Do you have to train to be a celebrant? This is probably one of the first questions someone asks when they’re playing with the idea of a career in celebrancy. The short answer is: in the UK, no. Celebrancy, like the wedding and funeral industries, is (at the time of writing: May 2023) an unregulated industry. That means any old cowboy can set up and sell their wares. The question is: should they?
Celebrancy is ripe with stories of ceremonies ruined by incompetent celebrants. It’s heartbreaking because the people they are paid to serve will NEVER get that ceremony again.
As someone who has been officiating ceremonies for 28 years, and training celebrants since 2017, my advice is: give this profession the respect it deserves. It might look easy to stand up in front of an audience of wedding guests or congregation of mourners, but that doesn’t mean it is. Officiating a ceremony is a small part of the role. There are so many aspects to being a celebrant that to jump in, and be there to support people in their pivotal life stories, requires a full understanding of the role. And that’s not something you learn or pick up in two minutes or get on a quick online course or a course where you’re certified based on attendance rather than aptitude. The standards for entering this profession should be rigorous, and led and maintained by those who have a long standing as celebrants (not those whose long background is in marketing or business with very little real-life celebrant experience). Unfortunately, the reality is that the celebrant-training industry has become big business with dozens of new celebrants churned out at a time with no quality assurance or proof of ability and capability. Trainers should never be afraid to hold back certification if someone has not adequately demonstrated (in various ways) their competency.
At Heart-led Celebrants, we take this role seriously. The truth is not everyone is cut out for this job. It demands discipline, dedication, energy, care, kindness, empathy, a strong work ethic, excellent communication (written and oral), awareness of self and others, and so on.
Many times people choose a training course that they believe must be good because the trainers use certain ‘words’ and gimmicks to attract people. I urge you to look beyond words like professional, institute/college, NOCN, a ‘particular’ standard, or even award-winning. Awards in this industry are little more than personality contests where celebrants push, push, push their clients to vote for them. They have nothing to do with competency.
If you don’t train, or if you’ve chosen a training organisation where the competence and/or real-life experience of the tutor is questionable, how will you know whether your manner, tone, writing style, human insights, ability to support a grieving family, information-gathering techniques, performance skills, vocal quality, and so on, are as good as they could be? Without effective training, you could be letting clients down.
One thing I hear from all our celebrant-training students (and they say this after just half a day of training!) is that they can’t believe how much is involved in the role, and that they really had no idea.
Sometimes a potential wedding client asks me “Do we have to have a celebrant? Can we just get a friend to do the ceremony?” My response is: “yep, your friend can do it for you. No problem. But you might want to think really carefully about whether that’s the best decision.” There is a world of difference between a friend officiating a ceremony and an expert skilled in holding the space, with experience in getting the words off the page, ability to deal with the unexpected, and guiding people through the liminal space of their ceremony.
It might be tempting to skip celebrant training and tell yourself you’ll pick it up on the job. There’s nothing to stop you doing that but is it fair for people (mourners and wedding couples, for example) to have their once-in-a-lifetime moment in the hands of someone who isn’t 100% clear about their role and the responsibilities involved?
It’s not dissimilar to insurance. It’s not a matter of can you afford insurance? Can you afford not to have insurance?
Can you afford not to be professionally trained to an excellent standard?
Can your (potential) clients afford for you not to be professionally trained?
Veronika Robinson has been officiating all manner of ceremonies since 1995, and alongside her husband Paul www.paulrobinsonvoicecoaching.co.uk are industry leaders offering one-to-one professional celebrant training. Veronika is also the author of Write That Eulogy, and a collection of other books on celebrancy.