In simple terms, a celebrant is a professionally trained individual who officiates, or conducts ceremonies for all of life’s big occasions; weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies, vow renewals, commitment ceremonies, as well as many others. But there’s a whole lot more to it than that....
What's the difference between a celebrant and a registrar?
A registrar is an employee of a local council who deals with the legalities of a marriage. Registrars also deal with the registration of births and deaths, which means they’re usually very busy. Given the time constraints of registrars, and the fact that they will often conduct multiple weddings a day and at set times, this usually means they have very little room to accommodate the level of personalisation that a celebrant can give you for your wedding ceremony.
Registrars will often use a similarly worded script for every wedding, and you won’t have the opportunity to meet the registrar conducting your ceremony before the big day, which can make it all feel very formal and impersonal. They might even get your names wrong, as happened on more than one occasion at weddings I worked on as a venue coordinator! They can also only conduct ceremonies at either a licensed venue or a register office, meaning that the gorgeous wedding you had planned to have in the woods or in your parents’ back garden isn’t allowed with a registrar in tow.
You will have the option to choose the music for your civil ceremony but, by law, songs and music must be strictly secular in nature, meaning they are not allowed to have any religious words in them whatsoever, and all your music choices will be vetted. That means no “Angels” (sorry Robbie Williams), and no “Hallelujah” (sorry Leonard Coen). Singing traditional carols during a Christmas wedding is a definite no-no. The same goes for any readings you might choose to have during your ceremony. Prayers and religious blessings are out, and that obscure bible reading your Nan wants to do is definitely not allowed.
All joking aside, this can present a problem for couples of mixed faith, couples who want to acknowledge a religious family tradition or heritage in their ceremony, or couples for whom a particular piece of music or text holds a real significance to them, but just so happens to include an element of religion.
On the other hand, a celebrant will only conduct one wedding a day, meaning you will get their whole and undivided attention and they will definitely get your names right! Your celebrant will get to know you throughout your planning process and will write you a wedding ceremony from scratch, that is completely centred around your relationship and your story. And there are absolutely no restrictions on the content of your ceremony, meaning you can choose to have any music, readings and symbolic or religious elements included. There is also far more flexibility over the time and location of your ceremony with a celebrant. On the beach at sunrise? Of course! An evening in a festoon-lit forest? Yes please! At the top of Scafell Pike at noon? I’ll grab my hiking boots…
Essentially, the difference here is one of personalisation. A celebrant-led ceremony offers you the chance to make every element of your wedding truly all about you, giving you an experience that reflects you as people and as a couple, and one that will be far more meaningful and memorable for you and your guests.
What’s the difference between a celebrant and a vicar or priest?
The obvious difference here is religion. A vicar or a priest is a member of the clergy and subscribes to the Christian faith. Couples who choose to have a church wedding will have a ceremony rooted in Christianity, with bible readings, hymns and a sermon. A priest is bound by the customs and rites of their faith, and as such, a church wedding tends to be a little more traditional.
Independent celebrants don’t subscribe to any particular faith and therefore there aren’t any requirements for them to include any religious elements in a ceremony. Of course, if this is something that a couple wants, then a celebrant would be more than happy to accommodate. This comes in particularly handy with mixed faith couples, who want to incorporate elements from two separate religions into one ceremony.
A similarity between a celebrant and a priest is that they are both more involved with the couple than a registrar before the day itself. It is often a requirement that a couple attend the church for a period of time before their wedding and as such, like a celebrant, the priest will become more familiar with the couple. Priests will also be more involved putting the ceremony together; checking vows, planning the structure, and offering help and guidance when it comes to choosing music, hymns and readings.
What’s the difference between an independent celebrant and a Humanist celebrant?
Humanist celebrants are perhaps a little better known than independent celebrants, and there are a lot of similarities between the two. They both provide couples with a highly personalised ceremony and offer the same flexibility over the timing, location and content of the wedding.
However there are still some differences. Humanist celebrants are trained by Humanists UK and must be Humanists themselves. Humanists have no religion and are instead guided by science, reason and human experience. Therefore a Humanist wedding ceremony will be secular in nature. They may be happy to include religious music or readings, as long as a guest is doing the reading or the singing, but they won’t include a rite of faith or act of worship as part of the ceremony itself.
Independent celebrants are, as the name suggests, independent of any particular belief system or organisation, therefore offering couples the ultimate freedom and flexibility to create a ceremony that entirely reflects them as a couple or a family, however they want to do this.
That's pretty much it.
I hope that’s given you a better idea of what options you have, and perhaps helped you decide what kind of ceremony would best suit you. If you have any more questions at all, or if you want to have a chat about your wedding, please give me a shout! You can email me on email@example.com, pop me a DM on Instagram, or click below to send me a message.
Connie is an independent celebrant based in Manchester and Cheshire, and working across the North West and beyond. She creates fun, meaningful and highly personalised ceremonies for couples and families who want to celebrate life’s biggest moments in their own way.