A Celebrant’s Notebook: by Anna Heriot – Review

Anna Heriot

Anna Heriot

“Here is an author who deeply understands ritual and symbolism.

If you understand what celebrancy is about, the first of September 2003 is a day which makes you put you face in in your hands and weep. This was the day when a group of uneducated, insensitive, unintelligent and rather vicious public servants, endowed with new and extraordinary government sanctioned powers, set out, knowingly or unknowingly, to destroy the civil celebrant program.

A disillusioned Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, who left the political scene mid-term, must have signed off or approved the changes to the Marriage Act – changes which gave extraordinary new powers to these empire building pubic servants.

The first thing they did was to destroy our worldwide, and uniquely recognised title and identity as “civil celebrants”. Unbelievably, they jumbled us up with the “fringe” clergy (small churches, breakaway religious splinter groups, neo-ethnic religions and the like). 

But it gets worse, celebrancy became a world of overblown legalisms, concocted but baseless legal problems, many of which were  unworkable in practice and erroneous in law. 

But it gets worse still, these “reforms” (god, how I hate that word) stopped a wonderful community program in its tracks. Since that time from the Attorney-General’s department – or rarely from the associations or “training organisations”, I have never seen the words “music”, “poetry”, “story-telling”, “choreography”, “symbolism”, “literary quotations”, “visual arts”, “community bonding”, “relationship strengthening” ,”transmission of values”, “recognition of achievements”, “the power of ritual” – and on and on.

I have put my face in my hands many times since and anguish “Oh, for some understanding, some depth!”

And then along comes Anna Heriot’s book. Talk about fresh air. Not a word about Google, not a word about marketing, not a word about legalisms, not a word about the ever perfectible Notice of Intended Marriage. But here we have a book about people, about ceremony, about resolving issues and communicating and enriching humanity through ritual. 

Anna’s book is divided into three parts. The first part is an appreciation of the history of celebrancy and the main issues which were faced by the founding father. She tells the tale of Lionel Murphy and the issues of love and hate, religious domination of the institutions of society, religious conflict between Catholics, Protestants and to some extent, Jews. Issues of misogyny, social exclusion of divorced women, equality, and most of all, divorce and re-marriage. She lauds the Family Law Act  and civil celebrancy as the means by which persons regained self-respect  and justice through the law.

The second part of Anna’s book focusses on her understanding of secular ritual. She relates her own experiences to Arnold Van Gennep (“The Rites of Passage”) and quotes the philosopher Xunxi from the third century AD.

The meaning of ritual is deep indeed.
He who tries to enter it with the kind of perception that
distinguishes hard and white, same and different, will drown there.

The meaning of ritual is great indeed.
He who tries to enter it with the uncouth and inane
 theories of the system-makers will perish there.

The meaning of ritual is lofty indeed.
He who tries to enter with the violent and arrogant ways of
those who despise common customs and consider
 themselves to be above other men
will meet his 
downfall there.

In the practical sense she illustrates the necessary skills of profoundly attentive listening and animated creative writing of unique ceremonies.

The third part of the book is, in my opinion, the best. It is her stories of her own experiences with people for whom she has been challenged to create ceremonies which have the power and effectiveness to change lives for the better. She calls these stories “vignettes”. 

Here are some first sentences.

“They had started to think, in desperation, they would just have to elope …”

“The bride had married twice in her teens. Two “boofheads” her dad called them …”

“They met through music, and liked each other immediately…”

“This is the heading of the email she circulates, “No more miracles,  I am preparing to die ….”

“Her mother suicides in the city at the age of 53, when she is a teenager…”

“Her twin girls died at birth …”

You get the idea. The book is about the creative challenge of the sensitive compassionate celebrant in the real world. 

by Dally Messenger III

The Title of the book is “A Celebrant’s Notebook”, writer and publisher, Anna Heriot 2018 (edited by Emily Buster). RRP $29.95 ISBN9780-646-98048-5 Hardback. Available from —  annaheriot.com.au – or it could be soon available from the Celebrants Centre – 1300 446 786

Civil Celebrant Ceremonies Enrich the Culture and preserve genuine values

CELEBRANT FRIENDS (AND OTHERS) MAY BE INTERESTED IN THE LETTER I SENT TO THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL (CHRISTIAN PORTER) YESTERDAY (May 1, 2018)

Dear Attorney General
I have just finished watching the Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne Dawn Anzac services on television.
The woman surgeon who spoke at the Canberra Dawn Service and the other woman surgeon who spoke at the Melbourne Dawn Service movingly articulated the ideals in which they believed – such a contrast to Australian life as we currently observe it.

These Dawn Anzac ceremonies were top illustrations of how ceremonies are meant to preserve our values. The civil celebrant program for which you have responsibility was not established by your predecessors for occasional use, but was instigated to permeate Australian life on all its occasions to express, inter alia, the values we acknowledge as good. Every family , every community is enriched and stabilised by ceremonies and rituals great and small. This need in our culture has become more acute as church attendances have declined dramatically. In short, Mr Porter, we civil celebrants were established to build and enhance a culture, wherein, at ever level of society, our best ideals were expressed, transmitted and reinforced.

Unfortunately, your predecessors have let us and the country down badly. September 1st 2003 was a sad day for celebrants. On that day our whole purpose was changed from creating the best ceremonies for the Australian public to a preoccupation with a mass of legal trivia.

In brief, the market was super-flooded with so many badly educated celebrants that original ideals were lost, understanding of the role became almost non-existent, and pre-occupation with ceremonies for the whole spectrum of human life was replaced with celebrant organisations seeking members, celebrant “trainers” without ethics, and individuals grovelling to a public servant, who over-asserted her authority, and who demanded strict adherence to her destructive ideas.
—-
It is important to run a good country – good governance as we call it. It is important to develop a culture which supports decency, values, and principles. Civil ceremonies are one of the main means we have to influence society for the better.

Until that tragic day in 2003, Australia led the western world on civil ceremonies. Civil celebrants were abolished on this day and jumbled up with an unwilling clergy — a situation in law you have the power to rectify.

Lest this letter get too long to read, and just incase you are interested in this program, I have two recommendations for starters.

Recommendations for starters–

1. That in the next meeting of your representatives with celebrants the topic of excessive numbers should not be passed over until action is planned to begin solving the problem. My recommendation is a full or part moratorium on appointments – and a waiting list. As a partial moratorium, say, one appointment for every four who leave the list. (This has been done before.)

2. Then once something concrete has been decided about no.1 above – the meeting should discuss purpose. Similarly the meeting should not be allowed to continue until they have progressed towards expanding and encouraging the range and quality of the ceremonies which our society so badly needs.

3. My impression of your current staff is that they are decent people without the malice we have experienced in the past. But you as Attorney- General should not tolerate in the marriage celebrant section staff any public servant who does not understand and support the purpose of the civil celebrant program and who sincerely wishes, according to the highest ideals of the public service, to progress it.

Mr Porter, there is nothing better you could be doing for Australia, for its lasting good, than using your influence to enrich the culture of this country. The civil celebrant program began this way, and continued this way for a long time. I defy you to name anything in your portfolio of responsibilities, which is more important than the spiritual life of the nation itself.
With sincere good wishes for success in your portfolio. Yours sincerely

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).
Life Member – Celebrants and Celebrations Network
Sometime Life Member of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants (1996).
(Until they abolished Life Members !!)
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.
Author, Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the Civil Celebrant Movement

PS. In case I am maligned. I consider legalities are important, and I have always advocated exactness in the recording of marriages, and practised it with exactness in my own celebrancy. But it is not the main game – ceremonies are!

Dally Messenger


This is the reply I received via our representative at the Meeting with the Attorney General’s representatives

As Yvonne Werner will testify, I raised your recent letter to the AG with the MCLS staff at the associations meeting here in Canberra yesterday. They said they had read it. Nonetheless I raised the point of oversupply & moratorium in front of all. They simply said that the law says that if a qualified fit & proper person applies the Registrar has to appoint. ‘A moratorium or a delay (4 to 1) in appointments will not happen.’  I tried. Hope you are well. Charles 😎👍🏼

My Note: In the past The Marriage Act and the Regulations, especially those which oppressed celebrants, were changed in the blink of an eye.

OPD 2017 -Friday May 27, Docklands Library

TO BOOK
http://www.icccelebrantopd.com.au – 1300 446 786 (Yvonne) 

dallymessenger@mac.com   – 0411 717 303 (Dally

TO BOOK
http://www.icccelebrantopd.com.au – 1300 446 786 (Yvonne) 

dallymessenger@mac.com –  Dally  – 0411 717 303

Civil Celebrant Program under Threat

This article of mine was published in the Australian Humanist – Summer 2015. Since Phillip Ruddock made his statement on QandAClive Palmer has come up with a plan that sounds very much the same. Here is the full text of my article.

AH_HSV_CMC-Article-TopCIVIL CELEBRANT PROGRAM UNDER THREAT

The unique Australian Civil Celebrant Program was and is a great social and political initiative. For over forty years it has enabled secular humanists to free themselves from religious connections. Unfortunately, in the last ten years this program has been partially destroyed, and certainly greatly diminished by hostile (religious?) public servants and politicians.

The very existence of the civil celebrant is now is under serious threat. It is close to possible annihilation. If the enemies of secularism do succeed in finishing it off, it will go without bang or whimper – ceasing to exist while still under the radar.

This possible death sentence was casually dropped in the ABCs “Q and A” program some weeks ago. In answer to a question, the panellist, Phillip Ruddock QC, MP stated, as an aside, that if gay marriage was approved by the Australian parliament “perhaps we should adopt the French model for all marriages.” The remark went unnoticed.

The “French model” basically means that there is a central office, like the 1973 Sydney Registry Office, wherein a couple records their marriage in a computer or a book, and goes away with a receipt.(1)

Mr Ruddock did point out that if anyone, perchance, wished to have a ceremony thereafter, they could proceed with their receipt to “a church or similar venue” and have one.

Mr Ruddock seemed to have some authority from the federal Liberal cabinet (then under Tony Abbott) to advise on the Marriage Act. So I wrote to Mr Ruddock. I sought to dissuade him from this path.(2) Space does not allow me to repeat the full letter here but in summary I pointed out:-

  1. That secular people (Humanists) have emotional, psychological, social, and artistic needs and feelings just as everyone else does. Therefore, we need ceremony just as much as our religious forbears did or our religious contemporaries do.
  1. That the civil celebrant program had almost embedded itself in the Australian secular psyche but, just as it was having substantial success, in 2003 it was cut off at the knees.
  2. Since 2003 the civil celebrant program has been seriously weakened by:-
  • the appointment of 9000 unnecessary celebrants (3)
  • the encouragement of dodgy “trainers”, who knew nothing and taught even less (4)

(c) The legal transference of appointment and administrative power from the federal Attorney-General to a public servant. (5)

(d) the diversion of the program from ceremony quality to an intensive preoccupation with legal trivia – most of which was erroneous, unimportant, and dishonest.

(e) The loss of our honoured title as Civil Marriage Celebrant. In 2003 we became jumbled up with the clergy of small churches, given the same title as them (Commonwealth Authorised Marriage Celebrants), and, after protest, were given the sub title “those who choose to do civil ceremonies”.

In short I told Mr Ruddock that I was aware that many people would not look on a celebrant as a sufficiently desirable ceremony provider, once a couple were told they were legally married. Celebrants then need not be authorised. A few couples would probably do what some secular couples do now when they want formal dignity in their ceremony — go to the church!

Attorney-General and High Court Justice Lionel Murphy -(First Humanist of the Year), who founded the Civil Celebrant program believed that a secular person in our society was equal in dignity to a religious person. That equal dignity and substance in ceremonies was the yardstick which would clarify this in the mind of every citizen.

He believed that our culture was so rich in music, literature, stories, symbolism and all the components of ceremony that we could develop an idealistic value filled, identity confirming secular/humanist culture which would enrich the life of every Australian.

FOOTNOTES

  • Readers should note carefully that the French Model is not like the United States or New Zealand model. In those jurisdictions you are given a “licence” to have ceremony – but you are not married until you have that ceremony.
  • Anyone who wishes to read my full letter to Mr Ruddock can find it here – https://iccdiplomas.com/2015/07/12/the-french-model-mr-ruddock/
  • 11,000 altogether when 2000 celebrants would be more than enough for the country.
  • Now well documented by the Age and the ABC e.g. (Victorian Government Launches Crackdown on ‘dodgy’ Training Providers, ABC News Melbourne, 29-6-2015 and so many other reports) .
  • Section 39 of the Marriage Act 1961 used to be a simple provision, empowering the Attorney-General to appoint celebrants. Now this Section is overloaded with paragraph after paragraph regarding the “Powers of the Registrar”. These provisions should never have found their way into the Marriage Act. At most they should have been internal protocols of the Department.

Dally Messenger III was appointed a celebrant in 1974. He is the Principal of the International College of Celebrancy, and is the author of the book, Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the Civil Celebrant Movement

 

 

 

Celebrants: The Wedding Vows as a Compact

THE ROADMAP FOR THE MARRIAGE


Hi, My name is Dally Messenger
I ‘ve been a Civil Marriage Celebrant for 40 years.
This is about writing your own vows for your marriage. ceremony.Vows as compact.

This is possible now since the Australian Attorney General Lionel Murphy founded Civil Celebrants in 1973 – to bring dignity into the lives of non-church people through ceremonies of meaning and substance. In those days the only alternative to a church ceremony was a very anemic and humiliating “so-called” ceremony in a registry office.

So Murphy, in a revolutionary way, established the right of people to create their own marriage ceremony, which included the composition of that most important part of that ceremony – the vows. Instead of vows coming from somewhere else – God, the Church, the Government, — Murphy’s dream was that they would come from the experienced heart – from you.

But how do you do this?
The best approach I can suggest to you is a way  to carefully make a compact. That is, after all, what marriage is – compact. (Don’t like the word – contract). My conviction on this insight came from a woman commentator on the BBC. She criticised the vows in the Church of England wedding ceremony because it was not a compact.
The ceremony should be the roadmap for the marriage.Often it was not a sincere agreement.

It is important that you give this compact — the words mean “a coming together to make peace”– expressed in your vows to each other – very serious thought.

Now what a well trained celebrant (or relationship educator in some cases) – will suggest to you, and help you put into good words, is this compact.

How do you go about this?
First, for an hour or so, each of you should go your separate ways!
You should sit down in a corner somewhere with a writing pad or clipboard, or at a desk ,or at the keyboard, and think carefully – then compile a shopping list of what you want the other person to promise you – your wish list of promises.

You might, for example, want you partner to:-

be gentle with criticism –
avoid sulkiness
refuse to stonewall –
not to let anything fester
listen sensitively
listen without trying to solve the problem
be totally loyal and faithful
Promise to give you space.
encourage fun and
to maintain a sense of humour.

Bettina Arndt interviewed 100 couples. 80 % were not happy because one party or the other denied the partner physical intimacy. This is such a distressing finding.
So you may wish to promise the other to do you best – that is what all vows are anyway – it is about attitude really – emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy.

Then you must come together and – forgive the word – marry your lists!

Sometimes this a tad confronting. If you cannot achieve this then you really should think twice about getting married.

The compact is a road map to a happy life. No agreed roadmap should contain  unresolved conflicts. Seek reputable marriage preparation counselling.

Relationships are difficult – But they promise the greatest happiness life can give. Here is one example from my celebrant experience (or close to it!)

I, John,
thank you, Mary, for trusting me,
and claiming me as your closest friend.
As far as I am able
I promise to treat you respectfully,
and speak to you respectfully, at all times.
I will be gentle and positive
with any criticism I consider I have to express
I will try never to cut you off,
or stonewall you in difficult moments.
I will speak frankly, but softly,
rather than let any resentment fester.
I ask you to listen to me when I need to talk,
and I promise to listen to you
when you need me as your listening friend.
I promise to be loyal and faithful to you
I promise to give you your space, when you need it
and I ask the same of you.
I will happily sustain the fun, and humour
we have experienced in our relationship.
I promise to do my best, every day,
to encourage a marriage
 characterised by
emotional, spiritual,
and physical intimacy.
Therefore, I John, call upon the persons here present,
to witness, that I take you Mary, to be my lawful wife.

 

© D.Messenger – permission given to brides and grooms to use, adapt in whole or in part in a marriage ceremony, without acknowledgment.
This extract is part of the International College of Celebrancy Wedding Diploma. No permission is given to republish without my permission on the internet or in any publication and certainly not without acknowledgement. Permission will be readily given for bona fide use (I have given several celebrants permission to send/give to clients .

Marriages are up, divorces are down

AAP Report in Melbourne Age. August 29 2008 ( I wrote this a while ago before I started this blog – the facts are still valid – as facts always are. )

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
‘What would I do?’ I said to Pooh,
‘If it wasn’t for you,’ and Pooh said: ‘True,
It isn’t much fun for One, but Two
Can stick together,’ says Pooh, says he.
‘That’s how it is,’ says Pooh, says he.
‘That’s how it is,’ says Pooh. 

(A.A.Milne- Now we are Six)

DivorceRates2001-8

Although this was written in 2014 we have chosen these years for reasons which will be clear from the article.

Pooh is right. It is much more fun when there are two, and, as Pooh further points out – mutual support is an additional bonus. Since 1973 civil celebrants have established dignity in personalised marriage ceremonies. From the same time period, the Australian Family Law Act has injected relative dignity to the legal sealing of a relationship break-up.

If you disagree with my propositions – you simply haven’t lived long enough.

When Attorney-General Lionel Murphy battled his heart out to take the unnecessary pain and expense out of fault-and-blame divorce laws, and set in train a system to bring dignity and meaning into marriage ceremonies, I, for one, knew that, sooner or later, the good effects must become apparent.

Australia is unique in all the world. Except for New Zealand, who followed the Murphy principles in some ways better than we did, the Australian Civil Celebrant has injected something special and unique into the Australian cultural scene.

There would be few who would disagree that in the 1960s and 70s many marriages in the Christian churches were inherently dishonest, and most marriages in the Registry Offices were a humiliation. Those who did marry were mainly driven by convention, very few by the personal conviction that they needed a solemn ceremonial commitment. The institution of marriage was seen by leading feminists, for example, as a state in itself oppressive to women.

Those young women who didn’t go that far, saw themselves as choosing between a marriage ceremony, where the male was clearly spiritually superior (and they were inferior), or a civil marriage in a Registry Office. The latter would take place before a poker-faced official – the legal words lasting, at the most, a minute. These “marriage ceremonies” took place on weekdays only, with only two witnesses allowed. Most saw this as an event no even partially sensitive person should have to face.

Divorces2001-08As a corollary to this, divorce laws were obscenely expensive and totally legally dishonest.

Lionel Murphy, acting almost alone, did away with all this. He gathered around himself a group of people, among which I proudly number myself, whom he asked to bring dignity, meaning and culture back into the non-church marriage ceremony.

To those few who understood his visionary explanation, it was alarming and radical. What? Couples designing their own ceremony? What? Couples choosing their own place and time? What? Couples choosing their own celebrant? No, no, Lionel! The church or the public servant decide the ceremony, the officials decide the words and the place, the common people should do as they are told — if they want to be married.

Now, in 2009, we are all familiar with the repercussions of those dishonest and humiliating marriage ceremonies. I doubt if there is any country in the world where people live together in de facto relationships to the extent we do in Australia.

Not quite noticing that the scene had began to improve, and as time went on, these de facto couples demanded that that they be treated the equal of people who had been through a ceremony. The politicians acquiesced. The Democratic clamour of the people had to be recognised. What was a marriage ceremony anyway ? Just some froth and bubble — some mumbo-jumbo — a few words that entitled you to a piece of paper!

In contrast, followers of the Lionel Murphy vision believed that ceremonies are a valuable means of deep psychological orientation — and we should have them all the time – for every milestone in life. They are an essential means of personally serious and public communication. The “Sorry Ceremony” last year was a class example. The word “Sorry” in a ceremonial context changed people’s lives, reduced them to weeping, recognised and released pent up years of pain, and validated interior screaming. But the “Sorry Ceremony” was contentious. “Mere words” said one group. “Only actions mean something”. The philosopher rose up and said, “but words are actions”.

And then, last year, Barack Obama was made President of the United States. If he hadn’t had a ceremony, he would still be President of the United States. So why did he have one? What difference did it make? But he did have a ceremony — thousands gathered in Washington DC from around the world. Millions watched the ceremony on TV. It was a spellbinding event; it had great meaning. His choices of music and poetry and songs — his choice of speech words and vows were the “roadmap” (to use a modern concept) for his presidency.

In the same way a marriage ceremony can be, and ought to be, and so often now is, a “roadmap” . It sets out a couple’s commitment to attempt to establish a fulfilling, happy and positive relationship. With the assistance of a civil celebrant who “gets it” the couple can make a compact. They can exchange vows which abjure contempt, renounce stonewalling, modify defensiveness, and envelop criticism in kindness. Couples can declare equality, honesty and open communication. They can promise to express love, re-assurance, and support. They can (as Bettina Arndt proposes they do) seriously commit to maintaining a life of intimacy at every level.

Marriages up, divorces down, the ghost of Lionel Murphy will be smiling.

Dally Messenger III

Editors Note: In 2003 the Civil Marriage Celebrant program was seriously downgraded. In blunt terms the government passed the administration into the hands of a public servant (The Registrar). They have since appointed 10,500 celebrants when 2000 would have been more than enough for Australia – with predictable results and a deterioratiing marriage/divorce scene.

A Valid Marriage -Yes or No?

Was this older civil Marriage celebrant ignorant of the Marriage Act?

I’ve just witnessed (on video) a recent country wedding conducted by a civil celebrant. What astounded me was that the celebrant:
a. did not state they were legally authorised to conduct the marriage
b. the Monitum was not spoken
c. neither party to the marriage said the compulsory legal vow
This celebrant was authorised more than 20 years ago, according to the AGD register of civil celebrants so they’ve been around long enough to know better, or are there different rules for the “elders” amongst our ranks. I’m very curious to hear others’ opinions.
(signed by friend)

My reply regarding valid marriages

I suppose I’d be classed as an elder.
You may not have known that we “older” celebrants were given a book of legal interpretations from 1995. It was a book which had been valid since 1973. We also had access to GOOD advice – The public servants in charge of the downgrading of celebrancy in 2003 defied the precedents of 30 years of interpretation. Hence they made a lot of mistakes and invented lot of stuff which you may think is “correct”- 

Since the downgrading we have had four revisions –
Explanatory notes 1,
Explanatory Notes 2,
When Words are not enough. 3.
And now the latest
“Guidelines for celebrants” 4
which, the first time I opened it, I saw a serious error (checked by my lawyer friends). (Note that the Department have now nearly come back to square one i.e 1973 – 1995).
For example, the interpretation for vows for thirty years was “as long as the words of the vows conveyed to those present that the couple were taking each other in marriage”.
For example, on the business of names – when you boil it down anyone can be any name they seriously choose to be. God knows how much unnecessary pain the recent erroneous interpretations have caused people.

I wrote this article for the AFCC magazine – some really ignorant people made disparaging remarks about it – but check it out – it is important – and it is correct.
http://www.collegeofcelebrancy.com.au/pages4/Sect_48-Marriage_Act.html
Finally, may I say that I hereby cast a pox on anyone who says I am not exact with the law or that I do not advocate it in my training courses. We are all bound by the same GENUINE rules of interpretation; we are not bound by the changing legal whims of public servants who have never been celebrants.
A lot more could be said –
etc etc
PS. Certain people in the celebrant political world, for the basest of motives, have been trying for some years, to drive a wedge between “old” and “new” celebrants -(the AFCC recently tried to get rid of Life Members!!) please don’t fall for it – we are all in this wonderful opportunity together.