Guest Post: What Is A Secular Celebrant?

Posted by on February 16th 2017

During the planning process, Fun DMC often gets asked for recommendations on a variety of wedding and reception services.  We’ve found that an engaged couple sometimes isn’t necessarily affiliated with a church or an officiant to marry them and are seeking advice in that regard.  We are always happy to recommend a local clergy member, but if the couple is not interested in a religious ceremony, a secular celebrant might be a great option to consider.   We asked Galen Broaddus, a Central Illinois-based Secular Celebrant, to explain more about what he does and how this might be a great fit for your ceremony.

For most engaged couples, planning a wedding is no small feat. The number of decisions that must be made about all of the details is simply staggering, from dresses to flowers to the venue to the ceremony itself. As a result, some details get pushed to the bottom of the stack.

One of those details is often the officiant. For couples who share a religious faith, the officiant might simply be a clergyperson they know through their own religious practice. But for the growing numbers of non-religious and interfaith couples, that decision may not be as simple.

There are plenty of trends that have emerged to help fill the gap here, such as having a friend officiate, but one notion that is beginning to gain some traction is employing the services of a secular celebrant.

Secular celebrants like myself are individuals who fill the same role as clergy often do for religious individuals and couples, presiding over weddings, memorials, and other important life events. We are, however, non-religious in nature, and the ceremonies we provide are similarly non-religious. As the numbers of the “nones” grow among Americans, especially among millennials, there is subsequently a growing need to have individuals perform these functions.

These individuals — who might be atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, or just religiously unaffiliated — generally do not find religion to be important, and when it comes to an occasion like the public celebration of their love, they will not be reserving a special seat for religion.

But even religious individuals may find the services of a secular celebrant useful. Take for instance Jonathan Webber and Alexandra Katzman, who in 2015 sought to reserve Bernadine’s Stillman Inn in Galena, Ill. for a non-religious ceremony. We only know about them because the inn’s owner refused to allow anything other than a Christian ceremony to be performed and the couple was forced to file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, but it’s worth noting that Webber is Christian and Katzman Jewish, making them part of the 39% of new marriages between members of different faiths or between a religious and a non-religious partner.

Why a non-religious ceremony, then? Well, for couples like Webber and Katzman, it may be simply to eliminate one possible complication. Religion can be deeply meaningful to many people, but it can also be deeply divisive for the same reason, and secular ceremonies have the advantage of just leaving religion out of the equation. They essentially provide a neutral context so that the focus can be on the couple themselves.

For much the same reason, non-religious ceremonies also give couples the opportunity to create their own meaning in their ceremony. Tradition doesn’t have to be thrown out altogether for a secular ceremony, but these ceremonies aren’t dictated by tradition, and couples can decide whether they want to make use of traditions that they find meaningful or create their own, without worrying about liturgical or ecclesiastical constraints. There are no dictated religious readings, no required rituals.

This is where secular celebrants can really be of use to couples because we are able to take the specific considerations and desires of couples and craft a custom ceremony that fits these specific needs. And unlike that friend who just gets a quick online ordination from the Universal Life Church or the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, secular celebrants have experience and resources to plan a meaningful ceremony without couples having to overthink it. We can help see couples through the whole ceremony, from walking down the aisle to the exchanging of vows to solemnizing the marriage (at least in Illinois, finally) in an official, legal sense, paperwork and all.

The best thing about secular celebrants, though, is that we provide another alternative. For couples who want a meaningful ceremony that isn’t performed by a religious officiant or a civil authority like a judge, secular celebrants can be just the right fit.


Galen Broaddus, Secular CelebrantGalen Broaddus is a certified Secular Celebrant with the Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit educational organization. In 2016, Galen and CFI filed a lawsuit in federal court, challenging Illinois’ marriage statutes in order to permit secular celebrants to solemnize marriages, which they won in January 2017. If you’re planning a wedding and are interested in more information about secular celebrants and ceremonies, you can read more at centralillinoiscelebrant.com or reach Galen by E-mail at galen@centralillinoiscelebrant.com.