I’d like to know about your booklet. The idea of printing an expensive booklet seemed a bit outdated to me, given that there are so many resources online and such a diversity of options for couples these days. None of my couples so far have been interested in readings, and I’m reluctant to pin them down as far as ceremony structure goes either, until I know more about them.
What does your booklet look like, how many pages etc and what quality do you recommend? Do you find that couples choose structure and content based on the booklet or do you also provide links?
And how do you get around the fact that you may want to update it when you find more content? I worry about the expense when I think about how often I come across new stuff and imagine wanting to change things up often.
I know not all celebrants provide a booklet of information to their couples, but I have since the beginning of my life as a celebrant, and I find it helps both me and the couple stay on track and organised, and the couples who choose to work with me love the way it helps them plan out their ceremony.
I have separate booklets available for each of my ceremony packages, but in this post I’m going to talk about the Ceremony Builder Booklet I’ve developed for my Premium Personalised Ceremony. This is a super detailed post, and not all of it might be of interest to you, so I’ve split it up with subheadings so you can just read what’s useful for you.
Length and layout
It’s 34 pages long, including front and back covers, a page with a copyright statement, and a 2-page Table of Contents. It’s not in the least bit pretty because I’m not a visual person or a graphic designer. The cover is on my letterhead, and the internal pages are words and tables. It is consistently formatted throughout (for the formatting nerds, I use Calibri 11pt font, Cambria 14pt and 12pt for headings, single spaced with a 10pt space before paragraphs and a 20pt space before headings) and I’m very firm on that; when I did my Cert IV, my trainer’s booklet was individually photocopied scraps of paper, all in different fonts, some wonky on the page, etc. That shit irritates me, and to me it smacks of a lack of professionalism. (I’m the kind of person who picks up spelling and grammar errors in everything I read, so this stuff is super important to me; might not be so much to anyone else!)
Introduction: exactly what it says; an introduction thanking them for selecting them, explaining what they’re going to find in the booklet and how they should use it.
Role of the celebrant: again, exactly what it says; it outlines what my job is as a civil celebrant.
Legal requirements for marriage in Australia: the four major requirements for couples wanting to marry in Australia.
The following sub-sections come under the title of Preparing for your big day.
Completing the Notice of Intended Marriage: explanation of the purpose of the NOIM, lodgement timeframes, what happens to it once it’s lodged with me, documents they need to bring to our next meeting (at which we complete the NOIM), and information required by the NOIM but not contained on any of those documents.
Signing the Declaration of No Legal Impediment to Marriage: explanation of the purpose and content of the DONLIM and when we’ll sign it.
Witnesses: explanation of the requirement under the Marriage Act for witnesses, the criteria the chosen people need to meet, and what they will need to do.
Venue: discussion of the necessity of a Plan B option for extreme weather, and whether the venue or another provider will supply a signing table and chairs.
Wedding party: a short description of what kinds of people might make up a wedding party, and a reminder that numbers on each side don’t need to be equal!
Rehearsal: I know I’m in a minority here, but I LOVE and encourage rehearsals at the venue with as many people involved in the ceremony as possible in attendance. This section covers all of that information.
Positioning: a bit about where I prefer to stand and options for how and where the couple and their attendants can stand.
Music: discussion of the importance of music to ceremony, which parts of the ceremony I suggest including music in, encouragement to choose songs that are important to the couple rather than “wedding songs”, and a strong recommendation to listen to ALL of the lyrics, not just the chorus.
Unplugged ceremonies: description of what an unplugged ceremony is, why the couple might want to consider having one, and how I can introduce it to the guests. I also include here some information about their options around social media (from a blackout through to a customised hashtag).
The following sub-sections come under the title of Ceremony builder. The section starts with an introduction explaining how it works; noting that it’s laid out in the structure of a basic traditional ceremony, and reminding the couple that as long as they include the legal requirements, they can pretty much do whatever they want, and that I’m super keen to hear any and all of their ideas.
Rules: that there are no rules except that if it’s not important to them as a couple, leave it out of their ceremony.
Outline of a basic ceremony: a dot point list outlining the structure of a basic traditional ceremony, with the legal requirements in bold so they can easily recognise them. The information on the following pages, which provides options for each and every one of the elements included in the structure, is laid out in the order of this dot point list. The options provided for each element are only a taste of what I have in my collection; if they don’t like anything in the booklet I have plenty of other samples I can send to them.
Processional: ideas for the couple to consider.
Welcome/introduction: ideas for the couple to consider, noting that it’s a legal requirement for me to introduce myself as the authorised celebrant.
Family and community blessing and acknowledgement: ideas and wording for the couple to consider, including everything from a traditional giving away to asking all guests to affirm their love and support of the marriage.
Your story: description of my favourite part of the ceremony, what it includes, why I think it’s great to include it, and noting that they’ll need to complete a questionnaire if they want to include this element.
Readings and poems: over two pages I list the words for four of my very favourite readings that I believe work well for readings. One is a traditional poem, one is lyrics from a song, one is a poem written for children, and one is a fun poem. I give them some instructions about how they might select a reading, and let them know I have LOTS more samples I can send them if they’d like some inspiration.
Symbolic rituals: I may not love them personally, but some of my couples ADORE symbolic rituals, and I believe it’s their right to include them if they want to. I spend two pages listing descriptions of 7 different symbolic rituals they may be interested in.
The asking: an explanation of what the asking is and why it’s not legally required even if some people feel like they’re not really married if they don’t say “I do”, and 8 different asking wording options if they really want to say “I do”.
The Monitum: an explanation of what the Monitum is, and that it’s a legal requirement for me to say it before vows, then the words of the Monitum in bold.
Vows: the legal vows in bold, and several pages of instructions on how to write their own vows, prompt questions to help them build their vows, and fully-formed vows they can plagiarise if they want 🙂
Ring ceremony: explanation that they can slip the rings on directly after their vows without saying anything additional, or they can say any of the10 different wording options I provide.
Declaration of marriage: noting that I will pronounce them husband and wife, or husband and husband, or wife and wife, or married, or whatever they want, and a discussion of different wording to introduce the kiss.
Signing the certificates: explanation of the three certificates to be signed during the ceremony, reminding them that their signatures need to be in their pre-married name so they’re the same as the signatures on the NOIM and DONLIM, and noting they may want to choose some music to play during this time.
Conclusion: options for housekeeping information they may like me to give their guests before the ceremony ends.
Presentation of the couple: options for how I might word the presentation, whether it be first names, Mr and Mrs, or a number of other suggestions.
Recessional: description of the recessional and encouragement to include some upbeat celebratory music.
Guest participation: a number of options for guest participation for the couple to consider.
Ways to include children: some sample wording for vows to a child in a blended family situation, and a list of other options for including children for the couple to consider.
The final section is Legal obligations and other information, and it includes the following sub-sections.
Code of Practice for Marriage Celebrants: the Guidelines recommend that we provide a copy to all couples, so this is how I provide mine.
Making a complaint about an authorised celebrant: instructions for making a complaint, asking them to please try to resolve it with me before escalating it to the Attorney General’s Department.
What happens if I’m sick? explanation that I have a massive network and will be able to find someone to look after them if I can’t.
Information on relationship education: as required by the Code of Practice, a list of relationship education providers and a description of why it could be useful.
Information on interpreters: explanation of why and when an interpreter may be required and a list of providers.
Changing your name after the wedding: the information included here outlines how a person can change their name by marriage, and provides a checklist of places they may need to change their name. I have the same information in a blog post on my website and send them a link after the wedding, because by that time they’ve probably lost the booklet or at least forgotten the information is there.
And that’s it! It may be long and in depth, but it walks a couple through the legal requirements for getting married, selecting inclusions for their entire ceremony, and provides some miscellaneous information that’s useful.
I used to print a copy and post it to every couple. I never got a whole lot of copies professionally printed; I just printed them as I needed them, just on regular 80gsm white A4 paper. I bought myself a comb binder from Officeworks and bound them myself, and popped them in the post.
For almost two years now I’ve been sending out an electronic copy of the booklet. After the couple have paid their booking fee and signed my service agreement, I email them a PDF of the booklet, encouraging them to print it out so they can write on it and highlight bits if they want, and ask them to bring it to our next meeting. As I mentioned above, I make it clear that the options in the booklet are only a small sample of what I have available and if they want further ideas, I send them an additional document after our planning meeting. I have additional separate documents for readings, vows, music, askings and ring ceremonies.
Planning the ceremony
I find all of my couples LOVE the booklet and 95% of them choose their entire ceremony based on what’s included. Sure, it might be a bit like a Chinese food menu, but that’s what works for me and my couples. I’m not creative enough to write an entire ceremony from scratch, and and the couples who choose to work for me love the structured approach and the simplicity of just picking the bits they like. I go through the entire booklet at my pitch meeting, so if they don’t like that way of working they don’t book me, and I’m okay with that.
I’m also not huge at changing the structure of a ceremony. It’s very rare that I’ll shift the order of elements of a ceremony. If there’s multiple readings or rituals I’ll split them up and put them at different times during the ceremony, but other than that my overall structure remains pretty much the same every time. It therefore doesn’t bother me to provide them with a suggested structure, because it’s highly likely that’s the structure I’ll be working to, even if it does have a few bits thrown out or a few other bits thrown in.
The bits I get to be more creative with (apart from the couple’s story) are the introductions and segues between different sections; I don’t let them choose those or provide them with any information or options on them. I choose those from my collection and tweak them based on what I know of the couple and what I think will suit them. I’ve described more about my writing process in “Ceremony script writing skills, Sarah’s view.”
Updating the booklet
Because I only printed them as required, and because I now send out an electronic version, I update that bloody thing all the damn time! I do have to be careful if I’ve changed the sample wording I’ve provided, because the version a couple is looking at that I sent them 12 months ago might not be the version I’m using now, and if they say they want asking number 5, I sometimes have to remember which one that was. But when I’m in my planning meeting I jot down a few words of, for example, asking number 5, and that reminds me when I get back to my desk and look it up in my version of the booklet to drop into the ceremony.
Mercy is absolutely right, there’s an incredible array of resources available online, and to be honest, that’s exactly the problem. There are SO MANY resources that it can be incredibly overwhelming for couples. Sometimes couples come to me who’ve never been to a wedding before and they have no idea what to include or not to include, so they love that I provide them with a clear structure and lots of ideas and samples. If I left them to their own devices online, I suspect all my weddings would include the blessing of the hands and a sand ceremony.
I’m sure there are plenty of options available that I haven’t included in my booklet, but I make it clear that the booklet is not the be all and end all; I want to hear their ideas, from the traditional to the completely whacky, and I make a point of asking them at our planning meeting whether there’s anything else they’ve seen on Pinterest or at another wedding that they would like to include. If they do have an idea that’s not in the booklet, they’re usually so excited about it that they’ve told me about it at the start of our meeting anyway!
Development of my booklet
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve built my booklet off the back of one I was given by another celebrant when I first started (thanks Danielle!). But in the four and a half years since my first version, it’s evolved a lot in terms of what’s included, the specific content as well as the structure and how it’s set out. People seem to be keen to purchase a copy of my booklet, so I’ve set it up for you as a downloadable Word document. I’ve highlighted in yellow anything you’ll need to update to suit your own business and the state you mainly practise in.
I hope this information has been helpful 🙂