French Teacher and Marriage Celebrant

One of the loveliest things about being a teacher is the connection that you make. Concurrent to being a civil marriage celebrant, I was a teacher of languages other than English for 35 years. Sometimes decades later you might bump into students with whom you reconnect, perform their wedding, and become friends. Or a student will call you out of the blue to say they have been teaching languages themselves for years, and that you were the inspiration.

My last wedding was one such wedding: initially an email, “Do you remember me?”.
In this case how could I forget – I see her name whenever I read the Sydney Morning Herald and shared the pride of all of us at MLC when she won Young Journalist of the Year 2018.

I had known Lucy since she was 13 years old! And she knew me well. It occurred to me that your students see a side of you that you don’t necessarily show anyone else. The classroom is really your private domain and you can be as corny and crazy and cranky as you like, and the students will always forgive you. Provided you win them over first by entertaining them and nurturing their attention. They are your captive audience, and they see you down, they see you elated, they see you worried … and they above all they admire your honesty.

While I hope I taught them to love languages, I am sure I taught them as much about fashion and relationships as I did French, for example. Some classes even kept my secrets.

So as a performer of sorts it was easy for me to transfer my presentation skills to being a marriage celebrant.
At Lucy’s wedding I met up again with a group of my “gels”, felt the love and that I had had, and have now, the best job in the world.

The Value of Experience: Celebrant's Point of Difference

So when I started out I knew I would succeed because I had youth on my side! Oh, the confidence! I wasn’t going to be like the other stuffy old celebrants ( which they weren’t ) – youth was going to be my “point of difference”. Nowadays what is it? Age? I don’t think so! Experience of course… When he was in business my father’s slogan was “ Quality is Value”. He was a bit more expensive than the other butchers – but he sourced his “ country-killed beef “ in Blayney, not Homebush – that was the difference – and of course the wonderful customer service he provided. So I adopted

“ There is no Quality like Experience”

in my promotion from my 20th anniversary on.

I hope I bring all the charms of my youth with it too, and the value inspired by my dad. When the celebrant program started in the ‘70s and when I was appointed in 1995, couples didn’t question the value of the celebrant as they do now, they respected the role as the social responsibility it was. All that has changed, however, and celebrants are now wedding service providers like any other and have to demonstrate their value consistently.
The process of getting married has remained fundamentally the same – but there have been some important changes. These days you must give 30 days’ notice to your celebrant – for years it had to be “ one month and one day”; finally you may present your passport as evidence of place and date of birth – you don’t have to scramble around to locate your birth certificate anymore; you now must show your driver’s license/ ID card; and you are advised to apply to BDM for a copy of your official, registered certificate of marriage after the wedding to prove and protect your ID.

These days weddings can be registered instantly online before the paperwork is sent in. My first celebrant instructional manual was type-written! I couldn’t type anyway – becoming a celebrant was my motivation for this – I had to create documents!! Because of celebrancy, I became computer-literate and had a website form the start. How stilted and boring it was though!

In 1995 nobody really thought about marriage equality. The phrase hadn’t even been coined . Ironically, the section of the Marriage Act defining marriage could be applied more laterally – there were exemptions to the wording, “words to that effect” could be substituted, although rarely were, there being no point. The “ vows” too, have tightened up, and there is only one accepted legal version ( although you can add your variations as well).
Anyway, plus ça change…Maybe though, with marriage equality, ça changera beaucoup!!

Crafting True Reflections of Your Relationship

In April 2016 I came of age as a marriage celebrant – yes! 21 years ago I received my authorization to change lives. What a serious charge, really… it isn't one that should be trivialized even though my favourite part is still throwing on a frock and reading out the poems in my best voice!

My first weddings made an impact on me when I realized how seriously couples took my role. Then I knew that I had to come down to earth and make sure what I delivered was not only perfect in terms of the legalities I was entrusted to carry out, but seamless and truly reflective of the way couples wanted their relationship represented in public. It took over a decade for me to add the line “…true to your relationship…” in my branding of “ A Ceremony by Design”. You can rave on about how you want to service couples and what you will give them, but these few words say it all. I have them on everything.

Thank you Note

How things have changed in 21 years! In those days you became a celebrant based on the service provided in your postcode – if there was a need, you would be appointed (upon approval of course by the Attorney General). So there was not the plethora of celebrants you find today, not the over-servicing, not the competition, not the anguishing over choosing the “best” celebrant. In those days you didn't do a training course, but were chosen on merit on the basis of your application, experience and references.

These days you can pay to complete a competency-based course after which you apply to become a celebrant. This is supposed to be better for the market. Celebrancy has become an enterprise. When I started it was viewed as a service to the community and the fee was regulated to $125 per wedding. It was a vocational thing, not a business thing. Now celebrants can charge what they like, add tangential services to attract customers, offer themed weddings, stage-management, sound and light : the result for me is a diminution of the solemnity and simplicity of the occasion, and the end result – to publicly and respectfully create a union. In those days as soon as we were appointed we had to advertise in the Yellow Pages – in the actual BOOK! We had to, we had to declare our presence in the community. Now couples don’t even know what the phone book is. Back then websites were barely though of, and all enquiries were made by phone – no email! The abundance of wedding websites just didn’t exist. There were glossy wedding magazines – things you could actually pick up and see yourself in as a celebrant. Now I sometimes wonder if I'm really out there!

Here are some treasure from 1995 – when thank you notes were hand-written, not texted or emailed.

Reflecting on 20 Years of Wedding Celebrations

susan artup the way i was 1995

In 2015 I was delighted to be celebrating such a milestone! All weddings are special but I reflected on the 20th wedding anniversary of my first couples and hoped to re-connect with them in some way. I also looked forward to working with new couples on their wedding and contributing to it the wealth of knowledge and approaches that I have gathered over the years.

There have been many changes in law and in the marriage celebrant program and indeed in the profile of the celebrant profession. However, one thing remains unaltered : the commitment of two people to each other in love and respect. Many of the words that I wrote originally about marriage hold true : “… married life is a shared life, which, generous and sincere, allows a richer future of burdens shared and increased joy… where forgiveness and open communication play a part, marriage will stand up to all the stresses inevitable in life: it is an enduring bond – it does not change under pressure. It is constant and true and knows no measures or conditions.”As your celebrant it is my role to give you as much choice in the wording of your ceremony as possible so that the tone and style you envisage for your day is honoured; it is also my role to ensure that everything is said and heard and registered according to law.

The vows you make to each other are the essence of your wedding day, the essence of your lives together – and it would be my privilege to be witness to them.
The photo is me in 1995!

Rehearsing Weddings: A Celebrant's Perspective

Marriage Celebrant Blue Mountains

Ages ago before I became a marriage celebrant I heard about a couple who had rehearsed their marriage ceremony. Rehearsed? I thought to myself. What? Why? Why would you have to rehearse this special moment? Wouldn’t rehearsing fundamentally flaw it? Ruin the very MOMENT of it? Surely you make those vows, says those words, stand there trembling with the emotion of it ONCE in your life! Isn’t that what makes getting married so special? Isn’t that why it is UNIQUE? That you do it once and let the nerves, the emotions, the little slips and glitches flow over and eddy around as part of the essence of your special day?

And when I first became a celebrant 20 years ago no-one ever talked about the rehearsal. No-one asked for it, no-one mentioned it. Nowadays, however bridal magazines and publicity for celebrants put the rehearsal out as de rigeur. Do you conduct a rehearsal? Some couples ask, as advised by whatever source they are quoting. Most couples, in my experience, don’t require a rehearsal, and it is quite enough for most men to front-up once for this little piece of private theatre that is their wedding ceremony.

This is my response when people ask me about rehearsals – maybe it is not PC but it is the truth:

“If, after you've met with me and discussed your ceremony, chosen it and feel comfortable with it, you feel you need a rehearsal at the site of your wedding, there is a fee for that, accrued because of extra time and travel. You would also need to give me a month's notice of this.
However, to run through your ceremony wording in my office (and feel free to bring your bridal party) - that is all part of my fee and would take place at the second meeting after your initial booking.
You might still like to go on site some time with your bridal party to practise walking in (in heels) and knowing where to stand and timing your entrance song if you're having one.
All of this can be relayed to me because basically I will do what you tell me.”

Ceremony by Design: A Unique Wedding Ceremony

unity candle

“ A Ceremony by Design” is called so for a reason – your wedding ceremony is your design, it’s unique. I also added to all my material “…true to your relationship”, because to have your own ceremony, one that will make you think: “ Yes! That’s us exactly!, you have to be faithful to what you think makes you tick as a couple.

Your ceremony is your opportunity to encapsulate what you honour most in your relationship. My job as a celebrant is to give you this freedom to be yourselves, while making sure you adhere to the rules which you must obey by law. However, these are separate and you can build your ceremony around them. So whether you want a quiet, touching ceremony that doesn’t draw too much attention to the private nature of your relationship, or whether you want to go over the top and scream your commitment from the rooftops – you can have just that. There are just a few simple legalities that absolutely must be included but the rest of the words can be custom-written, bespoke. Even the structure of the ceremony can be played with. So I invite you to alter the sequence a bit to make your ceremony truly unique – it will be my responsibility to make sure the legal part follows a logical sequence.

Memorable Civil Celebrant: Romantic Poems and Personal Touch

I was appointed an authorized civil celebrant in April of 1995 and can remember the excitement of my first booking. I got all dressed up in a wedding outfit and went over to visit the entire family of the bride, groom in attendance too. The mother of the bride teared up when I read a romantic poem by way of exhibiting my talents! I think I must have been a bit stiff and business-like, but I still bump into members of that family and that is a warm and fuzzy thing.

signing the wedding register

My first actual wedding was on July 29th in a private home somewhere near Blacktown. Standing in a corner of the lounge room on this winter afternoon, the bride and groom looked at me so intently, looking to me to allow them this moment of passage. I will never forget the looks on their faces, giving ME the privilege!

My second wedding was in the beautiful Everglades Gardens in Leura – a venue I have now done hundreds of weddings in. My third wedding was out at Camden Valley Inn in their chapel– I was so chuffed with myself I nearly forgot to sign the marriage certificate for the couple, and I think I left the audience on their feet throughout. Well, I have come a long way… and those marriages are 19 years old!

When I told my first couple afterward that theirs was my first wedding, but I didn’t want to tell them that BEFORE the wedding, they said they would still have asked me BECAUSE it was my first! How lovely people are.

Unconventional Love: My Wedding Story and Feminist Influence

Your wedding story really has to start with my wedding story. Back in the day I was influenced enough by a book by the doyenne of feminism, Germaine Greer. “ The Female Eunuch” confirmed my own reality that motherhood wasn't for me, and it almost talked me out of getting married. That is until I met the love of my life and thought: “ Well… why not?”

And that is just it – we thought why NOT get married – we didn't get married because we needed commitment, or approval, or security. We got married because we already had that, and there was no reason not to get married. I still think that if marriage will make a difference to your relationship or that you think it will be a seal to guard against insecurity or threat – then you should really be evaluating your relationship first.

A marriage ceremony provides the legal framework for the commitment of heart and mind that you have already made as a couple. Marriage is called the cornerstone of society for just reason, but we all know of many strong and enduring relationships which do not bear its label.

my wedding story

People do say though that the formal commitment consolidates their relationship, but so does the passage of time and shared experience. However I am not trying to talk you out of getting married! We were married by a civil celebrant soon after the option of a secular wedding was introduced by Lionel Murphy in the ’70s… so different from one another, we never had to “work at it”, or fought, or spent a night apart if we were in the same city… abnormal? But wedded, childless bliss till death did us part.

I meant every word of those marriage vows, as I will when I recite them for you as part of Your Wedding Story.