Celebrants: Excessive number of civil celebrant appointments is totally destructive.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Memo: To Public Servants and Associations

Meeting on October 28th, 2019. 

Re the Number of Celebrants and
the sustained deluging of the market.

Dear Public Servants and Associations,

I am still alarmed that no discussion seems to be allowed on the one and the most important problem which is so destructive of the celebrant program – that of excessive numbers.

I keep my ear to the ground and talk to celebrants and the general public all the time.  There are a few quite wonderful celebrants, who by dint of skilled advertising on the internet and good reputation, manage to gain enough ceremonies to earn a part time income. There are a few  celebrants who are so well off financially that they are able spend a great deal of money to hire internet skills.  

The majority of celebrants, however, struggle to gain one or two ceremonies a year and when they do, through lack of practice, they forget the skillset needed and the procedures required. The public suffers from their lack of ceremonial expertise.

I am impelled to repeat the points I have made before. There are so many bad effects of these excessive numbers. 

  • Celebrants who used to be involved have lost interest; the energy they used to give to celebrancy, now goes to other activities.
  • All the work done with Ongoing Professional Development is mostly wasted because it is not applied. And by the time it might be applied it is forgotten.
  • In some areas over-competition has become really intense. Degrading and false claims in advertising abound. As a result we have lost status and dignity in the community.
  • Celebrants who outbid each other in price for ceremonies, find ways to lower standards. They find it impossible to put their time in to plan and execute a ceremony really well. These celebrants find it is not financially worthwhile to observe the high standards we have developed over many years, if they are not paid reasonably. 
  • Celebrants are thus spread too thin to develop intellectual, political and media leadership. 
  • Some celebrants have developed demeaning “gimmicks” to “get business”.
  • In general, celebrants have lost esteem in the eyes of the general public. I don’t see them looked to now for a range of other personal ceremonies (namings, adolescence, dedication of houses, industry transitions etc.). I don’t see them looked to as skilled ceremonialists for public ceremonies such as Anzac Day, or university and school graduations, building openings and the like. 
    • The good governance reputation of the Attorney-General and the Department, i.e. you, the public service, have been diminished. (Your over-concentration on legal trivia means that you are not concentrating your energies on the essence of the program. The people who pay your salary are only interested in the quality of the ceremony – after the event it is the only thing they discuss.)

THE NUMBERS: This is how I see it.
Before 2003, 1600 celebrants adequately catered for the whole of Australia. 2000 maybe would have been OK.
2500 would have been excessive.
Your destructive predecessors, dear public servants, against all advice, at that time appointed 11,000 !!
A crude bureaucratic fee and compulsory repetition OPD has forced out some wonderful celebrants. Admittedly it has reduced the numbers to 8,500 – still 6,500 too many.
Now, the influx of new celebrants equals or surpasses the ones who are resigning or dying. So we are stuck at this very destructive figure of 8,500.

If you are not insisting that this issue be discussed at your coming meeting, you are not speaking truth to power, and you are wasting each other’s money and time. 

YOUR QUESTION: What would I do?

  • 1. Place a moratorium on all appointments for say 5 years or so. (It was done before.) 
  • Make it clear that any “recognised” qualification only entitles people to apply to be a celebrant. Celebrants  are then only appointed through an independent vetting, selecting and interviewing process, according to balanced need.

(I wish I would have been a public servant — what a wonderful opportunity you have to do something good for the country.)

Respectfully yours with the utmost goodwill, 

Dally Messenger III STB, LCP, BEd, DipLib, ALAA

Currently: Principal of the  International College of Celebrancy
Sometime Lecturer – Victoria University – Graduate Diploma in Arts (Celebrancy)

Sometime Lecturer – Monash University – Graduate Diploma in Arts (Celebrancy)

Foundation President and Administrator of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants (1994-1999).

Sometime Life Member of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants (1996). 

(Until they abolished Life Members !!)

Life Member – Celebrants and Celebrations Network

Foundation President of the Australian Association of Funeral Celebrants (1978).

Foundation Secretary of the Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants of

Australia (1975-1980).

Author, Ceremonies and Celebrations (4 editions) – a handbook for celebrants.

Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the Civil Celebrant Movement




Mal Abrahamsen

Fellow I.M.A. : Life Member A.I.S.P. Govt. Authorised Marriage Celebrant 🤵
9 MIDDLE ST HADFIELD (nr Glenroy) 3046 
Phone:  (03) 9323 5477  or  Mob 0414 317 340

Excellent, bravo. Good onya Dally. Thank you for the wonderful work you do. 

Yes I totally agree and concur etc. etc.

Yes I too advertise on the web but it seems the costs far outweigh the benefit (if any) 

I rarely receive an inquiry, 

There are many cut price operators e.g. all done in 15 minutes.
I have conducted well over 300 marriages, most are referrals from previous clients.

I agree wholeheartedly that there are too many celebrants. The professional and high standing of Celebrants is suffering via the cheap gougers. 

Cheap prices – Cheap service and sometimes non legal marriages due to the inexperience of the Celebrant. AND a beautiful wedding does not happen.

Tougher licensing is required to avoid the constant erosion of the profile of good Professional Celebrants.  I have attended many OPDs where I have heard some ridiculous questions from attendees that are authorised Celebrants , but obviously have no idea and shouldn’t be seeking to conduct Weddings  until they pass an examination of some substance.  Being a member of a recognised Celebrant association should be compulsory, always a good idea for those that take their services seriously, keeping up to date and want to give their best. Have I been checked… ?

Yes over 11 years ago  I conducted 25 weddings as a trainee, supervised by one of the best Celebrants in Melbourne before I obtained my ‘licence’ to do so.

It is about time that the AG’s department started to take notice of the damage they are creating.

Mal Abrahamsen. Melbourne.

Denise L. Clair

Continue the quest, Dally! You will continue to make a difference.


16 thoughts on “Celebrants: Excessive number of civil celebrant appointments is totally destructive.

  1. So well articulated, Dally. Here’s hoping your voice will be heard, sooner rather than later. Thank you for your continuing quest for excellence in our profession.

  2. Thankyou for continuing your pursuit of excellence in ceremony.
    Over my 24 years as a Celebrant l have experienced the peaks and now the troughs of the changing landscape of our craft.
    You are right, these ceremonial skills need to be honed regularly to maintain standards.
    The large number of appointments has limited every appointed Marriage Celebrant to a regular work load to stay at our peak.
    After all these years, it is still a wonderful occupation and contribution to the social fabric of our country.

  3. It is about time that the AGD’s department started to take notice of what is occurring. It is because of this, its is one of the main and foremost reasons why I have now resigned and retired as a Marriage Celebrant after 25 years of service to the Profession. There are now many so called celebrants out there that do not have the faintest idea of the role that they are trying to fulfill.

  4. Dally,I totally agree with you. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a celebrant but have found it difficult to continue paying the fees required when the actual costs of presenting a ceremony on so few occasions doesn’t add up. Thank you for speaking up on our behalf.

  5. You have always been a catalyst for change and always for the better. You have summed this up perfectly and we thank you for continually trying to keep the standard of celebrancy at the highest level. Time to put your case to current affair or 60 minutes. We are like the taxi drivers we have been taken for a ride.

  6. Dear Dally,
    You have always had you finger on the pulse of what is happening in the professional life of thousands of celebrants. Celebrants who are competent, diligent and dedicated to their role; celebrants who conduct beautiful ceremonies by putting in the hours and learning about the couple. I am among that number – able in Ceremony yet not having the finances to spend hugely on advertising. I pay a monthly fee to be one on hundreds of Celebrants listed on line but the fee I pay puts me at the bottom of the list and I rarely receive an enquiry.
    I agree wholeheartedly that there are too many celebrants.
    Thank you for the wonderful work you continue to do to fight to uphold the professional and high -standing of Celebrancy against its increasingly cheapening profile of late.
    Maureena Tilley

  7. Agree in principle with you Dally, but what will happen to the right of Training organisations such as yours to earn a living, or will they continue to train people who may or may not suitable Celebrants? Rather like those organisations who train people to be funeral Celebrants with little or no hope of ever becoming a successful Funeral Celebrant.

  8. From Julie Allen
    Dear Dally,
    Thank you for including me in your mail-out sharing your communications, which are so much more eloquent and persuasive than my own attempt to send a final wake-up call to the AGD concerning the problems with Marriage Celebrancy in Australia, which you might like to read below.
    I worked very hard over several years as part of my association (CCGA Monash) and as a delegate to CoCA, to put some of these same issues to the Marriage Celebrants Section in the hope that things might change.
    I am sure you will sense the despair behind my decision to resign as a civil celebrant as well as my terrible disappointment in the lack of action by the Department in this regard. So many good people have worked to ensure that celebrancy in this country is a well-regarded and honourable profession which contributes in profound ways to the fabric of the Australian community.
    My heartfelt thanks for the efforts you continue to make in this regard.
    Warmest regards and best wishes always,
    Here is the resignation email:

    Dear Staff at the Marriage Celebrants Section,
    This email is to advise you of my resignation as a Civil Marriage Celebrant.
    I have celebrated some wonderful weddings and believe I have performed a real community service since I was first registered in 2012. I am a proud Monash Graduate and believe that course made my Monash colleagues and me among the best qualified celebrants in Australia. However I have been very disappointed at how hard it is to make any money out of celebrancy. The work is rewarding but with so many celebrants it is impossible to make it pay. Serious action needs to be taken to reduce the number of celebrants. Successive governments have let too many training organisations offer short courses and they have made money out of putting too many celebrants through. Your department has continued to register them, saturating the market and leading to undercutting of prices and often poor-quality ceremonies.
    I am disappointed that these factors have led me to conclude that ceasing my marriage celebrancy practice is the only solution, as the costs of continuing to practise, including registration, professional development, professional insurance and membership of a celebrant organisation, as well as the clothing and resources required to practice, are prohibitive.
    I believe that the Attorney General’s Department needs to listen to the delegates of CoCA and other celebrant associations, as well as individuals like me, who have raised these problems besetting civil marriage celebrancy in this country many times. The original vision of Lionel Murphy (restricting the number of celebrants, allowing them to make a living from their practice, and insisting that the quality of celebrants must be very high) needs serious reconsideration by government.
    Julie Allen
    Dally, This was the only part of the return email that I received from the AGD regarding the notification of my resignation that alluded to anything other than the bureaucratic process I needed to follow in order to effect my resignation. I found it quite insulting:
    “Thank you for your feedback on the programme. We take all feedback into consideration.”

  9. From Mardi Kent

    You have presented some cogent arguments in this letter.

    One thing that is also irksome to Commonwealth-appointed marriage celebrants is the annual registration fee of $240 which is presumably payable to MCS to help them manage the cost of advising/regulating the activities of this overabundance of celebrants (and which does not apply to religious celebrants).

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