Doug McCleary: Celebrant, Officiant, Musician

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What Is a Celebrant?

A Celebrant is a person who, by training or experience (or both) helps families celebrate and honor the life and memories of a loved one by speaking and leading services on their behalf, without forcing a particular religion or spirituality on the families they serve or the people who attend their services.  The "celebrant movement" (as it's sometimes referred to) is an attempt to train or prepare people for the very specialized skill of listening well to a family's memories and stories, then relating those stories along with helpful ritual actions so a family can grieve well and begin the work of healing.

Becoming a celebrant can happen in a variety of ways.  One of the most common is by attending a seminar which presents certain practices, then receiving one's "certification" at the end of the seminar.  When you see the term "certified celebrant" this is what it refers to--and "certified" does not necessarily mean "experienced"--some corporate "certified celebrants" in town are lucky if they officiate more than a dozen services a year. So experience, then, is the other way one becomes a celebrant--years of working with families at times of loss.  I am of the latter variety.  I've not attended the seminar, but I have been officiating at funerals and weddings for nearly 20 years, starting with my internship in the late 80's while acquiring my Master of Divinity degree.  Following that, I spent eight years as a Presbyterian minister, and "walked" with many families through the loss of a loved one and the services to honor their life and memory.  That has been followed by nearly 12 years of serving families independently, either part or full time, as I work with funeral homes and funeral directors around the Portland area.  I officiate around 200 services a year, so you know when you use me, you are getting lots of experience.

In a way, my life has been on a trajectory towards this work since I was just out of college.  One of my first post-college jobs was as a Recording Studio Engineer and Manager for National Music Service--for years the premier provider of music and music systems for funeral homes around the world.  Then, as a Presbyterian Minister, I discovered that the work of pastoral-care with families at times of loss was my favorite part of ministry.  Later, losing my parents and a couple close friends gave me a very personal understanding of the experience of loss and grief, sealing my desire to be of service to others in the same circumstances.   

As I say in the section on funerals and memorials, being a celebrant is not a "career" or "job" for is a "vocation"--work to which I am "called" and am "drawn."  I am a celebrant because it is what I believe I was "made" to do.  It is gratifying when I officiate at a funeral or memorial, and someone says, afterwards, "you have definitely found your calling."  I accept that as one more confirmation that I am, indeed, on the right path.