It was Victorian based Jo Betz's own wedding that inspired her to become a celebrant. Finding it quite daunting to choose the right celebrant, Jo understood firsthand just how many other brides might be experiencing the same fears, and thus found her calling. Jo's beautiful nature, authenticity & true passion for her work make her one of the most sought after celebrants in the industry.
In this recent interview Jo chatted to us about her favourite wedding moment so far, her tips for writing the perfect wedding vows and shared an insight into her life behind the scenes...
What does a day in the life of a marriage celebrant usually involve…
There are various stages you can see me in when being a marriage celebrant and its different all the time. Some days I’m gallivanting around on blind dates with potential couples to see if I’m the right person for their day, other days I am flat out in front of the computer creating perfect ceremonies and some days are filled with spending time with my couples, getting to know them, talking all things wedding and talking just in general as I’m a bit of a chatter. In between that, I’m attending wedding rehearsals and then you will also see the more glamorous side when I’m all frocked up and performing ceremonies for some of the most incredible couples in some heavenly locations. To be honest, the day in the life of a marriage celebrant is just lovely, it involves all my favourite things – meeting people, enjoying copious cups of tea, fashion, travel, writing and there is heaps more, but now I sound like I’m bragging!
A civil ceremony is perfect for expressing a couples individuality. What is some advice that you can give to couples planning to have a civil ceremony?
There is no right or wrong when it comes to a civil ceremony, and that is the beauty of it. My advice is to sit with your partner and really talk about what you want out of your ceremony. And even more importantly, what you don’t want. For instance do you want your ceremony to be personal, relaxed, formal, traditional, short, long etc. You may find you and your partner have different ideas, so you need to talk it through as it should reflect both of you. Then you need to find a celebrant that best compliments what you are after and compliments your personalities. Always meet your celebrant, or at least talk to them and get a sense of their style. You need to feel comfortable around them and also feel like you’re being heard, so don’t settle for anyone that doesn’t make you feel this way. Once you’ve chosen the perfect celebrant they can help you with every step of the ceremony, from the legal components to different ideas to make it unique. Another important step is letting your celebrant get to know you, it makes their job ten times easier and enables them to create a truly personalised ceremony for you. There is no better satisfaction than having someone say to you, it felt like you had known them forever, as that is exactly what I like to try and portray.
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Writing your wedding vows can be one of the most stressful parts of the planning. What advice do you have for couples when writing their vows and how best to keep the nerves at bay when saying them on the day?
My first piece of advice is to be yourself when writing or choosing your vows. Don’t be anyone else, or do what other people think you ‘should’ do. It’s a really personal part of the ceremony, so if you’re the creative type, write what comes naturally to you, there is no right or wrong. And if you’re not so creative, don’t fear, you can find words that say exactly what you would like to convey to your partner. Your celebrant should have a heap of samples you can look through and will be happy to help tailor your vows if you’re still having trouble. As for nerves, there are a couple of things. At your rehearsal really talk through with you celebrant as to how the vows will be conducted and what is most comfortable for you. Some people like to repeat after the celebrant, other’s use palm cards – but definitely work this out in advance. Then read your vows through a few times in the lead up to the ceremony so you’re familiar with the wording and the way it should sound. Remember that at the end of the day you’re standing in front of the one you love and those closest to you so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Also trust that your celebrant will do everything they can to make you feel comfortable, while we can’t say them for you, we will certainly be there with a reassuring smile to help you through.
Many couples often experience pressure from family members or friends to include certain traditions on the day. What are some tips for a bride or groom to incorporate more traditional/religious ideas into a modern wedding?
There are a lot of ways to include traditions and religious ideas throughout the modern ceremony and I’ve seen this happen many times in the ceremonies I’ve conducted and each has worked wonderfully well. Let your celebrant know what the tradition or religious idea is and they will help you best place it in the ceremony so it’s meaningful and the ceremony still flows. A few things I’ve witnessed or been part of have been religious readings, the pinning of a Scottish family tartan onto the bride, a huge and colourful Hindu ceremony followed by a civil ceremony and one of my favourites, a Jewish glass breaking right before the kiss – I really wanted to have a go!
Many civil ceremonies take place in public places such as beaches or parks. Are there any guidelines or regulations eg. council permits, for conducting a ceremony in a public area?
Your first step is to always contact the council that looks after that area and asking what their regulations are. Sometimes you may have to pay a fee, or you will be allocated a specific time of use and they will also guide you on more specific rules such as whether you can throw confetti or decorate the area. Do always contact them though and enquire as to what their specific laws and regulations are. As there would be nothing worse than being told to move on mid ceremony!
Do you have a favourite wedding moment so far in your career?
I’ve had so many and it’s really hard to know where to start– see I’m bragging again! So I’m going to say two moments. One was a ceremony I conducted in Queensland in the Scenic Rim area at the amazing Spicer’s Peak lodge. I’d never physically met the couple before, we’d only skyped but when I arrived the day before the wedding it was like meeting old friends. On that day, they didn’t know, but I was being sneaky and peeking out my room window and watching them set up the ceremony with the most amazing arch and decorations they had lovingly prepared. It was so incredible watching them because you could really tell that they were so excited, so happy and that their wedding day was going to be an incredible moment in their lives – and it was. It was just a really special ceremony to me.
And the second was a ceremony I performed at The Langham in Melbourne. The couple I married I just clicked with immediately and we spent so many hours chatting and getting to know one another, before we even discussed wedding, that I honestly felt like I was writing about two of my oldest friends. The ceremony was the perfect blend of romance, humor and love and I walked away on the biggest high knowing that I had married two best friends and that I’d made two new friends – they’re probably going to have trouble getting rid of me!
Overall the best moments are always when I am saying the words that I've especially prepared for a couple and the bride and groom look you right in the eye with the hugest smile, mid ceremony, and you know they're thinking 'this is one of life's great moments'.
How far in advance should a couple book their wedding celebrant and why?
My personal belief is that it should be as soon as possible. A common problem can be couples being so caught up in booking venues, photographers, hair, make-up etc that they have the whole day planned and then realize they don’t actually have anyone to marry them, which is a pretty crucial step! This often leads to couples being disappointed as the celebrants they would most connect with are already booked. Great celebrants can be booked up to a year, sometimes more in advance, so do it quickly.
Many couples wish to include readings and/or poetry into their wedding ceremony, often read by friends or family members. What is your advice for including others in your ceremony?
I love when couples include important people to them in their ceremony it is a really nice way to acknowledge what they mean to you and also breaks up the ceremony from the celebrant talking the whole time. So yes, readings and poems have always been a good role to give family and friends, but there are other ways to include them too such as;
- Presentation of the rings – you could ask a close family member or friend to present the rings to you rather than just using your best man.
- Witnesses – as long as you select people that are over the age of 18, anyone can be witness to the signing of your marriage certificate and other legal paperwork.
- Loving words – I love the idea of using friends and family members to say personal words they have written for you, rather than readings. For instance in my own wedding ceremony we asked the mum’s to come forward and say why they thought we were perfect for each other. You could also ask someone to say what they hoped for you in your marriage or tell a funny story about you both.
- Music – If you’re lucky enough to know someone that is musical in anyway, have them play or sing during the ceremony.
However and whoever you choose to include, do let your celebrant know how you know them and why you’ve chosen them, as it’s always nice to give that person a special mention so people can see where they fit in, and also makes them feel special too.
Holding a destination wedding in an exotic location overseas is becoming more popular, particularly as a way to combine both a wedding and honeymoon. How do couples go about solemnising their marriage overseas and what advice can you provide?
First thing is to check the marriage laws of the country you are intending on being married in, to see if it is in fact possible, so go to a source such as the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to be married in. You may have a lot of paperwork to complete, or you may have to provide translated documents, but definitely check the countries requirements and the time frames as you don’t want to get to your destination, only to find out you can’t be married. Another option is to legally marry in a civil ceremony in Australia and then have a commitment ceremony at your destination, should the legal requirements be getting too hard or you’re running out of time. And if you take this option, and decide to have a commitment ceremony on the coast of Italy, just pop me in your suitcase, I’m pretty compact!
Music is such an integral and personal part of a couples wedding day. Do you have any tips on choosing music for a civil ceremony? Have you ever experienced an inappropriate choice of music at a ceremony?
Music is a tough one, and something I struggled with for my own ceremony. For a long time I was stuck in a rut worrying about lyrics and whether they conveyed enough about love and marriage. I also worried that my husband and I didn’t have a ‘song’ as such, unless you count silly tunes we sing on a Sunday afternoon. But I soon realized and learned it’s all about choosing what you love and setting the mood you’re trying to convey. Just go with what feels right for you. In the end I loved my aisle song so much, that I used it for our first dance too and it was perfect!
I haven’t personally experienced anything inappropriate and my belief is that whatever the couple choose is perfect for them, even if it’s not my type of music. Believe me I have the most lovey dovey i-Pod ever now that I’ve become a celebrant!
What are some of your other passions or favourite things to do in your spare time?
In my spare time you’ll find me with my husband and family, most likely eating and laughing in the round blue stone room my Dad built on our family property. Otherwise I’m reading books, day dreaming about travel, drinking tea, talking, definitely enjoying a glass of bubbles with my girlfriends, laughing, smiling and just being a pretty normal girl - I think - others may beg to differ!