2011 Conference: CMC Q&A

June 3rd, 2013


Celebrants were invited to submit questions to members of the CMC on the final morning of this year’s conference | watch the video here

 Where appropriate we grouped questions under themes, and we did not manage to answer them all at conference due to time limitations.

Lorraine Barret chairs CMC Q&A with, from left, Janice Thornton, martin Wooller and newly elected CMC member Noel Scott

Lorraine Barrett did a great job at Chairing the session for us. We include below brief summary responses to all the questions, including some we missed at Conference, in blue font.


  1. To whom are the trainers responsible?

They work together with the Training Officer to agree how they work and the content of training materials, and CMC receive regular updates on important issues. CMC decides on policy and strategy for training and HoC implements what is agreed and manages the Training Officer. Ultimately they are responsible to the CMC who would act on any concerns raised using the grievance procedures in place.

  1. Are trainee (wedding) celebrants becoming accredited immediately upon completion of training without any mentoring or observation?

Since earlier this year, all celebrants are now accredited on successful completion of their training, which has been developed to build in more practical assessment before completion. However, that accreditation will be withdrawn if they do not have an independent observation confirming their suitability within a specified period. All trainees should have a mentor to support them following their training until they have been successful in that observation.

  1. I am concerned that some trainees (only a few people) are being accredited when they are not really of high quality. Some mentors fail to pick this up, and/or are not very helpful. I know this is a difficult one…

We are confident that only high quality trainees are successfully accredited, but inevitably some people do not maintain that quality when they begin or continue working as celebrants. Our quality assurance approach has been evolved to address this and anyone with concerns about quality should inform the HoC or a member of CMC so that we can investigate and act if necessary.

  1. Please may we have some CPD workshops this year? I found the one we had last year invaluable for meeting my colleagues and sharing ideas.

This year’s planned sessions have been postponed due to all the staff changes and our financial position. We hope to run the next series of CPD workshops  early in 2012.

  1. Celebrants are not counsellors, but there are cross-over skills and the emotional “cost” at times is significant. What is the current position on including more bereavement training within the celebrant training and within on-going professional development and support?

We do have a policy on emotional support for celebrants who need it – including access to a team of celebrants who are trained counsellors who have volunteered to assist if needed, co-ordinated by Matthew Simpson. So far, no use has been made of this as far as we know. We could consider this as a topic for future CPD and include in the training review whether it needs more attention in our basic training.


    1. Why is recruitment of celebrants not fully open. If “blind” to the concerns, resentments, jealousies of existing celebrants in the area.

From left: CMC member and BHA trustee David Savage with Mary Porter (CMC member and BHA trustee), Janice Thornton (CMC member), Lorraine Barrett (Q&A session chair), Gill Herbert (CMC chair), Martin Wooller (CMC member), behind: Ben Siegle (Head of Ceremonies) & Noel Scott (CMC member)

    Disagreements over where and who we recruit has taken enormous amounts of time for staff and CMC in recent years. We try to find ways to encourage local teams to resolve local issues, but often have to intervene where agreement cannot be reached. We are working hard to find ways to ensure we have good capacity everywhere to meet local needs without unduly going against the wishes of those celebrants who want to prevent others working in “their area”.  We acknowledge that in the last year some decisions were taken to go ahead with recruitment in areas that did not want more celebrants introduced. We hope we have resolved most of the issues that arose, but there will always be disagreements on some of this.

  1. Why should the success of budding celebrant applicants depend upon the views of existing celebrants in the region?

No one celebrant should be able to enforce what happens if it is to the detriment of the network as a whole or a local team. However, in many instances, differing views creates tension and in some cases strong disagreement. If we can, CMC and HoC will assist in finding ways to resolve these when they arise. We don’t always succeed.

  1. What has been done this year to encourage recruits from alternative ethnic and cultural backgrounds to white middle class?

In truth, very little, despite this being something we would like to do. If anyone would like to volunteer to help us diversify our network, please let HoC or CMC know. We hope we can generation new leaflets etc which will help with this.

  1. What is the current position with regard to the Recruitment Working Party?

We are focussing first on a training review, and hope to gather views across the network on Recruitment in the forthcoming survey to help us decide on policy on future recruitment.

Quality assurance:

  1. Why do we need peer assessment?

We like to talk about Peer Review as part of our on-going quality assurance – not Peer Assessment. This has been designed to be a supportive and helpful learning experience, where we can share and use our knowledge and expertise to help each other. Guidance on this is available on the Forum in the Resources section.

  1. How’s the use of feed-back leaflets going? Does the CMC get reports on this. Where does the CMC want to take this?

Ben gave some initial feed-back in his opening address to conference. We are receiving very high levels of “excellent” and some good information to use in our marketing materials. HoC reports to CMC regularly on feed-back received and we act on any negative issues reported (of which there are very few).

  1. The feed-back forms provide feed-back to the BHA but an unintended consequence is that thank you cards to celebrants have dried up, leading to a lack of testimonies for celebrants to use in their publicity. Any thoughts on strengthening the ties between celebrants and past clients?

We have been aware of this effect, and that is why celebrants always receive a copy of the comments made when it is sent to the office. Most celebrants are reporting that some clients still prefer to write or e-mail thanks, rather than fill in the feed-back form and some do both.

  1. It concerns us that any officiant working locally might be providing an unprofessional level of service, especially in the view of the forthcoming BHA Partnership Agreement, where we shall be expected to actively promote the work of officiants working locally. We wondered therefore if you could tell us what mechanisms are in place for monitoring quality, including seeking and processing feed-back. (From a local BHA affiliated Humanist Group).

There are good procedures for anyone to be able to report concerns about quality of work undertaken by an accredited celebrant and all such reported to HoC are thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken. We welcome the work the BHA has done to strengthen ties between local Humanist Groups and celebrants and we hope that will lead to more collaboration to ensure good quality from all our celebrants.


1.What progress is being made on “branding”.

The badges have been launched at Conference and HoC is working on redesigning the Humanist Ceremonies “livery” using that design. We know there is a lot of work to be done re-writing much of our literature and it is now a high priority to work on that.

Levies & Fees:

  1. I would like to know what procedures are in place with regard to accredited celebrants not paying their levies on time or not paying at all?

We ask staff to remind and nag celebrants who do not send in returns but this takes lots of time. If anyone has difficulties paying for any reason it helps if they let HoC know. Otherwise it really does help us with planning and organising support of the network if levies are paid on time. Celebrants who have not completed their first two quarter returns and paid their accreditation fee by mid November won’t be included in our 2012 Directory and will have their accreditation withdrawn. We hope it won’t be many of you.

  1. If there are members of BHA who work as celebrants but are not accredited and do not pay levies will any action be taken to end their BHA membership?

The recently agreed Partnership Agreements with local Humanist Groups goes some way to address these concerns and we are pleased with the progress made. We think there are fewer situations where this arises than there were, and we’ll continue our discussions in areas where disagreements arise.

  1. I am happy with the fee bandings. For clarification, does the fee include travel and other expenses? Does anyone or area charge the highest fee for funerals?

Your expenses should be charged in addition to your fee. The levy is 10% of your fee only.  You should not pay tax on your expenses. Do ask for advice or see the discussions on the forum if you are having difficulty understanding this.

Working Together:

  1. How can celebrants be encouraged to co-operate and develop more work together – rather than competing amongst ourselves?

Some groups of celebrants work really well together, do very effective local marketing and make sure they cover each other well. Others work much more in isolation. We’d welcome your ideas on how we can encourage more group working via the Forum or in contributions to the forthcoming survey.

  1. How about regional BHA celebrants teams, the bigger the better?

We already have well-established teams in some areas of the Country and if you want to set up a local group do let us know. There are lots of things we can help with and a member of CMC will try to get to meet with you all and support you getting going.

David Savage joins the fray


  1. We welcome our Belgian colleagues. Would it be good if they could tell us about themselves, and the situation inBelgium, by being invited to take a session next year?


  1. I think it would be a good idea, and good for celebrants if attendance at the Conference was compulsory every, say, four years. SO much is learned, we are kept up to date, and make valuable contacts.

We suspect there are quite a lot of celebrants who are unable to attend due to domestic arrangements, other commitments or cost. We’re doing a lot more this year to enable us to share some of the events and information over the internet. Again, we’d welcome thoughts in the forthcoming survey about preferences for conference. We have no intention of making attendance compulsory.

Competition and Collaboration:

  1. The majority of BHA trained and accredited celebrants aren’t interested in being part of a network. The majority don’t come to conference, don’t participate in regional meetings and don’t work co-operatively. Yet many of these people are handling huge numbers of ceremonies… does their non-participation matter?

This is not something anyone on CMC would recognise – the majority of celebrants are very interested in being part of a network – hence why they stay with us – and most work co-operatively. Some individuals are less co-operative and we’d like to see them working more closely with colleagues to ensure we meet out aims as a network. Your ideas on how we do this better are very welcome.


  1. It appears irrelevant to clients and recommenders (e.g. funeral directors) whether local secular celebrants are BHA trained and accredited and maintain membership of the BHA ceremonies network or not. Given there can never be a time when celebrancy work is regulated (if you accept that family members and friends can and must be able to facilitate ceremonies) isn’t it time to face up to this reality and change the business model so that we shift to become purely a training provider for people who want to run secular ceremonies?

All localities and personal experiences are different and it is up to you to challenge attitudes if your local clients and funeral directors are not well informed about Humanist Ceremonies and what we do. We now have much more information available and there is more to come, but nothing works as well as making local contacts and actively promoting what we do. We have considered and will again when the survey if complete if we need to change business model, but the feed-back we have received in the last year suggests most celebrants want a more pro-active network than just being  a training provider. It gives us a unique advantage over other groups such as Civil Ceremonies who have moved more to that model. Again, views on this are welcome.

  1. Funeral directors don’t seem to know the difference between a humanist and a civil celebrant. How far should we go in enlightening them?

This varies around the different localities, in some areas they are well aware of the differences. Again, personal contact is the best and most effective way to get across what we do, but we are planning some national programmes which may help as well.

  1. FDs around our way are reporting some aggressive activity by Civil Ceremonies, including the use of register office noticeboards to advertise their free-lance services. Do we need an official approach to their professional or statutory body, or deal with it case by case, or do we just rely on the fact that we will generally do a better job?

No public sector service should be advertising one particular provider and you can challenge its propriety if they are doing so. Some Local Authorities do have our contact details in their information and will carry our literature – try to make sure yours does as well.

Other topics

  1. Are you sure there is no God?

Sure enough not to worry about it.

  1. To what extent should acknowledgement of religious belief be excised from humanist ceremonies? Would appropriate material include literature or music possessed some sort of religious underpinning?  Tee Hee….

Any volunteers to write the policy for Humanist Ceremonies on this?

  1. Is there a system whereby retiring celebrants receive an acknowledgement or thank you when they stop work? A local celebrant retired after five years, and has not heard anything at all from the BHA.

All retiring celebrants should receive an acknowledgement from the office and we are very sorry if that has not happened. Do let HoC know if someone is planning retirement or if circumstances change.

  1. As to the ethos of motivation for celebrant activity, is it the case that two principle ones exist? Namely, the business oriented ethos, focussed upon volume and profit; and the service-orientated one, focussed simply on quality alone, independent of volume and profit?

Every celebrant is an individual with individual motivations and views. We hope that none of our accredited celebrants are driven purely by volume and profit but rather by offering high quality support to those wanting a good ceremony to celebrate something. Working towards extending the number of people who use us and growing the number of well-trained celebrants is just as much part of that as each individual doing a good job.

  1. What can celebrants do more of to help other BHA work e.g. education?

BHA Celebrants are ambassadors for humanism.  They not only articulate humanist values they demonstrate them in practice.  They have contact with people who share our values but who would not call themselves humanist and  they are aware of their questions, issues and needs. The resulting understanding can support our wider BHA work in many areas: offering insight in the development of materials for the general public and schools; information for our campaigns or supporting particular programmes, for instance the development of our teams of speakers for schools and colleges.

  1. I know we are cost constrained, but is the BHA or CMC considering any major national promotion of non-religious ceremonies specifically, as opposed to humanism in general as in “There’s probably no god, etc”

We work constantly to use the available funds to promote Humanist Ceremonies. Current focus is on improving our Web presence, and it seems to be making a difference, but we will continue to develop new approaches through the Directory and other national promotion. Ben updated us on this at Conference and it is an important part of his workplan.

  1. What is the current position with regard to the review of Ceremonies materials such as the pamphlets?

The conference workshop on this demonstrated that this is now a priority – to update the copy and style of the Humanist Ceremonies leaflets in line with the great new designs and work being led by Sara Passmore of the BHA. If you have not got your supplies of the new BHA leaflets do order some.

  1. Could we be working with people before they die?

Many celebrants do this and make links with their local hospices, hospitals and nursing homes to ensure staff know where to find a Humanist Celebrant if one is needed. There is some guidance on charging for this as well – ask the office if you want a copy.

  1. After a funeral, once I’m on the flower terrace I find my role becomes unclear. Does anyone else find this? What’s your advice?

This is a classic query that could be well answered on the forum – if you don’t use it get your password from the office, log in and ask away – there will be lots of good advice.

  1. How is CMC leading the public debate about changes in the style of funerals, and where will we have got in 10 years?

We continue to listen to, talk to and communicate with as many celebrants as possible as well as other organisations, clients and those who give us feed-back. There is no doubt that funerals are changing fast and there is much competition from other non-religious celebrants. We’d really welcome your ideas and thoughts on this in the forth-coming survey. We hope it will help us ensure we continue as a major training and provider of celebrants in the years to come.

If you have questions or suggestions for CMC to consider, please contact any of us by phone or e-mail the office – CMC@humanism.org.uk. The new Celebrant Survey will give you the opportunity to express your views on some of the above issues and other topics. Do take time to complete it and let us know what you think when it arrives. What you tell us will inform how we develop the network in the next few years.