I think it’s becoming pretty clear that we’re all either going to catch COVID-19 or (at the very least) be subject to isolation due to being a close contact of a positive case. For the type of work we do, even having to isolate for the 24 hours it should take to get your test result back (and it’s way longer in most parts of Australia at the moment) can mean not being able to perform a wedding or a funeral or other event. So how should we prepare for the inevitable to make the process of transferring an event to another celebrant as seamless as possible?
While I can’t tell you what YOU should do, I can tell you what I’m doing and have done. Here’s my steps to COVID preparation.
NB: all of these assume that the transfer is happening at the last minute, in the days or week leading up to the ceremony; for transfers with a longer lead time there are other things at play, but this article is about COVID illness or isolation, so last-minute stuff.
I’m scanning all signed NOIMs and attaching them to the BDM RIO record. That way, if I need to transfer a marriage I can simply use the transfer function in RIO to send the entire record AND the signed NOIM to the new celebrant. If you don’t use one of the BDM online registration systems, at the very least I recommend you have all of your NOIMs scanned and saved to whatever file management system you use so that you can easily email the electronic version to the replacement celebrant; remember we no longer need the original paper version before we conduct the ceremony.
Couples’ identity documents
A few days before the wedding I send my couples an email reminding them to take a photo of their identity documents (passport, birth certificate, driver’s licence, divorce order, whatever is relevant) and have those photos available on their phone at the wedding. This way they don’t have to remember to bring their original documents to the wedding, but the new celebrant can still marry them legally after seeing the electronic versions of the original documents.
Scripts and other files
I’ve always used Dropbox for file management; I can access my documents from any internet-connected device, and they’re also stored on my computer for easy access. Dropbox makes it easy to share folders or single documents with other people by simply creating a link to email or even text to someone. I can therefore share all documents relating to a single event in one simple transaction. Of course you can email documents too, but sometimes there are files that need to be shared that are too large for email, so a cloud system like Dropbox or Google Drive comes in handy.
I have always had a large network of celebrants I can rely on, and right now it’s more important than ever to cultivate a group that you would be comfortable handing events to if you couldn’t be there. My biggest piece of advice is to have the conversations about “hey, would you be prepared to be part of my contingency plan?” and “how do you think we should split the fee?” NOW. Figure that shit out before it happens so you’re not scrambling to make decisions in the moment. You might need to sometimes work for less money than you usually charge. We need to work together right now for the good of the clients, and if that means you need to do a ceremony for someone else a bit cheaper than you usually would, please do it; they would do it for you too.
My network has generally agreed that a 50/50 split of whatever the first celebrant has charged is fair. For example, for weddings, the first celebrant has done the marketing, won the work, had possibly multiple meetings with the couple, written the ceremony, done the NOIM and other legal paperwork, sighted identity documents and provided advice to the couple, and possibly attended a rehearsal. The second celebrant has to check all of the legal paperwork and sight identity documents, format the script into whatever form they need to perform it on the day, possibly attend a rehearsal, attend and perform the ceremony, register the marriage, and, most importantly, take on all the legal responsibility for the conduct of the marriage. To me and my network, that’s a fair 50/50 split of the work.
Please, please, please don’t make your clients get involved in the money stuff or any of the other practicalities. If you have to transfer an event at the last minute, assure your couple you’re dealing with everything and someone will turn up for them (I always tell me couples the new celebrant might not be quite as awesome as me, but they would be very close!). You should have a sub-contracting clause written into your contract to allow you to send another celebrant to an event if you are unavailable.
Tell someone the plan
With COVID illness and/or isolation it’s highly likely you’ll be able to implement your contingency plans yourself. Even if you test positive, it’s unlikely that you’ll get severely sick before you’ve had a chance to put these things in place: this seems to be an illness that gets worse over time rather than starting with the most severe illness. Having said that, it’s valuable that someone you trust knows who your contingency celebrants are and what the plan is. My parents know there is a document in the top drawer of my filing cabinet (that’s also been emailed to them) that has the phone numbers of three celebrants they could ring at any time. Those three celebrants have all agreed to be on the list so that in the unlikely event I am incapacitated, they could sweep in and manage my upcoming bookings. Make sure someone knows what your plan is should the worst happen.
That’s all I’ve got. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything else you think I should have thought of!