Sunday, 29 November 2009

Angus & Suzanne's Humanist Wedding at Balbirnie House

Suzanne and Angus met eleven years ago, when they both had holiday jobs up at the Loch Insh Watersports Centre, near Aviemore, and as Angus said in their ceremony, their lives are still filled with adventure, fun and laughter!

They sent me these great photos, saying, "We've just returned from honeymoon and wanted to say a huge thank you for all your help with our wedding ceremony. We really appreciated your efforts on the day and also all of your guidance in the run up to it."

"The ceremony was everything we had hoped for and we have had loads of great feedback from our guests on how much they loved it. We have had lots of compliments on not only what we had written, but also on how you delivered the ceremony, so thank you very much!"

"I think we have a few more people who are now sold on the benefits of a humanist ceremony!"

Thank you, Suzanne and Angus - long may your adventures continue! Thanks also to Alastair Burn-Murdoch for the exellent pics.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Suzy & Michael's Humanist Wedding at Dundonald Castle

Suzy and Michael were a joy to work with.

Even though they now live in the Isle of Skye, they came down all the way to Edinburgh because they wanted me to be their celebrant, so I could hardly refuse to go all the way over to Dundonald Castle in deepest Ayrshire, where they were married in a spectacular, ruined castle at the top of a steep, steep hill, on one of the windiest days of the year.

I'll now hand over to Suzy, who tells the story far better than I could...

The humanist ceremony helped us to celebrate and revel in what it truly means to be human, warts and all.

So breaking my earrings, arriving late and windblown, then chucking my handbag at my sister so that its contents emptied onto the floor, smearing my lipstick over my own and Michael's face, and sitting on the Irn Bru bottle during the signing didn't 'spoil' the day but actually added to it.

It broke the ice so that everyone involved exhaled and relaxed so they could enjoy existing in the moment with us.

So many of the guests, especially the religious ones, were overwhelmed by how thoughtful, insightful and beautiful a non-religious ceremony could be.

They had questioned how a ceremony without god could have any value or meaning.

And I'm happy to see that their consciousness was raised in such a positive way.

My father (more deist than christian) confessed during the reception that he'd been incredibly moved by the entire ceremony.

He enthused to all around him how wonderful it was to attend a wedding which was so personalised and meaningful.

We then heard tales of various other people sobbing during the entire thing.

It's funny I didn't notice this as, like you said would happen, my eyes were locked with Michael's the whole time.

Everyone made a point of coming up to us at the reception to say what a great day they'd had and how honoured they were to have been part of such a heartfelt ceremony.

It's interesting to note that after being exposed to a humanist event, a lot of my friends are now contemplating the same for themselves where it wasn't even an option before.

And Michael and I are hoping to have a humanist naming ceremony when the time comes. :-)

Thank you again for performing your role so sensitively and so well.

It's a day we'll never forget and will always be thankful to you for.

Thanks to Suzy and Michael - and to all of their friends for their photos too xxx

Monday, 23 November 2009

What is Humanism? A Definitive Definition

This old chestnut comes up time and time again, but I haven't seen a better set of answers than are given here by Stephen Law in the draft introduction to his new book.

His seven key definitions are as follows:

First, humanists are either atheists or at least agnostic. They are sceptical about the claim that there exists a god or gods. They are also sceptical about angels, demons and other such supernatural beings.

Secondly, humanists believe that this life is the only life we have. We are not reincarnated. Nor is there any heaven or hell to which we go after we die.

Third, Humanists reject both the claims that there cannot be moral value without God, and that we will not be, or are unlikely to be, good without God and religion to guide us. Humanists deny that our moral sense was placed in us by God, and generally favour a naturalistic, evolutionary account of how our moral intuitions have developed. Humanists reject moral justifications rooted in religious authority and dogma. They believe our ethics should be strongly informed by study of what human beings are actually like, and of what will help them flourish in this world, rather than the next.

Fourth, humanists deny that that if our lives are to have meaning, it must be bestowed from above by God. The lives of Pablo Picasso, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa and Einstein were all rich, significant and meaningful, whether there is a God or not.

Fifth, humanists emphasize our individual moral autonomy. It is our individual responsibility to make our own moral judgements, rather than attempt to hand that responsibility over to some external authority – such as a religion or political leader – that will make those judgements for us. Humanists favour developing forms of moral education that emphasize this responsibility and that will equip us with the skills we will need to discharge it properly.

Sixth, Humanists believe science and reason are invaluable tools we can and should apply to all areas of life. No beliefs should be considered off-limits and protected from rational scrutiny. The humanist’s scepticism concerning gods, angels, demons, an afterlife, and so on is not a “faith position” but rather a consequence of their having subjected such beliefs to critical, scrutiny and found them severely wanting.

Seventh, humanists are secularists, in the sense that they favour an open society in which the state takes a neutral position with respect to religion, protecting the freedom of individuals to follow and espouse, or reject and criticize, both religious and atheist beliefs. While humanists will obviously oppose any attempt to coerce people into embracing religious beliefs, they are no less opposed to coercing people into embracing atheism, as happened under the communist regimes of Stalin and Mao.

So there you go: I hope that helps!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Freethought of the Day

Every morning, I get an email from the American Freedom From Religion Foundation, which in its own quiet way reminds me that the history of free thought is a long one.

Today, it's thrown together two names you don't often see in the same sentence, Bjork...

And Voltaire!

You can find out more about the Freedom from Religion Foundation here

Posted via email from humanisto's posterous

Friday, 20 November 2009

Colin & Julia's Humanist Wedding at Tyninghame Village Hall

There was a great video on the web earlier this year, which showed an American couple and all their friends dancing down the aisle.

Colin came up with an equally striking entrance - he, his brother and best man, George and their friend Ewan, 'drummed the bride in' - dig that crazy rhythm, hep cats!

There was a lot to like about their ceremony, not least the fact that Colin took Julia's second name to join with his own.

Sadly I couldn't stay for what I am told was a fantastic party, but we WILL have that sherry soon!

Posted via email from humanisto's posterous

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Lindsay & Nigel's Humanist Wedding at The Atrium, Edinburgh

The Atrium is a stunning venue and photographer Ross Barber must have arrived a lot earlier than I did to catch this great shot.

Nigel's two daughters, Ellie and Robyn were the flower girls, and in a really nice touch, when they came in, he went down the aisle to take them both by the hand and lead them in.

The point at which a father hands over the bride is always an emotional one - for the dad more than the daughter! I always suggest that the bride gives him a kiss and thanks him for being a wonderful father, which I think is what Lindsay is doing here.

Lindsay and Nigel wrote their own vows, and each promised different things to the other.

Along with the great shots, they sent me a lovely message...

We wanted to thank you for such a fantastic ceremony. We have had so many amazing comments about it as I don't think many had experienced a Humanist ceremony before but everyone really enjoyed it - they're still talking about it!! It was so relaxed and felt great and really set the tone for the rest of the day. Thank you so much for marrying us and for making our day so truly special.

Please Don't Label Me

Another great piece of work from the people who brought you the Atheist Bus Campaign.

Read all about it in this article by Ariane Sherine

Friday, 30 October 2009

A Gifted Young Designer

I was at the Edinburgh Coffee Morning today where I met Fiona Storey, who's just finished her Graphic Design MA at Edinburgh College of Art.

Three years ago, she was one of the students who took part in a project I set to design postcards to promote awareness of the HSS. The course tutor, Derek Green, took the brief a step further and asked them all to come up with an identity for the society and it was Fiona's solution that was chosen as our new logo.

If you're looking for someone to create a really original invitation to your wedding, why don't you drop her a line?

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A Gifted Young Musician

I was conducting a wedding ceremony last Saturday evening in Edinburgh when I heard someone playing classical guitar - exceptionally well, I thought - so I went to see who it was.

It turned out to be Adele Neilson. Despite her youth, she's a serious player who earlier this year gave a recital at the Auditorio Claudio Monteverdi, Mantova, Italy, and is a winner of the Chanterelle Guitar Prize.

Find out more about her here, and book now, to avoid disappointment!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Carol & Craig's Humanist Wedding at Glencorse Kirk

I really enjoyed working with Carol and Craig, who created a wonderful and very moving ceremony and sent me this lovely testimonial.

"I wanted to extend my heartfelt thanks for helping make our wedding day so unique and memorable. From the minute I walked down the aisle I could tell that you’d ‘warmed the crowd’ as the atmosphere was so relaxed and happy. I loved every single minute of the ceremony, by far the best part of the day, and without you I’m not sure Craig and I would have known where to start. You can’t begin to imagine the impact you had on all of our friends and family, no-one had ever been to a ceremony that was so relevant to the couple and delivered with such sincerity. Infact, some of our engaged friends are asking for your number as they no longer have a misconceived idea of how dull a wedding has to be!"

"I could go on and on, but I just wanted to thank you for making our day the best of our lives. I smiled from start to finish and was on a high for weeks afterwards. I’ve watched the ceremony on video at least 10 times and there’s not one thing I would change. It was perfect."

"The atmosphere continued all evening with guests talking about the ceremony any moment they could….so you see, not only did you make the ceremony special, but you ensured everyone was on a high for a very very long time thereafter."

So, not much for me to live up to now, is there Carol? Thank you both very much indeed xxx

Step by Step Guide to a Humanist Wedding no. 8 - The Vows - Official Guidance

One of the many attractions of a humanist wedding ceremony is that you are free to choose what to say to one another about why you love one another, what marriage means to you and what you promise. The wording of the legal declaration, however is another matter.

As it says on the Registrar General of Scotland's website, "There is no legally prescribed form of words to be used in relation to 'marriage vows' in Scotland… but there must be "a declaration by the parties, in the presence of each other, the celebrant and two witnesses, that they either accept each other as husband and wife or accept each other in marriage or make both declarations."

So in plain English that means you can choose, take or accept each other, but you have to say the words, rather than have me ask you a question. 

Here are some, but by no means all, of the ways you might do that.

“I (Forename) choose, take or accept you (Forename) as my wife/husband”

“I (Full name) sincerely declare that I choose, take or accept you (Full name) as my lawfully wedded wife/husband”

“I call upon these persons here present to witness that I (Name) do solemnly and sincerely declare that I 
choose, take or accept you (Name) as my lawfully wedded wife/husband”

BTW, the declarations don't have to be made in English, as long as they are clearly understood by the couple, the Celebrant and the witnesses.  Yesterday, I married Mati and Kenny, and as you can see, Mati who's Spanish, spoke her vows in her native tongue.

In fact, the whole ceremony can be conducted in a different language (including Gaelic or old Scots) as long as the couple, the Celebrant and the witnesses understand what is being said, using the services of an official translator if necessary.

So there you go: if you have any further questions, you know where to find me!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Lina and Tony's Humanist Wedding at Mansfield Traquair Edinburgh

As I often say when I'm explaining what makes a Humanist ceremony different, Humanists believe that there are more things that unite humanity, rather than divide it, and the greatest of these is love. Lina and Tony's wedding was a textbook example. I think Lina's dad looked really cool in his kilt.

Lina and Tony were childhood sweethearts. They met at school, where Tony had hours of amusement throwing bits of paper into Lina's hair which was very long and bushy in those days.

This wasn't their first wedding; to honour Lina's family, they had a Hindu ceremony first, but they chose to make their Humanist wedding the legally binding one, and everyone really entered into the spirit of the day.

The ceremony was held on the 10th anniversary of their getting together. Before the vows, they did something very brave, which was to tell everyone the reasons they love one another. And even braver, they kept what they had to say a secret from one another until that very moment.

Their friends Gerard and Nora Holden gave a great version of 'Something', by The Beatles before they were piped out by a family friend.

Along with lots of photos, Lina sent me this sweet note. Thank you very much in being part of our special day we really had a fantastic time and the ceremony was perfect, everybody was really touched by it.

It was my pleasure!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Gillian and Neil's Humanist Wedding at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

On a good day, there are few more beautiful settings for an outdoor wedding than among the Redwood trees at the Botanics.

And these photos, by Kerry & Nick Steyn, capture it brilliantly.

Gillian and Neil were in two minds about what kind of wedding to have: something small and discreet or a big celebration for all their family and friends. This was their happy compromise. Gillian's friend Faye sang and played the Bob Dylan song 'make you feel my love.' She has a gorgeous voice, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric, even though her rendition was entirely acoustic.

I got a lovely email from Gillian the other week, saying "Thank you so much for conducting our wedding ceremony, it was just PERFECT! Everyone commented on how beautiful it was and how it reflected us as a couple so well, so we can't thank you enough for that. The magical setting helped too, I'm sure!"

It certainly did - and my thanks go also to Kerry and Nick Steyn of Firefly Photography for these lovely pictures.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Joanne & Alan's Humanist Wedding at The Caves in Edinburgh

Most people agree that marriage these days is an equal partnership between a woman and a man, but traditions die hard, and every so often a bride tells me that father wants to 'give her away' to her groom. This can be tricky, but Joanne came up with a clever solution that respected her dad, Padraic's wishes, as well as her own.

Rather than relinquish any form of 'ownership', she asked him instead to make a public affirmation of her choice, so when they made it to the end of the aisle, I asked Padraic, "Are you happy for Joanne to be married to Alan and content to wish them well on their journey through life?", to which he replied, "I am."

Joanne's a very cunning girl: she tricked Alan into going to the Caves the very first time by telling him he was going on a ghost tour; then she produced an engagement ring and asked if he would do her the honour of becoming her husband. I won't tell you Alan's initial response, but after he got over the shock, he did indeed say yes, and eleven months later, they came back to the Caves for their wedding.

Like many couples they wrote their own vows and spoke them directly to one another, which was very moving...

...and funny!

It was a very happy day, as you can see.

My belated thanks go to Joanne and Alan - and to Alan Thomson for the photographs.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Same Sex Partnerships - Sinead's Hand

One of the many things that's great about the laws of Scotland is that Humanist marriage is legal, but - and it's an important but - only between men and women.

Gay people are allowed to have a Civil Partnership, but they can't choose any other form of marriage, even though there are many in the churches and the humanist community who would love to celebrate them. You can support the campaign to change the law in Scotland here, at the Equal Marriage web site

I've conducted only two same sex ceremonies and you won't find any pictures of either of them on my blog: not because I don't want to show them, but because both couples work in the public sector and have to be discreet. Which makes me wonder why, if gay couples can now have a Civil Ceremony, is it NOT OK for them to be open about their relationship? The answer is that society is a great deal less tolerant towards gay people than it appears, so people in the armed forces, or in education, public health and so on still can't be open about their sexuality and their relationship status.

Anyway, if it's bad here, it's much worse in Ireland where Gay and Lesbian people can't even have a civil ceremony. If you'd like to support their campaign, watch this lovely little film, called 'Sinead's Hand', and then click here to support MarriagEquality's campaign for same-sex marriage in Ireland.

Ruari and Gill's Humanist Wedding at Aberdour Castle

As most people marry later in life these days, stories of star-crossed teenage sweethearts are hard to come by, but that was Gill & Ruari's story. From a glance across the floor at the school disco, via a Hogmanay snog, university separation, reconnection through a supermarket stalk all the way to a proposal on a sun-kissed beach in southern Skye, their story had their friends and families alternately in stitches and piping tears from their eyes.

Aberdour is a well-preserved castle, that still has a roof over much of it, so it's a lot warmer than many other Historic Scotland properties. I remember when I turned up for the rehearsal, Ruari's mum and her friends were putting finishing touches to the elaborate floral displays and when I got there on the day, I could smell the bouquet all the way down the stairs: it was a lovely touch.

Aberdour Castle has a great cafe and it's right next to the railway station, so it's well worth checking out if you're still looking for somewhere interesting to get married.

I got a lovely email from Gill & Ruari when they got back from honeymoon, saying, "Thanks again for everything, it was a fantastic ceremony. So many people have said to us how much they enjoyed it having never been to a humanist ceremony before. Great news and largely down to you so thanks again." While it's always nice to hear, I don't believe that it's true: I think it's all down to what the couple themselves choose to say; it's just my privilege to help them discover it and say it for them on the day.

It's time to celebrate, people!

I'm delighted to announce that from now on, I will be a celebrant with Celebrate People , a new Humanist organisation led by two of Scot...