Dear celebrant colleagues, especially TCN* celebrants,I am writing this open letter to you as I have now brought to a close my life as an Authorised Marriage Celebrant. In so doing, I move onto the next phase in my life which will still give me plenty of scope to keep my mind well and truly stimulated.
But this open letter is not about that next phase. Rather, it is to give you a very brief glimpse into the lighter side of my experiences as an Authorised Marriage Celebrant: a life I have thoroughly enjoyed since the moment I gained my registration on 2 September 2005. The previous 17 months I had to spend on the waiting list was put to good use, as I was able to prepare myself thoroughly for the role that was to be.
The thought of becoming a Marriage Celebrant first came to me from out of left-field. There I was, with my 65th birthday fast approaching and with thoughts that it was perhaps time for me to close the door on my long-term professional job as an advocate with more than my fair share of adversarial situations. But what was I to do? I didn’t want to go into consultancy work: that would have meant more of the same insofar as I would still need to be dealing most of the time with unhappy (and sometimes very difficult) people who, in the main, had issues with either their employer, or their colleagues, or a certain set of circumstances. So why not find the happy people? It was then not such a quantum leap to find myself thinking of becoming a Marriage Celebrant for the next phase of my life.
In inviting me to submit something for the TCN’s column entitled “Those Before Us”, Rona has asked that I mention the number of ceremonies I have done. The number totals 162, the vast majority of which have been marriage ceremonies. I will therefore focus on them.
I have loved each and every one of my brides and grooms and have only once encountered a bride’s mother from hell. So I have been rather blessed in this regard.
I certainly remember my first wedding, not for the sake that it was my first, but for the circumstances surrounding my getting that “gig”.
A retired former colleague of mine (from the other side of the adversarial divide) lost his wife tragically early in 2003. I was next to see him at the Christmas party for that year and all he could talk about was a new lady who had entered his life. At that time, I was only enrolled for the mandatory units of the Cert. IV in Marriage Celebrancy, so I said to him (in complete jest): “Well don’t let your thoughts turn to other things until I become a Marriage Celebrant in a year or so’s time.” I didn’t hear from him again until August 2005, when he phoned me to ask: “Are you there yet?” Needless to say, they were quite happy to wait for 6 weeks to elapse before we could sit down to complete the NIM.
As for strange and weird locations for ceremonies, I can’t say that I have been asked to go anywhere out of the ordinary. Mind you, I probably gave due warning about unusual situations in my advertising blurb which read: “I am happy to perform ceremonies anywhere, any time, any place (provided I don’t have to bungy jump - even if you do).” The same rule quite obviously applied to shark tanks.
But I have conducted a marriage ceremony where the guests had been invited on quite a different pretext. This meant that, prior to the ceremony and my cover consequentially being revealed, I had to mingle with the guests by acting as a former work colleague of the groom. As I knew very little about his line of work (Metallurgy), there were some challenging moments. I thought I had put in a sterling Academy Award acting performance of making up things as I went along. Maybe not, because one of the ladies to whom I earlier had been speaking told me later that she thought there was something very suspicious about me.
Now it was indeed a wise person who once said that one should never perform with animals or children. But what can one do when the bride wants to have her dog trotted down the aisle as one of her bridesmaids? Nothing more than to be assured that the dog in question would be well-behaved and furthermore, would be on a leash. Of the four weddings I have performed with a four-legged bridesmaid in attendance (all at-home celebrations), only one lived up to the well-behaved promise. It went to sleep under the chair of the father of the bride. Of the others, the first dog barked quite a lot. The couple were so disappointed with the audio recording made that day that they subsequently asked if I could voice dub-over what had been taped for them for posterity. The second dog, on a rather long lead, moved behind the row of two-legged bridesmaids during the ceremony. Before anyone noticed what was about to happen, the table cloth along with everything on it had been dragged onto the ground. The third dog was hilarious and stole the show. All it did was to roll over at the bride’s feet wanting to have a tummy rub.
The ultimate scene stealers, however, have been the children. At this point, I digress for a moment to tell a recent story about my just turned three-year-old grand-daughter. We grandmothers like to do things like this. Anyhow, my little one was recently the flower girl at her Godmother’s wedding. When she saw the bride for the first time, she went straight up to her to ask if she was really a fairy. It almost seemed a shame to dissuade her of this view.
The experiences I have had with children at my ceremonies have been a mixed bag. To be fair, in the vast majority of cases, each child has done all expected of him or her admirably. But then there have been others - four of which I now briefly share with you.
I remember one group of little boy attendants (all under five) who very loudly shouted “that’s disgusting” (not once, but several times) as their grandmother kissed her new husband. Then there were the two little flower girls who, on walking down the aisle side-by-side scattering their rose petals as they went, suddenly did an about-turn and went back up the aisle picking up many of the petals they had just scattered. Needless to say, it took quite a long time for the bride to arrive at her spot. On yet another occasion, there was a little page boy who, half way down the aisle threw himself face down onto the red carpet whilst throwing a full-on tantrum. He paid no heed whatsoever to the adult person who was trying to placate him. Eventually he had to be carried away still screaming. But my first prize must go to the ring bearer (a boy child of about two-and-a-half) who, quite undetected by all and sundry, untied the bow which secured the rings to the cushion before throwing the lot, frisbee-style, into a flower bed. A number of guests offered their rings as substitutes whilst many others began to search. Thankfully, the emu bobbing which ensued achieved the desired outcome some 20 minutes later. And so, with the then-found wedding rings firmly held in my hand, we were able to complete the ceremony.
These are but a few of the treasured moments I will always remember.
Advice to newer celebrants.Rona has also asked if there was any advice I would care to give to newer celebrants. There are two things.
The first is something that I lived by in my previous life as a professional advocate and carried through with me to my life as a celebrant. It is the very simple matter of having the ability to recover in style on the odd occasion where you make a mistake, particularly in public. Never lose the moment by getting precious or acting in an over-the-top melt-down manner. Simply acknowledge and correct the error and move on. Have you ever noticed that it is the mistakes that people remember. It follows that they will always remember how well you recovered the situation without any fuss or bother - and will be most impressed.
The second piece of advice is to never over-commit, however tempting that may seem to be financially.
A rushed job does not lead to a 100% result, far less in fact. This is something which reflects badly upon yourself and also upon the profession of Marriage Celebrancy. Have the courage to say “no” whilst regretfully explaining to the couple that you have too much on your plate at that time and as such, would be unable to give their ceremony the attention it so richly deserves. People will not feel any the less of you as a consequence. There have been several times that this approach has worked to my benefit. The “knocked-back” couple has subsequently recommended me to their friends on the strength of it.
Now to Rona’s final question. How would I like to be remembered?
That’s quite a difficult one to answer.
“Every now and then
beautiful angels appear
Adèle Basheer *
These are the simple but lovely words printed on a card I have pinned to my cork notice board.
In terms of my life as a celebrant, it would be rather special to be thought of as someone who was “just the right” person for the job, irrespective of whether it was a wedding or a funeral or anything in between. In other words, a “beautiful angel” cleverly disguised as me.
I have known many angels cum “ordinary human beings” and it would be wonderful to be remembered as being one of them.
In closing, may I say what a treasure you have in Rona. She is no doubt another “beautiful angel … cleverly disguised“, not as a mere “ordinary” human being, but as an extraordinary one.
Rona, in the context of my open letter, may I again (this time through your e_Magazine) thank you most sincerely for being the voice of sanity and extreme common sense in respect of all facets of the wonderful world of celebrancy. I am very glad to have met you (albeit never in person) on my journey, for you are indeed one in a million. Well may you continue to inspire others as you have inspired me.
With kindest regards to you all (and goodbye)
14 February 2012
* Copyright permission to use this lovely quote has been gladly given by Intrinsic Enterprises, Adelaide - and I thank them most sincerely.
Many thanks are also given to Jack Venables, the unforgettable Director/Chief Photographer of Don’t Say Cheese Photography www.dontsaycheese.com.au for his kind permission to use the accompanying pickie.
Thanks so much for your kind words and taking the time to share your experiences.
As celebrants we know the value of ceremony - of marking the begining of a new stage of life in a special way, and likewise honouring the closing of another stage in life.
Yet when we are appointed, there is no special ceremony for us! No public affirmation of the importance of our roles. No public promises to perform our responsibilities for individuals and families with sensitivity, compassion, skill, professionalism and care, and to uphold the law, especially in relation to marriages.
Likewise when we leave, as we have been professionals "in private practice", there is no staff party to honour the service we have given to others, nor to wish us well on the next stage of our journey.
Sadly many of the early pioneers stories too have been lost. We can glimpse just a few through Lyn Knorr's "Our Early Days". Without the fanastic tools we have today to produce text and images so quickly, it would have taken too much time to document those. And so much money to try to share these without online opportunities we have today.
So this section is a way for
- those who are leaving to share some of their experiences and wisdom with others and
- a way for us, as the celebrant community, to acknowledge the contribution of a colleague's service to their community and the fabric of our Australian way of life.
The Celebrants and Celebrations Network is an online "virtual" community - like love, our community lives in the minds and hearts of members. No less real or important for being "virtual".
Whilst you are no longer a celebrant, remember that our TCN Inc association does take as members, non celebrants from the community who support our TCN Inc objectives. Should you miss us too much then give thought to joinging the TCN Inc. :-)
Barbara, please accept the bunch of "virtual" flowers :-)
And we take this opportunity to thank you for your friendship and for your work with others in assisting them to honour those precious times of change in their life's journey.
We wish you good health and all the best for the next leg of your journey.
Do you know someone who has moved on from celebrancy? Perhaps they would like to share their experiences with our readers as well.
Everyone's story is important.
Please encourage them to contact us.
* Links and terminology updated 21.2.14