The Australian Civil Celebrant Programme
I wrote A Celebrant’s Notebook in homage to Lionel Murphy who founded the programme, appointing the first celebrant on 19th July, 1973. The civil marriage celebrant programme was unlike any other to emerge from our political heart. Ambitious and simple, with a great vision, it gave us a countrywide mandate and freedom with consequences in need of realising. I believe that Murphy intended that we, as a people, experience and enact fully our entitlement to make a secular sacrament of marriage and other rites of passage, and dedicate ourselves to learning the forms and mysteries of ceremony making. That is, a ceremony imparting spiritual grace, as we honour our people and renew our culture in tune with our contemporary world, amidst the messiness of the everyday and the often fractured and contentious realities of contemporary life and history.
Lionel Murphy’s Vision
Murphy, Attorney General for the Whitlam Government, envisioned celebrants as catalysts of culture, readers of moral values, expressers of what people see as morally important and artistically beautiful. He had a life-long commitment to human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the preservation of the common heritage of humanity. He created a programme which is unique in the world, giving authorised Civil Celebrants the authority to solemnise marriages in Law and now, from December 2017, to include solemnising marriages for LGBTIQ couples.
Lionel Murphy’s dream gives my work wings to create authentic Australian ceremonies in tune with our own purpose and transitions, honouring our many cultures, drawing from our origins, and grounded in this land with its complex heritage. It is an act of continual discovery and learning.
We are free to co-create our own civil ceremonies for weddings (as long as we satisfy the legal requirements), funerals, naming ceremonies, recommitments, and other life transitions. We are also free to co-create community ceremonies for larger groups with all the artistry at our disposal. In other words, regarding any matter that deeply engages us, in joy and sorrow, loss and gain, focusing on the specific qualities, experiences and circumstances of those at the centre and their community.
Our ceremonies may include hymns and prayers and religious or secular practices and artistic expression and performance from any tradition which is in tune with our ancestry and cultural relationships. They may include ancient or recent ceremonial rites and rituals and bring forward newly created ones. They may be large, loud and raucous, or contained and quiet and simply spoken: the gathering may be quite small.
The essential thing is that there be a sense of occasion and quality of gravitas, where the everyday fades away into the background and those present can enter the liminal under the guidance of a skilled ceremonial leader. Then they can experience the depth of life transitions and at the ceremonial conclusion, emerge to re-enter their lives in a new way.
You can buy a copy of A Celebrant’s Notebook here