Wedding Celebrants 101: How do I find a marriage celebrant & what do I look for?

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As well as your other half, 2 witnesses and a marriage licence, your wedding must have one other thing… a wedding officiant! If you get married in a church, your officiant will be the priest, but if you’re having a civil ceremony, then you’ll need a wedding celebrant.  I’ve asked marriage celebrant Miranda Zander to outline the how’s and why’s of using a celebrant at your wedding.

Wedding Celebrants 101

Hi all and welcome – I’m Miranda, a Wellington based (but bred in the South Island) celebrant who just loves to talk about all things love and weddings.

I am a bit special in this business as I’m lucky enough to do weddings on the side – I also have a full time job dealing with words, drafting and writing. It’s great to have a flipside passion that allows me to help people on one of (what should be) their happiest day of their lives.

While I like to cater to the “young crowd” with my age not decreasing (despite me feeling very un-adult like), I increasingly find myself attracted to a range of couples – different ages, cultures, points of view, gender, religion, styles, personalities, offbeat, traditional – the list goes on. That is the very best thing about being a celebrant; the fact that you only need one thing to unite you both on your wedding date. That very simple thing, is the desire to be married to your life partner. LOVE.

I am registered to perform both marriages and civil unions but I don’t distinguish between the two in my preparation or in my day-to-day life – both are weddings! I have been doing thing celebrant-y thing for over four years and have married over 75 couples. I also got married myself last year! I like to think that these factors give me credibility and a bit more of a realistic worldview on weddings.

Do you need a wedding celebrant?

No. You can get married in a registry office or in a church in front of an obtained clergy member. If you don’t like these options, then yes you need a celebrant to get married. Different spokes for different folks!

There are obviously pros and cons to all these options:

Pros to registry office wedding

The Registrar of Marriages will preside over the ceremony and there is only room for a small number of guests. Inexpensive option – currently NZ$240 including the ceremony and the licence. More information on registry office weddings here.

Cons to registry office wedding

There is only room for a small number of guests and no (significant) customisation of ceremonies. Most NZ towns have a Registrar but some smaller towns will not. No flexibility on times – must be held within normal office hours being Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm.

Pros to church wedding

“Churchy” and traditional

Cons to church wedding

“Churchy” and traditional. The officiant may also be restricted as to the type of ceremony and be less flexible with personal whims.

Pros to using a celebrant

You can choose any location and any time to get married. You will have as much control as you want over everything to do with the ceremony (within the realms of legality). If you want to get married at midnight on a Sunday, you can do that! You can blend elements of both the registry and church weddings: I’ve done a wedding in 3 minutes before and I’ve also done highly traditional weddings with biblical readings and blessings/prayers.

Cons to using a celebrant

More expensive than the other two options due to the personal touch and time poured into the ceremony.

How do you find a celebrant?

Ask around for recommendations from friends and family, venues and vendors, or do an old fashioned Google search. All celebrants are listed on the Department of Internal Affair’s website (this is because the DIA appoints all the celebrants in NZ). The Celebrants Association of New Zealand (CANZ) also has a list of celebrants on their website as so many industry-specific sites (such as and

Most of my hits are through my facebook page or through my website if that is helpful.

What should you look for when shopping around for your marriage celebrant?

Once again, different spokes for different folks! You’ll be able to find someone who matches up with your ‘vision’ of the day. Whether you want traditional, fun, wacky, or fast, there will be someone out there for you.

  • Us celebrants meet with couples all the time to see if there is a fit. I like to treat this a bit like speed dating LOL! Potential clients should treat this like a job interview to find someone that suits your specific needs. While very rarely do we turn away any couples, it is important for you to feel comfortable with us. We will be the ones up the front of the aisle waiting for your entrance. You need to have confidence in us that we will listen to you and what you want.
  • They have to have a public presence and excellent communication skills as they will be standing in front of at least two others (you need two witnesses) and will need to command attention.
  • Someone who can keep cool, calm and collected. Keep calm and carry on no matter what happens during the ceremony. And who can calm others around you.
  • One of my pet peeves is when celebrants don’t listen. Or let’s go further than this: when they turn up wearing a clashing colour than your wedding theme. Grumble and shudder. While celebrants obviously need to command the ceremony, they should be also able to fade away in the background as they are not the centre of attention in your special day.
  • I also think it’s important for a celebrant to be a bit of a negotiator and crisis manager. If I know the couple well enough and they trust me, I’m effectively able to take control of any last minute hassles, venue changes, issues so that they can just bask in the glory of their special day. I’ve had weddings rained out, rings forgotten, very late brides, crying children … you just take it in your stride! Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride.
  • See what other skills your celebrant has – maybe they can recommend a vendor they’ve worked with in the past if you’re having troubles finding a florist or make-up artist. Being a lawyer I’ve also helped couples change their names completely and my placement of buttonhole flowers is amazing. I even have costumes that I can dress up in if needed! Some celebrants can provide their own sound system.

There is nothing wrong with shopping around for your ‘perfect’ celebrant. Most celebrants won’t book you until you sign a contract or a deposit is made, however it shows courtesy to tell the unsuccessful celebrant that you have gone for someone else. Likewise, if you want to book someone, tell them. Ambiguity is no-one’s friend in this business!

When should you starting looking for your celebrant?

Short answer: As soon as you’ve locked in your date.

Long answer: As soon as you’ve locked in your date.

Longer answer: Legally speaking you need to lock in your celebrant before you apply for your marriage licence. The name of your celebrant has to be included on the statutory declaration form that you provide to the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Practically speaking celebrants need to write the ceremony and most would prefer to get familiar with the couple (either by meeting face-to-face, chatting on skype, or gossiping on emails) before D-Day. I would garnish a radical thought that this should take about a month… But having at least three months of communication prior to the wedding would be ideal (especially as the wedding date increasingly approaches, stress levels increase and you do not want to be stuck writing your vows the night before your wedding day!).

Personally I do not care how far through the process is when you contact me. I need at least three days’ notice to sort out a ceremony – but given it takes three days for your marriage licence to get returned, this is a good timeframe. But I stress that if you’re looking at a wedding date over summer (start of December to the end of March) you may have a hard time booking a celebrant as that is the busy season.

As you can imagine I daydream about weddings all the time. I fancy myself as a bit of a wedding planner – tell me your visions and I’ll keep an eye out on Pinterest, blogs, etc and forward you related articles and pictures. I have a lot of ideas floating around my head. Other celebrants are the same – ask them for advice, bounce ideas off them. Nine times out of ten they will have some recommendation or thought to help you out. Think of celebrants being wider than just turning up on the day, doing their thang, and then leaving; this is rarely the reality.

Just a thought – if a celebrant is ‘good’ then they are likely to be booked out in advance. Sure sure there are exceptions but bookings and recommendations speak wonders about experience and professionalism.

Why are celebrants “expensive”?

This is a good question, and is answered on another post: “Why are wedding celebrants expensive”.

Contact details for Miranda

Miranda Zander’s blog  (featuring all my wonderful couples and a list of lovely vendors)
Miranda’s facebook page (which holds more of my musings)

Any questions?

If you have any other questions about what a celebrant does, then post them below.

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