So, What’s a Celebrant?


Last year I had never heard of a Celebrant. A what? What do they do? Sounds weird.

Last week I walked into a room with 20 strangers, all there to learn about how to make a funeral personal & each life meaningful. When I was told that on the last day of training I would have to present a eulogy I had written for a fictitious person I felt overwhelmed, “How in the world will I do that?” I wondered. After 2 days of full training we were split into groups and given a situation to create a service around.

Suicide. Baby. Alzheimers. Senior. Child.

“Molly, you’re team has the teenager.” deep breath, ok, a teenager. Ugh.

Gathering in our groups to plan out our service

Gathering in our groups to plan out our service

I got together with my teammates, now friends after these few days of deep and incredible learning & discussion. We created Jimmy Green, a young man, a soccer player who died of leukemia leaving behind parents, a brother and sister.

I was up until 2am writing Jimmy’s eulogy and presented it with my teammates the next morning in the string of the 8 funerals enacted. As I spoke about Jimmy’s life an odd thing happened, my voice choked and caught with emotion and I had to pause in grief over a boy who never lived. I looked up to see others in the audience also with tears in their eyes and I knew that what I was doing was powerful.

Today I am a Certified Funeral Celebrant and passionate about informing the world about the beautiful service a Celebrant can give to a family.


To quote our trainers, the amazing Doug Manning (author of The Funeral & Don’t Take My Grief Away From Me – read these!) and brilliant Glenda Stansbury, “A Celebrant provides a funeral service that is personalized to reflect the personality and life-style of the deceased.

The original idea of a Celebrant came about as a solution for families who didn’t have a home church or religious affiliation. Australia was the first place to create this unique role, built around telling the story of the life as it was lived. There are many families where a religious funeral doesn’t fit and the need for someone who can tell their story even so is needed.

presentation_quoteTherefore, Celebrants specialize in more “secular” services, often writing eulogies for lives that no pastors knew.

Please don’t mistake me for saying that pastors do not give meaningful services, many of them do. The issue lies in creating a service that stays true to the life being honored. If they weren’t religious, then the family may feel a religious service isn’t appropriate. While that’s up to the family, isn’t it wonderful to have an option that can speak straight and truly to the life being remembered? I think it’s pretty wonderful and VERY important.


A certified Funeral Celebrant will meet with the deceased’s family the week of the service for several hours. This meeting serves to acquaint the Celebrant with the myriads of stories that the family has to tell, the good, the bad & the ugly.

After listening, note taking & asking questions, the Celebrant leaves to write the personal story with the tools of their training.

Furthermore, Glenda encouraged us all to take our tribute a step further by finding a giveaway token that represents an aspect of the life we honor. Whether it’s a favorite candy, signature recipe, a game piece or custom bookmark, giving your audience a token of remembrance validates their relationship lost and gives them an object of comfort. Beautiful? Yes, beautiful.


Photo Courtesy of ©

Photo Courtesy of ©

The Celebrant’s goal and purpose is to tell the life story with an honesty and graciousness that presents a real and full picture of the person we have gathered to remember.

One of the services that we heard in the training was for a young man who had struggled with drugs and addiction for nearly all of his 30 years. The eulogy touched on his AA experiences, incorporated some of the inspiriting quotations that AA focuses on, and still left each of us with the knowledge that he had led a life that had mattered, that had mattered to others, and that was going to be missed. Celebrant services are quite often given to people who some might deem unworthy of a service – to them I say, every life has a meaning and a story that should be heard.

I attended a funeral where the deceased was hardly mentioned. The way he died (which was tragic) was never spoken of, and the pastor’s attempt to be personal amounted to him telling us the different nicknames his family had for him. I didn’t hear about my friend, I couldn’t find him in the service and I had come to find him and to say goodbye.

I left that service with a deeply unsettled heart. My friend wasn’t spoken of, the tragedy of his death was the elephant in the room that the pastor couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge. This felt so wrong and like such a disservice to the joyful life and friend I had known. The pastor knew almost nothing about him, it was obvious. He had hardly even bothered to learn about the life we were there to remember, he was unworthy of telling the story.

Doug said in our training,

“Even the worst commercial is scripted, planned & rehearsed. But not funerals.”

In a similar way, we extensively plan weddings, birthday & retirement parties that are usually uniquely customized to the preferences of the person being celebrated. So why does this happen so little at a funeral? Families make wonderful gestures by bringing in photos, trinkets and beloved possessions of their loved one but shouldn’t the eulogy reflect who we are there remembering as well?

A personalized funeral does not just tell the story, it also provides a fitting tribute that families crave and need as they begin their journey through grief. A story left untold or told poorly lay troubled and burdened paths out before the grieving.

We feel charged as leaders in our profession and guides for our families to bring them the very best.


If you would like to learn more about Celebrants, we have an opportunity for you. On April 3rd we are hosting an “A Celebration of Art: Two Paths One Journey” at the mortuary featuring the art of one of our favorite Funeral Celebrants, Ty Rose. Ty will share briefly about his experience as a Celebrant and how the impact of his work has shaped and given purpose to so much of his art.

You can RSVP here.

The evening is open to all and I sincerely hope you’ll come to enjoy some fine art, taste good food, sip some wine and mingle with our Celebrant friends.

Finally, my favorite line of Glenda’s: “The highest compliment I receive as a Celebrant is when someone comes up to me and asks, ‘How long did you know Jimmy?’ to which I reply, ‘You know, I actually never knew him, but I wish I had.'”

|| what do you think?

– Would you want a Celebrant Service? Why or why not?
– Have you seen a personalized service? How did it impact you?

To learn more about Celebrants and Doug & Glenda, click here.

By | 2014-02-26T00:22:08-08:00 February 26th, 2014|Ceremonies, Inspiration, Planning Ahead|47 Comments


  1. Lori February 26, 2014 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Thank you for this informative post for those who do not know the purpose of a Celebrant. I too was unfamiliar with the concept until a few months ago. With the feedback I have had from families who have chosen Keith or Ty to host their services, the concept is definitely being embraced. I am glad more families will have the opportunity to experience what Celebrants bring to a service.
    Congratulations on being a Certified Celebrant! Sounds like it was a wonderful experience..

    • Molly Keating February 26, 2014 at 9:17 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for the kind words. It was an incredible 3 days and I’m in awe of Doug & Glenda’s wisdom and purpose.

      I know you share my passion for the Celebrant and I so appreciate your kindness & support of myself and our families who have enjoyed the blessing of Ty & Keith.

      Much love to you dear,

  2. Anne Anderson Collins February 26, 2014 at 10:15 am - Reply

    So glad you wrote about this wonderful option we offer our families here at O’Connor. Last year, unknowingly, I gave an extensive celebrant-quality eulogy and created a very memorable service for my beloved Lou when he died, without ever having had the training. Then a mere few months later, I was asked to perform the services for my doctor’s mother and did exactly what you did in your training. I spent several hours with the doctor, his daughters by phone and the brother. All gave me amazing fodder for an incredible story that I couldn’t wait to tell.
    And, like Glenda said to you participants in training, at the graveside, the granddaughters, all college age and all intensely close to their grandmother, surrounded me and peppered me with questions: “You told us things even we did not know. How did you know our grandmother so intimately without us having ever met you???” (In those comments, I knew I had somehow hit a home run for this hurting family.) We hugged and laughed and I let them know I had only briefly met her twice, but I felt I knew her wonderfully and intimately after piecing together her amazing courageous life from all I had been told.
    Celebrants fill a much-needed hole in funeral celebrations. I am also so committed to this passion. Thanks for bringing it to light in your blog.

    • Molly Keating February 26, 2014 at 10:58 am - Reply

      You are a perfect example of how natural and good the idea of Celebrancy is. It’s amazing to me that it was so instinctive for you, that you were courageous enough and together enough to tell Lou’s story so beautifully and fully on your own.
      And do you realize that with your Doctor asking you to do this great service for his family that it means he’s identified you as a “safe” person? Doug & Glenda talked about that extensively, about the importance of being someone safe, someone who can hear the good, bad & ugly and tell it with gracious honesty.
      You were a gift to that family and you were able to give them that because of how wonderfully hard you work to be someone safe, someone trusted, someone without judgement who holds only grace and an ever-listening ear.
      I have felt that with you since the early days of our friendship and it is one of the things I prize most about you.
      I believe you’ll do more of these services, it’s a natural gifting of yours.

      Thank you for giving this gift & for doing it even before you knew just how meaningful and good it was.

      Love you,

  3. Shayna Mallik February 26, 2014 at 11:13 am - Reply

    Thank you for writing about the Celebrant training, it sounds like it was a very powerful and meaning full 3 days of training. It is great to know exactly what happens at these training since we all could not attend. I am so proud of you to now be a Certified Celebrant! Way to go! I know you will do great at it. I think a Celebrant is a great idea for our families, since not all families have had a Church they have belonged to their whole life or most of their lives. Thank you for another great blog!


    • Molly Keating February 26, 2014 at 11:15 am - Reply

      Thank you so much, Shayna! Yes, everyone deserves a personalized service whether they’ve got a pastor who’s known them their whole lives or not. I’m glad this shed a little more light for you on the background & purpose of Celebrants. Thanks so much for reading Shayna!

  4. Mark February 26, 2014 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Molly…..Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger because I had never heard the word celebrant either….but I now understand how important they are in helping our families deal with the death of their loved ones….when I worked for hospice one of the phrases we used was “dying with dignity”…..I think our celebrants are helping our families to practice that as we celebrate their loved ones….. Mark

    • Molly Keating February 26, 2014 at 2:39 pm - Reply

      You are so right, Mark. Giving a story and meaning to every life validates the value of the life and helps those grieving to realize what has been lost. It’s so important to establish that significance for them and to do it with the dignity and personal touch that rightly honors and meets their family’s specific needs.

      Thank you so much for reading! I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one out of the loop!


  5. Erin Fodor February 26, 2014 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    Hi Molly,

    I love the idea and the use of a celebrant. As a service director, I see first hand how they can impact a family. The priests/clergy do a good job, but don’t have or put in the time to get to know the family or the person they are serving. Whereas I’ll hear from a family that the celebrant spent 6+ hours with them, telling stories and learning about the persons life. I think that is special in its own right. I myself would use a celebrant if there were a need in my family.


    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm - Reply

      You are so right!! In the training Doug talked about the Family meeting actually being the most important part about what the Celebrant does for the family. The meeting initiates conversations, begins to pave the path to healing, and create an open and safe environment for the family to share and remember.

      You are so insightful! Thank you for sharing your experience, just lovely!


  6. Chuck Ricciardi February 26, 2014 at 4:53 pm - Reply


    Thank you for sharing your powerful experience with Celebrant training with the rest of us. This concept has been new to most all of us at O’Connors but in a very short time we have seen the positive impact it has on family and friends during an extremely difficult time. The way a celebrant can paint the picture and tactfully not shy away from the bad and the ugly is a gift to our families they will use during their grief journey. As you mentioned I have attending services before where the deceased is barely mentioned let alone properly eulogized. When family and friends can leave a memorial feeling energized by the life lived then we are heading in the right direction.


    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 8:58 am - Reply

      Yes, I like that you used the word “energized” – I think that’s a real feeling associated with healthy funerals. I’ve come to realize too that we need to “recognize” the deceased in their eulogy, if there’s nothing in it of the person we knew and loved then it can feel like the service was for someone else. The words and recognition we give to the life can become markers that, as you said, help light the way to healing for families.

      Thanks so much for reading Chuck, I love your insights!


  7. Peter Wyllie February 26, 2014 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    I have been a celebrant for just over 5 years and it is the most wonderfully rewarding role – it takes a while sometimes to get going as a celebrant – but in 5 years I have conducted something like 850 funerals – over 65 for babies – and I know that what I do has made a difference to many families – so to those of you who have just qualified – enjoy!

    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 8:40 am - Reply


      Thank you so much! 850, that’s just incredible, you have touched literally thousands of people with your services. Also, the 65 sweet babies who you honored and memorialized for the families, they will endlessly be grateful to you and find your words along their road to healing.

      Thank you so much for sharing! If you ever want to guest blog about your experience I would love to have you!

      Thank you for reading!


      • Peter Wyllie February 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm - Reply

        Well thank you – I am based in the UK – whereabouts are you?
        It is interesting to compare different approaches round the world

        • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 5:16 pm - Reply

          I’m out in Southern California. We just flew Doug Manning and Glenda Stansbury out here last week to do our training. Did you go through them as well or a different Celebrant organization?

  8. Elsa February 27, 2014 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I think celebrant services are so great. They have such an impact in creating a services so much more meaningful. Growing up catholic, it’s sort of the tradition and the Thing that we do as far as having a catholic Funeral Mass. Although I am not sure I would really change that too much, I would love to have a combination of both, that way I can still be honored in both the religious and personal aspect of telling my story. I am so excited to meet all the newly certified celebrants:)

    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      That is so well said. There are so many aspects of a story to tell and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in not limiting your story to one voice. There’s also just so much meaning and beauty in Catholic and other religious ceremonies, and if they played a profound role in your life, they should also be at your service.

      I love your thoughts on this, it’s creative & personal and the perfect example of how we should all be looking at these services.


  9. Tom February 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    I felt as though I knew James, as one friend knows another, at his celebrant service today. Celebrant Keith Page officiated the service and presented James’ story in a profound way. My eyes actually started to tear.

    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 1:43 pm - Reply

      Tom! I’m so glad you got to actually sit through a service and see first-hand the power a Celebrant brings to a story. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, I’m so glad it was profound & moving for you. It was for me, too.


  10. Joanna Ramirez February 27, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply


    In the last year or so, Keith and Ty have done such an amazing job telling the story and honoring the families we are serving. I had never heard of a celebrant before we learned of them in the last year or so and it has been great for the families. As a gal who does not practice a specific religion with a family who does (here and there), it would be just right to have a Celebrant care for our family (not anytime me soon though). The time that they spend with the family and all the work they do definately show with their wonderful words. Keith and Ty are such great guys, I am excited to meet all the newly certified Celebrants.

    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm - Reply

      Doesn’t it feel nice to know that there will be someone that does fit you? I find that so comforting. That instead of hoping my story is told, I can be confident that it will be and that all those who contributed to it will be honored as well. It’s so wonderful and I love that you feel like this would be the right option for you.

      Thanks so much for reading & sharing!


  11. Amy February 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    What a wonderful experience. Congrats on being a new Celebrant. They make such a difference for a meaningful and healing service. They allow the family to participate and the story of their loved one to be told. It is truly a gift to cherish. I will have a Celebrant celebrate my dad when he dies. He deserves it and so do I.

    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      That’s the key, you just said it: “He deserves it and so do I” – that is awesome. We forget that funerals aren’t just for the deceased or just for us, it’s an important event for EVERYONE. I’m so glad your family will be blessed by this gift and such a difficult time. Your dad does deserve this and it will be a beautiful tribute to his wonderful life with you.

      Thank you for your thoughts, and please know I’m so sorry about your dear dad.

  12. Becky Finch Lomaka February 27, 2014 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Hi Molly,

    Impactful, powerful, inspirational – all words I would use to describe being a part of the celebrant training. It’s a real game changer!

    I learned from the training that celebrants do so much more than tell the story of the person’s life…they provide meaning and healing to the family and friends of the deceased. As Glenda said, “It gives the family that first good step. Grief has to be acknowledged from the very beginning.”

    Using a celebrant is such a gift to the family. The pastors at my parents’ church did a celebrant service for my brother and it was beautiful, meaningful and healing to my entire family. I will encourage my family to incorporate the use of a celebrant in all funeral services we do for our family members.


    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 5:10 pm - Reply

      It absolutely is a game-changer. I love the quote from Glenda, it’s so important and such a differentiating feature of the Celebrant concept. I seriously think I could write 10 blogs about this experience, there’s just too much good stuff to share.

      And, like you, despite having an extensive church background with many wonderful pastors in my life, I would choose a Celebrant as well and recommend them for my family. It’s not that the pastors in my life wouldn’t do a beautiful job, but there’s something about the intentionality of the Celebrant that makes my heart feel peace.

      Thank you so much for sharing, it was so wonderful to do this with you!


  13. Carrie Bayer February 27, 2014 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Molly, I’m with you- I had no idea what a Celebrant was or did but I am sure grateful for them now! The way a Celebrant conducts a funeral service is truly how it is meant to be done- with love, kindness, emotion, gratitude & respect. I’m so glad you & Bryce are now certified, you are going to be great at this calling! Love, Carrie

    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      You are so sweet. I love the words you selected to describe what a Celebrant does, the one that stands out to me the most is “emotion.” Isn’t it odd that that is a defining feature of their services and not a universal term we apply to funerals? I think that says so much about the power of story, of personalizing, of honesty and truth. There’s more emotion in those things than there is in many of the cookie-cutter funerals I’ve heard.

      Beautifully said and insightful as always.

      Thank you for reading!

  14. Fitz February 27, 2014 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Wonderful blog and thank you for getting the word out on Celebrants. The impact of a well designed, meaningful service by a qualified Celebrant about someone’s life is undeniable. I had the honor to witness a service for the brother of one of our colleagues just today and I can tell you first hand that this service was impactful on myself and all who attended. It was an honest look back on how this person impacted his family and the unconditional love they had for him. The long term impact this Celebrant service had on the family will certainly be positive. Thanks for sharing. Fitz

    • Molly Keating February 27, 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      It’s one thing to be trained to be a Celebrant and a whole other thing (I would imagine) to actually undertake and do it. I’m so glad you got to see a Celebrant in action today and see first-hand the differences and beauty of the story of a REAL life.

      There’s a big problem if you attend a service and don’t recognize who the officiant is talking about. It was clear today that everyone knew exactly who Keith was talking about, the audience was so engaged, cheering, laughing, silent and sad. It was incredible.

      Thanks so much for reading & sharing your thoughts on the service!

  15. neil February 28, 2014 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Hi Molly –

    You know I am a big advocate of Celebrant services. A high majority of funerals are poorly planning, poorly delivered and poorly attended. It”s like watching a bad movie, you just regret that entire experience. Mr. Branch’s service yesterday was incredible, it has already led to the healing process from the family meeting. I am determined to change this trend and I am glad that I have you on our side.

    • Molly Keating February 28, 2014 at 10:38 am - Reply

      Thanks Neil,
      It’s wonderful to have you, the big boss, championing this idea and so passionate about bringing the best & most meaningful healing experiences to the families you serve. It’s one of the many things that sets us apart, we really DO care about the families walking in here and we want to do everything in our power to make sure they leave with a clearer path onto the road of grief & healing.


  16. Christopher Iverson February 28, 2014 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing. A service officiated by a Celebrant takes the family and attendees from the shallow end of the pool straight into the deep end of the pool. The experience captures the “sacredness” of the event and transforms it into a lifelong memory to be cherished and remembered.

    • Molly Keating March 3, 2014 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      That’s such a great analogy, Chris. The deep end of the pool, it’s where all the good stuff is, where the truth is, where all the toys we loved have sunk to the bottom : )

      Thank you for sharing that, I’m going to have to use that sometime in the future.

  17. Mitch February 28, 2014 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your comments. What a difference it makes in a service to have someone speak who feels every life has worth and merit. Everyone is loved by someone. I know celebrants make a HUGE difference in the way a service feels. It is much more di