Today, we are delighted to welcome Tim Maguire, Authorised Celebrant with the Humanist Society of Scotland, to tell us a bit about Humanist Weddings – why you might choose one and how to go about organising one.
Since Humanist Weddings became legal in Scotland in June 2005, hundreds of couples have been travelling here from all over the world to get married by Authorised Celebrants of the Humanist Society of Scotland.
What is a Humanist Wedding?
Beyond the fashion, makeup and practical details in organizing a wedding, there are decisions to be made about the ceremony. This includes deciding if you want an officiant who can marry you and who may also speak at your reception.
Imagine your wedding is all about you — what you like, those things that are special to the two of you and what’s non-negotiable. What if you aren’t religious? You definitely aren’t alone.
Many couples who are getting married want to have a ceremony that is personalized, inclusive and not religious. A humanist wedding is a perfect choice for these people! Humanist celebrants create ceremonies tailored to your needs, which means you get to be in charge of every aspect of your ceremony.
A humanist wedding is a non-religious celebration that is welcoming, inclusive and personally tailored to you. It focuses on your love story and things that are important to you as a couple. The ceremony can be conducted by any trained celebrant, but because it isn’t religious in nature, it’s most often done by someone who has received additional training from the Humanist Society of Friends (HSA). A person ordained as an interfaith minister or other clergies may also conduct these ceremonies with their own specializations.
Humanist weddings have been legal in Canada since 2003 under provincial law; however, they don’t exist everywhere yet so getting married outside of Toronto might require more research than just this one article!
Why Humanist Weddings?
The reason they all give is that they want to have a truly personal ceremony that reflects who they are and allows them to say in their own words why they love one another, what their hopes are for the future and what they promise to one another.
The rise in the popularity of Humanist Weddings has been astonishing and by 2008, they had already become the 4th most popular form of marriage in the country, overtaking the Episcopal Church of Scotland in the process.
One big difference is that they are secular, or non-religious, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a spiritual element: we always make a point of welcoming people whatever their beliefs and often have a period for quiet contemplation during which everyone can think about the couple in their own way and people of faith may use this time to say their own private prayer.
Our own Humanist Wedding
I got married in a Humanist ceremony in May 2005, just before they became legal, so my wife Juliet (see Juliet’s Humanist Wedding Blog) and I had to have a civil ceremony as well as a humanist blessing.
Our friends and family all said it was the most moving and inspiring wedding they’d ever been to, and that inspired us both to train to become celebrants. Now, four years later, we’ve both separately conducted hundreds of funerals, baby naming and welcoming ceremonies, and of course marriages. It’s a huge privilege to become part of people’s lives in this way and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously, but it’s also a great and lasting pleasure.
Where do we begin?
The first thing to do is visit the Humanist Society of Scotland’s website. There are now over fifty celebrants authorised by the Registrar General of Scotland to conduct legal weddings, and our contact details can be found here.
Many, but not all of us, have detailed profiles that tell you how and why we do what we do, and some of us have blogs where we share our ideas and talk about the weddings we’ve celebrated. Choose several, call them up or drop them an email and arrange to speak over the phone or if you can, go and meet them in person.
We’re all different, but we’re all the same, in that we treat people the way we would like them to treat us, regardless of their age, race, gender and beliefs. As we say here in Scotland: “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns“, or in other words, we’re all the same under the skin.
The whole point of the marriage ceremony is to tell your friends and family:
a) why you’re here
b) where you’re going
c) what you’re promising
Working with your celebrant, you’ll find the right way to do that. When I meet a couple, as well as telling them how a typical ceremony might go (and pointing out the many ways in which all the parts of it can differ and be personalised), I ask them to go away and do a little homework, which sounds boring but is actually really great fun, and every couple I’ve ever married has thanked me for suggesting it. This is how it works.
When we decide to ask someone to marry us, or to accept someone’s proposal, we just intuitively know that it’s the right thing to do: we don’t sit down with a tick list and go through all the things that have happened since we met that led to the decision. Or so you might think.
But actually, our subconscious minds have been keeping that list ever since we first saw one another, first spoke and went on our first date. Human beings can’t help judging – like, don’t like, like, like, don’t like – and when we finally decide that this is the only person we can’t live without, or that this person is the one that we want to spend the rest of our lives with, it’s the culmination of a long process where the likes outweigh the don’t likes by a long, long, long way!
So the homework is designed to encourage you – separately – to go back into your memories and remember not just what happened and the story of your courtship, which is fun, but even more importantly, what it was about your partner that made you think, “I love the way he or she is X“.
What’s your story?
During a typical courtship, a lot of stuff happens: good stuff, bad stuff, difficult stuff. And it’s the way that we deal with it that reveals who we are to our partners. I did a ceremony some years ago for a couple who came to me wanting “a plain simple ceremony with no romantic guff“. They did the homework and sent it to me and I read something incredible.
Colin, the husband-to-be struck me as a very normal guy. He was a man of his hands, a football fan, and he’d been a season-ticket holding supporter of his club for twenty years: he wasn’t the flower-arranging type. But when his mum became ill, with Alzheimer’s, he did something remarkable: he gave up his season ticket so he could look after her.
And in her homework, Barbara, the bride-to-be, wrote that she suddenly remembered something that her mother had told her years ago (and that she had dismissed because her mother had told her and let’s face it, what do mothers know?). Her mother had told her, “If you want to see how a man will behave towards you, look at how he behaves towards his mother.”
Now that was Colin and Barbara’s story, and it’s not yours. But you can probably understand from reading it why Barbara chose Colin; and I know that on the day, at least half of the guests, who knew her better than they knew him, really understood why she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.
Not everyone’s got that kind of story; and not every one wants to talk about things like that. And that’s the real beauty of the Humanist ceremony. You don’t have to. There’s no right way or wrong way: only your way. If you’re a bit shy and want to be discreet, fine. It will be discreet. If you’re natural comedians, it will be funny.
But the most important thing to remember is that it will reflect who YOU are. And no other form of marriage ceremony allows you to do that, in Scotland or anywhere else in the world!
Humanist Society of Scotland
Thanks Tim! What a great introduction to Humanist Weddings. If you want to find out more about Humanist Weddings you can visit Tim’s blog.
And if you’ve had a Humanist Wedding and would like to share your story with us on the Ethical Weddings website, just drop us an email – we’d love to hear from you.