebrant is being considered as part of the Law Commission weddings review.”
Most celebrant weddings include symbolic acts which signify hope, trust and togetherness – perhaps lighting a candle, or something connected to a couple’s heritage – Scottish oathing stones which ‘set your promises in stone’. Anne highlighted how a celebrant-led ceremony allows for these special moments and how they in turn can truly personalise a couple’s ceremony “adding a little theatre and making for some fabulous photos! I love creating elements that are unique to each couple – how about blending sand from the beaches of your childhood?”
Poppy and Chao celebrated their wedding under a magnificent willow tree on the banks of the Stour. All their guests held a pebble from their favourite beach in their hands during the ceremony and then cast them into the river with a wish for their future.
Honouring different backgrounds
A wedding brings together two loving partners. It also, as Anne reminds us “connects two families, and sometimes two different cultures. There are many ways to honour contrasting backgrounds and faiths – a prayer read by a family member, vows made in your home language or a symbolic act which draws on your heritage.”
One of Anne’s recent weddings, Sinaida and Marc’s, reflected both Haitian and Spanish roots. Anne described how her role as celebrant is so much more than just leading a ceremony. There’s a great deal of preparation for both Anne herself as well as the couple. “Sinaida’s dad gave a blessing in Arabic and I read their vows in both English and Catalan. I spent a lot of time on Google Translate, but it was so worth it to see the look of joyful recognition on the faces of their Spanish friends and family.”
Anne has a wonderful calming nature, a gentleness that I can see carries through into her work as a celebrant. “There’s never any rush on the day, so last minute changes of plan are not a problem. I spend time getting to know each couple in the months leading up to their wedding and I’m always on hand to answer queries and provide expert advice. On the day I’ll be there early to steady your nerves and meet any friends and family that are taking part in your ceremony, so they’re relaxed and ready to enjoy playing their part.”
Including your nearest and dearest in your ceremony makes your guests feel loved and appreciated. It also brings a huge smile to everyone’s faces and creates an energy which is unmistakable. Anne explains how there are loads of ways to include the special people in your life “…from ring warmings, to handfasting’s. I will always talk through a range of ideas with couples to find something that’s just right for the two of them.”
Abi and Andrew’s gorgeous dog Luna delivered their rings in style and Zoe and Ed’s little boy drove down the aisle in a tiny Land Rover! What will you dream up?
Finally, I asked Anne what she felt couple’s loved most about a celebrant wedding… “There are no rules with a celebrant wedding, so if you want to mix your own ‘couples cocktail’ and share it with your guests go right ahead! The focus is on the couple’s story and their joy, so I always encourage couples to create something that celebrates their commitment in a way that is truly personal and meaningful to them.”
“Hannah, Toby and all their guests sang the McFly classic ‘It’s All About You’ as part of their lakeside ceremony and left the space along the longest confetti tunnel I’ve ever seen. They also crowd surfed and drank ski shots, but that’s another story!”
If you’d like to discuss more about your ceremony at Tythe then please do get in touch here. Happy ceremony planning – we can’t wait to see what you come up with!