Y’all… I am SO excited about today’s post! Just about this time last year, I had the incredible opportunity to work with an amazing celebrant as the two cuties in the header image tied the knot! (Happy almost Anniversary, Kate and Dan!) We had an inspiring conversation about how she helps her couples prep for their ceremony, and ever since then, I’ve been hoping that I could share some of her advice with you!
Meet Donna, owner of and celebrant for Lehigh Valley Celebrants! Her and her team of celebrants come from so many different backgrounds and officiate couple-centered ceremonies throughout Pennsylvania and beyond. Donna is so intentional in the work that she does and the moments that she shares during couples’ ceremonies. I loved getting to know her and how she serves her couples when I worked with her last year, and I really enjoyed re-connecting with her to create this blog post! She is sharing SO many helpful tips and tricks for couples that are currently planning their nuptials! I could go on and on about this woman and how talented she is, but I think you would be better off hearing from her!!
So… let’s get started!
A new year is upon us, and with that, many newly engaged couples will begin planning their upcoming weddings. What venue will they use? Who will their photographer be? Pinterest boards will be created to save photos of centerpieces and dresses. But one thing that will most likely not be represented on their boards will be The Ceremony. Why? Because most couples have no idea where to begin when it comes to the ceremony part of their big day, so they avoid it. That’s where I come in! I am a Humanist Celebrant. In other words – I am a professional officiant who is trained and experienced in all things Ceremony.
How does someone end up in this line of work?
Well… I had never intended to do what I am doing. I was a career educator and had taught in public schools for nearly 25 years. I was on sabbatical from my librarian position in 2014, to acquire a master’s degree in Leadership and Administration with the intention of becoming a school principal. That year, however, the ban on marriage equality was lifted in my home state of Pennsylvania and I was asked to officiate an elopement between two men in their 70s. It was a life-changing experience for me! I went through the Humanist Society to become legally endorsed as a Celebrant, and that year, between coursework and interning, I honed my skills as a Celebrant and officiated weddings, end of life celebrations and baby welcomings.
Over time, it became clear that there was an increasing need for the type of service I was providing. More and more couples choose to be married outside of a church setting and seek a Celebrant to represent them and create a personalized ceremony. There are a number of reasons for this increase. Sometimes it has to do with couples wanting the focus to be on them and their relationship, instead of a deity or a standard, scripted church wedding. In many cases, couples come from two different faith backgrounds, and don’t want to ‘pick sides’. In these cases, I am a neutral party, and am able to bring elements from each of their faith backgrounds into the ceremony, allowing both families to be represented and honored.
A Celebrant is someone who is trained in the art of creating ceremony. Whether creating a wedding ceremony or an end of life celebration, the process is the same. With regard to weddings, I work closely with my couples to get to know them and what makes them unique. The ceremony is written to reflect who they are and to represent them in a meaningful way. Their ‘love story’ is crafted and woven into the ceremony along with other elements that honor and represent them and the journey they’ve taken both individually and as a couple to arrive at this most special day.
This highly personal approach has become is something that is now sought after by couples. When I realized I could not keep up with the demand for my Celebrant work, I brought on other Humanist Celebrants to work for me. I now have six Humanist Celebrants who are in my group, Lehigh Valley Celebrants and we travel throughout Pennsylvania, as well as Delaware, New York, and New Jersey to officiate various life celebrations. And on a side note, when I completed my degree, I decided to not pursue becoming an administrator. I left teaching the following year and am enjoying my career as a Celebrant and owner of the Lehigh Valley Celebrant group. It is such an honor to work with couples at the happiest times of their lives, and create an exceptional ceremony to celebrate their love and commitment to each other. Our couples tell us time and time again that their guests told them the ceremony was the best they’ve ever seen. And our couples also tell us that it was the best part of the entire wedding day!
So what sort of magic do we do to make the ceremony experience so exceptional for our couples?
There is not ‘one thing’ that I can point to, but rather numerous details that we address throughout the months leading up to their wedding day. Some are ‘tried and true’ elements that are practiced by many who officiate weddings, but others are unique and are part of our ‘secret sauce’! One of my ‘secret’ processes was created to help couples feel comfortable as they are standing in front of everyone during the ceremony. Just this alone can make couples feel anxious, as many don’t like being the center of attention and having all eyes on them for a half-hour. From my teaching days, I knew that we get better at things through experience and practice. So – about a month before their wedding, I have my couples ‘practice’ standing together and facing each other – just as they will be standing during their ceremony. In the beginning of the month, they do this for just a few minutes at a time. But by the end of the month, just before their wedding, they will be standing together for 25 minutes and it will feel familiar. On their wedding day, they will have all eyes on them, but they will be comfortable with the process of standing together, holding hands, and looking at each other for an extended period of time. My only problem now is that couples feel so comfortable with each other during the ceremony, I have to coach them to not have full-blown conversations with each other! Haha!
The benefits of little elements, such as the one above, are that our couples will be fully present during the ceremony and will enjoy every minute of it! The proof of our success is in our amazing reviews!
When I am asked for my advice to give to couples who are planning a wedding, I always say to surround yourself with the best team possible.
The wedding professionals you hire are there to support you and to ensure that your day goes off without a hitch. Your wedding celebrant is part of that team! When couples ask a friend or family member to officiate, it is like being short one key player. I recently wrote a blog post after interviewing other wedding professionals about what they experience when couples use a friend or family member to officiate. It was an eye-opener for me!
I now find, that the couples who hire any of the celebrants in our group, do so because the ceremony is the most important part of their day. They want the focus to be on the promises they are making to each other, and want their ceremony to be an experience that will be remembered by both their loved ones, and most importantly, themselves. What we do takes a great deal of time and involvement, but the rewards are lasting and immeasurable. To read more about our group, see our Lehigh Valley Celebrants website.
In 2020, I will be embarking on an exciting new venture. As the understanding of creating meaningful, couple-centered ceremonies grows, so grows the demand for well-trained, highly skilled celebrants. I have paired my background in education with my successful celebrant business to create Celebrant Academy.
Celebrant Academy is college-level coursework for those interested in becoming professional Celebrants. The six-month online program of studies takes place in real-time with live instructors and covers all aspects of celebrant work. Graduates earn a certificate as a Certified Celebrant, and are able to begin a highly marketable career with a support network of instructors and colleagues.
If you’d like more information about having a Celebrant-led wedding, or about the upcoming coursework at Celebrant Academy, reach me at the contact information below!
A huge THANK YOU to Donna for crafting and sharing such a thoughtful and helpful blog post!
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