Celebrant Saga

It appears 'some' people think I was over-reacting in response to the utter fuck-up that was our wedding ceremony. 

Our Celebrant Saga, identifier removed, as part of my complaint to the Registrar-General.

10 March 2017

Dear Sir,
It is with regret and sadness that I write to you today.

Our wedding, after nine months of planning was ruined in five minutes by the behavior of the wedding celebrant XXXXXXX of Kerikeri.

I thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

I have not included, but have available if required, all the word document copies where changes have been made back and forth on our ceremony.  And although the email communication is true copy and paste I have not included the qualifying data (to and from addresses and time stamps etc.) this is available on request. There were also 42 guests who witnessed what took place at our wedding so statements are available if required.

After the celebrant we had originally booked 9 months ahead of our 4 March 2017 wedding date cancelled four months out, we began looking for another celebrant. I sent a group email to a number of celebrants whose contact details we got from the Internal Affairs website. 

And so our story begins;

My partner and I are looking for a celebrant for our 4 March 2017 wedding. 
It is to be held at out home in North Hokianga, about half way between Kohukohu and Broadwood.
It is extremely important to us that our ceremony have absolutely no religious, spiritual or patriarchal inclusions.
Would this be something you could attend/accommodate.
Please let us know, and your costs. 

Hello Susan
Yes, I would be available on 4th March and I always make your ceremony exactly as you would like (my bold).  There are certain legal requirements that need to be said but we can address those when we meet.
I would ask that you both come to my home so we can meet and discuss what you would like.
My costs are $250.00 plus mileage.
Please let me know if you are considering me as I will keep this date clear for you.
Thank you for emailing me.
I look forward to hearing from you also as to what time you are considering..
Yours sincerely

We would like to meet with you.  
We'll both be in town on Monday and Wednesday, best time for us is just after five. 
Let me know what works for you. 
We live deep into the bush with dodgy reception but I'm available by phone on Monday and Wednesday next week if that's easier than email.  0275888049
Thanks so much

Hello Susan
Why don’t you call by on Monday after you have both finished work and we can sit down and work out what you want.
Warm regards

Hi Susan – again!  My address is  XXXXXXX, Kerikeri.  It is after Waipapa just off State Highway 10, about 1 K down on left.  See you on Monday.

3/12/16 (Susan replied)
Perfect.  See you then.

We had the meeting with XXXXXX as scheduled and we explained our requirements to her, that our ceremony must be completely secular, non-patriarchal/feminist and that we hold no beliefs of any spiritual kind and didn’t want anything as such included.  We explained we would be having tattooed wedding rings and these would be done before the ceremony. XXXXXX suggested we use something as a symbolic exchange and we were clear we wouldn’t be doing this. She agreed, but when she ran through what she wanted I had to correct her when she mentioned that she would give us ‘her blessing’. She agreed we would work out a ceremony that we wanted.

From this meeting I believed we had formed a contract with expectations for each party. That XXXXXX would deliver a professional, secular and non-patriarchal ceremony and we would pay for her professional services.

Hello Susan and Tony
The business of Christmas has caught up with me!!.
! am going down to Arrowtown today to be with family so I will focus on yourselves when I return just before the New Year.
I wish you all a very happy time of celebration and look forward to Your Day on 4th March
Yours very sincerely,

Thanks for letting us know.
Hope you have a wonderful time with family.
See you in the New Year.
Susan  & Tony

On Thursday 12 January 2017 XXXXXX phoned me, asking where Tony worked as she wanted to go and see him at work to get directions on how to get to our place. I told her where he worked and also told her I would email her a map. She said she would still go and see Tony at work, which she did. We thought this a bit strange, because she had a map and was asking Tony to show her where we were on the map. I also emailed her the directions as an attachment to the email below as I said I would.


Attached is a small map and blurb on how to get to our place.
I haven't got it with me today, (on the at home computer not on the internet), but on Tuesday I'll email you what we've got written so far.

Warmest regards,
Susan Nicholson

Hi Susan
Thank you for your email.  Tony was most helpful showing way on my map.  I will wait till you send your writings on your ceremony.  Then I will send my version – with legal bits in !!
Warm regards

Good morning XXXXXX,

I've attached some files, it will give you an idea of our ideal tone and where we are at so far. 
There is a 'secondary directions' instruction sheet - which we sent out as an RSVP reminder, our order of ceremony and Health and Safety brief.
I'm still working on readings, what I chose 6 months ago doesn't seem to fit now.
We're expecting 55-60 people.
I'm in town today and available by phone or email until about 6 pm, and again on Thursday. 

Warmest regards,
Susan Nicholson

Copy of what I sent XXXXXX as email attachment

Order of Ceremony
Guests have been invited to arrive from midday for 2 pm rites.
Ringing the bell to bring everyone together.
Tony and Susan take their places.
Welcome everyone.
Health and Safety briefing.
Reading 1 –
Personal vows –
Declaration – I do’s
Rings –
Pronouncement – partners for life
Reading 2 –
Signing the register – witnesses; Ngaire & Rose
Introduction – Mr & Mrs Tony & Susan Johns?

Health and safety
By actually getting here you’ve already overcome a number of significant hazards, a long drive in an enclosed space with your loved ones, our MP Winston Peters (although probably not – no one sees him), the atrocious Northland roads, the parking attendant and of course the driveway.
We hope you’ll enjoy exploring but please be aware, especially for kids, elders and the drunk, that this is a hazardous place.
At the bottom of the valleys there are streams, please keep an eye on your kids and drunken spouses. Up this track is a pond with deep water, sticky mud and filthy smokers.
We have relaxed the no smoking rule for today only and smokers are asked to smoke only at the spot up by the pond, dispose of their butts in the tin provided and return to the party. Also up the pond track, keeping the malodorous together, is the loo.
The pigs are friendly, but don’t stick your hands in their pens without some form of offering, you are after all, food.
The best man and the cow tend to stubbornness; bribery is effective but a stock stick works best.
Head up the bank to visit the chooks, but stay outside their enclosure, once you’ve seen them you’ll understand why you don’t want to be enclosed with the Raptors.
The sun and the bitey things are ferocious, so use protection and keep hydrated – not just beersies!
There is a first-aid kit in the pantry and the bridesmaids are practiced in blood-sports.
We hope you enjoy your time here.

Hello everyone,                                                                                                 15 November 2016

Time just races and those dates we set are fast approaching.  Much grateful thanks to those of you who have already RSVP’d, the rest of you need to shake a tail feather, please let us know yes or no to frogstomp000@gmail.com (three zeros) by 1 December.

A little extra information to help your travels go smoothly:

-          Plenty of self-catered bush ‘hard’ camping available for as long as anyone needs. Cooking fire ok, drinkable stream, long-drop and access to a bush shower, but no power or refrigeration. Please let us know with your RSVP if you’re camping. 

-          The route we mainly use is SH1 to Mangamuka, coming from the south, turn left onto Mangamuka Road, then at T junction turn right onto Broadwood Road and it’s a left turn into Paponga Road. You’ll come to a Y-ish junction with a sign pointing left to Motukaraka – that is still Paponga Road so follow along until you find Frogstomp RD#1172 about 30 kms from SH1.

-          Your GPS may take you into Kohukohu and up Rakatapu Road (rough gravel), or through Kohukohu to the south end of Paponga Road, both ways will get you here. The south end is the best way if you are using the Hokianga ferry, (turn left off the ferry, follow the road around the bays and up the hill, turn right at the top). All of Paponga Road is gravel and it can be very rough, even by Northland road standards.

-          Yes, gumboots! But chuck your jandals in your hand/man-bag, it can get to 40+ degrees here. Please dress for comfort and keep hydrated.

-          Bring a sunhat and your umbrella, for double duty sunshade and downpours it is ‘the tropics’ after all!

-          If you are planning to bring a gift and haven’t already chosen, Bunning’s Vouchers would be most welcome but don’t feel obligated.

-          Our driveway is 4x4 access only! Please do not attempt in a road car or if you are not very well 4x4 off-road experienced – it gets worse the further in you go.

-          Chauffeur driven 4x4’s will be available to take you down, and back up of course. The parking attendant will direct you and there’ll be a walkie talkie somewhere prominent.
                                                   We are looking forward to seeing everyone! Much love

Thank you Susan for your email and details.  Don’t  rush your readings I will send Ceremony as of now  soon.
Warm regards

We should probably start getting stuff organised.

Hi Susan
Family visits all over so down to work today!!
Warm regards

XXXXXXemailed me a ‘ceremony’ as an email attachment. The Subject was Suzanne & Tony Johns Wedding, but there was no message.

Herewith Your Ceremony – my PC doing funny things with Microsoft 10 today so hope outline for your ceremony gets to you – please let me know if nothing there. 
Let me know what you think – if I have put simplicity to the fore!!
Warm regards


Have received it, thanks.
I'm working on it now. 

This was quite a big job as it was apparent XXXXXX hadn’t understood our requirements of a secular and non-patriarchal ceremony. From blessings to Tony kissing ‘his bride’.

My apologies for the delay. Having only three days a week in town, and two public holiday Mondays in a row has mucked up my schedule.
Please find attached the Wedding Ceremony document with 'track changes' enabled.
I hope I haven't removed the legalities but if I have please add them back in.
The only time my full forename is used is when it is required for legal reasons - I don't even like seeing it written down, so can we leave it out as much as possible, thanks. 
Let me know what you think. I'm back in town on Friday.
Warmest regards,
Susan Nicholson

I attached a copy with tracked changes and also emailed a copy with ‘changes accepted’.


A cleaned up copy - especially useful if 'track changes' in word is gobbldy-gook! 


Hi Susan and Tony
Herewith updated version.  All in dark print are legal requirements – I will emphasise Su in your name and swallow the rest!!  Let me know What you think as I will be away most of next week leaving Monday.
With warm regards,

It appeared she hadn’t even read what I’d sent her, or heard what we had said to her or comprehended the communications we’d been having.

We have no actual wedding rings. There are no rings to exchange. We are having tattooed wedding rings which will are being done in the week before the ceremony. That is why the Ring Ceremony section was extensively changed (and explained in the track changes copy). We don't want to pretend with rings of anything hence the paragraph in the document I sent you.

"Wedding rings serve as a symbol of the vows you have just made and tattoos are a permanent symbol. They are the outward and visible sign of an inward invisible love which binds your lives together. As rings are without edge or seam, have no beginning and no end, so they symbolise the perfection of love which knows no end."


I also sent a following email.

Also, there is NO CELLPHONE reception at our place, so no need to ask people to turn their phones off. 

Hello Susan
Herewith corrected Ceremony. Hoping it is now how you want it.  Am sending today as am away most of next week back by Friday so don’t hesitate if anything to be changed.
Have a lovely weekend.


As now we are less than three weeks out from what is supposed to be OUR wedding with OUR ceremony, I am becoming quite frustrated with XXXXXX's rigidity.

There will be no binding hands with silk.
We have tried to be very specific and this was deleted in red in the 'track changes' copy and removed in the 'cleaned up copy'. I am feeling frustrated as I just don't understand why it seems so hard to follow our direction. 

I follow with another email with our copy attached.
I would appreciate if you would look through this copy (attached) and make the changes as we have asked.  There are many reasons for why we have chosen what we have, underpinned by our core personal philosophies. We want OUR ceremony for US, please. 

Hello Susan and Tony
I have put together your ceremony as close to what you want incorporating all the legal requirements – words that have to be said/responded/vowed by you both and in the order required. 
Perhaps we could meet on morning of Friday 16th when I am back in Kerikeri wherever suits you Susan – here if it is easier or closer to your work and we can clarify the sticky points.
I see the effort you have both put in and the importance of your personal philosophies grounded in your life together.
I am doing my best under the restrictions of Marriage Celebrant legalities.  If I don’t carry these out you wouldn’t have a legal wedding.
Looking forward to resolving our differences.

Thanks, we're unavailable on Friday. Tony is working and I have other obligations.  
This is not a problem with the legal requirements. 
There's no legal requirement to bind hands with silk, be called 'husband and wife' or pronounce us as 'husband and wife' or for me to take Tony's last name. 
I though it was really quite simple, and I hope you do too.

Hello Susan and Tony
Herewith your finalised Wedding Ceremony.  I have spoken to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Wellington and they have agreed that your words “partners for life” can stand in for husband and wife.

Your do need to agree at The Asking and Then at The Vows say your formal Vows to each other. 

I have arranged your delightful poems within both contexts so that they make sense within the full ceremony.

I like your words Honoured Guests instead of Ladies and Gentlemen – much more natural, informal.

I am looking forward to your acceptance of  this adjusted ceremony.

Yours sincerely


Again XXXXX did what she wanted with our ceremony for our wedding. She re-arranged everything. All we had asked her to do, right from the start was to insert the legal requirements into OUR ceremony.  Less than two weeks from our wedding and XXXXXX is insisting we accept her version. I was very angry and upset, in tears and I forwarded this email to Tony with what I wanted to reply to her email with.

“I sit here with tears rolling down my face, incredulous, angry and very disappointed that again you feel it is your place to alter our ceremony, again. The second reading is not our Vows – it is a poem and if we are required by law to say formal vows it is these that need to be included – not rearrange our reading. Aside from the legalities, of which you clearly were not up to date with (since the Definition of Marriage Amendment 2013, partners for life is common), as far as we are concerned the ONLY people OUR ceremony needs to make sense to is US. We were VERY clear from the outset what we wanted which we have reiterated this number of times. If you were not comfortable with our requirements I wish you had refused us as clients. We are less than two weeks from our ceremony, the licence applied for and is awaiting pick up. We feel the choices in our ceremony have had to be very hard fought for and now leave us feeling railroaded ‘herewith your finalised wedding ceremony’ that you are looking forward to our acceptance of this adjusted ceremony’.

I didn’t send that email to XXXXXX, but I have included it as it shows how upset I was, and the email communication we had with her to show just how incredibly difficult she was to deal with. Organising a wedding is a difficult and stressful task and for XXXXXX to impose such a massive amount of extra stress on us in the final few weeks leading up to our wedding shows she is not actually suited to the task of being a marriage celebrant in our opinion.

I personally had no further communication with XXXXXX. Tony went to see her at her house on 22 February 2017 and after the meeting emailed me this:

Have been and seen her, explained the lay out you had as what we wanted
we need to add one bit in at the end of the asking,
I Tony Wayne Johns, take you Suzanne Lucy Nicholson to be my partner for life
I Suzanne Lucy Nicholson , take you Tony Wayne Johns to be my partner for life

Tony phoned XXXXXX on the day before our wedding as we hadn’t heard from her since he had gone to see her and we were unsure if she was even still coming.

Our wedding was being held at our home in a remote region of North Hokianga where we live tucked deep into the bush. All our guests, including our celebrant needed to be taxied by four wheel drive vehicle to our house.  We wanted a light-hearted wedding with friends, family and work colleagues and as relaxed and inclusive as our ‘gum-boots’ dress code suggested. We had party games organised as well as fun competitions such as best beard, best themed costume etc.

XXXXXX was arrived at 1.45pm for the 2pm ceremony.  She made no attempt to speak with me or tell us what further changes she had made with the ceremony or which version she had chosen. She briefly showed Tony some papers but there was no time for him to read these through or discuss them with me.

The handbell was rung to gather our guests together and Tony and I joined XXXXXX in front of our guests, and although she was given a microphone she didn’t speak with any authority, mumbled and it was difficult for us, let alone our guests to hear.  Although she had her paperwork in a black folder, she had some loose pages which she dropped which then of course had to be retrieved. She then got my name wrong, apologised then went on to skip the section on our rings and completely skip the entire page containing our second, more serious reading.

When I pointed this out she began shuffling papers, found the ring section and began mumbling again. We were very embarrassed and I was on the verge of tears and said to her, “No – you’ve stuffed it up”.  I was becoming very upset but I believe she offered to start again. I walked out, devastated. With my partner and bridesmaids, we devised a plan to sign the legal papers with XXXXXX and then XXXXXX would be escorted off the property and my bridesmaid would run the ceremony. One bridesmaid and our MC reshuffled things, bringing some party games forward. Another bridesmaid, who had arrived from Wellington the night before had not been involved in writing the ceremony, was able to pick up the papers and get it all correct the first time.  

Unfortunately our catastrophic ceremony triggered an elderly aunt to make some unfortunate comments and when her embarrassed husband and large immediate family group left immediately after the meal this triggered a mass exodus of guests. We were left with twelve people to cut the cake, finish the games and share speeches.

Despite XXXXXX's assurance in the email that she’d do what we want for our ceremony, not only did she make it extremely difficult for us to have the ceremony worded how we wanted it she made such a mess of the delivery that the domino effect ruined our wedding. We certainly did not expect perfection but believe we had every right to expect the person we engaged for professional services to provide professional services, not an abject disaster.

Our neighbour told us that as he drove her up our driveway to her car, XXXXXX apologised profusely also explaining she had never had anything like this happen before. XXXXXX has not apologised to us.

Although, aside from the initial meeting and her going to Tony’s work for travel directions and Tony going to see her on 24 February 2017, all communication including email had been conducted through me.  XXXXXX emailed Tony on Wednesday 8 March 2017 requesting her fee with the clear implication that the papers signed at our wedding would not be lodged until she received payment.

Hello Tony
I am waiting to receive my Fee plus mileage - $383.00 in payment.
 I need to forward the legal Marriage Document to the District Court within 10 days from last Saturday.
Looking forward to seeing you Tony.

This is what triggered my call to Births Deaths and Marriages to ascertain the legality of her threat.  I was also planning to lodge a dispute with the Dispute Tribunal in regard to her fee request.

Later on 8 March 2017 Tony received another email from XXXXXX waiving her fee, but with a nasty dig at us.

Hello Tony
I have decided to waive my fees as I realise you have been put in an invidious position.
I hope all goes well with you both
I will send the documents to The Court today.

XXXXXX's complete lack of respect for our wishes and beliefs really became apparent once there was ‘no going back’. She put off working with, us citing christmas and family etc., until very close to the date and despite emailing my requests and corrections and finally frustrations she sent a ‘final’ copy. By this time our Licence was applied for and it is extremely difficult to find a celebrant who say they will conduct a completely secular and non-patriarchal ceremony, let alone one at short notice. 

XXXXXX ruined our wedding. Tony and I been robbed of our wedding. When we remember our ceremony it will not be of affirming our love in front of family and friends.  I spent my wedding evening in tears and have been having trouble sleeping due to the anxiety and embarrassment.  When people ask how our wedding went I cannot hold back tears as I try and answer. I have cancelled our attendance at several social events in the week following in order to avoid having to either lie or explain what happened. The furore in others’ memory will pass but our memory will be of XXXXXX botching our ceremony.

I am flabbergasted at the behavior of XXXXXX as a marriage celebrant.


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