What Do Humanist Celebrants Do? Meaning Explained


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A celebrant is someone who is ordained to perform a rite. This is typically a religious leader like a priest or rabbi. However, not everyone belongs to one of these religions or has religious beliefs at all. Similarly, some events are multicultural, requiring a blending of religions. 

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In this case, a humanist celebrant steps in. These individuals play a similar role to the clergy or other religious leaders, and they can officiate a funeral, wedding, or memorial service. These individuals specialize in non-religious ceremonies. 

There’s a lot of confusion around what it means to be a humanist celebrant. In this guide, we’ll discuss what humanist celebrants do and their specific duties at different events. 

What’s a Humanist Celebrant?

A humanist celebrant is someone who is authorized to perform humanist celebrations and rites. Humanist celebrants lead a number of different events such as:

  • Weddings
  • Renewal of vows
  • Funerals or memorials
  • Celebration of life
  • Retirement
  • Baby welcoming or naming
  • Birthday celebration

Humanist celebrants follow Humanism, a progressive philosophy of life that doesn’t rely on theism or the belief in any higher powers. This is a lifestyle inspired by art, science, and the individual. Unlike religions that believe in God or another divine being, humanists find their own meanings and beliefs outside of formal religion.

Celebrants are those who are qualified to lead in big life milestones like weddings and funerals. For those who don’t believe in any religion, a humanist celebrant is equipped with the skills needed to guide humanists through these life changes. 

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What Duties Does a Humanist Celebrant Have?

Humanist celebrants do many of the same duties as religious celebrants. Their duties largely depend on their skill level as well as the type of occasion. For example, a wedding celebrant will do different duties compared to a funeral celebrant.

Most humanist celebrants do the following:

  • Understand needs: First, they meet with the family to discuss their needs and expectations for this event. 
  • Legal requirements: In some cases, such as a wedding, the celebrant will also need to be aware of any legal requirements to ensure the wedding is legal. 
  • Personalization: The celebrant also helps the family personalize the event, whether that means adding readings, speeches, music, or so on. 
  • Rituals: Some celebrants are also versed in different cultural rituals that families might choose to include in their event, like a ring exchange, candle lighting, etc. 
  • Public speaking: Celebrants usually lead the service, taking on a public speaking role. 
  • Counseling: Lastly, some celebrants are equipped to help with grief, family difficulties, and more. They can also assist with reaching out to the greater humanist community. 

Each humanist celebrant brings his or her unique skills for each event. Some focus on specific events like weddings, while others are a jack of all trades. Because this role isn’t under the umbrella of a religion, there is a lot of flexibility. 

Humanist celebrants also usually handle their own marketing and business growth. Since they’re not promoted by any religion or associated with a place of worship, the weight is on them to attract clients and build a base in the event space. 

How Do You Find a Humanist Celebrant?

In the United States, humanist celebrants are “ordained” by the American Humanist Association. There are similar bodies of leadership in other parts of the world. These associations are the ones who provide the preliminary skills and education for these celebrants, and they’re also the source of the humanist philosophy. 

When looking for a humanist celebrant, you’ll want to find one who is endorsed by the AHA or a similar organization. You can search for a humanist celebrant using a tool like the Humanist Society’s database. This lists information about the celebrant as well as their accreditation.

When choosing a humanist celebrant for your wedding, funeral, or other life event, consider these tips below. There is no one-size-fits-all process for finding a celebrant, and you’ll want to feel confident in this fit.

  • Word-of-mouth: The best way to find a great recommendation for a celebrant is through word of mouth. Is there anyone your friends, family, or coworkers trust?
  • Venue: Your celebration or memorial venue can also be a source of information. Most funeral homes, for example, know local funeral celebrants. 
  • Specialization: It’s important that your celebrant is familiar with your specific type of event. Whether you’re hosting a humanist funeral or celebration of life ceremony, make sure this is something your celebrant understands.
  • Reviews and references: More celebrants are sharing past reviews and references. These are the best way to get a feel for their process and skill level. 
  • Comfort level: Last but not least, you need to feel comfortable and supported by your celebrant of choice. 

It’s common to search around for a while to find the right celebrant. Starting with an online search is a good first step, but it shouldn’t be your only step. From there, check accreditation, reviews, and their past experience. This is someone who will be present for a meaningful part of your life. Don’t rush this process. 

» MORE: Plan ahead with confidence. Claim your free membership now.

How Much Do Humanist Celebrants Usually Cost?

Humanist celebrants are self-employed business owners. They typically don’t work under an agency or any large governing or religious body. As such, they have a lot of freedom to name their own price when it comes to ceremonies. 

Most humanist celebrants charge different fees based on the type of event. The most expensive event is typically a wedding, which can cost upwards of $500. 

For funerals, celebrations of life, and memorials, most celebrants charge around $150 to $300. The fee will usually depend on the size and length of the service. Some celebrants will work for free, though this is usually on a charitable giving basis. 

Humanist celebrants have to pay fees to stay actively accredited, and they also go through intense training to earn experience. This is a skill worth paying for, so consider how much you’re willing to pay on your own humanist celebrant if you choose to include one at an event. 

How Do You Become a Humanist Celebrant?

Anyone can become a humanist celebrant, but there is a process to follow. It’s not as simple as signing up online and printing a certificate. The Humanist Society, under AHA, has a lengthy endorsement process depending on the endorsement you’d like to achieve. 

There are multiple endorsement levels:

  • Associate humanist celebrant: This is an introductory endorsement level, and it’s only valid for a 90-day period. 
  • Humanist celebrant: This is the full-level endorsement, and humanist celebrants are legally able to perform weddings and memorials. This is valid for a two-year period and then must be renewed. 
  • Humanist lay leader: This endorsement level is specifically for those who wish to support a military installation with their humanist practice.
  • Humanist chaplain: A chaplain is a humanist who represents the philosophy’s values in institutions like schools, nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, etc. 

You can apply for any of the above online. First, you’ll need to ensure you understand humanism and its structures as defined by the Humanist Society. You’ll also need to read and agree to the guidelines and code of conduct. From there, you must complete an online application and pay professional fees. 

These endorsements require renewals to stay active. After your first two-year renewal, you will only need to renew every five years. Many choose to begin with the associate role, proceeding with the more complex endorsement process if they feel it’s the right fit for them. 

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Advancing Humanism One Celebration at a Time

Humanist celebrants are called upon to celebrate life’s biggest milestones, from birth to death and everything in between. Ideal for those who don’t believe in a particular religion or celebrations that combine multiple cultures, humanist celebrants play an important role in some of life’s most important moments. 

Whether you’re considering using a humanist celebrant in a family event or you’ve been called to this path yourself, understanding humanism is the first step. This lifestyle philosophy is about supporting one’s community and doing good each day. 

infographic on humanist celebrants

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

  1. “Join the Humanist Society.” The Humanist Society: Celebrating Life. TheHumanistSociety.org

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