Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Way I Work

A humanist wedding is is the only form of legal marriage ceremony where two people are free to say in their own words why they are getting married, what their hopes are for the future and what they want to promise to one another. 


This is a wonderful privilege, but it's also a terrifying responsibility. 


Where do we start, what do we say, what don't we say, how do we make this truly OUR ceremony?


Here's how I do it.

I don't want you to think about writing a ceremony at all. I want you to tell me who you are.

You might expect me to ask you this at our first meeting, but I'm not going to do that. It's not that I'm not interested, but I'd really prefer to hear what you've got to say after you've given the matter some serious consideration.

Our first meeting is really so I can tell you the many ways in which you can make your wedding ceremony your own. It takes about an hour.

So when we meet (or speak over the phone, or Skype), as well as telling you how a typical ceremony might go (and pointing out the many ways in which every little bit of it can done in six different ways), I will give you an assignment.

The word homework sounds deadly dull, but actually it's really great fun, and every couple I have ever married has thanked me afterwards for suggesting it. This is how it works.

When we decide to ask someone to marry us, or to accept someone’s proposal, we just intuitively know that it’s the right thing to do: we don’t sit down with a tick list and go through all the things that have happened since we met that led to the decision. Or so you might think.

But actually, our subconscious minds have been keeping that list ever since we first saw one another, first spoke and went on our first date. Human beings can’t help judging – like, don’t like, like, like, don’t like – and when we finally decide that this is the only person we can’t live without, or that this person is the one that we want to spend the rest of our lives with, it’s the culmination of a long process where the likes outweigh the don’t likes by a long, long, long way!

So the homework is designed to encourage you – separately – to go back into your memories and remember not just what happened and the story of your courtship, which is fun, but even more importantly, what it was about your partner that made you think, “I love the way he or she is X“.

Remember also that this is a private conversation. I don't share your homework with anyone else. But it's what will allow me to see who you are, and how you express yourselves and that will help me find ceremonies from other couples I've married with whom you have something in common.


Not everything you say in your homework has to go into your ceremony. Sometimes none of it does - sometimes all. It's really just a way to create all the raw material you will draw on when it comes to creating it later. Still interested? Ok, the homework is as follows.


Separately, using one side of the paper only, and no conferring, I want you to

1. Write the story of you – from when you first met and everything that’s happened since. Remember it doesn't have to be War and Peace. Keep it simple, keep it truthful, and use your own voice. 

2. Write down ten things about your partner that made you not just fall in love, (which as it says in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, 'any fool can do'), but that made you decide that you want to spend the rest of your lives together.

3. Finally, I want you to write down ten things that marriage means to you or that you want to achieve in your marriage. 

BTW, ten is an arbitrary number. If you can only think of four great reasons, that will do. If you can only think of four hundred and four, that'll do too, but bear in mind we're aiming for a ceremony that lasts around thirty minutes and that brevity is the soul of wit... 

Before you start, make a date by which you both promise to have done this, and arrange to get together one evening when you know you have a long lie the next day...

Set the table, turn the lights down low, put a bottle of whatever you drink on the table, bring your notes, and say "OK, what did you write?" 

I promise that you will have a wonderful evening.

When you’ve recovered, write up your notes and send them to me. 
Word documents are best, but an email is fine.
I’ll read what you've written, make some comments, and some suggestions if I think they will be helpful.

Then I’ll send you three or four ceremonies hand-picked to reflect who you are and what I think you will like.

When you get the ceremonies, print them out, highlight the sections in each that you want to re-use and then paste them together in a new Word document, along with your story of how we all come to be here today, and what you love about one another and your thoughts on marriage. 

Feel free to rework, rephrase and improve on any or all of the text, or use it as you find it; it’s up to you!


Does this make sense? I think so. But it's not for everyone.

There are other celebrants who will write your ceremony for you. Which is fine. 
But here's why I prefer not to do that.

As a celebrant, I spend a great deal of time writing ceremonies about people who cannot speak for themselves because they are dead. 

You have a unique advantage. You're alive ( congratulations!)

Only you know why you are doing what you are doing. 

And only you can really say it in your own words.

Sure, I could write your ceremony for you, but - philosophically - I think that it really is better if you do. 

In case you were wondering, I wrote this post because I'm going to me marrying a couple called Leanne and Jamie, who sent me this email.

Finally we have finished our homework!! Sorry it has taken us so long. It took us a couple of months to start and then longer to finish because we found it hard at first to find the words. When we finally finished we were very pleasantly surprised at what we wrote about one another. Although we obviously love one another very much and tell each other this everyday we have not expressed these thoughts to each other in this way before and it was lovely. Even though we struggled at first with the homework, it has been very rewarding and thank you for that. Hopefully you think so too and can get some useful information from it for our wedding ceremony. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.


I found a poem by an unknown author that describes this process perfectly:


Sometimes we let affection,
go unspoken,

Sometimes we let our love
go unexpressed,

Sometimes we can't find words to tell
our feelings,

Especially towards those
we love the best.

Sincerely,
Leanne and Jamie


Now do you see what I mean?

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