Wedding Celebrants – Making Your Wedding Ceremony Personal and Unique

You may think that there are only two options for your wedding ceremony in Liverpool, either a church service or civil ceremony in a registry office. However, there is another option for couples who may want to have a unique and personal ceremony, perhaps at a location that is not licensed for weddings. This is the Wedding Celebrant, a trained professional that presides over a wedding ceremony, but who is not legally invested to marry a couple.

We have spoken to two fabulous Liverpool Wedding Celebrants, Wendi Surtees-Smith and Sophie Colligan, to find out more about what they do and why a couple may want to choose a celebrant for their wedding.

What exactly does a Celebrant do?

Sophie: A celebrant is so many things! We’re interviewers, pattern-finders, facilitators, researchers, writers, meaning-makers, creatives, editors, project-managers, nerve-calmers, problem-solvers, directors, choreographers, pace-setters, negotiators (keeping potentially over-dominant relatives at bay!), public speakers, self-publicists, designers, networkers and ambassadors. Basically, we work towards making a ceremony as individual as a couple wants it to be – and we’ll support them to make sure that this happens, right from the very first meeting till after  the ceremony itself (which can often be a process that lasts many months or years!)

Wendi: A celebrant will work with their clients/s taking time to get to know them, listening and asking questions to help discover their wishes, and then craft an individual ceremony based on that information. Then on the day the celebrant will deliver the ceremony, guiding the couple through and ensuring that they have the ceremony that is right for them.

Lottie Elizabeth Photography

What is the difference between a registrar and a Celebrant?

Wendi: A registrar works for the state, and their ceremonies are legal ceremonies. They will often carry out several ceremonies in a day. They are bound with time constraints and content, in some ways, because of the legal nature of the ceremony. As an independent celebrant, I can respond personally to each ceremony. I am not bound by time constraints or content, so in many ways this affords couples more freedom to choose what goes in to their ceremony. I only do one wedding ceremony or vow renewal in a day and so I can completely dedicate myself to ensuring they have the best possible ceremony, and that they will have memories to treasure.

Sophie: For me, this is like asking what the difference is between a wedding cake and a wedding breakfast! They’re just two different roles – but both very necessary if a couple want a personal ceremony. Currently, a registrar is needed to make the marriage legal, whereas a celebrant is here to help the couple create their own unique ceremony. (If you want a comparison, you can consider how the registration of births and deaths are entirely separate from the much more social gatherings of christenings, naming ceremonies, funerals or memorials.) However! This should soon change, as the government in England and Wales will hopefully move towards offering equality to couples with non-religious beliefs by legally authorising humanist celebrants to sign the official documentation (just as Church of England vicars, Church in Wales parish priests, Jewish rabbis and Quaker ministers already do). Humanist weddings are now legally recognised in many places including Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Norway, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and the United States – wouldn’t it be wonderful if that could happen soon in England and Wales too? Watch this space!

Why might a couple choose a celebrant?

Sophie: The majority of my couples contact me because they have realised that they want a non-religious ceremony that is personal to them. Either they’ve seen a celebrant wedding already and want to have one for their Big Day too – or they’ve read about them and want to find out how they work. All good wedding celebrants will offer to meet a couple in person (or by Skype if they live at a distance)… and this is a great opportunity for the couple to find out just what is possible.

Wendi:  A couple might choose a celebrant because they have very definite ideas of what they would like, and maybe a state ceremony isn’t for them… they might want more flexibility, or want to be able to spend time getting to know the person who is delivering their ceremony. It might be that they want a ceremony in a venue or destination that isn’t state licensed. Or maybe they might want to have music or words spoken that could not be used in legal ceremony? A celebrant works with their clients to design and deliver a ceremony that is right for the client/s in response to their wishes. The ceremonies are always written for and with the clients, and this gives them more freedom to choose exactly what they want. Sometimes couples might choose a celebrant, simply because they want to work with someone who ‘gets them’ and they feel a good connection, often by the time it comes around to the ceremony, it’s like they’ve always known you. So lovely.

Nicola Thompson Photography

Tell us about yourself and how you came to be a Celebrant

Sophie: Before becoming a celebrant, I was an Art/ RE teacher for nearly twenty years, mostly working in schools for pupils with additional needs: I miss the kids… but definitely not the endless paperwork! A few years ago, we chose to have a humanist ceremony for my father-in-law’s funeral – it was an incredibly personal and fitting tribute to him. More recently, when I was looking to change career, I knew exactly what I wanted to become and had retrained with Humanists UK as both a wedding and naming celebrant within just months of leaving my previous job. The heartwarming thing is that, without exception, everyone I knew said that it was the perfect career for me. And that’s exactly how it feels – I am genuinely in love with my job!

Wendi: I’m someone who likes to be by water and a big sky, so love living by the mighty river Mersey. I have two kids, two grandkids and three cats and a lovely fella, and life is good. I was a special needs teacher for many years, and was facing redundancy after teaching for 23 years… I was watching A New Life in The Sun with my husband when a celebrant came on called Natasha, and my  husband said… You’d be good at that…. And it was like a light came on.. and I knew that was what I would become, so I trained with Civil Ceremonies and got a level three diploma from the national open college, and here I am, loving my job. I didn’t know that you actually really could love your job, but now I realise you can. I do Wedding , naming and funeral ceremonies, all very different, but all very definitely linked by love.

Tell us about your favourite or most memorable wedding celebration

Wendi: I can’t pick any one favourite, because they all have a special place in my heart for different reasons. I love it when you see their faces when they first see each other….I love it when you see friends and family full of emotion, getting really involved in the celebration of love. I love it when they look into each other’s eyes and say their vows…. I just absolutely love love, and love. Love is love x

Sophie: This has got to be my first ever wedding: I was called up by the bride’s best friend, asking if I was available to deliver an intimate wedding blessing just six days later. The father-of-the-bride had very sadly been given weeks to live and the bride wanted, above everything, to be able to walk down the aisle with him by her side. The family’s priority was obviously to spend time with him that week so I met the couple for the first time just before the ceremony itself. I’d had some snippets of information to go on and had researched French wedding customs as the groom was from France and I wanted to add as many personal touches as I could.

I’ll never forget the look of pride in the father’s eyes – it made it all worth it. I stayed to chat for a bit afterwards and shared with the couple that it had been my first wedding ceremony and that it meant a lot to me that it was such a meaningful one capable of bringing some comfort at a sad time.

The bride asked me out of the blue if I would be willing to lead the big ‘save-the-date’ wedding that they had already booked for the following summer. When this date came, I talked to the much larger group of guests about the importance of both ceremonies – I explained that each should be considered as one half of a whole, joining together to celebrate this couple’s love and commitment.

Arran James Photography

What do you love best about being a Celebrant?

Sophie: Without a doubt, the thing that I love the most about being a celebrant is that every wedding is different – and it goes without saying that this is because each couple is unique, of course! And linked to each ceremony being different is the fact that it is often the first time that many of the guests will have witnessed a humanist wedding: I’m often approached afterwards by friends and family telling me with genuine surprise just how wonderful and personal the ceremony was. I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of that part of the job! 😉

Wendi:  Being able to meet with lovely people and find out their stories and help them to make the perfect occasioned celebration with the special people in their lives is just the best feeling. I’ve never ever been more content. I’ve found my niche .

Wow! What incredible stories from these incredible celebrants! Wendi and Sophie are on our suppliers directory, The Little Liverpool Wedding Book, where you can find their contact details and even send them a message for more information. You can also find them on Instagram @sophiecolliganceremonies and @celebrantwendi.

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