Wednesday 21 September 2016

What Should You Ask a Celebrant ... BEFORE You Hire Them?

Now that the wedding season for 2016 is starting to slow down a bit, many couples are thinking about organising weddings for next year or beyond. And finding a Celebrant to officiate the ceremony is likely at the top of most lists.

Your ceremony is the most significant event in your life at this time and, in a way, you are asking someone to 'hold your heart' while they tell your story, which you hope will be in a beautiful, meaningful and passionate way.

What are YOUR questions?

Here are some of the things many couples wonder about when they research Celebrants and begin the process of enquiring about their services. Perhaps you'll find some of your answers here!

I want someone who will 'tell our story' in a meaningful way. How will you do that?

This is such an important occasion in your life and the person responsible to officiate must be able to do so with professionalism, with the right level of emotion, as well as with an understanding and an empathy for the story being told on your behalf. You might gain an idea of someone's style by speaking with them or meeting with them before you make a decision.

It is very important to me that I get to know both of you, and learn as much as I can about your family and friends before I write your ceremony. With this perspective, I can write in a style that will suit your personalities, as well as meet your expectations of what will be said in the ceremony on the day.

I would like someone with a lovely voice, clear and easy to listen to; someone who captivates our guests. What do people say about your speaking voice and how do you engage an audience?

Similar to the above response, you will gain a good feeling about a Celebrant by speaking with them, either by phone, by Skype, or in a face-to-face meeting. A Celebrant should always be willing to accommodate this request before expecting you to book with them. You will also want to have a sense for whether the Celebrant will be 'performing' or whether their personality and style will blend well into the ceremony.

My clients all tell me they love the tone of my voice. I have a soft American accent (Californian), which is very appealing in this British culture. I am told often that my voice is captivating and that it is a great style for story-telling - and let's face it! Telling your story is what will make your ceremony unique!

Why do you enjoy your role as a Celebrant?

This is a good question to ask because you likely want a Celebrant who believes in the joy, love and emotion of your occasion in the same way that you do. This is an extremely reasonable expectation, and while it may not be possible to fully know a Celebrant's background or current personal
   circumstances, a comfort level should come through
   during your initial contact and subsequent meetings. If
   you do not feel that the Celebrant you are interviewing has
   the level of empathy and/or emotion that you desire, then
   they are not the right person for you.

   I created my vocation as a Celebrant because I
   delight in celebrating occasions and special
   moments in life; I believe it is so important to
   mark our experiences especially when they are so

I want a Celebrant who is organised and who we can trust to be punctual and prepared on the day. How do you organise your clients and your workload, particularly during peak season?

Great question! How a Celebrant first contacts you, and what they say and provide as resources is a very good indicator of their general professionalism and organisation. A Celebrant should reply to your query within 48 hours or sooner; if they cannot reply in depth then at least an acknowledgement should be sent. Their reply email should be fairly indepth, attempting to answer some of your initial questions. Their reply should provide you with a good glimpse into how they run their business and how serious they are about wanting to take you on as a client. For example, the Celebrant should explain their process, what they expect from you in terms of payment schedule, offer insight into what you can expect when you work with them, and highlight any resources they will share with you when you book their services. Following on from that, when you pay a booking fee or deposit, the Celebrant should email you a 'receipt' straight away upon receipt of the funds. You should never have to chase a Celebrant for things like receipts, nor should you have to chase a Celebrant about writing your ceremony draft; they should be on top of that and should be communicating with you closer to the date.

I thrive on being prepared and early! I always arrive at the venue 30-60 minutes ahead of time, and I always prepare a playlist of the wedding music on my own iPad as a back up (there is nothing more stressful than someone forgetting the music on the day)!

I want a Celebrant I can trust and who will make my event a priority. What happens if, for some reason, you are unable to attend our occasion on the day?

A trustworthy Celebrant will be clear about their terms and conditions, and those should be printed on the booking form that you will sign. You have every right to know what alternative plans will be made should the person you hire not be available on the day. And the reason for a Celebrant to not be available should be dire (such as a severe illness, an accident preventing them from travelling, a family emergency, and so on). The Celebrant you hire should be able to offer you alternative plans as assurance that your ceremony will take place despite their presence. Fortunately, by the time the day of your ceremony arrives, your ceremony will have been written, approved by you and finalised. So, the first alternate plan is for your Celebrant to arrange for another Celebrant from their organisation to fill in on the day. If that is not achievable, then the Celebrant should refund the final balance, with the understanding that you find another Celebrant, or you can secure a friend or family member to officiate the ceremony for you.

I network frequently with other Celebrants and I have my own list of Celebrants who have a similar style to my own, and whose intentions and ethics match my level of working with people. 

We want our ceremony to be very traditional so our guests feel they are attending a Civil Ceremony. Will a you be able to create a ceremony so that everyone thinks this is the 'real' legal ceremony?

This is one of the most common requests. Couples are warming to the idea of completing their legal ceremony at the register office ahead of the wedding ceremony, but often couples want their guests to feel they are attending the actual legal ceremony. A Celebrant-led ceremony is not a legal event, however most components of the legal ceremony can be included. This is a perfect option because couples can have a 'traditional' ceremony, while personalising it with more romance, with more of a focus on the couple, and with any religious or non-religious content they desire. The Ceremony can also include readings, singing (if desired), symbolic gestures, vows (traditionally repeated or spoken to each other), ring promises, and so on.

We want our ceremony to be non-traditional, laid back and unique to us, without the standard components of a civil ceremony. Will a Celebrant be able to create this?

This is an equally common request. Many couples see a Celebrant-led ceremony as an acknowledgement of their legal ceremony. Some refer to this as a Marriage blessing or a Commitment Ceremony. In this case, the couple decides which components of a ceremony they wish to include, plus the addition of any symbolic gestures they desire (e.g.  Sand Ceremony, Marriage Box, Hand-Fasting, Ring Warming, Candle Lighting etc.).

I have never been short on ideas! I am an excellent resource for ways to make your ceremony special and unique!

Some of our family are quite religious. Is there any way to include something that can honour their beliefs without compromising our preference for a non-religious ceremony?

I am often asked to write special prayers or blessings that can be offered during a ceremony. Sometimes I am asked to include standard prayers from the couple's faith. In a Celebrant-led ceremony, you can include anything that you desire. The decision is yours and your Celebrant should honour those wishes without hesitation. I have officiated wedding ceremonies with leaders of other faiths joining in by offering prayers (e.g rabbis, vicars, etc.) and wedding ceremonies influenced by various cultures (e.g. Hindu, Chinese, Spanish, Scottish, Korean, and so on). And at other weddings that have had a Buddhist influence, I have officiated a blessing to meet those beliefs.  Whatever the wishes of the couple, those can be honoured.

We would like to involve our children in some way. Is this something we can do?

Including children in a ceremony is lovely and there are many ways this can be achieved. Many of the symbolic gestures that I will share with you can be adapted to include children, particularly one like the Sand Ceremony where each person in the family can have their own unique coloured sand to blend together with the others. There are many ways that children can be included so be sure to explore those ideas with your Celebrant.

Do our guests need to know that we had our legal ceremony on a different day? We'd prefer to keep that private.

No need whatsoever for your guests to know when you completed your legal ceremony. The wedding ceremony will be officiated as a traditional Civil Ceremony if that is your wish. While I am present as a Celebrant and not a Registrar, there is no reason why the wedding ceremony cannot mirror a traditional ceremony on the day.

I want to include a new tradition. Is that something we can do?

Absolutely! The beauty of a celebrant-led ceremony is that you can include any new traditions or existing family traditions in the ceremony. This is the perfect occasion to start a new tradition or to blend cultures if that suits your family.

I was brought up Christian but not do not go to church any more. Can we still have some prayers in our ceremony?

Yes, as mentioned above, I am often asked to write special prayers or blessings that can be offered during a ceremony. Sometimes I am asked to include standard prayers from the couple's faith. In a Celebrant-led ceremony, you can include anything that you desire. The decision is yours and your Celebrant should honour those wishes without hesitation.

What do you generally wear to officiate ceremonies?

I always check about any theme or particular colours that the bridal party will wear because I want to be sure that the colours I choose on the day complement the general colour scheme. I tend to wear outfits that blend in well, the sort of outfits I might wear to a wedding as a guest. I personally prefer not to wear suits as it is not my particular style.

Can we have our wedding ceremony outdoors? In a field or at the seaside? In the woods or in a park? In my family's garden. In a favourite pub or place of interest?

Yes, anywhere! You can choose to hold your wedding ceremony anywhere you like, and that includes all locations that are not licensed. Since this is not the legal ceremony, you are not restricted to following strict regulations. As long as the venue you choose is receptive to the idea of organising the space for a ceremony, then you can hold your ceremony there. The only advice that I will offer is that if you choose an outdoor venue (and many couples have their hearts set on an outdoor wedding), please consider alternative plans should the weather not cooperate. A small drizzle or occasional shower is fine, but if the day is blustery and stormy, then you'll want to be under cover. This can be achieved either by arranging with the venue to use a room on the day, or using a marquee for the ceremony, which can then be reset for the meal and entertainment portion of the day.

Can we have any theme we want for our Ceremony? Will a Celebrant cooperate or do we have to follow specific guidelines?

   Yes, of course! If there is a particular message or theme
   you wish your ceremony to portray, then the Celebrant
   should work with you to achieve that. And this can be
   written into the Ceremony script as well, especially if there
   are any passages or readings that are theme-oriented. If
   your theme includes fancy dress, then you can also
   ask the Celebrant if they would cooperate by dressing in a
   particular way on the day in honour of the theme. Most
   should be willing to accommodate that wish.

What questions do you have about hiring a Celebrant?

For answers to your questions about hiring a Celebrant, contact me and I'm happy to offer you some guidance! or

Saturday 17 September 2016

What Should You Expect From a Celebrant?

What Should You Expect From a Celebrant?

This is 'your' event, so always ask questions that are important to you!

~  Do they offer information and resources that are helpful in planning your ceremony? And do they provide a vast range of materials and informative documents to assist you in planning your ceremony, including a choice of readings, suggestions for music, an overview of various symbolic gestures to consider, and sample vows and ring promises?

~  Do they seem organised, professional and well seasoned as a Celebrant?

~  How devoted will they be? For example, will they book other ceremonies before or after yours? (This is important because life, being what it is, isn't always 'on time' and some delays are unexpected. You want a Celebrant who is devoted to your  occasion without causing you the added stress of having to be perfectly punctual.)

~  Do they include any little 'extras' in their fee such as a commemorative certificate, a beautifully prepared commemorative copy of your ceremony for your memory box, specially prepared cards with vows printed?

~  Do they arrive early, tend to your guests, and brief the bridal party on the day?

~  Will they make themselves available for a rehearsal ahead of your ceremony?

~  Will they liaise with the venue ahead of time?

~  Are they tolerant of various photographic arrangements and requirements?

A phone conversation with a Celebrant is a great way to assess their speaking skills and how they organise their thoughts on the spot. You'll get a good sense for their warmth, sincerity and professionalism, as well as how effectively they give you a strong image about what might take place on the day.

We all have certain expectations as well as many gaps about what a Celebrant can offer us, so your first interaction with a Celebrant is very important in either giving you a strong comfort level with their style, or it will raise some flags about how well they may (or may not) work with you.

Next at Ellen Bower Ceremonies: What Should You Ask a Celebrant before you hire them?

Find answers to your questions at: Ellen Bower Ceremonies
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Tuesday 23 August 2016

I'm a Celebrant. (You're a what?)

I was at a gathering the other day with some friends I haven't seen in some time. It was a very eclectic gathering and I knew most of the women there, but there were a few unfamiliar to me. I am often amazed at how impressive a group of women are when they get together. We represented artists, personal trainers, teachers, alternative medicine professionals, dog trainers, scientists, accountants ... and there was me, the Celebrant.

After some initial chat catching up with a few of my friends and introducing myself to new faces, one of the women new to me asked "what do you do"?

I've been accustomed to answering this question all throughout my career, in many different capacities and most of the titles I had were quite self-defining such as Marketing Manager, Sales Director, Training Manager and so on. Even my vocation as a Life Coach leaves little to the imagination in 2016. No one needed clarification on what I meant by any of those past career titles.

"I'm a Celebrant" I replied, in my usual warm and engaging way. Wait for it! I anticipated the next question.

"A what?" she politely asked. "A Celebrant" I repeated. She looked very curious and thought for a brief moment. And then came the expected question ... "What's a Celebrant"?

I want to say here that I absolutely love my vocation and I've never been happier in a job than I am now as a Celebrant. So any opportunity that crosses my path to explain this awesome job of mine really delights me.

"Well, I design and officiate ceremonies - you could say I'm a Ceremony Specialist. I create beautiful, meaningful, thoughtful ceremonies to celebrate weddings, baby namings, vow renewals, life transitions - those sorts of life occasions. I get to help people mark significant life events and make them truly memorable! I love my job! "

By now, my voice is filled with enthusiasm and I'm eager for more questions so that I can share more insight about this fantastic job I have. I love talking about what I do for a living, so anytime someone looks at me a bit quizzically I get quite eager and ready to explain.

I think of my profession as being somewhat of an Artisan - someone skilled in 'making things by hand'. In my case, I make ceremonies by hand, each one unique, each one fresh, each one simply beautiful. Exactly what my clients desire. I view the ceremonies I write as pieces of art because they hold the hearts and the dreams of my clients within the words that I compose. And it is a memory that stays with them, forever.

So perhaps I am a Ceremony Artisan. The word 'artisan' is based on the French verb 'artire' which means to instruct in the arts. I take the journey of someone's life, or the lives of two people in a relationship, and weave their story into a beautifully written and delivered ceremony. My product is a 'service' and not something decorative like jewellery or clothing, but the memories are one-of-a-kind pieces of art that last a lifetime.

So ... just what do I do as a Celebrant (might be your next question)?

Well, simply put, I like to meet with you in person if at all possible, so that we can all gain a better idea about each other's style and personality. I believe it is essential that the Celebrant you hire is someone who you relate to, someone whose presence suggests the same values and standards as your own, someone who listens to you and hears what you say, as well as what you don't say.

As a Celebrant, I am a writer, a designer of your event, the person who sets the tone for your ceremony, a researcher uncovering ideas and sentiments to include in the words I say on your behalf, an editor of my written work, an organiser of rehearsals and a liaison with significant people who are part of your ceremony (as well as a liaison with your venue).

As a Celebrant, I am the one who officiates 'your story' and your celebration, and I do that with style, with professionalism, with charisma, and with quality speaking skills.

Anyone can stand in front of a group of people and deliver words. But only a top notch Celebrant will do that with grace, presence and with a talent for writing bespoke ceremonies that tell your story in a way that is most meaningful to you.

I will say it again ... I absolutely LOVE my vocation as a Celebrant! And I tell my clients that the person they hire should absolutely love what they do, and that should show on their faces and in their enthusiasm when they talk about their services. The person hired to be a Celebrant should be able to show you, through their presence, that ceremonies are something they do supremely well. And that should come across in the very first interaction you have with a Celebrant, whether it be an email, a phone chat, an in-person visit, or a skype meeting.

From my view, my clients have an incredibly precious, one-moment-in-time life event, so as their Celebrant, I am the heartbeat and the soul of that celebration. My clients deserve the very best I can offer them.

As a Celebrant in the UK, my role is quite unlike the role of a registrar, though both conduct ceremonies. The clarification is that a Celebrant's role is not the legal ceremony, which is actually fantastic because we can design ceremonies any way that suits a client's wishes. There are no restrictions. Ceremonies can be as traditional as a client wishes, or as fantastically creative as they can imagine.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role as a Celebrant is that I have the privilege to work with people who hold a broad range of life views, beliefs, traditions, cultural customs, or ethnic heritage.

It is such an honour to hold someone's celebration in my hands!

As a Celebrant, I capture memories and meaningful experiences that carefully preserve the heart of an occasion, forever. I do not impose any particular belief system, nor do I restrict clients from including a particular belief into their ceremonies and celebrations. I am a lighthouse guiding clients through every step of designing their ideal ceremony.

In my role as a fully qualified Celebrant, I devote myself to ongoing, comprehensive training, not just in the philosophy of creating beautiful and memorable ceremonies ... but largely in the art of telling a person's or a couple's story beautifully, personally and in a deeply meaningful way.

When I started writing this article, I mentioned how much I love my vocation as a Celebrant! And my words in this article are far reaching, well beyond my own little corner of the world where I work my magic as a Celebrant creating memories for special people and special occasions.

But nothing would bring me more joy than to connect with you - wherever you happen to live on our planet - even if it is just to ask me some questions about hiring a Celebrant, or if you think I can clarify any of your understanding about working with a Celebrant!

I am quite sincere about this, so please do take me up on the offer! Sometimes it can be very useful just to talk things through.

Or visit my website which is a great resource of information for how Celebrants work and what you should expect when you team up with a Celebrant!

Or email me at

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Wedding Traditions - Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

Cultural traditions --- They are fascinating and provide such wonderful insights into history and how customs have evolved.

There are so many cultural traditions involved with organising a wedding and some of them we follow because they suggest 'good luck' while others just seem to have become part of a standard wedding plan.

So, as it's prime wedding season at the moment, here's a treat to some of the more interesting wedding traditions and how they came to influence us still, so many years later.

Did You Know ...

The term 'Tying the Knot' came to symbolise marriage with the ancient Celts. They tied the hands of a couple together in the form of an 'endless knot' or better known as the 'eternity knot'. This involved tying the hands in a way that symbolised the binds that held them together, forever. Even today, in many cultures around the world - including Celtic, Hindu and Egyptian -  the bride and groom's hands are literally tied together to symbolise their commitment and their bond to each other. This tradition is also linked to hand-fasting, where today, couples use different coloured cords or ribbons to symbolise their commitment.

Today, hand-fasting is growing in popularity as a way to symbolise the bond and commitment between couples, and it can be a very colourful way to add character and meaning to a ceremony, through the careful selection of coloured ribbons or cords, and sometimes adding charms that hold special significance.

Proposing and Asking for the
Bride's Hand in Marriage originated with
the Romans who called this tradition 'the
joining of hands'.

During this ancient time in history, the groom
gave a coin to the bride's father to establish his
purchase of the bride. The father then handed
over his daughter to her future husband.  It was
during medieval times when a knight would
pledge his love on his knee as a sign of service to his lady.

Something  old, something new, something borrowed,
something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe is a tradition
rooted in that old familiar Victorian rhyme. 'Something old'
suggests the bride's connection to her family and to the past that
she brings to the marriage; 'something new' is hopeful of her good
fortune as a wife; 'something borrowed' represents the bride's
closeness to her family and friends who, it is hoped, will support
her in times of trouble; 'something blue' is a way of highlighting
her purity; and 'a silver sixpence in her shoe' points to the wishes
offered for happiness and the hope that the couple will avoid
financial hardship.

The Bride's Veil has a variety of
histories. One belief suggests it was an
ancient Roman custom of using a veil to
confuse evil spirits and keep them away
from the bride. Less honourable tales
suggest that a veil was used to keep the
groom from refusing to marry a woman he
found to be unattractive. And another suggests that during the age
where war and bride kidnapping were abundant, putting a sack
over the bride's head was a tactic to whisk  her away from the

We have certainly come a long way in modifying the tradition of a
veil in the more modern, beautiful headdresses that some bride's
choose. The kidnapping theory is also linked to the groom carrying
his wife into their new home, while other custom suggests that it
would be bad luck if the bride tripped and fell upon entering her
new abode, especially as they believed that evil spirits lurked along
the bottom of rooms. Today, bridal  veils aren't always used,
though they are still rooted in tradition.

The Wedding March is a traditional piece
of music that was created by the composer,
Felix Mendelssohn, and this music was used
in William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer
Night’s Dream. It wasn't just intended as a
piece of fantasy, but of royalty as well. The 
Wedding March was selected by Princess
Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria of
England, when she wed Prince Frederick William of Prussia, and
thus the tradition became more and more popular over time.

Wedding Rings and wearing them on the left
hand is believed to originate from different customs; the ancient
Roman's believed that there is a special vein that run from the ring
finger on the left hand directly to the heart, and they coined the
phrase 'vein of love'. The second custom seems to come from
Medieval Europe where it was common practice for the priest to
touch the first three fingers of the bride's left hand to symbolise the
Holy Trinity. The never-ending circle shape of the ring symbolises
the eternal love between the bride and groom, which were
presented to wives-to-be during the time of the Ancient Egyptians
as ringlets made of hemp.

Growing in popularity is the 'Warming of the Rings' at the start of a
Wedding Ceremony. Rings are tied to a cushion or placed in a
special pouch and passed from guest to guest throughout the
ceremony. Guests are asked to hold the rings for a few moments
and put their heartfelt thoughts, hopes, prayers, blessings etc. into
the rings for the couple. This is a really lovely way to involve
guests in the 'ring exchange' portion of a ceremony.

The Best Man is literally translated into 'the
best man to protect the bride'. Once upon a time,
grooms-to-be approached the most capable man
they knew to ward off potential unhappy
ex-suitors of the bride, as well as to protect the
groom in those moments when things might get
a bit nasty.

In more modern times, the best man's primary concern
is keeping the wedding rings safe and presenting them during the

The Bridesmaids had a role, once
upon a time, quite different to day's
custom. In the time when brawling for
the bride was the thing to do, kidnapping
her was not uncommon (thus the need
for a glorified bodyguard in the Best
Man). While matching bridesmaids
dresses have become less common in
today's weddings, in Roman times when this was a sign of good
luck because people believed that those evil spirits would attend
the wedding in an attempt to curse the bride and groom.
Bridesmaids were required to dress exactly like the bride in
order to confuse the spirits and bring luck to the marriage.

I remember realising this when I saw my grandmother's wedding
photo from the early 1920's - she and her bridesmaid wore the
same dress and for someone unfamiliar with the bride and
groom, it was hard to distinguish who was the bride and who
was the bridesmaid!

The Kiss! The kiss was, at one time, considered a legally
binding act that fulfilled the contract between the bride and
groom. It was thought that through the kiss, the couple
'exchanged souls' with each other.

The Bouquet, and tossing custom
seems to gain its roots from ancient times when
wedding ceremonies were believed to be evil
spirit magnets. In ancient Greek and Roman
traditions, brides wore flowers in their hair to
discourage the evil spirits (unexpected guests)
from settling on the bride. As far back as the
14th century, securing a piece of the bridal
gown was intended to bring good luck. Of course, bride's didn't
take well to guests cutting pieces of fabric from their wedding
dress, so, as an alternative, bride's began to give away personal
items, such as the wedding bouquet. Contents of bouquets are
equally rooted in rich cultural and historical traditions. Some
cultures sew small pockets of herbs into wedding clothing, or
drape flower garlands over the couple's shoulder's for good
fortune. In other beliefs, herbs are added to welcome ancestors
and spirits. The Victorians were fascinated by the meanings of
different flowers and what they represent in the lives of the
wedding couple. And in Tudor England brides carried
marigolds dipped in rosewater, and ate them afterwards as they
were thought to be an aphrodisiac! In the Middle East the bitter
herb 'artemisia' is added into bridal bouquets to ensure that
marriages will survive bitterness as well as sweetness. Today's
brides often include their favourite flowers for their colour and
perfume. I have been privileged to see some absolutely exquisite
bouquets made from family heirloom jewellery.

The tradition of a Honeymoon continues today.
According to Babylonian tradition, the father-in-law gave the
groom mead to be consumed during the “honey month.”
Some beliefs suggest that this length of time also served as a
“cooling period” for the bride’s family, who might not have
been so eager to see their daughter leave home.

There are so many culturally-rich traditions in families around
the globe, so when you're planning your wedding, consider
where some of the traditions you'll incorporate into your
ceremony may have originated. Some are quite outdated by
today's standards, while others still hold some charm and

The true beauty of creating a celebrant-led wedding ceremony is
that there are absolutely no limitations or restrictions on how
you design your wedding ceremony, what you want to be said
during your ceremony or how you symbolically mark such a
significant event in your life. Because a celebrant-led wedding
ceremony is not a legal event in the UK (legal procedures are
still organised by your local registry office), your imagination
and creativity are all you need to plan the perfect occasion!

With a Celebrant, you can create your own traditions allowing
for considerably more flexibility and freedom in how you wish
'your story' to be told!

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