What are the Different Ceremonies and Officiants?

Feb 6, 2020

Ending the confusion


Although Celebrants have been around in the UK for over 10 years, there’s still a lot of confusion about what a UK Celebrant does and what are the different ceremonies and officiants available. When you’re planning a special celebration to acknowledge a milestone life event you’ll want to get it just right.  Each type of Officiant has an influence on the way the ceremony is officiated so it’s important that you know the differences between them. Let’s start by looking at the different kinds of ceremony that there are and what form they take.

Religious, Civil or Celebrant?


The three main types of ceremony in the UK are a Religious Ceremony, a Civil Ceremony and a Celebrant Ceremony.  I’m talking about all types of ceremonies – Weddings, Namings, and End of Life Ceremonies.  You might be wondering if it will make much of a difference to your special occasion if you choose one or the other?  It can make a big difference!


Legalities for registering birth, marriage, death



First of all there are some legalities that must be taken care of. The legalities surrounding the registering of births, deaths and marriages are dealt with by your local Register Office. You’re legally obliged to register them at the official Register Office in your local district, in the prescribed manner.  Afterwards you receive a legal certificate from the Registrar as proof of registering and you’ll need this document to carry out various legal and administrative tasks.

For example you need the birth certificate to register your child with a GP and also to register them at school.  Marriage Certificates are required to obtain a passport and other official documents. A Death Certificate must be signed by a Doctor and registered before a burial or cremation can go ahead.  So the Registrar performs the official legal functions and produces the legal documents that are necessary to take part in normal everyday activities. Without them we wouldn’t be able to access the services we often take for granted.



The Celebration Ceremony


celebration cake


When the legalities are taken care of you can then turn your thoughts to your celebration Ceremony where your invited family and friends come together.  Whatever event you’re celebrating or commemorating they’re all gathered to witness your special event and celebrate and commemorate it with you.

Those who follow a Religion will of course want a Religious ceremony at their place of worship, which follows the rules and practices of their particular Religion.  A religious Christening Ceremony,  Wedding Ceremony or Funeral Ceremony which follows a strict format passed down through generations and the words within the Ceremony will be pre-set for the minister and family to follow.  If you choose a Religious Wedding Ceremony, there’s no need to go to the Register Office as the minister takes care of the legalities for you too.  But for Christening and Funeral ceremonies you must take care of the legalities yourself.

After the religious ceremony it’s usual to have a wonderful celebration party with food and drinks with all your family and friends present.  These can be wonderful occasions where family members you don’t get to see very often are able to meet up and celebrate with you.  Cementing family ties.


A totally personalised Ceremony


confetti hearts

Families who aren’t religious, don’t usually want a religious ceremony, but of course they still want to celebrate and commemorate their special event with family and friends.   These days families are turning to Celebrants to create and deliver a personalised Ceremony for them to celebrate their family event.

A Celebrant creates a bespoke ceremony which is written especially for you and your family.  It doesn’t have to follow any format, there are no rules and regulations.  It tells your story and is totally personal.  It can include some religious elements if you want it (unless you choose a Humanist Celebrant who will not include anything religious like prayers, hymns, poetry with spiritual connotations etc).  You can choose music that you love, poetry, readings.  Family members can take an active part too, reading tributes or poems etc.  You can have a sing-song or include a special ritual within the ceremony, for example a Candle Ceremony, Sand Ceremony and others.





A Legal Marriage Service can be done with a simple Ceremony at the Register Office where you’ll repeat the exact words after the Registrar (takes 30 minutes and costs approx £60). You will then be legally wed.

Registered Venues can also have a  Registrar to perform the Legal Ceremony on site and the cost for this service varies from £500 to £600 depending on the Local Authority.  However, the words will still have to follow the legal format and you have to repeat them exactly for it to be a legal marriage ceremony.

Because it’s a legal format the ceremony is very ‘dry’.  It cannot be altered to take into account each individual couple and their preferences.  Additionally, the ceremony must take place in a permanent building with a roof!  (Another restriction)  Each exact area where ceremonies are performed have to meet the criteria and be registered separately.  So if one room or space at a venue is registered for ceremonies it doesn’t mean that a ceremony can be carried out just anywhere at that same venue.  This can be frustrating if you like a particular area or room above the others, but it isn’t registered for ceremonies.

Symbolic Wedding Ceremony


mickel alexander

Wedding Ceremony


A Symbolic Wedding Ceremony is created and officiated by a Celebrant or Humanist.  A Celebrant created ceremony does not have to follow any rules and it can include many different and bespoke elements. You’ll have a ceremony that is written just for you and is all about you and your love story.

No silly rules or regulations, means that your Celebrant will create your ceremony around you and your wishes.  (A Humanist Celebrant does impose restrictions on Spiritual or Religious elements)

You even get to write your own Vows, which is a really special and romantic element of the ceremony which you will never forget and which will have you, your partner and your guests in tears of joy and probably good humoured laughter too.

You’ll choose your own music for the entry and end of the ceremony and choose as many readings as you want.  Family members and friends can take an active part in it too.  It’s a much more inclusive, relaxed and fun ceremony.

You’ll have the Ceremony anywhere you want it.  Inside, outside, by a lake, in an orchard, in a tipi, in a country manor, stately home or in a forest under the open sky.  The only limit is your imagination and the permission of the land owner.

The Symbolic Ceremony is your ‘real ceremony’ and not a legal ceremony.  It normally takes place the week before or after your short legal ceremony at the Register Office, which takes around 30 minutes.

(different rules apply in Scotland)


End of Life Ceremony



After the legalities of registering a death have been done, the burial or cremation then takes place at a Cemetery or Crematorium.  A Churchyard burial is possible if the deceased was a member of the Parish and a churchgoer. This is accompanied by a religious service in the church and a committal ceremony at the graveside, officiated by a Religious Minister.

Every religious ceremony must follow the rules of the Religion and the ceremony itself follows a prescribed format. There isn’t really room for individuality. The focus is on religious aspects and thoughts around death and afterlife.

Most burials and cremations now take place in public cemeteries and crematoriums and the Religious Minister will officiate the ceremony there.


Celebrating a unique life



After the death has been registered you can arrange the burial or cremation.  A Celebrant creates a personalised ceremony to celebrate the life and personality of the deceased and we call it a ‘Celebration of Life Ceremony.’

The Ceremony focuses on the life and personality of the deceased instead of a religion.  While it acknowledges the grief and loss of the family it reflects on positive aspects of the deceased’s life.  Prayers and hymns can also be included in a  Celebration of Life Ceremony.(unless you choose a Humanist).  Poetry, readings and family tributes also form a lovely part of the ceremony.


Making it personal



You get to choose the music and there are absolutely no restrictions around what music can be played. It’s a lovely way to personalise the Ceremony.  Music choice is very personal and is a wonderful way to celebrate the personality of the deceased.  Every ceremony is written specifically all about the person and their unique life and character. It’s a celebration of a life well lived.  No two ceremonies are exactly the same.


Informed choice



So, I hope that’s helped you, and now you have a better understanding of the different types of officiant and ceremony.  You’re now in a better position to choose the type of ceremony that’s right for you and your family.   If you’ve got any questions or there’s still something you’re not quite sure about then get in touch with me. I’m always here to help..



I am a Professional Celebrant and I create personalised ceremonies for all major life events.

I’m always here to help you.


Important Rituals shared with family and friends


How to get started with my Wedding plans

For inspiration and tips on all kinds of ceremonies take a look at Pinterest


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