Where would a wedding be without the marriage celebrant to formalise proceeedings? Lise Rodgers is a Marriage Celebrant based in Melbourne, Victoria. For those couples who don’t want to get married in a church, Lise offers a fuss free alternative with personalised wedding vows, in a beautiful location of your choice around Melbourne and Victoria. With gorgeous images by Fi Mims Photography Lise shares with us her thoughts about her profession.
What was your profession in a former life and why did you decide to change it to become a celebrant?
I’ve been a professional performer most of my life, so in becoming a registered Marriage Celebrant in 2008, it was more a question of “adding another string to my bow” rather than retiring from one career and taking on another. Celebrancy seemed a natural fit, allowing me to use all the skills and experience I’d acquired over the years as an actress – how to listen, how to write, how to choreograph, how to create a mood, how to speak well and engage an audience. Not to mention a sharp eye for detail and paperwork. All qualities I’ve found invaluable in establishing a successful celebrant practice.
Briefly, what do the legal requirements involve and how long does the process take?
The legal requirements are relatively few, but of great importance because at it’s most unromantic, Marriage is a legal contract that changes your status under law. The Marriage Act of Australia 1961, requires a couple to give one month’s notice of their intention to marry by lodging a Notice of Intended Marriage with their celebrant. They must provide evidence of who they are and how old they are – date and place of birth and photo ID. They must declare their current marital status and if married before, provide evidence of how and when that marriage ended. Depending on a couple’s circumstances, the paperwork can usually be handled in one or two meetings. The act also specifies certain procedures be included in the ceremony. The couple must have a witness each, over the age of 18. These witnesses must hear both celebrant and couple, say specific words and then co-sign the couple’s Marriage certificate accordingly. Whilst these requirements take up only a few minutes of ceremony time, without them, the marriage wouldn’t be legally valid.
How do couples choose a celebrant that is right for them?
Different people have different priorities when planning their wedding and of course for most couples they’ve never done this before and are learning as they go. They know they’re required to have a ceremony and that they need a celebrant to conduct it. They’ve probably been to a few weddings and seen some in action – but not much more about what’s involved. Understandably, they start out allocating a budget – venue, reception, dress, photographer, flowers, cars, cake, celebrant……and go shopping accordingly. But that’s where it gets hard. There are so many celebrants! Why do they charge such different prices when basically they’re all doing the same thing? And really that’s the crux of the problem, because apart from the legals that we’ve talked about, there is no stock standard ceremony, there is no right or wrong – so it’s very hard to quantify what a celebrant does and most couples don’t realize how much time a good celebrant spends “behind the scenes”, nor what a difference a well crafted, well presented ceremony makes to their wedding day and how much choice they have in creating it.
For some, price is everything and their focus is on getting the lowest quote they can find. The ceremony is the least important part of their day, it’s merely a process they’re obliged to go through by law and they just want someone qualified to say the minimum words, sign the certificates and get it over with, so that they can move on to the things that are more important to them. They don’t care who does it, as long as they’re cheap.
For others, it’s about knowing that they want something different. Not wanting it to be a “process”, but something truly relevant to their lives. Their ceremony is very important to them, they want it to say something about them as a couple and have given a great deal of thought to what they would like to achieve. They’re looking for inspiration, a celebrant who understands and encourages them, who’s open to suggestion, willing to spend the time and energy required to create something totally unique.
But I find that the majority of couples aren’t really sure what they want. They’d like their wedding to be special, but assume that all celebrants provide much the same service. They’ll say, “we just want something simple” which more often than not, is followed by what they don’t want – nothing too long, no bad jokes, no boring readings, nothing too formal – their “no” list saying a great deal about the ceremonies they’ve seen. They’re nervous, knowing they have to have a ceremony but concerned about being part of something that “isn’t them”, that will cause them to feel awkward and embarrassed whilst being the centre of attention. Their expectation is that they’ll be shown a couple of sample ceremonies to choose from and are hoping that they won’t find them too uncomfortable. It’s only after we spend some time together talking through their plans, that they realize it doesn’t have to be that way. That not all celebrants are the same and they don’t have to have a ceremony that doesn’t suit them, like those they’ve seen before. That if a ceremony is specifically written to celebrate who they are, in a style and language they can relate to, that celebrates their love story; there’s nothing to feel awkward about because it’s a perfect fit. That just as the decisions they’ve made about their reception, their music, their colour theme, their cars, say something about them as a couple; so too should their ceremony. That it’s possible to have a ceremony that everyone – family, friends and especially bride and groom, can relax and enjoy; with a celebrant willing to take care of all the details to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Making the ceremony, if not the highlight, then certainly a wonderful beginning to their special day.
So my advice would always be, choose someone who makes you feel comfortable and confident, who can answer all your questions and offer guidance. Yes, cost is a consideration, but just as there is no standard ceremony there is no standard fee, so making a decision on price alone can be misleading. Remember, a professional celebrant’s fee will always reflect the experience, expertise, time and skill they intend to invest in your ceremony. Find someone you can both talk to easily and who’s a good listener, someone who’s interested in YOUR wedding and able to help you to visualize and achieve YOUR perfect day.
You create each ceremony on an individual basis. You must have a natural talent for writing straight from the heart…..
Well that’s my aim. I like to spend time gathering information about each couple – getting a feel for their lives and personalities. I’m interested in any detail that will colour my image – turn of phrase, character, hopes and dreams; likes, dislikes, good times and bad; jokes and quirks, the milestone moments and the everyday – so that when I sit down to write, it’s as though they’re with me and I can see and hear them as I work. Maybe it’s the actress in me but I’m always looking for what makes them tick so to speak and I like to think that’s why each ceremony I write sounds so natural and genuine – as though I’m writing about friends.
Should couples approach you with ideas, or is deciding on the format of the ceremony a process that evolves over your meetings together?
Definitely it’s a process that evolves over time, a collaboration, and often it starts with ideas that a couple bring to our first meeting. Some people know very definitely what they want and can see the whole scenario, others know what they would like to achieve but aren’t sure how to do it, but many couples have no idea initially and are looking for guidance. I see my role as both a sounding board and a source of inspiration. Sewing seeds of possibility that blossom into ideas during the planning phase of the ceremony. Often I won’t start writing until a month or two before the day, allowing plenty of time to research and think about the ceremony first. In fact I think there’s something to be said for not having it locked in to soon and usually aim to have a first draft ready a few weeks before the day. Then there’s an immediacy and freshness which is good, all the other wedding decisions are well and truly taken care of and the couple can focus on the draft – fine tuning it as they wish and adding in their personal vows.
What do you love about hearing the couples’ stories?
The similarities and the differences that go to make each one unique and special. Everyone has a story to tell – no matter how “shy”, how “ordinary”, how “boring” they think they might be and it’s always a privilege and a pleasure to listen.
Are traditional rituals or symbolism used very often today, in ceremonies?
Certainly – a wedding ceremony itself is a traditional ritual and the act of exchanging rings or saying the words “I do” are recognizable as symbols of marriage even though neither is a legal requirement. Rituals and symbols express something beyond words and for many couples, have great cultural and personal significance, so to include them or pay tribute to them in their ceremony is yet another way of telling their story and can be a perfect opportunity to bring people together in a ceremony. But if they are used out of context or poorly executed, when they don’t ring true or don’t say anything about the couple – then my advice would always be, to leave well enough alone.
What is the most inspirational/heartfelt/joyous wedding you have created?
Now that’s a hard one – they all have their special moments. But recently I had the pleasure of marrying a couple whose story was unlike anything that I had worked on before. They were African and had first met eight years ago in a refugee camp as displaced persons following a civil war. He had managed to gain entry to Australia some three years ago, but she had to remain behind. When I met first met him, it was to begin the process of arranging for his fiancé to come here too. As we sat together and he told me something of his life – the unimaginable hardships and loss – whenever he mentioned her name, his face just lit up and his smile stretched from ear to ear. He’d made the most of his time in Melbourne, working two jobs and studying; doing everything he could to prepare for the day when his fiancé could join him, and every time he said her name – there would be that wonderful expression. I couldn’t have been more pleased for them when almost eighteen months later, her visa was finally granted and we could set a date. They were married in my garden, with just a witness each, in the very simplest of ceremonies. Despite some language difficulties, they had both wanted to say something special to each other on the day and with a little help from me, managed to say the beautiful, personal vows we had worked on. Knowing how long they’d waited, never losing hope despite their years of separation; to see them looking deep into each others’ eyes and feel the honest emotion as they said those words of love…….. A moment I will never forget.
Indoors or outside – do you have a venue that you particularly like performing marriage ceremonies at?
One of the great things about the work I do is the range of venues that I get to visit and how much thought couples put in to finding a location that suits their style. Melbourne is known for its beautiful gardens and heritage architecture, not to mention some spectacular beaches and hilltop views. However it’s equally known for its unpredictable weather! So my preference is always for a venue that can accommodate a sudden downpour or a gusty north wind on a 40 degree day. The Dome at 333 Collins St. Melbourne, or the chapel at Stones of the Yarra Valley are two favourite indoor venues. The Botanic gardens of course – particularly the Tecoma Pavilion and Gardens House, where it’s possible to get the best of both worlds. The grand Portico Balcony at the Melbourne Town Hall, The Sandbar at Middle Park – where you’re literally one step from the sand and five steps from the water. I particularly like The Melbourne Museum with its amazing contemporary spaces, the forest gallery and Bunjilaka centre, all set among the heritage Carlton gardens. Recently I had the pleasure of conducting a fantastic ceremony there in the Kalaya performance space – a truly individual ceremony location.
Who most inspires you?
An odd mix –
Jane Austen – for her lively wit and ability to catch the essence of a moment and convey it simply and honestly in beautifully chosen language.
Queen Elizabeth II – for her total dedication, enthusiasm for life and seemingly endless energy.
Strangers whose random acts of kindness and courtesy make me smile everyday.
Where can we find you having coffee on a Saturday morning?
At home in my garden – weather permitting – preparing for a busy day, recharging my batteries with a long black and the smell of lavender rubbed between my fingers.
What a lovely story about the couple who were married in your garden Lise. It just goes to show that true love can transcend time and distance! To find out more about Lise’ celebrant services visit her website.
You can also find Lise in Ms Polka Dot’s Directory.
Headshot by Helen Madden Photography and Graphics (phone (03) 9571 9752 ).