Humanist ceremonies are highly personal and individual. Here’s your essential guide…
Humanist weddings are increasing in number each year. They are popular with people who have no religious affiliations, but who want to enter into a publicly committed marital relationship.
Humanists aim to draw positive moral values from life that are based on human experience, rather than God‐given. They don’t believe in an afterlife, but think that: ‘we should try to live full and happy lives ourselves… and make it easier for other people to do the same.’
What happens at a humanist wedding?
The British Humanist Association describes its ceremonies as ‘dignified, caring and totally personal’. It publishes a practical guide, Sharing the Future, to help you organise your own wedding, or you can work with a trained official.
A Humanist wedding can take place anywhere ‘safe and dignified’ ‐‐ from your front room to a mountain top, and, unlike civil ceremonies conducted by a registrar, do not require couples to get a special licence.
In England and Wales, Humanist weddings have no legal status, so if you want to be legally married, then you’ll need to have a civil wedding at the register office as well, or to have a registrar present.
The Humanist Society of Scotland, however, has celebrants who are authorised to conduct legal marriages, making Scotland one of only six countries in the world (including Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Canada and the USA) where Humanist marriage ceremonies have full legal status.
The ceremony must be conducted by a Celebrant of the Humanist Society of Scotland who has been authorised by the Registrar General for Scotland. Since the first Humanist wedding in the UK in June 2005, demand has grown from just over 40 ceremonies in the same year to 657 in 2007, making the Humanist Society of Scotland the fifth most popular wedding provider in Scotland. The Society now has forty‐two fully trained registered celebrants performing weddings throughout the country and many couples travel to Scotland specifically to be legally married in a Humanist ceremony. For more information on the Humanist Society of Scotland and the range of ceremonies it provides, go to www.humanism‐scotland.org.uk.
If you click through to the site you will see that it’s now possible to search for a celebrant by postcode. All celebrants now have full and detailed profiles and photographs online so prospective wedding couples have more information to help them make their decision.
A Humanist wedding is completely secular (ie non‐religious with no hymns, prayers or Bible readings). This can be a particular advantage for couples from different faiths. Rather than plump for one tradition at the risk of alienating the other, inter‐faith couples can design a ceremony that emphasises what they have in common.
A celebrant trained and licensed by the British Humanist Association usually conducts humanist weddings, but you can ask a friend or relation to do it if you prefer. The ceremony includes vows devised by the couple, music, readings and any other symbolic actions the couple choose to make.
Planning your Humanist wedding
Once you have decided on a date and time, you need to do the following:
- Unless you have chosen a friend or relation to conduct the ceremony, contact the British Humanist Association (BHA) on 020 7079 3580 to find someone to act as a celebrant or for more information, go to www.humanism.org.uk
- Once you have found a celebrant, decide on a venue ‐‐ ideally somewhere that’s significant and personal to you as a couple. Decide whether you want to make the marriage legal first by having a civil registry office wedding and contact your local register office to arrange a date and time. See the Confetti guide to planning your perfect civil ceremony.
- Decide on the type of service you’d like and what you would like to say. The job of the celebrant is to help you create a ceremony that’s personal to you. They will help you explore your feelings towards one another and express this in words. You can write the entire service yourself to reflect the important aspects of your relationship or, with help and advice from the BHA, you can adapt one of the ceremonies they can suggest to you. They also have suggestions for readings and music
Cost for a Humanist wedding vary, but are typically up to £300.
Booking the wedding venue
Find out how many the venue will accommodate. There may be a limit on numbers depending, for example, on the exits available. This may affect the number of guests that can be invited to the service
If you decide to have the ceremony in a public place, make sure you find out if you can take photographs, arrange your own flowers, throw confetti etc.
Ideally, the venue should be free for a rehearsal. This usually takes place a few days before the wedding or on the evening before, depending when the main participants are available. Everyone is in normal dress, though.
Guests at a Humanist wedding
Having discovered how much room there is for guests at the venue, you and your parents will have to decide who to invite. It might be nice to include something on the invitation to describe what a humanist wedding entails. If you are having a reception after the ceremony, you should make it clear whether your guests are invited to both or just the reception.
What to wear at your Humanist wedding
Because a humanist service is such a personal event, there’s no reason why you can’t wear whatever you want. However, if you are having a civil wedding before, it is customary for the bride to wear smart day clothes, rather than the full white number, although there are no set conventions. You may be influenced by whether or not you have been married before, but you don’t have to be. Brides can go for a white dress and veil with the men in full morning dress, although lounge suits are more usual for men.
On the big day
As there are no legal formalities you have to abide by, the structure of the day is entirely up to you. This will, to some extent, have been rehearsed beforehand with the wedding party, so that the main participants know the procedure, their positions and when and where to move.
The ceremony has no set structure. At some point, the couple will make promises to each other and although they have no legal standing, their words will bind them together in love.
A number of couples like to reflect on and celebrate their relationship before they make their promises. The majority of ceremonies will include readings and music, usually chosen for sentimental and personal reasons. The most important thing to remember is that the ceremony is about a public declaration of your love and commitment to each other.