What is a Humanist wedding?

What is a Humanist wedding?

What is a Humanist wedding? A Humanist wedding is a non-religious marriage ceremony. But it is more than that. Civil marriages are non-religious too. With a legal Humanist wedding you work with your Humanist celebrant to create a personally meaningful secular ceremony.

From first inquiry to completion, I tend to spend about fifteen hours on each ceremony. Sometimes it’s twenty hours. That includes a lot of necessary administrative work. The hard work behind the scenes is like the unseen ice of the iceberg beneath the ocean.

All that often hidden, unseen work leads to wedding ceremonies that bear the couple’s signatures and personalities, their values and their core selves. I often hear a guest say after a ceremony ‘That was really them!’

It’s personally and professionally gratifying when couples and guests enjoy a ceremony. I love when there’s laughter and spontaneity. I also love when things go wrong, because it helps everyone breathe easy and realize what is important: the loving commitment that two people make to each other publicly. It’s the inner meaning that matters, not external things.

Putting you and your guests at ease

I always try to put people at ease. People tell me I usually succeed. They relax. I set the tone not only for the ceremony but, I’m told, for the day.

A marriage is about truth. Giving one’s truth to one another, publicly. Witnessed and supported by family and friends. My ceremonies often have laughter and tears in equal measure.

There is nothing more basic in human life than love. We yearn for love. We crave love. And so when two people love one another and take the risk of committing their lives to one another, it’s a cause for joy and celebration. The gathering of loved ones is important. The people you want to be there.

Because I no longer believe in any religion, I believe that Humanist ceremonies are the most personally meaningful ceremonies of all. I remember when I was studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood and I had begun to outgrow my religious beliefs, I still saw the importance of ritual.

Turning points in our lives

As humans, we need to mark important turning points in our lives. My wife and I have just marked our 25th wedding anniversary with a special holiday. A marriage is a big deal. It’s the fulcrum of our lives, a major rite of passage.

And so even when I was a member of a religious order and when I was outgrowing my religious beliefs I remember during liturgies trying to decode the human meaning from what to me increasingly became the gobbledygook. Yes, we need to assemble together to celebrate new life and marriage and death. But I craved to create ceremonies that actually meant something humanly rather than being based on fiction.

It is why I believe that Humanist ceremonies – when done well – are the future. So often, after ceremonies, guests say to me ‘This is the way to go’, ‘It’s so much more meaningful,’  and ‘If I was getting married again, that’s what I would do next time.’

Including everyone

Humanist ceremonies are inclusive. All are welcome to attend. There won’t be hymns or prayers but there will usually be readings of prose or poetry. They’ll be about love, marriage, commitment and friendship, usually read by family or friends of the couple. There will be music of the couple’s choosing or songs that they love. But we won’t have ‘Faith of our Fathers’ or ‘the marriage feast of Cana’. It could be punk rock or Mozart – sometimes both! It  depends upon your music tastes or what your singers or musicians can sing or play.

I have had priests, brothers and nuns thanking me after a ceremony for feeling included in it. And I’ve had lots of religious parents who ‘melted’ into the ceremony. They loved it and lost their regret that their child didn’t choose a religious ceremony.

A Humanist ceremony is an opportunity for adult children to break the umbilical cord. Sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes a couple deny their own conscience. They crumble under parental disapproval, and have a religious ceremony to keep their families happy. The lost opportunity is for family members to recognize and respect the persons getting married. The adult thing is to choose one’s own wedding ceremony – not cave in like a child to the wishes of a manipulative parent.

Detachment is a good word. We must grow up, and not be held back by parental disapproval. I know: it’s easier said than done for many of us. But that is what adults do: they listen respectfully to others but make their own honest judgement and follow their conscience.

A legal Humanist marriage

So, in short, a Humanist wedding is a secular, non-religious, personal creative ceremony devised by the celebrant with the couple. For it to be a legal ceremony, the celebrant needs to be on the list of solemnisers.

Everybody getting married in Ireland – regardless of whether they are having a Humanist, civil or religious ceremony has to make an appointment with the registrar by, at the very latest, three months before the marriage. They bring to their appointment with the registrar everything required to prove that they are who they say they are and that they are free to marry. Having checked the couple’s papers, so long as everything is in order, the registrar issues the Marriage Registration Form (MRF).

The MRF is my licence to marry the couple; and one party to the marriage, usually the groom, meets me an hour before the ceremony and the first item on the agenda is that I check the MRF, which will have my name on it as solemniser. This form is signed by the couple and their two witnesses and by the solemniser near the end of the ceremony and the couple is obliged to return the signed form to the registrar within a month of the marriage ceremony and the marriage certificate is then issued to the couple.

If you want to be legally married, it is important to know if your celebrant is a legal solemniser. This is relevant whether you want a Humanist or a religious marriage ceremony. For instance, not all priests are legal solemnisers and not all Humanist celebrants are either. So don’t be shy to ask or to check for yourself if they are  on the list of solemnisers.

To ask Joe to help you create and to conduct your Humanist ceremony, click here