How Celebrants Deliver Safe COVID Ceremonies

This is a strange time to be delivering ceremonies. None of us could have anticipated when we were training as celebrants that we would have to wear gloves at a ceremony. Or that we wouldn’t be able to shake people’s hands. Still, we’ve resolved to keep delivering the best ceremonies we can during this COVID time. We’ll keep on joining couples in their love, comforting the grieving and celebrating in whatever way we can.

On the left-hand side of this pic, you see the words 'Guidelines for Celebrant-Led Civil Ceremonies during the COVID-19 Pandemic. To the right, you see the green logo of the IECS, in the shape of a tree with a circle around it. Behind those, you see a celebrant holding a folder that's open on a page, and a couple standing at a safe distance from them.


This pic is from the IECS, who provided celebrants with guidelines for delivering safe wedding and other family ceremonies.  

And we’re determined to deliver our ceremonies in a way that’s safe, for the families we work with and for ourselves. We’re not going to treat people like lepers for something that isn’t their fault. I’m greatly reassured that I can follow the guidelines laid down by two celebrant organisations I belong to.

The Irish Ethical Celebrant Society has drawn up guidelines for weddings and other family occasions. Meanwhile, The Association of Funeral Celebrants Ireland has created guidelines for the safe delivery of funerals. I am massively grateful to the committees of both these organisations for the time they took to prepare these guidelines for all of us celebrants.

Numbers Allowed At COVID Ceremonies

As celebrants, we’re very anxious to stick to the government guidelines on numbers allowed at wedding and funeral ceremonies. To make sure we comply with those guidelines, we’ll ask the couple how many guests they are inviting to the wedding and to make sure they have contact details for them all. We’ll do the same with funeral directors.

For funerals, there can be the extra consideration that people will gather outside the funeral home or graveyard to pay their respects. If this happens, we’ll ask the funeral director to indicate a safe way that we can exit the building or graveyard. It’s not our responsibility to keep the numbers at the government limits. But it is our responsibility to make sure we don’t walk into a situation that’s unsafe for us or for anyone else.

Have a look at my Funerals page to see how I deliver funeral ceremonies.

Social Distancing At COVID Ceremonies

Sadly, we will not be able to shake hands with families we’re delivering ceremonies for, or to stand close to couples while they carry out wedding rituals like handfastings. We will maintain a two-metre distance at all times, which means that for example, a family member will tie the ribbon for the couple at a handfasting.

People who are doing readings would read from where they’re sitting rather than going up to the lectern. That’s because sharing microphones is not a good idea – it also means sharing germs. We’ll still wear masks at all times, even when we’re delivering the ceremony. We just want to make sure we’re protected and can protect others if social distance can’t be guaranteed.

Handling Ceremony Materials

Celebrants now need to manage our ceremony materials more carefully than ever. First of all, we’ll need to rely more on families to bring their own materials, especially for weddings. Usually celebrants bring materials for the rituals like ribbons and candles, just to make sure they’re there on the day. Now we’ll be asking the couples to do it. We’ll ask them to put the vows, ribbons, sand or anything else they’re using in a box and we’ll pick it up on the day.

We’ll be handling the materials with gloves when we do pick them up, so gloves are now a must in our celebrant checklist. Overall, the checklist for what we celebrants bring to ceremonies is now way bigger. As well as surgical grade gloves, masks are a must – more than one if possible. We’ll also bring wipes and hand sanitiser so we can wipe down every surface and every item we touch.

Ultimately, it’s up to each and every celebrant to weigh up the risks for ourselves and the people we’re delivering ceremonies for. But I feel confident that if I follow these excellent guidelines, I can deliver a safe ceremony for you. All of our lives are precious, and I’m committed to keeping you safe. One thing I can guarantee – the ceremony will be as memorable and meaningful as I can make it, restrictions are not.

Even in these strange times, milestones deserved to be marked. You can get in touch with me on 0876959799 if you want to arrange a safe ceremony.

Finding The Right Language As A Funeral Celebrant

As a funeral celebrant, I’m in the delicate position of meeting people when they’re in a time of deepest grief. Pre-COVID, I would have visited their houses, but now I’ll have the conversation to plan the funeral ceremony over Zoom or WhatsApp. And because of this delicate situation, I’ll use the most delicate words I can, so I won’t cause any more upset. That’s why I’ll say that the family’s loved one has passed away, not died.

‘Passed away’ has become a very popular way to say that someone has gone out of existence. Some people find it comforting, a phrase that softens the blow. Some people see it as a way of diluting the truth of the situation. Why not just say they died? That’s what happened. I’d be more in the second camp. But it doesn’t matter what I think. I’d there to give service and comfort to the families. So, I’ll use the words that soften the blow.  

Besides, I’ve discovered that the phrase ‘passed away’ didn’t start off as a way of avoiding the truth. And it’s also not an American phrase as many people think. It’s a phrase that originates in 15th century England, and it meant that a person’s soul has passed over to the other side. I think that’s rather lovely, and gives the phrase more power than I knew it had.

Using the Family’s Language

In general, I let the family guide my choice of language. If the family want me to say their loved one died, I’ll say they died. I’ll listen to the words the family use to describe what happened to their loved one and I’ll use those words. This is particularly important when the death is traumatic, the result of a killing or a suicide. I could write a whole post on that alone.

At the other end of the scale, the person who has passed away may have been a real colourful character, someone who was a bit cheeky and naughty in their humour. In circumstances like that, it’s perfectly appropriate to use humorous language.

This picture illustrates the blog post's point about how the right words can make a difference at funerals.
A quote from Raymond Carver, who knew how to distil big concepts into a few words.

You can say, ‘he was a bit of a rogue,’ ‘she’d call a spade a shovel.’ You’re reflecting who the person was and it’ll give people at the funeral a laugh, and a chance to remember their loved one fondly.

Sometimes the family didn’t get on with their loved one who has passed away. That’s the reality. And sometimes the language they want to use can be pretty brutal. When that happens, it’s my job as a celebrant to encourage them to soften that language.

I’d remind them that there will be people there who did get on their loved one and who’ll be upset by language that’s too harsh. Saying, ‘He was not an easy man’ usually covers all bases. It’s honest, but it’s also kind.

Overall, that’s the balance I’m aiming to strike as a funeral celebrant when I’m choosing my words – honest but kind. I am to offer comfort, but I also aim to be authentic, to truly reflect who the person was. Ultimately, it’s the family who’ll dictate the choice of words. I have to take myself out of the picture. I will choose the words that give them solace, and if I achieve that, then I know my work is done.

Has your loved one passed away? Are you looking to find the right words to say your goodbyes? I’d be happy to help. Have a look at my funerals page to find out how my funeral ceremonies work.

Funeral Reading: Untied by Erin Hansen

This week, I bring you the last blog in my video blog series of ceremony readings – a funeral reading. Time flies so fast! So, it’s appropriate that for this final week, I turn my attention to the final ceremony that comes to many of us – the funeral.

All loss is tragic, but some is expected – it’s part of the cycle of life. But sometimes funeral celebrants have to deliver funeral ceremonies at times of unimaginable loss, loss that’s incredibly traumatic. At times like these, it can be a real struggle to find the right words.

That’s why I was incredibly grateful when I came across a beautiful poem on the Facebook feed of a lady I know who lost her father to suicide. Untied by Erin Hansen is essentially an act of forgiveness by the author to the person that has gone.

The author is telling their loved one that they understand why that person felt they had to go. I believe that makes this poem a powerful choice of funeral reading at funerals of loved ones lost through suicide.

Here’s me reading an extract from Untied by Erin Hansen. I hope that this poem will give you the words of comfort you need if you have lost a loved one through suicide.

Funeral Reading – Untied by Erin Hansen.

I would be honoured if you chose me to bring you words of comfort at your loved one’s funeral. If you would like me to do this, send me a message on info@celebrantderv.ie.

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