Danna D. Schmidt
Master Life-Cycle Celebrant®
Ordained Wedding Officiant
Master Life-Cycle Celebrant®
Ordained Wedding Officiant
Celebrants are experienced officiants, ceremonialists and ritual leaders who design and perform ceremonies for clients looking to mark and celebrate defining moments in their lives.
The term Celebrant dates back to 1731 and its first known usage is from the French word célébrant, which means “officiating clergyman.” Celebrant derives from the Latin celebrantem and shares etymological roots with the Italian word celebrare, which means “to celebrate.”
Celebrancy has grown in popularity these past few decades as people have begun to seek alternative and non-religious ceremonial options outside traditional houses of worship. Its earlier incarnation included a civil union modifier, as befit the prevailing ordination laws in various parts of the world ~ and indeed, even here in the United States until just recently.
It arose in more secular parts of the world such as Commonwealth countries, and then spread to North America about a decade ago. We Celebrants are still a bit of a best-kept secret, but our media exposure is fast spreading as people are beginning to get the memo that we are only a click and a call away from being of personalized service.
Parade Magazine recently cited Celebrancy as one of the top encore career options for those 50+, the Rachael Ray Show aired a Valentine’s Day wedding segment featuring one of our CFI Celebrants as the skilled officiant, and Marlo Thomas shares a story in her latest book, It Ain’t Over…Till It’s Over, about a ceremony one of our more enterprising CF&I Celebrants created for her.
You are bound to encounter all kinds of business card titles in your search for your just-right Celebrant. Many churches have adopted the term to refer to lay leaders who assist in presiding over worship services in the absence of or in tandem with the Minister.
Some will call themselves an Officiant or Celebrant, others will specialize as Wedding or Funeral Celebrants, and many will highlight their interfaith, non-denominational or humanist leanings. A good number will have come to this work without any training or related experience. Several will have taken some variation of a three-to-five-day retreat intensive from their humanist association, religious affiliate, funeral provider or via the In-Sight Institute.
The gold-standard of all professional Celebrancy training worldwide, however, is that offered by the Celebrant Foundation & Institute (CF&I). CF&I is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing the most comprehensive training and education for Celebrants. Students are schooled in the art and science of ceremonies to mark every significant moment and milestone in the lives of individuals, couples and communities alike. And make no mistake – clever ceremony design, weaving, and placement/ordering of elements is both an art and a science.
Minimum certification ranges anywhere from 8 months to an average of 1.5 years of ceremonial studies and immersion. Certification and course offerings include Foundations of Celebrancy, Weddings, Funerals and Memorials, Ceremonies for Healing, and Ceremonies for Families and Children Across the Lifespan.
As a former History of Religions scholar at the University of Calgary, I can attest, without hesitation, that CF&I’s myth and ritual coursework is strongly grounded in the same anthropological pedagogy. I proudly fly the CF&I flag and assert my triple certification in recognition of their stellar work and continued advocacy on behalf of 3,000 Celebrants worldwide. We have performed more than a million ceremonies these last 40 years.
The difference is in the finessing. We CFI Celebrants take pride in our personalized and highly-consultative approach.
We are also known for a few signature offerings that help set us apart from contracted clergy, marriage commissioners, packaged-offering officiants, funeral staff, and your willing friends and family.
Unlike many officiants, who deal in generic or pre-scripted weddings and funeral services, and who juggle as many as three ceremonies a day; Certified Life-Cycle Celebrants® take time and pride in co-crafting this important life moment with you.
What makes us distinct is that we offer:
You’ll find there is a wide spectrum of beliefs amongst Celebrants. I am very transparent about my own personal spiritual journey and beliefs and happy to share this when we meet, but at the end of the day, you’ll find that my beliefs are not relevant.
An attuned celebrant leaves his or her beliefs or non-beliefs at the door. We are there to hold space for you, honor your cherished beliefs, and help you celebrate this moment in a way that is inimitably yours.
Celebrants are focused on the ceremony itself.
While we will both be thinking of the big picture and small details, your special event planner is more concerned with the overall aesthetic, guest details, the printed materials, décor, food and beverage, logistics, and pre or post-ceremony entertainment. We are very accustomed to working and communicating with each other. Each understands the specific role and bows to the intricacies the other is there to perform.
Work. In my former life, I was a marketing/communications specialist + meeting/event planner for various luxury hotels, resorts and tourism bureaus. My end-result dedication was essentially the same: delivering unforgettable and world-class experiences to discerning clients.
Travel. I was born with the wanderlust gene. My travels have taken me to many amazing places globally so as to feel as though I’ve hardly traveled at all. In addition to my US green card status, I also enjoy dual Swiss-Canadian citizenship. I have lived in several locales across Canada and once upon a long time ago, spent an incredible year abroad as an ex-pat in Pakistan.
School. Living at the crossroads of Asia and the Silk Road was a cultural-awakening which immediately spurred my return to school, to dovetail my previous Associate’s Degree studies in Business Administration and Tourism Marketing. In those latter years, when I wasn’t holed up in the university library, lost in religious and ritual studies, I was doing double duty in pursuit of my English Studies minor. This has translated into earning dubious expert status as a dangling modifier spotter, and a bit of a hoarding reputation for my ever-growing addiction to poetry of love, death and the human condition.
There is no single, perfect blend of inherent qualifications for this work. We all bring our own unique set of skills, experiences and attention to detail to our ceremonial work as Celebrants. This eclectic tapestry just happen to be mine.
The short answer is May 2009. The long answer goes something like this….
It was the 25th anniversary of my husband and I meeting, and we wanted to commemorate the occasion with a vow renewal ceremony on Oahu. I began searching for a Celebrant who would officiate a simple re-commitment ceremony, and who would work with me to co-craft meaningful readings and rituals.
I looked forward to our vow renewal as an opportunity for a vow redux, because the religious rogue and feminist in me had never fully embraced the…ahem…obey part of my vows. This dissidence and doubt led to some rather heated arguments with our Lutheran Pastor on biblical exegesis and the etymology of obedience back in the day. All of which I understood but never fully embraced because the simple truth was, I wanted an opportunity to express my vows in precisely my own words. And so that is what we would come to do. Curt and I would end up crafting our own vows to each other – only this time I deliberately omitted the word obey and he, in full-circle fashion, chose to declare it in his vows, for bemusement’s sake.
So here we were, 25+ years later, living proof that it’s never too late to go back and have a ceremonial do-over for any occasion or season of life, no matter how belated.
We had sourced and hired a delightful Hawaiian Celebrant, although in retrospect, it was clear the man was not accustomed to personalizing readings and rituals with clients. (Case in point – he inquired if the reading we had selected ~ the very lovely if hugely popular poem, “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran ~ was something I had penned). I admitted that it was not but that he might want to file it away for his Celebrant readings list. I began to wonder, upon his query though, if this is really how the typical officiant deal goes down. That curiosity would still need to percolate a few years though, as it turned out.
May of 2009 would also become a time of profound loss for our family. The day after we celebrated our vow renewal on Ke Iki Beach, we learned our 17-year old niece had committed suicide. So there we would gather not 24 hours later, numb with shock and grief, at an adjacent locale on the same North Shore beach, in order to commemorate her life with a poignant sunset memorial service. The ceremonial leis that we wore with such joy the day prior became the commemorative leis we would craft into floral hearts on the beach and later cast to sea with our tears, as evidence of our sorrow. It was immensely heartbreaking while at the same time, a wholly authentic and transformative grief ritual.
Her formal Celebration of Life, scheduled for the following week, would prove uncomfortable for a number of reasons, most notably because the manner of her death was not spoken aloud, despite being ever present in the hearts and minds of all. She deserved to have her story told in a way that honored the truth and beauty of her 17 years, 5 months and 12 days upon the planet. And she deserved a more sacred and honest witnessing as last nod and mourner’s testament of her choice to take her own life. I carried this ceremonial unease with me for years following until it eventually transfigured into my personal call to action.
The degree to which both these life events might have benefitted from a more professional and skilled celebrant was obvious to me. They would prove to be the impetus for me in pursuing my certification with the Celebrant Foundation & Institute three and a half years later.
Absolutely. I love co-crafting ceremonies and rituals for friends and family to officiate and enact. I will often do this for clients who seek a private healing ceremony or fun and casual affair.
We’ll work together in much the same way I do with my other ceremonies. I’ll orchestrate the words and rituals with and for you. We’ll create detailed notes and to-do’s for all involved, and I’ll ensure each speaker and ritual leader has the custom speaking notes and checklist that he or she needs. You will still receive a keepsake copy of the ceremony. The only difference is, you and yours will be self-directed on the day of the ceremony…but of course, I’ll be a phone call, text or FaceTime screen away.
My typical ceremony fees traditionally range from $400-$750 for most custom ceremonies, to $800-$1250+ for more elaborate or multi-tiered ceremonies, to an hourly fee for my home funeral and End of Life consultations. I use these terms most and more elaborate ceremonies loosely though.
Once we sit down and overview your unique needs in depth, I will be better able to quote you a firm, flat-rate fee. In arriving at my fee, I factor in my anticipated amount of writing, research and preparation hours, and must disclose: It’s rare for me to dedicate anything less than 20-30 hours in my ceremonial work.
I rarely know how to answer this….it’s like asking me to choose my favorite child!
I do seriously love the spirit of each type of ceremony – welcoming babies, honoring life’s milestones, celebrating love, blessing spaces, facilitating healing and commemorating lives.
So I guess my favorite ceremony is….any and all of them!