The Celebrants Network Inc - BLOG
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Coronavirus and celebrancy
This special blog post is a little different to our regular program, however, it is full of much needed information about our current Coronavirus - Covid19 situation, how it affects us as celebrants and those who are holding or planning ceremonies in the near future. Today's blog is written by professional celebrant, author, trainer, and Network member, Wendy Haynes.
How can we and our clients be affected if the government bans certain size gatherings? Weddings and Funerals/Memorials especially. What can we do to minimise the consequences?
The pandemic of Coronavirus has already seen a big shift for celebrants worldwide with changes to their work practices, loss of financial income and a greater concern for the well-being of their own health and that of their clients, family and the wider community. Yet, the overall message is clear: take the necessary precautions to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, stay calm and stay connected in healthy ways.
You can keep updated on the Australian Government restrictions at the link I've put below (From Monday 16 March, organised, non-essential gatherings should be limited to 500 people. Today, Tuesday 17th March it has been reported that the National Cabinet may place bans on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
The bans may mean that some couples may cancel, postpone or downsize their wedding. If a ban of smaller size gatherings come into place then there are likely to be further guidelines to follow from government sources.
What follows are my reflections on the current guidelines in a celebrant work practice.
CANCELLATION OR POSTPONING A WEDDING
If a couple postpones their wedding: When it comes time to rebook their ceremony they may be required to complete another NOIM if the current one has expired. Advise the couple in advance that one month’s notice is still required on the new NOIM.
Payment of outstanding invoices and refunds of monies paid will be dependent upon your agreement that you have with the couple and also, your needs and values given the circumstances. This will not be the same for everyone. If you are not clear about what’s important to you, then find someone you trust to talk with to discover what feels right before approaching the couple. Talking about money can be a difficult conversation at the best of times let alone under community crisis so do be prepared and clear with your communication.
Also, offer empathy and acknowledgment of possible disappointment, sadness, and frustration that may be present because of the cancellation or postponement. People will be challenged for many differing reasoning, from not having their dream wedding fulfilled, not having family and friends present, financial loss on bookings etc, some may also be very accepting – everyone is different. While being empathic, keep your sense of calm and also any necessary professional boundaries.
DOWNSIZING A CEREMONY
Here are some suggestions that are based upon current recommendations and good practice in a pandemic.
Keep in mind that the guidelines even for small groups may be more stringent - always check current Health and Government guidelines.
If a couple downsizes their celebration it may mean that the ceremony involves just the couple, two witnesses, yourself and a few family and friends.
Ask clients, by email or by phone, if they have been overseas in the last two weeks and if so, was it a high-risk country they have come from. Have they been in self-isolation for the required two-week period? Ask if they have been in contact with anyone with the Coronavirus or are currently unwell. This is important information for you to how you will handle the booking. If you are at high risk – aged, have health especially respiratory conditions then you may need to consider what action you will take with regard to being their celebrant.
In the guidelines for The Marriage Act 1961 read the section mentioned below about transferring a NOIM. At the time of writing this article there hasn't been a statement regarding our role as an authorised celebrant and the Coronavirus issued by the AG department on their website. If you find yourself in a situation where you may need to transfer a NOIM, check the guidelines and, if need be, contact the Celebrants Program for advice on how to proceed. (NB see the email sent to all celebrants on 17 March)
Keep safe, keep calm, be wise!
Be upfront and vigilant about what precautions you will take if you proceed as the couple’s celebrant.
TRANSFERRING THE NOIM
Even without a pandemic, it’s important to have the legal paperwork and the couple’s information and ceremony details up-to-date and ready to hand over to another celebrant if this is required.
If you feel sick or show any of the symptoms listed in the current guidelines then contact your health care provider and follow the recommendations to not go to work! Self-isolation is key to pandemic control.
Instruct a friend or family member to know where you keep your ceremony diary, records etc and, if need be, they can support you to transition the paperwork to another celebrant.
Familiarise yourself with the guidelines and requirements for transferring the NOIM.
Go to the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants and read Sections: 5.2.1 Availability of celebrant and 5.2.2 Transferring the NOIM in exceptional situations.
MEETINGS AT HOME
• Depending upon the current situation it may not be appropriate to meet at home. However, if you decide to see clients at home, then email them prior to the visit with information about what precautions you will have in place and what you expect of them. Here are some that I’ve gleaned from the current government guidelines. You may have more to add to this list.
• If you haven’t already, ask clients by email or over the phone if they have been overseas in the last two weeks and if so, was it a high-risk country they have come from and have then been in the recommended self-isolation. Ask if they have been in contact with anyone with the Coronavirus or are currently unwell. These are important considerations.
• Before the meeting, disinfect the door handles, table, chairs, pens, etc that your clients may come into contact with. Wash your own hands thoroughly and dry them.
• Ask your clients to wash their hands after they have arrived or, at the very least, use a hand sanitiser.
• Have a box of tissues on hand and a bin so that used tissues can be disposed of. If you sneeze use a tissue or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow area. People sneeze for all sorts of reasons – sometimes a sensitivity to a perfume or an allergy to dust – so don’t panic if they sneeze. It is useful to have the tissue box where everyone can see it!
• Let them know prior to the meeting that you will refrain from physical contact and your usual handshake or a hug. This will be difficult for some of us more tactile celebrants however the reports say that keeping your distance is one key factor for reducing the spread of the Coronavirus. You may find a big smile and a welcoming directional wave to the chairs where they will be seated is enough or you may wish to place one hand over your heart, a small nod of the head and again a big smile to indicate your welcome. People have found other creative ways to greet, such as dancing your hands or foot tapping, I will leave this to your imagination and sensibility. Humour and a big smile will often break the ice!
• Keep the recommended distance of 1.5 metres.
• It may be preferential not to offer refreshments. If you do, ensure you wash your hands properly prior to serving tea, coffee or water.
• You may wish to sanitise your hands after handling their ID and relevant documents etc.
• Begin now to start refraining from touching your mouth, eyes or nose. (I never realised how much I touch my face!!)
• Place all the paperwork into a folder. If you need to use the paperwork during the following 48 hours (reports are saying that in some cases this is how long the virus is active for) to prepare other documents, then again wash your hands thoroughly after use.
• After the meeting, disinfect the door handles, table, chairs, pens, etc that your clients may have had contact with. Wash your own hands thoroughly and dry them before you go into the rest of your home or your family.
Many celebrants already conduct their pre-wedding meetings online using platforms such as Skype, Zoom, What’s App etc. I have done this with overseas and interstate clients and find it more than satisfactory for both parties.
This may become more commonplace during the current health crisis. Familiarise yourself with the technology (or get the necessary training) before using it and invest in a good headset. Check that your background is appropriate for a work setting and that your environment is quiet, your phone is switched to silent and you won’t be disturbed by other family members.
Have an outline of your meeting, the questions and necessary paperwork, pens etc in front of you. Also, have a drink of water on hand.
At the beginning of the meeting after you have greeted each other, check that they can hear you clearly. It’s ok to spend a little bit of time making sure everyone is set up well. You may have to ask them to minimise any background noise such as a TV or to close a door if there are people talking in another room that you can hear. You may also need to talk slower and breathe more often during an online meeting.
Take notes and, if need be, you can email them an outline of what you covered in the meeting.
MEETING IN OTHER VENUES
At some point you will need to meet your couple face to face to sight the relevant documents, sign the required declaration and discuss or rehearse the ceremony.
You may meet at their chosen wedding venue or in another public meeting place. Ensure the privacy of the couple can be obtained.
Basically, follow the relevant guidelines above especially:
• If you haven’t already, ask clients if they have been overseas in the last two weeks and if so, was it a high-risk country they have come from. Ask if they have been in contact with anyone with the Coronavirus or are currently unwell. These are important considerations.
• Wash your hands thoroughly and disinfect surfaces of folders, pens etc before and after the meeting.
• Avoid physical contact.
• Avoid touching your face.
• Email clients prior to the meeting about the precautions you will be taking and what you expect from them.
AT THE CEREMONY
Again, the guidelines above plus:
• You can suggest the couple set up a ‘livestream’ of the ceremony. Request that they delegate a person to coordinate the setup and technical aspects.
• The couple may wish to acknowledge those family and friends who cannot come because of the Coronavirus; and their disappointment and challenge in going ahead with the smaller ceremony… and their joy. The couple may also wish for you to ask guests, that while it is usual to congratulate with hugs and shaking hands, given the current pandemic they request that people refrain from doing so. Big applause is most welcome!
• Disinfect the microphone after each use if you are using one especially if it's being shared with other speakers. This is not likely given that this is written for a small gathering. However, you are possibly reading this before the ‘reduction of gatherings’ scenario is in place so this is another precaution you could take now…. it is the one item that is most likely to get spit on it!
• Tempted as you may be, there is good reason to not shake hands, hug or kiss the couple getting married! If you do accidentally shake hands remember to wash your hands thoroughly before touching your face or personal items i.e. your bag, phone etc.
FUNERAL OR MEMORIAL CEREMONIES
If there is a health crisis in your local community and a government ban on large gatherings then it may be likely that large funeral or memorial ceremonies will be also be downsized, cancelled or postponed until further notice. If this situation occurs then talk with the funeral directors you work with and discuss what precautions and strategies they have in place.
If you are meeting with clients or conduct small private or home-based ceremonies, the guidelines above will essentially be the same. Small ceremonies will still be vitally important for the grieving family and community.
You might wish to ‘livestream’ a small ceremony using the usual I.T. platforms.
Many funeral directors already offer livestreaming yet it comes to mind that a group gathering of friends and family with a ‘ceremony structure’, could also be held online. I have not done an online funeral ceremony, yet given the right sensitivity a ceremony held in this way could be engaging, touching and appropriate. I would be happy to support and work with someone if they take this option up. I have experience using the platform, Zoom and hosting sensitive international group meetings online successfully so I see the potential for this to work.
Remember, these are my reflections in response to a question and come from what I have read on government and health guidelines. I write this to share what I understand and to stimulate your interest and awareness - most importantly, do your own research, follow current health and government guidelines and keep calm.
Spread the love and stay connected in healthy ways!
For updated info on the Coronavirus:
Link for the Australian Government updates:
Link for The Australian Government updates on Facebook:
Link for the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961
A really useful and timely article. Thank you Wendy. You definitely brought up some issues I had not even thought of. You made no mention of the cost to transfer to another celebrant. If you need to do it do you think it is a good idea to have some ideas of celebrants you like that charge around the same fee as you? Or would it be just a matter of whoever you can get for the date who is a good fit for the couple.
Hi Rhonda. I think it’s a good idea for all Celebrants to have a local emergency network. You never know when illness or accident might strike. Prices are very variable. When I had to reimburse a couple because I was ill I negotiated with another celebrant so that the couple were not out of pocket and both celebrants were satisfied with the split of the fee taking into account how much work each did. And of course I’ve reciprocated to take on weddings and not disadvantage the couple - but I wouldn’t take the full fee if it was a last minute transfer and the other celebrant had done all the preparation including writing the ceremony the couple lived. Interesting to see if there are other ideas on this.
We are definitely facing some uncertain times ahead of us. I read that our Prime Minister has suggested that this could go on for 6 months which brings me to my next question.
I have my cousin’s wedding to do in August which is interstate. I will be 34 weeks pregnant and required to have a medical certificate to fly. However I’m concerned that it’s only 5 months away and that perhaps this is a risk being her Celebrant.
In these circumstances, do you think it would be best that they find a Celebrant in their area in case we aren’t able to fly down etc?
Your thoughts would be appreciated
Lovely to talk to you today Lauren. Lots of different things for you and your cousin to consider in these rapidly changing times. Best wishes - we’re here if you need help.
Brilliant article Wendy- and looks like you have prompted the AGS who have now responded to celebrants!