So, What’s a Celebrant?

Last year I had never heard of a Celebrant. A what? What do they do? Sounds weird.

Last week I walked into a room with 20 strangers, all there to learn about how to make a funeral personal & each life meaningful. When I was told that on the last day of training I would have to present a eulogy I had written for a fictitious person I felt overwhelmed, “How in the world will I do that?” I wondered. After 2 days of full training we were split into groups and given a situation to create a service around.

Suicide. Baby. Alzheimers. Senior. Child.

“Molly, you’re team has the teenager.” deep breath, ok, a teenager. Ugh.

I got together with my teammates, now friends after these few days of deep and incredible learning & discussion. We created Jimmy Green, a young man, a soccer player who died of leukemia leaving behind parents, a brother and sister.

I was up until 2am writing Jimmy’s eulogy and presented it with my teammates the next morning in the string of the 8 funerals enacted. As I spoke about Jimmy’s life an odd thing happened, my voice choked and caught with emotion and I had to pause in grief over a boy who never lived. I looked up to see others in the audience also with tears in their eyes and I knew that what I was doing was powerful.

Today I am a Certified Funeral Celebrant and passionate about informing the world about the beautiful service a Celebrant can give to a family.


To quote our trainers, the amazing Doug Manning (author of The Funeral & Don’t Take My Grief Away From Me – read these!) and brilliant Glenda Stansbury, “A Celebrant provides a funeral service that is personalized to reflect the personality and life-style of the deceased.

The original idea of a Celebrant came about as a solution for families who didn’t have a home church or religious affiliation. Australia was the first place to create this unique role, built around telling the story of the life as it was lived. There are many families where a religious funeral doesn’t fit and the need for someone who can tell their story even so is needed.

Therefore, Celebrants specialize in more “secular” services, often writing eulogies for lives that no pastors knew.

Please don’t mistake me for saying that pastors do not give meaningful services, many of them do. The issue lies in creating a service that stays true to the life being honored. If they weren’t religious, then the family may feel a religious service isn’t appropriate. While that’s up to the family, isn’t it wonderful to have an option that can speak straight and truly to the life being remembered? I think it’s pretty wonderful and VERY important.


A certified Funeral Celebrant will meet with the deceased’s family the week of the service for several hours. This meeting serves to acquaint the Celebrant with the myriads of stories that the family has to tell, the good, the bad & the ugly.

After listening, note taking & asking questions, the Celebrant leaves to write the personal story with the tools of their training.

Furthermore, Glenda encouraged us all to take our tribute a step further by finding a giveaway token that represents an aspect of the life we honor. Whether it’s a favorite candy, signature recipe, a game piece or custom bookmark, giving your audience a token of remembrance validates their relationship lost and gives them an object of comfort. Beautiful? Yes, beautiful.


Concept image with What is Your Story printed on an old typewriter

The Celebrant’s goal and purpose is to tell the life story with an honesty and graciousness that presents a real and full picture of the person we have gathered to remember.

One of the services that we heard in the training was for a young man who had struggled with drugs and addiction for nearly all of his 30 years. The eulogy touched on his AA experiences, incorporated some of the inspiriting quotations that AA focuses on, and still left each of us with the knowledge that he had led a life that had mattered, that had mattered to others, and that was going to be missed. Celebrant services are quite often given to people who some might deem unworthy of a service – to them I say, every life has a meaning and a story that should be heard.

I attended a funeral where the deceased was hardly mentioned. The way he died (which was tragic) was never spoken of, and the pastor’s attempt to be personal amounted to him telling us the different nicknames his family had for him. I didn’t hear about my friend, I couldn’t find him in the service and I had come to find him and to say goodbye.

I left that service with a deeply unsettled heart. My friend wasn’t spoken of, the tragedy of his death was the elephant in the room that the pastor couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge. This felt so wrong and like such a disservice to the joyful life and friend I had known. The pastor knew almost nothing about him, it was obvious. He had hardly even bothered to learn about the life we were there to remember, he was unworthy of telling the story.

Doug said in our training,

“Even the worst commercial is scripted, planned & rehearsed. But not funerals.”

In a similar way, we extensively plan weddings, birthday & retirement parties that are usually uniquely customized to the preferences of the person being celebrated. So why does this happen so little at a funeral? Families make wonderful gestures by bringing in photos, trinkets and beloved possessions of their loved one but shouldn’t the eulogy reflect who we are there remembering as well?

A personalized funeral does not just tell the story, it also provides a fitting tribute that families crave and need as they begin their journey through grief. A story left untold or told poorly lay troubled and burdened paths out before the grieving.

We feel charged as leaders in our profession and guides for our families to bring them the very best.

If you would like to learn more about Celebrants, we have an opportunity for you. On April 3rd we are hosting an “A Celebration of Art: Two Paths One Journey” at the mortuary featuring the art of one of our favorite Funeral Celebrants, Ty Rose. Ty will share briefly about his experience as a Celebrant and how the impact of his work has shaped and given purpose to so much of his art.

You can RSVP here.

The evening is open to all and I sincerely hope you’ll come to enjoy some fine art, taste good food, sip some wine and mingle with our Celebrant friends.

Finally, my favorite line of Glenda’s: “The highest compliment I receive as a Celebrant is when someone comes up to me and asks, ‘How long did you know Jimmy?’ to which I reply, ‘You know, I actually never knew him, but I wish I had.’”

|| what do you think?

– Would you want a Celebrant Service? Why or why not?
– Have you seen a personalized service? How did it impact you?

To learn more about Celebrants and Doug & Glenda, click here.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Erin Fodor says:

    Hi Molly,

    I love the idea and the use of a celebrant. As a service director, I see first hand how they can impact a family. The priests/clergy do a good job, but don’t have or put in the time to get to know the family or the person they are serving. Whereas I’ll hear from a family that the celebrant spent 6+ hours with them, telling stories and learning about the persons life. I think that is special in its own right. I myself would use a celebrant if there were a need in my family.


    • Erin,
      You are so right!! In the training Doug talked about the Family meeting actually being the most important part about what the Celebrant does for the family. The meeting initiates conversations, begins to pave the path to healing, and create an open and safe environment for the family to share and remember.

      You are so insightful! Thank you for sharing your experience, just lovely!


  2. Mark says:

    Molly…..Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger because I had never heard the word celebrant either….but I now understand how important they are in helping our families deal with the death of their loved ones….when I worked for hospice one of the phrases we used was “dying with dignity”…..I think our celebrants are helping our families to practice that as we celebrate their loved ones….. Mark

    • You are so right, Mark. Giving a story and meaning to every life validates the value of the life and helps those grieving to realize what has been lost. It’s so important to establish that significance for them and to do it with the dignity and personal touch that rightly honors and meets their family’s specific needs.

      Thank you so much for reading! I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one out of the loop!


  3. Shayna Mallik says:

    Thank you for writing about the Celebrant training, it sounds like it was a very powerful and meaning full 3 days of training. It is great to know exactly what happens at these training since we all could not attend. I am so proud of you to now be a Certified Celebrant! Way to go! I know you will do great at it. I think a Celebrant is a great idea for our families, since not all families have had a Church they have belonged to their whole life or most of their lives. Thank you for another great blog!


    • Thank you so much, Shayna! Yes, everyone deserves a personalized service whether they’ve got a pastor who’s known them their whole lives or not. I’m glad this shed a little more light for you on the background & purpose of Celebrants. Thanks so much for reading Shayna!

  4. Anne Anderson Collins says:

    So glad you wrote about this wonderful option we offer our families here at O’Connor. Last year, unknowingly, I gave an extensive celebrant-quality eulogy and created a very memorable service for my beloved Lou when he died, without ever having had the training. Then a mere few months later, I was asked to perform the services for my doctor’s mother and did exactly what you did in your training. I spent several hours with the doctor, his daughters by phone and the brother. All gave me amazing fodder for an incredible story that I couldn’t wait to tell.
    And, like Glenda said to you participants in training, at the graveside, the granddaughters, all college age and all intensely close to their grandmother, surrounded me and peppered me with questions: “You told us things even we did not know. How did you know our grandmother so intimately without us having ever met you???” (In those comments, I knew I had somehow hit a home run for this hurting family.) We hugged and laughed and I let them know I had only briefly met her twice, but I felt I knew her wonderfully and intimately after piecing together her amazing courageous life from all I had been told.
    Celebrants fill a much-needed hole in funeral celebrations. I am also so committed to this passion. Thanks for bringing it to light in your blog.

    • Anne,
      You are a perfect example of how natural and good the idea of Celebrancy is. It’s amazing to me that it was so instinctive for you, that you were courageous enough and together enough to tell Lou’s story so beautifully and fully on your own.
      And do you realize that with your Doctor asking you to do this great service for his family that it means he’s identified you as a “safe” person? Doug & Glenda talked about that extensively, about the importance of being someone safe, someone who can hear the good, bad & ugly and tell it with gracious honesty.
      You were a gift to that family and you were able to give them that because of how wonderfully hard you work to be someone safe, someone trusted, someone without judgement who holds only grace and an ever-listening ear.
      I have felt that with you since the early days of our friendship and it is one of the things I prize most about you.
      I believe you’ll do more of these services, it’s a natural gifting of yours.

      Thank you for giving this gift & for doing it even before you knew just how meaningful and good it was.

      Love you,

  5. Lori says:

    Thank you for this informative post for those who do not know the purpose of a Celebrant. I too was unfamiliar with the concept until a few months ago. With the feedback I have had from families who have chosen Keith or Ty to host their services, the concept is definitely being embraced. I am glad more families will have the opportunity to experience what Celebrants bring to a service.
    Congratulations on being a Certified Celebrant! Sounds like it was a wonderful experience..

    • Lori,
      Thank you so much for the kind words. It was an incredible 3 days and I’m in awe of Doug & Glenda’s wisdom and purpose.

      I know you share my passion for the Celebrant and I so appreciate your kindness & support of myself and our families who have enjoyed the blessing of Ty & Keith.

      Much love to you dear,

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