Planning your wedding ceremony and choosing the right celebrant go hand in hand. I have often been most frustrated as a wedding photographer watching hundreds of ceremonies, often feeling like people haven't been given much space to imagine what a unique ceremony could look like. This post is going to be a guide in part, to how to create a unique wedding ceremony and hopefully fill you with ideas of how the best in the business help couples get those ideas out into the beautiful reality of their wedding ceremonies.
Today I'm interviewing arguably one of the most authoritative, lovely and creative marriage celebrants in the world. Or at least Australia; Josh Withers. I don't know anyone who's been to as many wedding ceremonies as Josh. From elopements all over the world to being one of the first celebrants called up to work on Married at First sight. Josh has seen the good bad and ugly of weddings. (And not just on reality tv)
Josh is a Gold Coast wedding celebrant who hops all over the world doing his thing and this year has a very limited availability on the Gold coast between September - December if you're still hunting for a celebrant to help you craft a really unique wedding ceremony. I couldn't recommend anyone more.
Some of these questions will be a bit light hearted. But there's lots of goodness in here that I think every couple who craves a bit of inspiration for how to create a unique wedding ceremony should take a lot out of.
You've been a celebrant now for around 300 years, what have been the biggest developments in wedding ceremonies that you've noted since the dark ages?
Back when I started and it was mainly just Jesus and I doing weddings things were simpler. You’d just say “Hey Google, get me a wedding” and everyone would get the same big wedding. White dresses, black tuxes, three tier cakes and nice white chair covers. From then to now things have gotten crazy. People get married on days that don’t end in aturday, they wear clothes that aren’t straight off the cover of Brides Weekly, they want ceremonies that actually reflect who they are and what their worldviews are, and they are serving meals at receptions that have broken out of the options presented by a water asking “the chicken or the beef”. So things are good. Who would have ever thought that making the beginning of your marriage meaningful, intimate and personal would result in weddings being awesome. The more you know, ya know?
What do you feel you noticed the most in how people approached ceremony planning during the covid 19 pandemic and was that similar to what you noted during the spanish flu?
During the Spanish flu the average life expectancy was about 53 years, whereas during Covid life expectancy had risen to about 83 years of age. That’s an extra thirty years of possibly sharing a TV remote control with someone you might not like. So even before Covid I witnessed people stepping into marriage maybe a few years later than they did in the 1920s. Where as back then you’d marry before you turned 20, today people might marry closer to, or after, 30. So they’re getting married with less societal expectation, less parental intervention, and more intent, more purpose, more love, and more awesomeness.
Plus during Covid plenty of wedding ceremonies were postponed so that sucked, but what can you do about that outside of sending every politician to jail?
Best tip for people planning their wedding ceremony who want to be brave and step outside of some norms?
To get legally married in Australia I as a marriage celebrant am bound by law to having to say 73 specific words, and each person getting married needs to say 23 words (but the law also says I can say “words to that effect”) so we’re talking about 120 words that take less than 60 seconds of “things you must do”. We can do this without clothes, without chairs, without pews, without photographers or videographers, in the middle of a major intersection with at least two people witnessing the ceremony. There is no requirement of cake, drink, or food. There need by no bridal party or chair covers.
So if you’re going to wear clothes, or have chair covers or a cake, let it all be with intent. Make decisions about all these things - especially in your ceremony - in the light of who you are as individuals and as a couple, not because previous generations are peer-pressuring you to do it. The number one question you should be able to stand in front of a court and answer is “how do people like us get married?” Because honestly, there are no norms. Nothing is normal. You are, and should proudly be, weird and strange and that’s beautiful. Own that and let it shine throughout your entire marriage ceremony, wedding, marriage, and life. Own your weirdness!
What are the biggest rookie mistakes you see when people are trying to plan a unique wedding ceremony?
The biggest mistake is people open up google.com and ask it questions. Or worse, they talk to Jenny at work about it - and Jenny’s basically just a human Google. Not that Jenny or Google are inherently bad or evil, they’re just not you. In creating a wedding you’re creating an intimately unique moment. And Google, or Jenny, know nothing of intimately important moments like your marriage ceremony. They might know how “most people” do it, but you aren’t most people. You’re you.
If you could go back to one ceremony: and say why it was the best (without naming names) what were the ingredients in that particular bagel (ceremony) that made it the most memorable.
I thought about this for too long, but I haven’t had this yet. I’ve created ceremonies in some of the most amazing locations around Iceland, Europe, the USA, Asia, New Zealand and Australia, but then I’ve had the loveliest humans get married in places minutes from my house in just fine wedding locations, and then I’ve worked weddings with some of the best wedding creators in the universe but maybe the location wasn’t pinging, or the couple were distracted by the enormity of it all and couldn’t be present in that moment. So it can be an epic moment on so many points but then the couple aren’t present and that really takes away from it for me. So as I talk all this through I would say I value intention and presence in the moment over location and team, so if that’s the measure of the best ceremony I can think of a bunch of couples who hit that note perfectly. It would just be super nice if those same couples got married with Joshua Mikhaiel and some of our mates in Iceland as well.
La Ninâ: Thoughts? Does rain ruin wedding ceremonies or should people just learn to normalise swimmer caps at weddings?
'Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata', or translated from Italian, 'wet bride, lucky bride.' Now I don’t believe in the sense of luck being this magical force, but that luck is more of a blessing. 'Right time, right place, you were prepared and resourced and ready for this thing' kind of luck. So what makes a couple lucky that it rained on their wedding day? The fact that without rain we wouldn’t have drinking water or household water. We couldn’t have fresh food, or swimming areas. This whole train thing is kind of important to us kinda existing on planet earth. So it rains when you get married, I understand it sucks, but it’s also just part of life. My tip is that you don’t have to get swimming caps, or book an entirely seperate venue for a wet weather backup, but as you plan for a venue, have a wet weather backup in mind. It might be that the barn on the farm could serve as a ceremony location if it rained, or a balcony that might be nice. Or if you’re getting married in the ‘wet season’, like a January in Queensland, let’s not tempt fate and book the whole thing inside, with air-conditioning. Let sanity prevail.
When couples are trying to choose a celebrant who's the right fit for their wedding. What are some better questions for them to ask other than just price.
The main question you should ask would be “is your name Josh Withers” and if it isn’t then you need to know that you’re not booking Josh Withers as your wedding celebrant. Other than that have you considered Josh Withers as your wedding celebrant? I highly recommend him. Apart from those obviously hilarious but also kind of serious answers, your marriage celebrant is the person breathing your marriage to life for you, and with you. It’s a collab. So make sure you like the person, you like their vibe, they speak your lingo and hold similar worldviews and beliefs as you. Also, make sure they’re charging you enough that you know they’re actually going to make an effort to celebrate you instead of just re-create another template ceremony from their book of ceremony templates. One more thing, because your celebrant is speaking, make sure they’ve actually got professional audio gear so everyone can hear them. If it’s a MiPro or some crappy karaoke system they bought at JB HiFi say no!
As someone who's probably put his signature on millions of marriage certificates. Any thoughts on what makes marriages really last? Beyond the contractual elements you witness. What are the daily intangibles?
Marriages last because of two things that are the same thing: your word. The first thing is the everyday word, that you would communicate. This sword cuts both ways, that you would talk about everything, share your feelings and experiences and that you would listen to and hear each other, then also that if you have expectations that you would communicate them. So many arguments arise from things one person thought the other person should have known. The second thing is your word that you gave. You’re married. You said so. So as circumstances arise that might threaten that, either in actions you could take, or actions the other person might take, before any consequences or reactions take place, you are married. That fact is not in question. Let your yes be yes, let your word mean something. Otherwise, if you’re in the business of talking BS why say or believe anything anyone says?
Any final words for couples to be who are in the midst of the storm that is; wedding planning
People love to throw around the word ‘bridezilla’ but honestly, I encounter more groomzillas, and even more mother-of-the-groom-zillas, and it stems from something really simple and stupid. For many people their planning of a wedding is one of the first times they as a couple have gathered this many people together and spent this much money. And it’s common that one of the people getting married - if it’s a guy and girl, typically it’s the guy - will bow out and take a “whatever she wants” kind of attitude because they think that is really sweet and kind. But it’s lazy and irresponsible because both of you are getting married. It’s not “her day” it’s “their day” and when one of the two people that make the they are not contributing or sharing their desires they just bottle it all up until it gets released under pressure some time later.
So instead, before you start planning, start answering some questions about who you both are as individuals and as a couple, what matters to you and what doesn’t. What elements of weddings have you liked before and do you have strong feelings on. There’s a hundred questions there, I talk about many of them in my new book, The Rebel’s Guide To Getting Married, and if you can set a firm foundation for your wedding you can then easily go and spend the money and book the vendors because you’ve talked about it all before hand. Talk before you spend.
When will The Rebel’s Guide To Getting Married be released and where can people follow along?
I’m writing the book live on my blog, releasing each chapter for free on my blog at https://rebels.guide and through the middle of this year I’ll publish the book and make it available where all good books are sold, the Lifeline Bookfest. Hoping for Angus and Robertson or Amazon too but in this economy? Who knows! The book is my ode to planning a wedding outside the bounds of what everyone considers a normal and boring wedding, instead, creating an epic wedding full of purpose, meaning and intention, with the best team of wedding creators and the big spoiler is that it probably won’t happen on a Saturday.
Once again if you're passionate about creating a unique wedding ceremony and not having the same scripted lines and jokes that often get thrown around at weddings. Do have a really meaningful chat with your celebrant about how you can make it really reflective of you both. And I mean that in a deeper sense than, "We want it to be relaxed because we're relaxed." There's much more available to you than you realise and pulling off a unique wedding ceremony is definitely well within reach. I will literally sit on the phone with you for hours talking about it if your celebrant wont. I get really passionate about this stuff. Your ceremony IS the main event of the wedding. It's why it exists. We get so easily distracted with venues and flowers and outfits and what songs we'll dance to but ALL of those things only exist because there's a ceremony that we're coming to celebrate.
Please take the time to really dig deep on what your unique wedding ceremony will look like and get as much help as you need from those you love, and those who love weddings; to make that ceremony as unique as your marriage will be.
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