Sunday, 30 March 2008

Nae fuss please, we're Scottish

As P.G. Wodehouse once observed, "it's never hard to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine" and it's true that there are no words in English (or Scots) for "joie de vivre"

I quite often meet couples who say they really don't want "a lot of flowery, romantic guff" in their marriage ceremony. But sometimes these very same no-nonsense people change their minds after they've done the homework I give them when we meet. 

I did a wedding last year for a couple who were adamant they wanted no fuss and no romance, but who went on to create a ceremony that was so moving and heart felt, I now give it to other couples as an example.

I'll tell you about the homework when we meet; needless to say, it was originally an idea of Juliet's

Are we allowed to sing?

Of course you are! Although as the ceremony is secular, we draw the line at hymns. Still, if you can find a song that's not too complicated, everyone can join in as long as you remember to print the lyrics in your Order of Ceremony. Mind you, it helps if you've got a musical family.

I celebrated a very moving wedding yesterday for two teachers, Steven and Karen at Houston House where Steven's sister, the award-winning song writer and singer Karine Polwart and their mother Anne gave us a gorgeous rendition of the Burns song The Lea Rigg, accompanied very beautifully on classical guitar by their friend Alan Coady.

If you're not fortunate enough to number musicians among your family & friends, but don't want to rely on your CD collection, you might think about booking a ceilidh band for your reception and asking a couple of them to come along early and play at the wedding itself.

That's what Juliet & I did when we got married, and it meant that we had someone there to knock out the chords for (I'm gonna be) "500 Miles" by The Proclaimers, which is about as Scottish a love song as you could hope for. It was a great ice breaker, and when everyone realised that this was going to be a fun wedding and it was OK to smile, the atmosphere from that moment on was amazing.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Let's begin at the beginning

Weddings always begin with the entrance of the bride. Well yes, up to a point, Lord Copper. That's usually the case, but it really doesn't have to be like that. Many of the women I marry have successful careers, earn more than their partners and live independent lives full of achievement and purpose. How many of them really want to be handed over as the property of one man into the ownership of another? That's so twelfth century! 

Actually most brides still choose to be given away by their fathers, regardless of income and status, and if that's how you want it, that's fine by me. But there are other ways.

I've married quite a few couples who have chosen to come into the venue together, arm in arm. Others have spent half an hour mingling with their guests, then clapped their hands and said, "right, we're getting married now!" Some brides come in with their sons, some with brothers or sisters. 

Remember, there's no right way. Only your way is the right way.

My parents are very religious, I don't want to upset them...

Humanist ceremonies are non-religious, not anti-religious. Humanism is about the things that unite people, rather divide them, and the most important of these is love, so it's difficult for even the most intolerant person to take offense.

I often say that "although this ceremony is non-religious, it will be entirely legal, mostly civil (slight pause in case anyone gets the joke) and there will be time later for contemplation, during which those of you of faith may wish to say your own private prayer".

I continue to look forward to the day I attend a wedding in church when the priest or minister extends non-believers the same courtesy. 

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Order, Order!

The most important thing to remember about your humanist ceremony is that it should be exactly the way you want it. So if you're totally chilled and like whatever, man, you probably won't want an Order of Ceremony. On the other hand, if you're the kind of person who sets goals and can recite most of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People you certainly will. You may even have written it already.

An Order of Ceremony doesn't need to be hand-tooled by elves and bound in the fairest gossamer. You can knock one up on a sheet of A4 folded.

What it does is allow your guests to see the running order; who's speaking, what happens when, what the readings are and - if there's a blessing or a song to join in with - the words they'll need to speak or sing. 

It's not a bad idea, if you have the space, to include something on the back 'About Humanism', for the benefit of the 80% of people who have no idea what they're in for. You can find a short definition here and you're welcome to use it, because I wrote it!

Is Humanism some kind of weird hippy thing?

Until they get married, or go to a funeral, most people have never heard of Humanism, so we get asked all sorts of questions by Anxious of Newtonmearns. So let me reassure you now that - unless you really want to - we don't all take our clothes off and dance widdershins round a yew tree.

Humanist ceremonies (we call them ceremonies rather than services) can be very traditional. Sometimes they're even held in churches, although generally, like Melrose Abbey or Mansfield Traquair, they are 'decommissioned' ones. But generally they take place in castles and hotels, village halls and nightclubs, on farms and in stables, up hills, on beaches, in people's living rooms and back gardens. Anywhere 'safe & dignified' as the Registrar requires. 

The really good news is that you don't need to get a licence for the venue: because the celebrant is licensed, we can conduct your wedding pretty much anywhere.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Can we have music?

I've never done a wedding yet without some kind of music and I find it hard to imagine what it would be like. Depending on your budget and resources, you can have music of all sorts. 

I did a lovely wedding on a farm where the groom's sister and brother in law played a song they'd composed specially for the occasion that had everyone wiping away the tears; I've seen a bride coming down the aisle to the sound of 'My love is like a Red, Red Rose' played on the moothie; I've done weddings in caves with harpists and in back gardens with unaccompanied singers and I've done lots of weddings where someone's brought along their boombox and played three of the couples' favourite songs. 

As James Brown might have said, "If music be the food of love, get down"

How long is the ceremony?

Most wedding ceremonies seem to last between 20 minutes and half an hour, which feels about right to me. Any less and it's too quick; much longer, and the drinkers in the audience start getting restless. 

It's a good idea to follow the old theatrical rule: leave them wanting more.

Do I have to join the HSS?


The short answer is "Yes, for one year", although you're very welcome to stay! 
Here's a slightly longer and more formal explanation... 

Our legal authorisation from the Registrar General of Scotland is on the basis that we conduct humanist marriages, and we therefore require couples to be members of the Humanist Society Scotland at the time of the wedding. 

If you don't live in Scotland, we would ask you to join a Humanist organisation wherever you live - the British Humanist Association in England and Wales, or the American Humanist Association if you're from across the water, and so-on. If you want to see if there's a Humanist organisation where you live, you might want to take a look at this list from the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

By joining, you are also helping to support our work to ensure that future couples have the opportunity to marry in a legal humanist ceremony. 

You also support the important campaigning work we do. I'm really pleased for instance that the Scottish Government has just brought forward the Equal Marriage Scotland Bill, which might not have happened without the work of the HSS. 

Similarly, we support Margo MacDonald in her campaign for Death With Dignity, and we also campaign to end sectarianism and allow children to be educated together, so I hope you'll agree your money is well spent.

The easiest way to join is via our website, which will notify me when you have done so. 

In 2013, annual membership costs £40 for a couple (or £25 for a low income couple). It lasts for one year, so it is best to join about six months or so before the wedding itself. If you want to join now, please click here, or if you prefer, ask me to send you a paper membership form.



What is Humanism? A Simple Definition

Humanism isn't a religion - it's a very old philosophy that represents the views of hundreds of millions of people around the world. There are lots of definitions  out there, but my favourite comes from the late Kurt Vonnegut, who said that "being a humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead".

Another way of putting it is to say that humanists believe we can live good and worthwhile lives guided by reason and compassion, rather than religion or superstition, and that there are more things that unite humanity than divide it. Or, as we say in Scotland, "We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns" - we're all the same under the skin.

Some humanists are atheists; others are agnostic. Not everyone who chooses to have a humanist ceremony will be either. I've married couples where one partner was Catholic, or Muslim or Protestant. They chose a humanist ceremony because they felt they could relate to the values of humanism, which are universal. 

Karen Armstrong  writes about 'The Golden Rule' that all the world's great religions hold in common, which is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Compassion is the key. Which sounds suspiciously like humanism to me...

First steps

Once you've decided you want to get married (congratulations, by the way!), you've got lots of decisions to make about venues and menus, all of which can take up a lot of time. It's worth taking a moment to think about who you want to celebrate your marriage too, because how they conduct themselves will have an important bearing on the mood of the day.

Humanist celebrants come in all shapes, sizes, genders and ages; you can get a good idea of who we are by visiting our web site and reading our profiles. When you've done that, choose a few, give them a call, see who's available for the date and time of your choice and then arrange to meet the ones you liked the sound of.

If you don't live in Scotland, meeting up before the ceremony may not be possible, so you may have to do all of this by email and phone: it's not ideal, but it works perfectly well.

Once you've met them all and chosen the lucky candidate, please remember to let the others know, so that they can free up your date and time in case someone else wants it.

One small but rather delicate point - as humanists, we try to treat everyone equally, whatever your gender, age, race or sexual preference and we hope that you'll do the same. So please don't book a female celebrant and then change your mind because "you think it would be more traditional to be married by a man". It's not very humanist, it's against the law and - more importantly - you wouldn't like it if it happened to you...

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Why choose a Humanist Wedding?

According to the latest official statistics, weddings in the UK as a whole are in long term decline, down by 10%, year on year. Which is odd, because the demand for humanist weddings in Scotland is growing all the time.

In 2005 - when they became legal - there were 434. By 2007, there were 675 and this year, that figure should rise to over 800. So why are we bucking the trend?

Maybe it's because humanist weddings have meaning.

If you're a guest at a humanist wedding, the first thing you'll notice is that the ceremony is very personal. It focusses entirely on the hopes and dreams of the two people at the front of the room.

Actually, that's probably the second thing you'll notice. The first thing is that the couple don't have their backs to you: instead they're facing you, which improves the view no end.

Another big difference is that the ceremony is written by the couple themselves, with - of course - as much or as little help from the celebrant as they want. So what you're hearing is not what the celebrant thinks about love and marriage, but what your friends or family members think. It means something, and that makes it a lot more interesting.

Suddenly you're not just sitting there wondering when they're going to break out the champagne: you're listening to people you care about telling you what they care about. It's always moving and sometimes genuinely inspiring.

And when the champagne finally does arrives, it feels more like a bonus than a fee.

Speak the speech, I pray you - Jim and Becky's wedding at the Caves Part II

I was delighted to see this story in the current edition of the Scottish Wedding Directory: what Jim and Becky did was a great way to use...