Rona Goold :
Civil Marriage Celebrant - Appointed October 1989
Usually good planning requires really being clear about what one wants to create.
Celebrancy so far has evolved taking some interesting twists and turns – however some would say it is now in danger of becoming extinct.
Like any species that over-populates, when faced with dwindling resources we are in danger of fighting over the scarce food pickings – weddings - with those that survive, if there are any, being the fittest.
But would they the fittest because they were physically strong enough to push all other contenders aside or because they were able to cooperate in ways that gave them the evolutionary edge?
The latter is the hallmark of "civilised" man, in my opinion., is "to cooperate", rather than trample the weak and defenceless to get what thinks one needs to survive.
I am reminded for the following story titled: TWO WOLVES
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
"One is Evil - It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
"The other is Good - It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed".
So what view of celebrancy are we going to feed ?
The view that our work can never be more than a weekend hobby as defined by the tax department?
Or do we stop, step back, reassess and plan a strategy that will set a direction for the common good, ie for the benefit of our communities as well as ourselves.
One of the many lessons I hope I have learnt is that in planning the future, it helps to look at the past. Not to dictate what or what not to do, but to see if there are principles and lessons to avoid or upon which to build.
The roots of our civil celebrant program I believe were founded upon basic human rights principles and an understanding that the civil celebrant role was fundamentally one to serve the needs of our Australian community.
The need for the program also recognised both the decline in blind acceptance to fundamentalist conservative religious views of the meaning of life and the role of rituals such as marriage within that religious frame of reference.
Time does not allow for an in-depth discussion of the history of world religious thought, comparative religion or the need for the development of democracy itself. Nor to assess all the arguments pro - and con - the existence of ‘God’, if we were ever able to definite the term.
Science and religion have been pitted against one another, as if they must always be bitter enemies. As Hugh Mackay# stated, often the arguments have the best of science applied to the worst of religion.
However my view is that religions attempt to teach “spiritual’ truths that one can believe are “God given” ones or the consequence of our evolutionary history.
I attempted to describe the concept of “spiritual truths” in an memorial ceremony for an agnostic/ atheist retired history teacher, as such:
“I suppose some here are wondering why this ceremony has many Christian readings when Y herself was not particularly religious.
There are several reasons, the primarily one being that Y was greatly interested in history, as many of you know.
She also treasured of the connections between people when Y wrote the following in 2002 for my mother’s 88th birthday ceremony:
“Friends are one of the joys of our lives; friendships which span decades and generations are a gift.”
This Christian tradition was the faith of her fore-bears, is the comfort of her precious sister X, , and one of the greatest influences of the development of western culture.
X also wanted for there to be a connection between Y''s funeral ceremony and our memorial ceremony today. The funeral was conducted by the chaplain of the hospital where Y lived until she let go her last breath.
In this age of “science” there seems to be so much we have found out or think we have, that leads us to not only believe we know everything, but that we can also control everything.
As a Science graduate, I know that in 2000 years time, our descendants we look back and see how little we really knew
In the same way as archeologists and historians have discovered the beliefs of the 1st century. We can look back and think we have the right to judge them.
Would not a microwave seem like a miracle to those contemporaries of Jesus?
Because we have discovered the principles upon which to build such a device, do we really understand all its parts.
As scientist have delved deeper into the atom, they find a world not operating to the gross laws of nature - a world where matter acts as if it is wave energy and can be converted to energy, in the same way as many religions believe the matter of our bodies is held together by energy, which they call spirit.
Life is still a great mystery. We do not have to understand it to value its gift to each of us, and do all to protect and uphold it. In the same way as we do not need to understand how a microwave works to enjoy its gifts.
The mistake most scientists make is to assume that religious traditions are talking about this so called physical world, when their purpose is to teach us about the world of the spirit.
Do we not believe in love because we can’t go to the nearest grocer to buy 5 kg of it ? Or the same for truth, compassion, justice, trust?
Of course not. The language of the spirit speaks in parables and metaphors. And is read with a different kind of sight – insight.
The written language has its limits, as does our nonverbal communication. That does not mean that limits the world that it attempts to describe.”
So if we look at the ‘evolution’ of our roles as civil celebrants in the context of the decline in participation in organised religion, we need not see ourselves as second class citizens – as some sort of ‘failed priests’ or “small businesses ready to cash in’ on the opportunities for “lay” ceremonies available, as people leave their traditional sources of inspiration and support.
Rather to see a deeper, more fundamentally rich and important role as educators and supporters of civilised society.
Our society needs truth filled challenging and nurturing rites of passage that up-hold the fundamental tenets of “Human Rights” as outlined in the, now 60 year old, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
What would such a vision mean for future civil celebrants?
To my mind, it is an holistic view of role of civil celebrant as being
- a "celebrant for all occasions", thus requiring us to be facilitators, coordinators and leaders of a range of ceremonies, not just weddings.
- a community leader and educator in passive and active ways around how ‘human rights’ apply in our lives
(ie in marriages (no rape, domestic violence), in parenting (no child neglect / abuse), in dealing with ageing, disability and death (eg no ceremonies determined upon the ignorance of some funeral directors who are often the gate-keepers of families access to)
as well as how important our “civil responsibilities” are in creating and maintaining a safe and healthy society
(ie in modelling social courtesies, in initiating young people into school, adolescence, adulthood; in finding ways to affirm all our citizens contributions to work, home and their communities via other rites of passage)
- a community resource for situations involving teaching “civics” and supporting community groups such as schools in times of loss and grief
Why for example are religious celebrants invited to stand with the PM in times of tragedy such as at Bali or Gallipoli or ceremonies for bushfire or flood victims, or invited into our schools as Chaplains but no such respect paid to the 80% of our communities who do not regularly use those religious structures by inviting Civil cCelebrants to participate?
I believe it is our distraction with the details of our day-to-day needs as civil celebrants, as a result of the changes in the running of the Commonwealth Marriage Celebrant Program, that has contributed to our failure, as a significant and emerging group in our society, to “have a dream”.
What does this mean for our advice about the revision of the Marriage Celebrant Program?
If we have a view of the role of civil celebrant being a broader and more significant one in our society, then the strategies for solving our current problems can draw on the strengths of both the needs based and open market systems.
We now have a training program based on a “celebrants for all occasions’ model, that Australia’s Attorney General has endorsed as the minimum level of training required for appointment as a marriage celebrant.
The next step is to have “previous” ceremonial experience as a pre-requisite to appointment as a civil marriage celebrant under the Fit & Proper Person's Criteria.
This is a similar principle to appointment of religious celebrants or public servants, because they already serve a sector of the public in a particular way
An associated step would be to require aspiring applicants to sign statutory declarations that they are seeking to develop a celebrancy service part-time or full time, and that marriage is one of the rights of passage they need to provide that as professional service to their community.
There is a precedence in the appointment of main stream religious celebrants.
They are appointed because they have traditionally been ceremonialist, community educators, upholders of ethical values etc.
Likewise registry office celebrants are doing something as part of a wider public role.
This Certificate IV in Celebrancy in already embedded in the Community Services section of the VET training programs, thus encouraging people who have or are working in social justice areas to consider civil celebrancy as a career option for their more mature years.
Being a ‘trade level’ course, the training provides access to people from all walks of life to the opportunity to become a civil celebrant.
Another step is to ensure that this course includes the role of the civil celebrant and ceremony in the promotion and education of human rights in Australia.
That is examination of each rite of passage against that back-drop; the organization and presentation of community information an education sessions and programs that uphold marriage, family and community life, examine the opportunities for “civil pastoral care” in such programs as the Chaplaincy in schools Program
This could enable local civil celebrants or celebrant associations to apply for grants to develop resources or programs aimed at enhancing civil rights, where like the School Chaplaincy program, celebrants could acquire a part-time ‘wage’ for their work associated with ceremony.
Assessing the level of community needs in relation to ceremony and celebration.
The previous system had a rigid celebrant ratio per population appointment system. Currently we have a system totally unrelated to community needs, one that devalues our roles as “just small business” like any other and one that continues the “tax-hobby” model of celebrancy.
Here we could draw upon the basic principles of
- the needs based system which was to look for people with leadership qualities (those involve in leadership roles in community organizations), community interest (volunteers), public speaking experience (either formal such as teachers, or informal via their community roles) whilst drawing upon
- the new holistic and competitive model under the current system where aspiring celebrants need to train and compete for the available work
The another step is the development of an Electorate based Marriage Celebrant Advisory Committee, chaired by the local federal MP with a board and with board members from celebrant associations, local council, media, community service organisation, small business and the like. Role to be to
- advise on the level of appointment for their electorate,
- interview potential applicants for appointments, short-list and advise AGs accordingly
- assess applications from potential celebrants for appointment outside the Committee’s normal determination
- make comment on complaints and celebrant reviews when required,
On this model the Marriage Celebrant Section would continue to set the Guidelines for appointment, ongoing professional development and review of Commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants, maintain an up-to-date the Marriage register, liaise with celebrant associations.
More importantly though Marriage Celebrant Section would liaise with other sections of the Attorney General’s Department to enhance the role of civil celebrant to play some part in access to other important programs such a relationship education, family law matters, anti-discrimination initiatives and the like.
Freed up from the heavy grind of dealing with the unwieldy administration of the Marriage celebrant program such broader considerations could be addressed.
Another step is for us as civil celebrants, and the leadership of our celebrant associations to embrace such a broader view of civil celebrancy and make submissions on this basis to the National Human Rights Consultation currently underway in Australia.
For example, Coming of Age ceremonies held to publicly acknowledge one's status as an adult in our society, with the responsibilities as well as rights that contains.
What would that mean for us who are celebrants that were appointed under the pre-2003 system and those post?
This would mean a generosity of spirit that is in each of us – but often only fully expressed at times of tragedy like war or natural disasters.
What I have proposed above would take several years to implement, by which time
- those who can afford to “retire” could graciously do so, and find other full-filling roles to perform in their families and community lives
- those who could afford to retire, but have a ‘passion for people and ceremony” could form “partner” arrangements with like-minded and competent celebrants who do need part-time or full-time work in celebrancy. Such arrangements could mean referring ceremonies when busy to one’s “partner”, and working together with other local “partnerships” to promote a range of ceremonies and to develop common resources
- we can all recognise that for civil celebrancy to serve our society in its best form, requires celebrants to be able to work part-time or full time at the role and be remunerated accordingly and well.
- we can all promote this broader model of celebrancy to the leadership of our celebrant associations, to our own MPs, and to our communities
- We can all play some part in maintaining and enhancing an Australian society that does really believe in a “fair go:
What sort of Australia do we want for the younger generation coming through and those coming after us?
We do not have to be victims. What wolf will we feed? It is up to us.Human Rights References:
Summary of Human Rights for celebrants
Human Rights - ACCN News Items
V2 ? or http://www.celebrants.org.au/news/376-extension-for-national-human-rights-consultation
Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Full version
Report on First Human Rights Consultation in Queanbeyan NSW
Youth Forum for those of us (;-)) or those we know 15 to 24 years.
# Reference: Australian psychologist, social researcher and writer Hugh Mackay speaks with John Cleary on 'God and me'.
The transcript of this program would usually be available by midday on the day following broadcast but this is not possible because of the holidays.
The transcript will be available as soon as possible.