I was very pregnant just at the height of the wedding season. I stopped work 3 weeks before the birth of my daughter Lisbeth last September. My co-worker Friederike had to take over as celebrant for the last wedding I was booked to do before the birth. She had attended all meetings with the couple just in case. She gave the speech I’d prepared and led the entire ceremony. The wedding went perfectly! This year I’m working half-time, so I still have enough time for my little one.
A government agency funded me to train to set up my own business. It was 2006, a year after the end of my Interfaith Seminary training. While I had another part-time job I set up my company, Imke Klie Zeremonien. It grew fast and I left my regular job to go full-time in 2008. I have an office in Hamburg where I meet clients. I charge 900-1,500 euros (£630-£1,050 ) for a wedding, including VAT. Mostly I work in the Hamburg area, but I’ve also done ceremonies in Cologne and Munich, and in Spain, Sweden and England.
I describe myself as a ‘celebrant for non-denominational ceremonies’. In Germany, 'minister' is a term used only in politics, and to have called myself a pastor or priest would have made people think I was with a church. Using a neutral word like celebrant means that I can concentrate on explaining what I am, rather than what I’m not. Also, I wear plain clothes.
I love to listen to what people yearn for, what gives strength to their lives. To be honest, I don't know much about religion. The training helped me tremendously to find the authority in myself to bless others, but generally I don’t use explicitly spiritual terms. Rather, I’ll say, for example, “May you always see each other through the eyes of love and understanding”, or “May you never forget what truly is important to you.”
My job is to help couples find an authentic expression for their love. I meet each couple three times, for up to three hours each time, before the ceremony. And I ask them a lot of very personal, individual questions. Sometimes, in the process of diving into their thoughts and feelings, and writing their vows, they say things to each other they’ve never said before. In the ceremony I speak about what moves them, and aim to reflect the qualities of their unique relationship.
The universe heard my call and sent me lovely co-workers. By 2009, I realised so many couples were asking me to be their celebrant that I needed help. Since then, I’ve had three co-workers, two of whom have since left to do other things. In 2012, our best year, we did 100 ceremonies. Most are weddings, about 5 per cent are funerals and 10 per cent baby blessings.
Every ceremony done by co-workers is still my responsibility. They learn from watching how I approach meetings with couples and conduct ceremonies. When they do the work themselves, they use my resources such as the office, my entire repertoire (readings and rituals) and questionnaires, and get supervision from me - and I have a financial return from the ceremonies they do.
Imke’s website: imkeklie.de/eng/welcome.html
Imke Klie was ordained in 2005 and is based in Hamburg, Germany.
Interview and write-up by Rob MacLachlan, August 2015.