Work Experience 29: Celebrant
‘From this day forward, you shall not walk alone. My heart will be your shelter, and my arms will be your home.’
Everyone loves a good love story. At least I know I do! When two lovebirds make promises to each other on their wedding day it’s such a significant occasion for them, as well as for the family and friends that are invited to share in their special day. As part of my work experience with celebrant Rachel Green, I had the opportunity to see two gorgeous couples tie the knot. I’m so grateful to David and Stephanie, and Jacinta and Dan, for letting me join Rachel to see how a modern wedding ceremony is run.
What did I do?
When I first met with Rachel she talked me through the legal requirements of her role, and showed me the forms she’s required to submit in order for the marriage to be officially registered. We also chatted about the process she goes through with prospective clients. Once she receives an initial enquiry, Rachel gives her clients a quote before arranging a face-to-face meeting. This meeting is an opportunity for Rachel and the couple to get to know each other, see if they have chemistry, and discuss the legalities of getting married. After a couple have signed a contract with Rachel she sends them an invoice and a welcome email outlining what to expect from her over the coming months. During their next meeting, Rachel gets to know the couple more personally and learns about their love story. They start to plan the ceremony in detail and complete the required paperwork (Notice of Intended Marriage) together. The date of the wedding, names, birth dates and addresses of the couple getting married, information regarding any previous marriages and even the place of birth and details of their parents is required on this form. Rachel then keeps this document until after the marriage is solemnised and sends it to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages along with one of the three marriage certificates the couple sign on their wedding day.
Rachel showed me a detailed questionnaire that she gives to her couples before their big day, which is a great way for her to get to know each couple separately. Rachel spends a day or two before each wedding cleverly collating the responses she receives in order to give an introductory speech about the couple at the beginning of their ceremony. Her idea is to make each ceremony as personalised as possible, and I really love that.
The next time I caught up with Rachel we were both frocked up and ready for a wedding! It may sound a bit silly to say I was excited, but I haven’t been to a wedding for years so was really looking forward to it. Rachel accepts wedding bookings at venues within a couple of hours drive of Brisbane, so she’s often turning up somewhere new. What a great way to discover hidden pockets to explore so close to home.
Avalon Gardens at Mt Tamborine was a beautiful location, and I could see why the bride and groom chose it. The ceremony was set up in under some towering trees and was surrounded by garden beds full of flowers. It was so pretty and romantic!
When we arrived half an hour before the ceremony, Rachel set up her PA system and did a sound check. She opened her very special ‘I do’ book where her ceremony notes are contained (although she just recently switched to a kindle) scanned through her ceremony notes, and sprayed some Entertainer’s Secret Throat Relief spray down her throat. No one wants their celebrant to lose her voice during a ceremony, and this magic potion is meant to help (it could also work wonders for teachers I thought).
As guests started trickling in Rachel spoke with the Groom, introducing me briefly, before he stood in position with his groomsmen waiting for his bride to arrive. I tried to find a spot where I could hide amongst the crowd as I really didn’t want to be captured in any of the professional photos. Nor did I want to stand anywhere near Rachel as she conducted the ceremony for obvious reasons. At one point I ended up standing in a garden bed behind the tallest man I could find, smiling when anyone looked my way. I must have looked pretty funny there!
Shortly before the bride was due to arrive Rachel welcomed the guests. She introduced herself, asked for an unplugged ceremony as requested by the bride and groom (no phones or cameras), and mentioned that during the ceremony laughing, crying, cheering and even groom-heckling were allowed. The guests had a little giggle and the mood felt very relaxed and happy. Once the bride arrived and walked down the garden path to meet her groom I stepped out from my ‘hiding’ spot to see the ceremony.
Rachel began: ‘Good afternoon everyone! On behalf of David and Stephanie I would like to welcome you all to their wedding. My name is Rachel Green and I am thrilled to be solemnising their marriage today’. She followed with her Introduction, using information provided by the bride and groom in their questionnaire and what she had learned from them during their months of planning. It only took a few minutes, but was a lovely way for me (and other guests of course) to learn about how the couple met and fell in love, as well as what it is they love about each other. I could tell from the reactions of the bride and groom, as well as from the crowd, that it was a very touching way to begin the ceremony. The bride’s brother followed by doing a reading, before Rachel delivered her monitum. This is the part of the ceremony that she is legally required to include. As well as restating her name, she reminded the bride and groom of the biding nature of the relationship they were about to enter and that marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Next was the asking (the I do’s and we do’s), the legal and personal vows of the bride and groom, the exchanging of the rings and declaration of marriage: ‘It is my absolute pleasure to pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss!!’ Yay! There was kissing, clapping and cheering followed by congratulations, before Rachel whisked the couple and their witnesses away for a few minutes to sign the three marriage certificates. One of the certificates is for the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, one is for Rachel’s register, and one is a ceremonial certificate for the couple to keep.
After seeing such a beautiful ceremony, learning about the bride and groom, witnessing the moment they became husband and wife and even seeing them sign their marriage certificates, I was ready to stick around for a glass of bubbles and the reception. Instead of course, as a waitress arrived with drinks for the newly married couple Rachel and I said our goodbyes and good lucks before packing up and hitting the long old road back to Brisbane.
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The second wedding I joined Rachel for was just over the Queensland/New South Wales border in the Tweed Coast Hinterland. The venue was Summergrove Estate, and the views from the chapel and reception area overlooking rolling hills and stretching to Surfer’s Paradise and Coolangatta were truly spectacular. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so we could literally see for miles. What a perfect day and location for a wedding!
The ceremony format was very similar to the first, although this time guests were seated in a chapel so there was nowhere for me to hide. I slid into a spot at the end of a pew beside another guest and played it cool. Rachel had been given the okay by both couples for me to attend their weddings in advance of course, but I still wanted to make sure I faded into the background. Jacinta and Dan’s wedding was romantic and light-hearted. There were laughs shared between the bride and groom, as well as some interaction with the guests. I really like that modern weddings seem a bit more relaxed than they were a couple of decades ago, and are tailored specifically for each couple. I’m not sure if they’re all like this, but the ceremonies Rachel conducts definitely are. There were tears in the chapel, but also giggles and some excitable cheers, which I could tell was exactly what the bride and groom had hoped for. After the ceremony, Jacinta and Dan were more than happy for me to watch on as they signed their paperwork before having a couple of photos taken. What a fun couple – I could tell their reception was going to be a cracker.
What did I learn?
Rachel uses a business platform called 17 Hats to help her manage all of her tasks, which is particularly helpful as there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes before and after a wedding. Being organised in paramount in this job. As well as ensuring all legal documents are completed and submitted on time and communicating with couples regularly in the lead-up to their wedding, Rachel goes the extra mile to really personalise the weddings for her couples. In Australia, celebrants need to pay a registration fee of $240 per year and are required to complete 5 hours of professional development each year.
Celebrants are such an integral part of a couple’s ‘big day’. Staying relaxed, speaking comfortably and confidently in front of large groups of strangers, and finding the right balance between delivering the ceremony while making sure the couple is the main focus of attention, are all important skills celebrants need.
Read my interview with celebrant Rachel Green by clicking here. She gives some great insight into what it’s like being a celebrant, as well as how to become one.
As well as a big thanks to Rachel, I’d like to say a very special thank you to Stephanie and David, and Jacinta and Dan for giving me the opportunity to attend their wedding ceremonies. I really do appreciate it and I loved every minute.
Thanks also to photographer Beccy Smith, for capturing the beautiful image at the top of this post and allowing me to use it.