Hi, I'm Gwen Downs. I've been a professional Wedding Celebrant since 2014. I write and perform weddings in the North Carolina Triangle area and beyond. I love my job, which is to marry couples to each other and more importantly to celebrate why they are getting married. I am a creative writer who makes the most of my 20 minute ceremonies, making guests laugh, cry and even, occasionally, think. Wedding ceremonies should be celebrations. Maybe I can help you with your wedding ceremony!
You’ll notice I never use the word “joke” in describing what I do. Because I don’t tell jokes at your wedding. Any of the humor in your ceremony will be about a funny memory in your own story from your first impressions of each other, your first date, or your proposal, and it will be something that you told me about. I don’t tell jokes. What I do is find those lighthearted and contrasting occasions in your love story that make us laugh. And those are the moments captured in all those photos.
They are kind of like a justice of the peace but soooo much better. A celebrant tells the story of your love. They share details that make your guests laugh and cry. In addition to traditional elements like exchanging vows and rings, ceremonies with a celebrant can also include readings, blessings and unity rituals such as sand blending, hand fasting or glass breaking, to name just a few. Whatever has meaning to you and your partner can be incorporated in your ceremony.
Mostly I concentrate on big weddings, where the couple hires me months ahead of time, we get to know each other, and together we write a ceremony that knocks it out of the park. But I do elopements and microweddings too. I enjoy them all. I can't express how happy this job makes me. I love the look on couples' faces in the early part of the ceremony, to see their nervousness turn to relief that it's going well and then just pure joy as the guests laugh and cheer and make them feel loved. It's a great job.
Besides being a trained ceremony professional, I am an ordained interfaith minister. My ordination allows me to legally wed couples in North Carolina and in many other states as well. However, I come with no religious agenda. I honor and respect all philosophies, beliefs and traditions - secular, spiritual, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, interfaith, atheist, wicken, earthy, artistic, cultural, or totally avant-garde. I also welcome the LGBTQ community.
Yes, I create personalized ceremonies - this is at the crux of what separates me from a lot of officiants. Personalizing is an art form and my entire credo is to try to create a ceremony that your guests will say is the best they've ever seen - and I'm not making that up, this is seriously my goal. The good news is, it's a low bar - let's face it, most ceremonies people have gone to are boring, heavy, slow and sound like every other ceremony they've ever gone to. NOT MY CEREMONIES. Working with me, you have a professional writer whose goal is to make something specifically about you and your story, one you'll love, one that satisfies what's important to you and will give your guests a buzzing happiness that they will carry with them into cocktail hour and clear through the reception and then the rest of their lives.
My fees vary depending on where your wedding is happening, when it's happening, the kind of venue, whether it's an elopement or a big wedding, time of day, etc. Two cents: couples SHOULD spend a lot more on a good Celebrant who's trained at what they do. I trained at the Celebrant Foundation. We're much more open to creating ceremonies for couples with one or multiple spiritual beliefs or cultural specifics, at handling ritual elements and generally creating ceremonies that are perfect for couples. This will be money very well spent. Think about it: flowers are pretty - sure - but the nuance of a wedding ceremony - the only wedding ceremony you will ever have - should be handled by someone who knows what they're doing. It's a lot harder than we make it look!
The earlier couples contact me about their wedding, the more leisurely we can be as we prepare the ceremony. On average, I'd say couples contact me 3-9 months ahead of their wedding. That said, I am adept at creating ceremonies at this point, so I've worked on weddings with as little notice as 7 days! It's not ideal, but life is surprising in all kinds of ways. Sometimes that kind of deadline intensity is energizing. Exception: Couples who wish to hire me for elopements or microweddings can book me on short notice or even the same day.
It's nice to meet in person once, casually, if possible, but I don't have requisite 'sessions'. I'm not a social worker. I'm not a Priest. But it is useful to have met in person once before the wedding day - that way on the day we are all more comfortable together. If that's not possible, then I meet my wedding couples via Zoom video chat. Most of my work with couples is over email, and occasionally the phone. Exception: I do not meet with couples that book me for elopements and microweddings in person. Communication is through email only, and occasionally the phone.
I recommend and gently insist on a rehearsal if you are having a custom ceremony – that’s why it’s included in my services! If your venue is not available for a rehearsal, don’t fret! We just need a space where we can imagine a “front area” and practice walking down a mock aisle and standing in a line. I’ve done rehearsals in city parks, living rooms, condo party rooms, and restaurants. We want to do everything we can to make sure everyone is as relaxed as possible on your wedding day. A rehearsal – anywhere – goes a long way towards that.
As a rule, I do not like to travel more than 50 miles from my home in Holly Springs. I occasionally travel to weddings further away with an additional travel fee.
This has never happened, but fortunately I have a deep bench of several licensed and experienced colleagues who I know would knock your ceremony out of the park as well as I would. Your ceremony will already be completely written by me, of course, and I would call on one of my esteemed colleagues to seamlessly step in and read and perform what you and I have created together.
My fees are non-refundable; this means I do not refund them. Ever. For any reason. If you've booked me, that means I am turning away other business because I am holding a date for your event. If a couple needs to reschedule because of a pandemic, or something else, the fee carries over to the new date, with no change fees (if the wedding is at the same venue).
After you decide to hire me, I will prepare a contract and invoice. I will send them to you in an email with a link to an online payment portal. You can pay by credit card or with Venmo. After you have signed your contract and paid your invoice, your date will be reserved for you.