Choosing your Celebrant and Personalising Your Ceremony

Mel Stuart Celebrant - Photo Daniel Bohane

The ceremony is a crucial part of the Wedding Day, so its style and content deserves careful consideration and is worth personalising your ceremony to suit yourselves and your wedding. Melanie Stuart, an Independent Marriage Celebrant in Auckland, creates bespoke ceremonies for her clients, reflecting their love story and personalities. Here she shares her knowledge:

Who will marry you? There are 2 types of officiants legally registered in NZ: religious or church affiliated; and non-religious (secular/independent). All ceremonies have a similar structure generally: entrance; welcome; vows; ring exchange; pronouncement; signing; conclusion and triumphant exit!

A secular ceremony, not bound by tradition or religion, may offer a more personalised ceremony, with original dialogue and readings based on the individual couple; while a religious ceremony might be a personal or family preference, but either way, you can add your personal touches.

Style and Theme Traditional, non-traditional, completely secular, a blend of culture and religion with a contemporary twist? Mel typically hears, “we want it to be relaxed, classic, fun, not too long, not too cheesy, not boring, traditional but not too formal… we want our guests to be entertained.”

Consider the values and message behind your decision to marry: “the next step in our journey”… or “I’m marrying my best friend”… or “He’s the love of my life”! Knowing your message helps you decide on music, readings, vows, and any personal stories shared.

What to include? On average, the ceremony is twenty minutes long. Only a couple of elements are legally required: the pronouncement of each other’s full names and spoken agreement that you wish to marry (“I do’s”); and signing of the marriage papers. Other than that, consider what’s appealed to you in other weddings. Mel says, “some couples chose to share a lot of their history in the ceremony, while others don’t want any personal stories at all. Ultimately the choice belongs to the couple and I get to know them well, before drafting a ceremony that reflects their words. Sometimes people are quite nervous about saying they don’t want religion. I reassure them that an independent celebrant anticipates that to be the case!”

Vows that Wow Start with two or three things you most love about your partner and then two or three things you promise to do in the marriage. Avoid an excess of flippant jokes, but a lighthearted promise included in the vows is fun. Alternatively, as your “something borrowed”, recite the same vows your parents exchanged at their wedding!

Choose a reading, blessing or poem, or lyrics from a song, that mean something to you. For some, the jokey nature of Pam Ayres might sum up how they feel; for others, classical poets or philosophers will help set the tone of a more formal wedding ceremony. One couple Mel married read a poem written by the bride’s grandfather to her grandmother when they were first “courting”.

Here are some of her ideas to personalise your ceremony:

– Give the bride’s arrival a twist – walk down the aisle with both parents, on your own, walk in with your partner, or have them meet you halfway.

– Ask the whole gathering to shout “we do!” in support of your marriage at an appropriate moment.

– Bring your heritage into your arrival, using the language of your birthplace, karakia, haka, or live music (bagpipes, trumpets, strings).

– Include remembrances for those who have passed. Mel recalls: “one of my brides was married on her late Dad’s birthday. He was honoured in the welcome, and the bride had a photo of him in a small locket on her bouquet.”

– Include your love story to share: how you met, the proposal, the best things, the toughest things, what you most love about one another.

– Have the celebrant read a short letter, story or blessing from special friends or family who cannot attend.

– Skype the ceremony and make a special point of speaking into the camera to acknowledge the far-away guests!

– If your grandparents or parents are your role models for a long and successful married life, have one of them speak briefly about what marriage means to them and what they hope for you.

– Incorporate cultural rituals e.g. tying little fingers together (Sinhalese), or a tea ceremony (Chinese).

– Choose music that you love, that fits the style and tone of your ceremony. Have a guest read lyrics from a song during the ceremony, in place of a poem or blessing. Mel recalls, “one of my brides chose 5 songs she loved, and took a verse from each to read as one. It was a surprise to her partner, and had them both in tears”.

– Include your children and ensure they feel part of the team.  Mel loved one family wedding where the couple had a ‘group hug’ with their children, while she looped a ribbon around the group.  Couples expecting a baby, consider a blessing for the unborn child. Parents could make vows to the children as well as to each other, or present them with a surprise gift.

– How about a “time capsule” of your guests’ written wishes and blessings, sealed during the ceremony; or a box containing a special bottle of wine and sealed private letters written to one another on your wedding day. During the ceremony, take turns hammering the box shut, one nail at a time. Keep the box sealed until a special anniversary, when you can break it open and reminisce!

– A unity ceremony within the ceremony is a visual and tangible way to symbolise your love. Hand-fasting can be performed using coloured ribbon, tartan, harakiekie (flax), a handmade rope plaited from your baby’s blanket or even fabric from the shirts you wore on your first date!  Sand ceremonies are popular too, or you could combine soil from each of your hometowns to plant a small native tree in, to symbolise the merging of your lives together.

– Candles can be used in a variety of ways to represent unity or remembrance.

– A release just before the conclusion of the ceremony gives a symbolic and photographic highlight – think butterflies, doves, balloons, lanterns.

End on a high! Your first steps forward as a married couple are a highlight of the day – so do it in style! Choose a fabulous piece of music that expresses your delight at being married. Walk, dance, high five and air punch your way back down the aisle. Ask guests to throw confetti, rose petals or blow bubbles.

Mel advises couples planning their ceremony to be confident and clear about their preferences, and convey these clearly to their celebrant. “Each component in your ceremony should sound and feel like you. The most special compliments I receive after conducting a ceremony are when guests assume I have known the couple a long time, because the ceremony was so perfectly ‘them’.  Find a celebrant who you connect with, and trust them to bring your ideas to life!”

Mel Stuart: Email: [email protected]

Photo cred: top Danielle Bohane, bottom right: David Bacher


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