More and more couples are opting for designing a wedding ceremony that is shaped around them, in a setting of their choice, with a ceremony that is personal and unique. Which to me, at the centre of your entire day, encompasses everything a ceremony should be.
There was something quite magical about the first time I met humanist celebrant and former actress; Zena Birch and watched her deliver a wedding ceremony that touched me and my colleagues on so many levels, I found it profound since I had never met Zena or the couple before but was so moved. It still remains the best ceremony I have had the pleasure of witnessing. As such I am so thrilled to have Zena on board as a Nu Bride Ambassador this year, we wanted to give you a little snippet into what goes on behind the scenes of creating a truly memorable ceremony for couples and a snippet of what a humanist celebrant gets up to!
Take it away Zena
I have been a British Humanist Association accredited wedding celebrant for just shy of 5 years now and in that time I have had the privilege of marrying over 140 couples and selfie-ing with most of them 😉
The reason we get to a point where taking our own selfie is important is down to how closely we work together. Over many months (sometimes a year or more) we go on a process that allows me to really get to know them. This means that by the time their wedding day arrives, we know that every word written and spoken within the ceremony will be relevant and meaningful to both them and their guests.
I finished my training in May 2011 and I have been a practicing full-time wedding celebrant ever since. The nature of the way I work means that when couples contact me, I make sure that they are happy and comfortable with the process we will go on together to create a personalised and individual ceremony before we start. I work closely with them so that on the day, in front of their friends and families; their witnesses, I am familiar to them and not just a stranger who turns up and presents a formulaic ceremony with the couples’ names placed in the appropriate places. Cultivating this warmth and honesty is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Suffice to say, the service I provide is not only thorough, but carries with it a lot of work both from myself and from my couples. So, how does this look in terms of a day/month/year in the life of a celebrant? Here is a brief example of how my working days can play out.
Start the Day
8:30am: A cup of tea is imperative. This is required every day in order for me to feel like the day has started in a civilised fashion.
9am: I get to work on my emails. This is divided into two parts, new enquiries and ongoing contact. When I get a new enquiry I do my best to reply within 24 hours. I know how exciting it is once you start the ball rolling on your plans, so I feel just as excited to meet your enthusiasm and answer your questions.
How long it will take me to reply to my ongoing emails can vary extensively. Sometimes it will be a simple question like how long should we tell the venue the ceremony will be, or what time next week will we meet for coffee and a catch up? Other times my reply can involve research, helping couples with their music choices or finding a way to make the impossible/dreamed of happen (how can we get a Mariachi band into the ceremony tent without anyone seeing them? Or can we open the floor to let anyone of our guests speak if they would like to? Where will the dancers sit? Or how can we get 88 people up to the top of a snowy mountain?)*
*All real and indeed answered questions!
I always offer to help a couples’ chosen readers find interesting readings that haven’t been heard a thousand times before, so I can often be replying to a number of people who each couple put me in touch with, guiding and supporting people to have the confidence to look into their imaginations and memories for something that will be meaningful to the couple they know.
Research & Social Media
10:30am: This is where all the research identified as necessary in the emails comes into fruition.
I read, I scour the internet, I follow leads recommended to me or ideas I have formulated. Sometimes this means that I genuinely get to sit and read poetry, for which I count myself very lucky.
This is also when I try to keep on top of my social media. I often get enquiries through my business Facebook page and through Instagram, so it is important to keep up with this. It is also where I get to keep my own running commentary of the wedding year.
12:30: I take my brilliant dog Laika for a walk and I have some lunch. Laika keeps me sane, she makes sure daily that I get out into the fresh air for an hour and a half no matter the weather. (Nu Bride: Even I had the pleasure of meeting little Laika once!)
Our daily walks allow all the thoughts that have collected throughout the morning to find their way out. It is not unusual for me to declare out loud in the middle of the park “It’s the Mary Oliver poem!” when at last I remember a reading I have been desperately trying to pin point for a couple’s ceremony.
I am a firm believer that when you don’t stare directly at a problem, the solution will reveal itself to you if you have put in the right amount of research. As such, watching Laika bound along and smell the flowers, helps keep me focused and creative.
2:00pm: The afternoon is always reserved for actual ceremony writing. I am often asked how long it takes me to write a ceremony and there is no hard and fast answer. Many hours go into creating a ceremony but actually sitting down and crafting the words together into a cohesive whole can take anywhere between a few days and a few weeks.
I once spent a whole week creating and editing a ceremony that kept evading me in terms of getting it ‘just right’.
In the end, I realised the week before that the missing ingredient was ‘fun’! My couple really took their commitment to each other and their intention to marry seriously, we had worked together for over a year, so I was certain of that. But as individuals and as a couple, they really were super fun. I broke free from the idea of ‘conventional’ and wrote something dramatically different to anything I had written before, it incorporated their guests, their self admitted obsession with pub quizzes and all sporting events and it manifested precisely what I had found ever so slightly lacking in my previous drafts. The middle section of their ceremony involved having to answer questions about each other, it tickled their competitive streak and it had friends and family alike, on the edge of their seats willing them both on! They loved it, I was terrified beforehand but elated within it and it proved to encapsulate everything about them both with joy and celebration.
Almost every week night I will have a meeting with my couples. Whether this meeting is with prospective clients or couples whom I am already working with, these meetings give us an opportunity to get to know each other better, for me to help with any and all problems and allow me to witness how a couple interact with each other.
I learn a lot more about my couples than simply the homework they provide me with! This human interaction with each other is definitely one of the highlights of my job.
The occasional 9pm to midnight
Anyone who writes creatively will know that there are some days when writing doesn’t flow. (Nu Bride: Yup!) So on days where the writing is flowing out of me like some kind of overflowing sink, I don’t stop! I grab those magic moments by the horns and run with them! 🙂
Pre wake –up: I tend to try to arrive near a venue the evening before, I have an abject fear of being stuck in a motorway closure and missing a wedding, so to abate this I usually find a BnB near by. (As an aside, this has led me to discover some absolute gems, a British BnB is a revelation!)
10 – 11am: I tend to do a rehearsal at the venue in the morning. This way I can be sure that any and all technicalities have been checked and double checked.
As Brides and Grooms tend to have differing schedules on the morning of a wedding I usually ask to meet the Groom and his team first and in the ceremony space, so that we can walk through the choreography of it all. Whoever is in charge of music, either live or recorded will usually also be in attendance so that we can go through all of the cues.
I also chat with whoever may be in charge of the time keeping on the day, so that we can coordinate arrival times and the all important opening of the doors at the right moment (or the ‘GO’ from behind a hedge if we are outdoors!) Nu Bride: Brilliant
I then find the Bride and her team wherever they may be and we run everything again, but in situ.
The way that I write a ceremony is pretty visual, so the ceremony itself will already be familiar to the couple from the draft I provide for them a week or so before, so it is really just a case of going through on the day details and calming any nerves.
30 minutes before the ceremony
As the ceremony is my domain, I like to know that everything has been thoroughly attended to, this way the couple can relax and know that everything has been left in safe hands and all they have to do is arrive and enjoy themselves! So I am always in place before guests start to arrive. I tend to use this quiet time to absorb my surroundings, breathe, calm my own nerves (which I have EVERY time!) and relax in time for the atmosphere to become steeped in giddy anticipation. (Nu Bride: The best feeling!)
This is where all the months and hours of preparation come together.
The ceremonies that I create take their lead from what I learn about each individual couple. They are personal in their content and represent what getting married means to them and how important their gathered guests are.
There are few words to honestly explain what this moment is like, but exhilarating, heart warming, vital, emotional and gently terrifying might be a start.
After The Ceremony
I almost always stay to congratulate the couple and have a little chat with all the friends and family I’ve heard so much about over our process of working together.
I have, over the years been increasingly asked to stay for the reception, which is by no means an expectation, but is a truly wonderful thing and something I accept with great honour.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t in some way become quite attached to my couples. I ask them to entrust me with some very personal and intimate information during the process of working towards their ceremony and so I find myself most fond of them by the time their wedding day arrives.
When I leave, I often call to mind the scene at the end of the film Mary Poppins…as she watches the children skip down the street with their mother and father, voices singing, kite in hand, the camera pans back to Mary Poppins with a wistful expression and somewhat wet eyes. Her obnoxious talking parrot umbrella squarks;
“That’s gratitude for you”
and Mary Poppins quietens him and states;
“that’s how it should be”.
Her job there is done and they must now venture off into the world, with just a little bit of the magic they created together to hold them in good stead. I hope that happens for my couples, as I slip away to the sound of merriment and the promise of a wild and wonderful future spent together.
Deliciously delightful! Thank you Zena, so much goes into creating beautiful bespoke ceremonies thank you for giving us a tiny snippet into your gorgeous world!
Stay tuned from so much more from Zena to help you plan for your personal and meaningful ceremony.
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