Celebrancy is a movement to provide agents to officiate at ceremonies often reserved in law to clergy or officers of the courts. These agents, generally referred to as "celebrants", perform weddings, funerals, and other life ceremonies for those who do not want a traditional religious ceremony.


Civil Celebrancy for independent community based officiants with ideals of meaningful ceremonies started in Australia due to the initiative of the Australian statesman and Attorney-General Lionel Murphy in 1973. He had very clear ideas on how secular people were entitled to ceremonies of equal dignity and substance as those enjoyed by religious people.[1]

In many countries, there is a division between the civil and religious aspects of marriages, and often one realm does not recognize the acts of the other. In Australia and New Zealand, there has been a long tradition of recognising civil and religious marriages as equal before the law. The same legal procedures were (and are) required by clergy, state officials and independent civil celebrants.

In the United States, however, clergy (and in some jurisdictions, the couple themselves, in a self-uniting marriage) perform legally binding weddings. However, in most states weddings not performed by such clergy must be performed by an officer of the court, such as a judge or a justice of the peace.[2] These civil ceremonies typically are simple legal transactions. Such merely "legal transactions", except in exceptional cases, are totally rejected by civil marriage celebrants. The Murphy ideal for civil celebrants includes skill in combining, poetry, prose, music, choreography and movement, storytelling and symbolism into ceremonies of substance and power.[3]

In either case many couples felt the lack of the kind of ceremony more typically associated with religious services. In the same manner, funerals and rites of passage have been traditionally the province of the church or synagogue in western culture; those of a secular or unconventionally religious bent had felt the need for authentic and honest ceremonies - especially for Funerals.

To meet these needs, various groups arose to sponsor secular "ministers" to formulate and officiate at such rites. Existing humanist bodies (e.g. the Unitarian Universalist Association) provide ministers who act as clergy under the law and are thus empowered to perform legally binding marriages.[4] The Celebrant USA Foundation and Institute also sponsors and coordinates celebrants separately from religious or ethical societies.[5] The movement spread to the United States, where in 2005 Richard Pryor was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in a non-religious service led by Pam Vetter, a secular celebrant trained at the Celebrant Institute.[6]

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Messenger III, Dally (2012), Murphy's Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: a History of the Civil Celebrant Movement, Spectrum Publications, Melbourne (Australia), ISBN 978-0-86786-169-3 p.41ff
  2. ^ See for example "Arizona Revised Statutes: 25-124. Persons authorized to perform marriage ceremony; definition". Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  3. ^ Dally Messenger III. "The Power of an Idea". International College of Celebrancy. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
  4. ^ "About the Humanist Celebrant Program". The Humanist Society. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  5. ^ Birkbeck, Matt (2001-08-01). "Ceremonies For Any Occasion". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  6. ^ "Richard Pryor Got the Last Laugh at His Celebrant Funeral Service". newswise. Retrieved 2008-02-07.