Your ceremony, your way

Your ceremony, your way

Q. Please can you give us some ideas for a bespoke, celebrant-led ceremony?

A. Sabine Smith says: Congratulations on your engagement! You've agreed on the date, booked the venue and you're now wondering about what you want your ceremony to be like. The promises you are going to make to each other on the day are important and you want to get it just right.

Some couples are happy with traditional vows and promises used during church weddings and register office ceremonies because something is comforting and familiar about the words, however, others are looking for something more personal to reflect them as a modern couple. An independent celebrant like myself will write and create your bespoke ceremony that tells your own love story.

Celebrants cannot legally marry you but I, as your celebrant, will make sure that your wedding, civil partnership or vow renewal service is bespoke and memorable for you, your family and friends. You can write personal vows and select readings and poems. It's worth considering a celebrant-led ceremony because it's less restrictive and often less expensive because you can be flexible about the venue or setting for your ceremony. Why not consider getting married outdoors in your garden, a field or the woodlands or even on a boat. A wedding celebrant can deliver a ceremony anywhere that has a special meaning to you both.

Once you've completed the legal bit, which can be inexpensive at the register office if you chose a midweek appointment, you can then go ahead with your ceremony. Instead of traditional rituals such as the exchanging of rings, why not consider more symbolic rituals like a sand ceremony, ring blessing, jumping the broom, lighting unity candles or involving your guests by asking them to contribute to the ceremony with a poem or a special reading. You can also include children and pets - dogs make very cute ring bearers and music-lovers can book a live music performance.

As your celebrant, I will write your entire ceremony and create an order of service. I can compile your vows or promises to each other with you although some might prefer to write their own but will request that the celebrant read them out loud. It's entirely up to you, there is no right or wrong!

Sabine Smith, Perfect Day Ceremonies


Celebrant or registrar

Celebrant or registrar

Q. What are the benefits of a celebrant-led ceremony?

A. Frances Cave says: Unlike a civil ceremony which can only take place in a civic registered venue, a wedding ceremony with an independent celebrant can take place anywhere. This could be in your garden, on a beach, on a farm or in a woodland area which is a popular choice. There are no limitations, meaning that you can both choose somewhere that is personal and special to you as a couple.

Your ceremony will be entirely bespoke and all about you, written specifically for you, celebrating your love story and your relationship with each other but also with your friends and families and there are no templates or restrictive words. The choice about the content of your ceremony is entirely yours. It doesn't have to be devoid of tradition or familiarity, it can be structured to your exact wishes. This also applies to music, readings, writing your vows and including symbolic rituals. Some couples want certain traditions to be incorporated and some want religious and spiritual elements to be reflected in it while others don't want any. The script will be crafted to reflect you, your values and beliefs and can be light-hearted, solemn, formal or informal.

Unlike with a civil ceremony when you're allocated a registrar for the day, you get to choose who to work with on your ceremony and who will lead it. An independent wedding celebrant is like any other wedding supplier and is likely to be the one that you'll get to know the most. To create that bespoke script, they need to get to know you both well which will involve meetings before the wedding so choose a celebrant with who you feel comfortable and happy to share your story and whose style and character aligns with your own.

Most wedding celebrants only commit to one ceremony a day and are not governed by time. This flexibility means that you can have your ceremony at a time and date that suits you and your venue.

It's worth bearing in mind that an independent wedding celebrant cannot legally contract the marriage, this is easily done by booking the statutory ceremony at a registry office with a couple of witnesses to become legally married at a time or date that suits you. This doesn't have to be a ceremony, it's a registration and is short, budget-friendly and efficient.

Frances Cave, Fanfare Ceremonies


Your day, your way

Your day, your way

Q. We want to write our wedding vows. Can you offer us any tips?

A. Sabine Smith says: For some couples, it seems quite daunting writing their vows and reading them in front of their guests, however for some, it's a chance to declare their love and devotion in front of their loved ones. Getting married in a register office or church doesn't give you the freedom to choose your vows. With a celebrant-led ceremony, you can leave out the traditional ones if you wish and create your own, which adds an intimate dynamic to your day. Here are my top tips on how to create vows that are personal to you both and that allow you to express your feelings for one another.

Reflect on your relationship
The vows you write should reflect your relationship. Some couples create humorous ones by saying things like 'I'll still love you even if you take longer in the bathroom than I do' but you might want to underline the seriousness of the commitment you're making by using a passage from a meaningful song, book or poem. Make sure that you choose the tone that feels right for your relationship and is authentic.

Nail the intro
Sometimes this is easier said than done but the opening line should be a short introduction as to why you've chosen to write your promises. Traditional vows have their place but your wedding might not be built on these.

Own it
You know what the other person means to you and why you're marrying them so you can share an anecdote but keep it short. What did you feel when you first met them and how do they make you feel now? What do you love most about them? How do you see your future and what do you promise to do, or be, in the life that you create together?

Breathe and relax
Creating and delivering your vows can be a daunting task but your celebrant will help you relax and they might even suggest reading them for you. I remember making a mistake while saying my vows during my wedding and it always makes me laugh now when I think of it! If this happens, everyone will be forgiving and will only remember the declaration of the promises you have made to one another.

Be true to yourself
Your vows are the wishes, hopes and promises for your future together. Being yourself and being authentic when writing them will ensure that you create meaningful ones. When the ceremony is over, and you have time to reflect, you can keep them printed as a keepsake and maybe even frame them.

Sabine Smith, Perfect Day Ceremonies


Small but perfectly formed

Small but perfectly formed

Q. We're considering having a micro wedding – can you give us some ideas and advice?

A. Sarah Chapman says: A wedding is about two people and while it's great that you'll be able to have loved ones present to celebrate with you, don't let worries over who can't be there spoil the day. With government restrictions currently in place determining the size of weddings, it's important to think of ways that you can involve guests who should've been there celebrating with you. Attending events remotely will be a common occurrence this year so reducing the number of people at your wedding to an intimate number means you'll be planning what's known as a micro wedding. They still feature time-honoured traditions that make a wedding special but on a much smaller scale.

I believe that the ceremony is at the very heart of the day. Book your legal marriage first at a register office with two witnesses present and then I'll help you write your vows and readings, finding the right words perfectly suited for you, your family and friends. I encourage my couples to write personal vows, especially when it's a more intimate wedding. Take the opportunity to share words and promises, surrounded by the people who are closest to you both. Include sentimental details, like wearing your mother's necklace or having your dog walk down the aisle with you.

We will decide where to conduct your wedding somewhere that's important to you both. This could be on a beach, in woodland, on a clifftop, in a small, boutique hotel or a rustic-inspired barn - the possibilities are endless. Open-air ceremonies are best, to avoid having to share enclosed space so take advantage of the smaller guest list and go somewhere that you couldn't otherwise!

I recommend certain venues in Devon that welcome smaller ceremonies and are experienced in hosting them:

- Tree Top Escape in North Devon is tucked away on a private estate offering the most magical setting.

- Haldon Belvedere near Exeter is a charming venue with a timeless feel, home to a spiral staircase. - Harefield Barn is offering couples a new intimate wedding package, The Leveret.

- Middle Coombe Farm near Tiverton is the perfect venue for a woodland ceremony. Collect ferns and leaves on the walk down the wooded 'aisle' for a personal flower ceremony among the trees.

- Kitley House is a historic manor house on a privately-owned estate in Devon's stunning South Hams, overlooking the tranquil Yealm estuary and a lake.

- Bovey Castle boasts stunning landscaped gardens and period architecture that offers the perfect backdrop for wedding photographs. The choice of elegant rooms lends themselves perfectly to small wedding groups.

- Brickhouse Vineyard is a newly renovated thatched roundhouse set in a beautiful vineyard, just 20 minutes from Exeter. It's ideal for a winter wedding with roaring log fires. Why not consider a romantic candlelit ceremony decorated with fairylights?

It's important to hire a professional photographer to capture your day and, if your budget allows, a professional videographer to enable you to share the memories remotely with guests afterwards. Consider inviting them to watch a live-stream through Zoom, WhatsApp or Skype and remember to interact with them throughout the day.

Lastly, you can still have fun with the finer details! Commission personalised face coverings that also double as wedding favours. They can be customised with your new married initials and the date and sent to those who are attending remotely. Inform your loved ones who can't be there about the menu beforehand so that they can prepare and eat the same meal as you from home. Instead of investing in a large wedding cake, order cupcakes for each guest and send boxed ones to those watching from home to arrive on the morning of the wedding.

Sarah Chapman, Celebration Ceremonies