Why I became a Celebrant

Note: this post is an edited version of my 2016 application to begin my training as a Celebrant with the Celebrant Institute and Foundation. I hope it helps you to better understand why I chose to take this path and why I feel it’s my “calling” to help people with personalized ceremonies to mark life’s milestones.

Rev. Julie about to officiate at a wedding

This may sound like a bold statement: everything in my life up until this point has prepared me to become a Celebrant. 

How so? Well, I’m already writing for a wide variety of audiences and presenting what my team and I have created. Currently, I work as a Creative Director and copywriter and I’ve worked in advertising since 1991. I got into this business completely by accident: all I knew is I needed to find a job where I could read, write and learn every day because it was all that I had ever known. I didn’t think I’d be happy otherwise. 

Even as a child, I was preparing for this unique way to help others mark significant milestones. I started reading at a very young age, probably as a result of my mom’s career in early childhood education combined with the arrival of my younger brother. Once I started school, I discovered that I also loved storytelling and began writing my own stories and poetry. Journalism in high school then deciding to major in English and Political Science continued to solidify my path. 

One thing I did not anticipate is gaining significant experience conducting rituals and ceremonies as a sorority Chapter President. Bringing people together to take part in a common experience was nothing short of magical. Remembering those special moments still gives me electric chills.

The sorority experience came at a time in my life where I was exploring and studying a variety of religious practices but was not following any of my own. I had been baptized Catholic as a baby and raised as an Episcopalian. In the Episcopal Church, I served as an acolyte in high school, learning the various services and my roles in those rituals.

In college, although I did not consider myself to be especially religious, I was fascinated by the roles of ritual, ceremony, faith and belief. I studied the Bible as literature as part of my English degree and began learning about other religions more seriously as a self-guided tour of world religions—Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and nature-based religions.  After college, a serious romantic relationship had me studying Judaism as I debated conversion. I have a deep respect for other people’s religious practices and personally draw from a variety of teachings, focusing on living a positive and kind life.

Not having a formal religious practice has put me in contact with many other like-minded people, especially as I have aged. Many people have simply “lived life” and have no interest in joining a church or other religious group. Others have had a falling out with a group either because they have made life choices that others feel are not in keeping with the collective beliefs of the group. 

Yet, they still want important milestones marked. They want words to be spoken to sanctify the situation. They want their event to be witnessed by loved ones. They want to feel that that particular moment has been blessed.  

This is why I am especially interested in celebrating weddings and funerals. Nearly 21 years ago, my wedding was celebrated by Civil Status Marriage Officer Mrs. Kay Jackson. My husband and I chose to have a civil ceremony that was like she would have performed for a citizen of St. Lucia. We also wrote our own vows so I know how hard you must work to get the words exactly right!

I’ve told many of my friends about my desire to become a celebrant and I may be pressed into service in two upcoming weddings! The first wedding is a same-sex wedding to formalize an already legal marriage. I have been asked to be their “Plan B” celebrant in case their celebrant can’t perform the ceremony due to his son’s regional cross-country meet. The grooms will only know for sure 10 days ahead of the wedding date! So I am happy to provide them with the peace of mind that a friend will step in if needed to conduct the ceremony they’ve dreamed of.

My other friends who are currently engaged and getting married in a year are not especially religious, but want a very meaningful outdoor ceremony created especially for them.  I’d be proud to help them have exactly the kind of solemnization of their partnership they are seeking and it would be an amazing honor to work with them.

At the other end of the ceremonial spectrum, funerals are posing a challenge for many people who are not members of a church or do not feel comfortable with organized religions. I experienced this challenge first-hand with my in-laws Marge and Ed. 

Ed’s last wishes were clear: he wanted cremation and there was to be no funeral. The unfortunate thing is without a ceremony or event of some kind, there was no closure and no shared experience for Ed’s grieving family, friends and neighbors. After several days of feeling helpless, I threw together a small reception at my in-law’s home so that people could come and share stories and pay their respects. My father-in-law loved donuts so sharing one of his favorite foods with some of the people who loved him just made sense—and in a small way, it made everyone feel a tiny bit better.

When my mother-in-law Marge passed away two years later, her three daughters decided that they needed do to something even though Marge had specified cremation with no funeral. They decided to have a visitation with no ceremony. So I built a slide show of family photos to play on a loop and the grandchildren made boards of family photos. It was nice and much better for everyone who wanted to pay their respects and for the family than the donut reception for Ed, but it was still missing something. 

Later when my husband and his sisters placed the ashes of their parents in a crypt, there was no ceremony. No words. No music. Not much of anything beyond a little bit of small talk. My heart ached with the lack of closure I was experiencing—especially since I know that my own parents’ wishes are similar to my in-laws.

Another area where I feel that I can help with ritual and sense of closure is by putting my experience as a pet caregiver and animal rescuer to work by creating pet memorial ceremonies for pet parents. Recently I watched helplessly as one of my friends experienced and processed the devastating news of her senior dog’s unexpected passing. I tried to come up with the right words to share at the particular moment, to help her with her grief, but I would like to have done more and I believe she would have appreciated something to help acknowledge and celebrate the sweet little dog’s importance in the world.

As I get closer to 50, the realities of aging and my fast-developing role as an elder in the community are becoming more and more apparent. I want to make a difference in people’s lives and give them what they need to continue to move forward—whether it’s in joy or sorrow.  

That’s why I see myself moving into a new phase of my life and starting a second career that I can begin now while working full time and continue when I’m “retired”.

Becoming a Celebrant would achieve all of those things, allow me to make use of the skills I’ve cultivated over the past 47+ years, and ensure that I could continue to do work that I love well into my retirement years.

PS: I loved my training as a Life-Cycle Celebrant! In addition to learning the Fundamentals of Celebrancy, I earned certifications in Wedding Celebrancy and Funeral Celebrancy from the Celebrant Foundation and Institute. The training was everything I hoped it would be—and more! And it’s prepared me well to help people from all walks of life and various belief systems to create their ceremonies their way. Let me know how I can help you!