Thursday, 3 April 2014

Jo and Sandy's Humanist Wedding at Howie's Waterloo Place

I've never had a thank you card quite like this one: it's a Smilebox, sent to me by Sandy and Jo whose wedding last November was a total hoot. You can see it here and listen to it too: the soundtrack is the song they chose to have all their guests sing to them during the ceremony, and it's a classic!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Fame at last!

My former life in adland rarely comes back to haunt me, but I was really tickled to see that I made the front cover of must-have Ad-Mag David Reviews today. Why? Well in a couple of months from now,  I'm going to be in a  garden somewhere near Glasgow, conducting the wedding of its editor, Jason Stone, and the lovely Alice May, and for reasons known only to them, they've written a little story about me on the site. Touched? I am. And they definitely are!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Alex and Christina's Humanist Wedding at Prestonfield House

It's been ages since I married Christina and Alex, which makes their story even better.

They didn't just write their ceremony: they delivered most of it themselves too!

When we first sat down to plan our wedding, we were united in what was important to us – both as individuals and as a couple:

  • No religious ceremony – we’re atheists.
  • As a couple in our 40’s, this was for us and by us. 
  • There was no need to follow traditions – no giving away of the bride, no walking down the aisle to Mendelssohn, no groom doing all the talking whilst the bride looks on. 
  • It should be a celebration of us, our family and our friends. Those that matter most to us and have played a central role in our lives – both before we met and since we’ve been together. 
As it happens, we had been to quite a few funerals of elderly relatives in the year before our wedding. And the one that stuck in our minds the most was a Humanist service. We both enjoyed – if that’s not too inappropriate for a funeral – the celebration of people as opposed to ascribing everything to the will of an omnipotent being. So, we resolved to take a Humanist approach to our wedding. And that’s how we came to meet Tim.

At our first meeting, Tim outlined various approaches to planning our ceremony. Needless to say, we liked the ones where he did most of the talking and we just furnished him with some background information to flesh it all out. But Tim really helped us to realise that we could do a lot more – and that if we wanted to celebrate our relationship with those closest to us, we should make it as personal as we wanted. 

Initially it wasn’t easy. Although it was our wedding, we really didn’t want it to be self-indulgent. It really was about a collective celebration of everyone in the room – the value and importance of family and friends in helping one ride the highs and lows. We wanted everyone in the room to know how much they meant to us – and why we wanted to stand up in front of them and make a promise to one another about why we wanted to be married. There was no legal, religious or moral reason for us to get married. So why did we want to do it? Because we had been together long enough to know we wanted to journey together and build a common future and we wanted to share that commitment publicly with those closest to us.

 We decided that our wedding would have no formal speeches – best man, father of the bride, groom and so on – largely because we were so nervous about the ceremony that we wanted to get the talking bits over early so that we could relax, have a drink and enjoy dinner! There were only 36 people at our wedding. We wanted to acknowledge the part they all played in our happiness, so we decided that our ceremony would outline how it was we came to be together and why we wanted to make this commitment. It was a celebration of everyone in the room.

With Tim’s support, we ended up writing vows which described our journey as a couple. The things that united us, the things that made us different. And in telling that story, we were able to weave in something of reference to everyone with us that day.

 We included readings from Christina’s sister and best friend. We asked our mutual best friend – Mark – to say a few words about us both and help puncture any earnestness or pomposity with the wry observations only those closest can make and get away with! And we asked Alex’s brother-in-law to provide the musical interlude by singing Flower of Scotland, unaccompanied. Not out of any nationalist fervour but because it was on a trip to Murrayfield for a Six Nations match against England that we first discussed the idea of leaving London and moving to Edinburgh. And now, five years since that match, here we were – living in Edinburgh and getting married!

Once we’d planned it all – we realised that we would be doing most of the talking during our ceremony. Not how we’d originally planned it - we realised we’d be doing a lot more than that the usual “I do’s”. But with Tim there to help guide proceedings, we felt sure we could do it – however nerve wracking it all felt.

We wrote our own vows – discussed, negotiated and agreed without much trouble at all. We compared notes on our remembrances of the early days of our relationship and found entertaining references that would highlight why we fell in love and why we wanted to get married.

By the time our wedding day arrived, we had typed everything up on small prompt cards so that we wouldn’t forget our lines or crucial pieces of information. In the anxiety filled hours immediately preceding the ceremony, we felt sure we’d have to read the cards without ever looking up. Not having the spent the night before together, we were consigned to texting each other with worries about screwing it all up. But, when the moment arrived and we walked into the room together with Tim waiting for us in front of our guests, it all just clicked.

We barely needed the cards, because everything on them had been written, shaped and honed by us. It was second nature and actually made the whole ceremony far more relaxing and enjoyable. We weren’t having to pay attention to someone else’s script and wait for the moments to give the right answer. We were simply standing up in front of a room of people we knew and loved, and sharing with them stories they had been part of. And letting them know why we planned to stay together and how they could help us do that.

Looking back now, almost two years later, we’re so glad of the effort we put in. The prompt cards from the ceremony are framed in our home and a constant reminder of our ceremony and the promises we made to one another. They are also a great memento of a day that passed so quickly and in such a blur that it’s impossible to remember all the details without some help!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

James and Anna's Humanist Wedding at Carberry Tower

Sometimes you just know you're going to get on with people, and that was how I felt from my first contact with Anna and James. 

She's German, he's Scottish, they're both designers, and it turned out that James and I had connections through an ad agency I used to work for in Amsterdam, Weiden & Kennedy, for whom - in a previous life - I produced this award-winning spot.

But that's by the by. I loved Anna and James's story, which ran for seven years, and involved three countries, one ocean, a lot of hellos, goodbyes and thousands of Skype calls that led them all the way from their present home in Portland, Oregon to Carberry Tower just outside Edinburgh in August 2013. 

Carberry Tower has had some major investment recently, so it's well worth checking out. Anna and James chose to use the chapel which has one wall entirely made of glass, with lovely views out to a lawn with a forest behind it. Their story began with a chance meeting at an insanely busy party at the Milan Furniture Fair. Here's how Anna wrote it up in the ceremony.

He was standing there in his baggy jeans, grey sweater and a grey beanie, as you all know, James’s normal uniform. He looked at Anna and had the biggest smile on his face, she couldn’t stop smiling back at him. At this point he used an insanely cheesy line. “Hi, you look fantastic.” Not his coolest moment! But he meant it. Funnily enough Anna didn't find that line so bad... It was his next line that caused her concern. “I love your outfit"   

Because (as I said earlier) Anna is German and James is Scots, their initial conversations were a bit challenging. Anna called James the day after the party, but when he answered, she had no idea what he was saying and thought she'd got the wrong number! Once she realised it really was him she couldn't believe how she had missed the accent. After many times asking James to repeat himself he finally said “I’m reeeally baad on the phooone.”

Being such a multi-national wedding, with guests from all over the world, there were some nice bits in another incomprehensible language: German. Anna's sister Nora read a poem called Die Hochzeitskerze Spright (The Wedding Candle Speaks) 

And of course, they created some really personal vows. Here's just a taste of what Anna promised James. "I love you because of your need to do new and crazy things. I promise to support you and hold your hand wherever our future takes us, to let you jump off things and let you inspire me to be a bit crazy too because that is what makes you wonderful."

James gave as good as he got. "You are my chosen one. I promise to always make you feel beautiful and to make you feel like the most special and desired person in the world even when you think you are having a bad hair day".

I remember thinking that it was one of the happiest weddings of the year: I think you can see that from these great photos by Neil Thomas Douglas who really knows how to compose a shot, as you can see at his website here

A few months after the ceremony, I got a lovely card that used the picture above as the cover image. It said, "Thank you so much for helping us have the most incredible and best day of our lives. You were absolutely perfect and made us feel so special. It was a true pleasure to have you involved from the absolute beginning. We were so lucky to have met you and have you involved in our special day. We received so many compliments for the ceremony and everyone said it was the best they had ever seen! 

Even my 10 year old nephew said "i usually hate weddings but that was the best one ever, it was so funny". He is a very hard boy to please, so I took it as real praise. I think part of what he was laughing at could have been me and how sweaty and nervous I was! Thank you again, James and Anna"

My pleasure, J&A - and once again, I wish you both every happiness!


What's So Special About A Humanist Wedding?

That's the question Juliet Wilson and I set out to answer in the first ever Humanist Wedding Showcase.

I was really pleased when Elizabeth Bell, the wedding co-ordinator at Edinburgh's prestigious Balmoral Hotel invited the HSS to be a part of the recent Luxury Wedding Show. The Balmoral is a city landmark, and it can cater for weddings of all sizes from the most intimate to the seriously massive - I think there were more than150 guests in the ballroom for the wedding of John and Nimi that I conducted there just before Christmas - but we chose to stage our show in one of the medium-sized suites on the second floor.

Every celebrant spends several hours a week meeting couples face to face to have a chat about what they want their wedding to be like, but we'd never had the chance to explain it to a group. Obviously we had to make it informative, but we wanted to make it fun and engaging too, so over a couple of months Juliet and I worked with our training officer and friend, Brian Hawkins to come up with a 20 minute show that conveyed just some of the many ways in which couples can really make their humanist ceremony uniquely their own.

We kicked off with a slide show, and then Juliet and I ran through some of the different aspects of the ceremony, with some slides inspired by song titles.

As you probably know, the whole point of a humanist wedding is that it gives you the chance to say in your own words why you're getting married, so humanist celebrants don't tell you what to think: instead we ask you to think for yourselves, and the results are always amazing.

All the illustrations you see here are taken from our new weddings leaflet, beautifully drawn by Kate McLelland and designed by long-time HSS collaborator, Derek Green.

The most enjoyable part of the show was getting members of the audience to come up on stage.

It really helped the couple to imagine what it would be like to be standing there in front of their friends and family on the day, and of course it was a great help to the audience, many of whom had never been to a humanist wedding before.

We had lots of great feedback on the day, and since then I've met several couples who came along out of curiosity and decided that a humanist wedding is what they want. The grand finale is something I can't show here - a four minute film that really does let you see what's special about a humanist wedding. We're keeping that specially for live shows for now, but here's a trailer you can see and enjoy. Thanks also to my friend and colleague Stewart Struthers for helping out on the day and taking these snaps on his iPad!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Catie and Paul's Humanist Wedding at The Caves, Edinburgh

 Katie and Paul were a lot of fun to work with - as I think you might guess just by looking at them. 

In the course of the year between our first meeting and their wedding, they sent lots of interesting emails. One said "Sorry we didn't get back to you, but we were in Norway, looking after a little farm." Another said "We saw you on The Big Question this morning!" and my favourite when they said, "We did our homework the other day. It was a lovely thing to do, and we both really enjoyed it."

Mind you, a few weeks later, that was followed by "We have had a bit of writers block about the entire ceremony, and haven't managed to find many quotes/poems that we really like yet, not for lack of looking. A lot of them feel either too cheesy or too jokey... or perhaps we're too picky!"

 Of course they got over it, and their ceremony was every bit as individual as they are. 

I remember we had a great rehearsal, in the tiny flat next door to The Caves, where I think I met about 14 members of the wedding party, including the mums and dads, the bridesmaids Ashleigh and Nicola, the best men James and Gavin, Katie’s brother Bruce and Paul’s brothers Stuart and Aly who played Katie up the aisle on his guitar.

 I particularly liked the opening two sentences of their story. In 2003, when Paul and Katie’s respective best friends who had met online wanted to meet in real life, they came along to ensure their friends weren't about to be murdered. Thankfully they were not, and very soon after, Paul and Katie fell in love.

Katie and Paul kept it short, but sweet. After their story, they got Shaun, one of their best friends, to read from ‘So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish’ by Douglas Adams.

Then after a pause for quiet contemplation, Paul and Katie spoke the vows they had written themselves and exchanged rings, 

before James and Ashleigh witnessed the signing of the Marriage Schedule.

One thing I'm sorry you can't see in these very atmospheric shots by Budapest-based photographer, Daniel Karczag, are Katie's shoes, which were so splendidly original that I just had to steal this other pic from his blog of the day itself.

When they got back from their honeymoon, Katie and Paul sent me this lovely note. 

"We would like to thank you again for marrying us in October. Everybody was very impressed at how personal and balanced our ceremony was, and how great you were (we loved your quip about robes and a sacrifice!). The ceremony went really smoothly with less nerves than we thought we'd have, even if I did arrive a bit early

Throughout the planning and rehearsal stages we always felt confident we were in good hands, and even though we are nervous public speakers, you helped us keep it clear. We are so happy to be enjoying our first cosy winter together as the O'Mahoneys". 

Thanks P&K! It was a lovely, heartfelt ceremony and I was just glad to be part of it!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Catie and Mark's Humanist Wedding at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

I often bump into couples I've married at the weddings of their friends. I don't usually meet them at the John Lewis sale, but that's where Catie and Mark tracked me down earlier this week! 

As I said at the time, it was a bit spooky, as I'd only just looked out the wonderful photographs they sent me from their wedding at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Queen Street last October, and I was in the process of tracking down their card, which reads like this...

"Just a short note to say thank you so much for conducting our wedding. You really helped to make it a very personal and moving day, and everyone commented on how special the ceremony was.

On reflection, we really appreciated the freedom to break with tradition and do things our way. We felt that having our photos taken beforehand, and entering the ceremony together, really helped us to feel relaxed and at ease.

We also think that this helped prevent us from crying all the way through the vows due to nerves!

We would also like to say how impressed we were with how well you handled the impromptu bible reading* (which was certainly not planned by us!)

We are now settling back into normality after a lovely week in the Cotswolds. Many thanks again and lots of love from Catie and Mark.

*It wasn't the first time a well-meaning relative has 'hijacked' one of my ceremonies by slipping in an unannounced reading from the New Testament, but what surprised me was that it was the second time it had happened in as many days!

As you know, if you've been reading this blog, humanist ceremonies are secular, but there is one Christian text that I positively welcome, and that was the one my hijacker chose: Saint Paul's Letter XIII to the Corinthians. The reason for that is simple. As Saint Paul wrote, "three things abide: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love" and that's what we're celebrating in a marriage, so I was pleased to be able to thank the reader for her contribution (although I'm not so sure she was as pleased herself…) You can read the text here in the version which I prefer, which is the Lorimer translation into Scots: I hope you can understand it!

My thanks to Mark and Catie and of course to Malin Widstrand for the wonderful photography: you can see some more shots from the day and read Malin's own thoughts about it here.

PS Catie and Mark did a rather wonderful thing and they wrote to all of their guests and asked them for a favourite recipe as a souvenir of the day. They've put them all on their blog as a memento - what a great idea!