Want to become a featured bride or vendor on Vancity Bride? You can submit an application on our contribute page, or contact us for more info!


Marriage Commissioner vs. Celebrant

August 22nd, 2012 by Jeannine

Marriage Commissioner vs. Celebrant

Simply put, if you don’t have an officiant, you have no wedding, which makes them an integral part of your special day. Assuming you aren’t getting married at a place of worship, I’ve decided to delve into the difference between BC marriage commissioners and professional celebrants in order to help you make a decision on who to hire. I decided to speak to Diane Brown and Michele Davidson. Diane has been a BC marriage commissioner for 13 years. She actually married me and my husband 2 years ago! Michele is the Modern Celebrant. She says she is the first professional celebrant in BC and finds fulfillment in commemorating the milestones in her couples’ lives through ceremony.

A Typical Ceremony

According to both, there is no such thing as a typical ceremony, as each couple always brings something unique to the table. Marriage commissioners have sample ceremonies available for you to see, which they will send to you upon inquiry. You can even mix and match your favourite parts of these sample ceremonies to create one that will work best for you. In my case, I was able to pick the best passages from each sample ceremony and edited out parts that we didn’t like. If the templates aren’t for you, Diane says you may write your own ceremony script and include whatever meaningful rituals you want, as long as the mandatory statements are included.

With a celebrant, you work with them from scratch and they will write a ceremony that will best represent your union. Michele explains a unique ceremony she’s currently working on:

Michele: “The bride and the groom are huge family people.  They have a large circle of friends who are part of this extended family. It’s perfect that their ceremony is very family based.  I open our collective hearts by speaking to what marriage means to each of them… the WHY we have gathered.  (To me, it is the words of the couple that matter, so I weave these into my ceremonies). A friend will read some lovely heartfelt words, and then I’ll tell the couple’s story… who they are together, their little rituals, what makes them a good couple, a good team.  A community commitment, and the warming of the rings by their parents and grandparents will follow this. Vows, ring exchanges, and we’ll seal the marriage covenant by my wrapping their hands with white silk, symbolic of the binding of their lives together.  Looks FABULOUS in photos and yes, I do unwrap them again! We close with surprise words that I’ve worked with them individually on.  It’s gonna be a love fest… and I just know that I will shed a few tears too.”

Advantages and Disadvantages

The price is definitely what attracts couples to hire marriage commissioners instead of celebrants, with at least a few hundred dollars in savings in comparison. However, savings doesn’t mean a lesser product:

Diane: “The difference in price does not mean any less of a ceremony-we conduct weddings of any size, from two to more than 400 guests, none of whom attending, would be able to tell how much the officiant was paid.”

One disadvantage for marriage commissioners is the inability to include any religious content in their ceremonies; however because they are so many to choose from in a number of diverse backgrounds, you will be able to find someone that is the best fit for you. With marriage commissioners, there may be additional costs for meetings aside from your ceremony, such as your rehearsal. To save some money, we opted for a phone consultation with Diane prior to hiring her but we did book her for the rehearsal, which I highly recommend. This is common practice and it worked well for us.

Professional celebrants charge considerably more but you will also be getting a fully customized ceremony written for you. You will be working with people educated in ceremonial writing, ceremonial speaking and be familiar with traditions from many cultures and faiths. They are also able to conduct religious or interfaith ceremonies.

Michele: “Celebrants are specifically trained to vision and craft deeply personal ceremonies. All Celebrant ceremonies are written from scratch. It is not the Celebrant way to use templates!”

What To Expect

According to Diane…

“At the very minimum a Marriage Commissioner dresses appropriately, meets with the couple, ensures that they have a valid Marriage License, hears them say the two mandatory statements required by law in front of two witnesses, oversees the signing of the marriage license and marriage register, ensures that all documents are completed satisfactorily, and submits same to Victoria.”

This may be the case but keep in mind that each marriage commissioner has come up with their own approach and style to their work, from trying to get to know the couple, to finalizing the ceremony script and conducting the rehearsal and actual ceremony. A lot of care and effort is still put into each of their couples’ special days.

Celebrants do a lot of legwork to create a unique script for your ceremony which may include interviews, multiple script revisions, custom vow writing support, and give ideas on rituals, readings, or anything you want to include in your ceremony. Another thing to keep in mind…

Michele: “A bonus of working with a Celebrant is that they do not book a series of ceremonies on the same day.”

That being said, marriage commissioners do book a few weddings a day due to high demand, but Diane says they are good time managers and plan accordingly. To put your mind at ease, simply ask your officiant what will happen if the scheduling goes awry, but of course, do try to prevent that from happening at all… no matter which officiant you go with!

I want to say a big thank you to both Diane and Michele for sharing their insights with us. If you wish to contact them to inquire about their services, Diane’s details are found here or check out Michele’s website. You can also search for other marriage commissioners in your area at the Vita Statistics Agency website. So which will you go for?

Photographer credits: Pure White Studio (Feature photo & others with Diane Brown), Butterfly Photography, James Stockhorst & Neil Gilchrist

You may also like...

Support Local Vendors


  • August 22nd, 2012 at 10:36 am
    Vinnie says:

    What a great post! I was just wondering who to contact and how to actually marry us :) Thanks!

  • August 23rd, 2012 at 9:51 am
    Celebrant Michele Davidson says:

    Thanks Vancity Bride for including me in this article. So important for couples to understand their options. Whether a couple has me guide their ceremony, or someone else, my primary goal is always to make sure they get the right officiant match for them. Modern Celebrant is always available by phone if your peeps have questions. I also have an article on my blog that explains what to look for, questions to ask, etc. Thanks again for helping your readers make informed decisions!!!

  • August 23rd, 2012 at 10:46 am
    Cheryl Pedley says:

    Kudos from a Vancouver Island Celebrant! Great explanation

  • December 29th, 2012 at 11:20 pm
    Joanna says:

    Thanks for this! I was totally confused on the difference between them. This has cleared up all my questions.

  • January 24th, 2013 at 7:30 am
    Carley says:

    Thank you for explaining this! So helpful.

  • July 21st, 2015 at 11:26 am
    Barbara Frayne says:

    Doug Cameron, marriage commissioner did not show up at the wedding! He left us scrambling at the last minute and thankfully we were able to contact another commissioner who step in…DO NOT trust Doug Cameron! He had booked 6 weddings on the SAME DAY! I would definitely recommend checking with an officiant or celebrant regarding his/her time management to avoid this HUGE mistake. It stressed everyone out and put undue pressure on photos etc!

  • February 8th, 2016 at 10:31 pm
    Cindy says:

    Doug Cameron was recommended by one of our vendors. He had personal obligations and we had to wait 3 months to book an introduction meeting with him. After we set a date, we tried to confirm a meeting time and place but could not get a hold of him. We called and left several messages but he never responded or even think to apologize. He is VERY unprofessional. Do not waste your time with him

  • December 15th, 2016 at 9:54 am
    Rev Marilyn Lees says:

    For 10 years I performed Civil ceremonies in BC as a Marriage Commissioner. Knowing my contract would only last 10 years, I furthered my studies with the end result of becoming a Marriage and Funeral Celebrant. It has been an amazing journey and I am very grateful. Thank you for your article. Well done!


Leave a comment