Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Gemma & Colin's Humanist Wedding at Norton House

When people ask me what I do as a celebrant, I sometimes talk about my 'Virtual Parish'.

As a celebrant, I conduct more funerals than I do weddings, but they are both 'a celebration of life', and just as at almost every wedding, someone comes up and tells me it's the best they've ever been to,  so at a funeral, a line I never tire of hearing is, 'I know this sounds wrong, but I really enjoyed that!'

Over the five years that I've been a celebrant of the Humanist Society of Scotland, I've developed a kind of relationship with some families where I've conducted different ceremonies for them. 

And when Gemma and I first spoke, it was because I'd conducted the funeral for her Granny Betty, a remarkable lady of strong character who had been a member of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland way back in the 1960's when hardly anyone anywhere had ever come across the term.

So this was a special ceremony for me in the sense that I felt a connection already existed, and it was special in other ways too. Gemma's cousin Robert piped Gemma in, just as he had Betty. And Colin the groom is an Irishman, and there was a strong contingent there from that part of the world, and I'm sure that  not all of them were wondering why on earth Colin had chosen to marry his lovely bride on the day the Springboks were playing at the new stadium at Lansdowne Road.

But  they also chose to have a handfasting. Handfasting is an ancient Celtic tradition representing the binding together of two people in love.  The bride and groom hold hands and a cloth is wrapped around them, which is where the expression “tying the knot” comes from.  Often in Scotland, tartan cloths are used, because tartan is the symbol of the family or clan, and its intricate patterns also represent the binding together of different strands to make something whole.  Colin and Gemma chosen a tartan ribbon to represent the Scots and a green one to represent the Irish.

There are many different ways to do a handfasting.  Usually the celebrant does it, but you can ask different friends to come up and bind a cloth each. Or you can do it the way I did in this ceremony, which is to get the couple to grasp each other's elbow, wind the two ribbons around their forearms, and give each of them one pair of ends, and then ask them to pull. 

When they do, they end up with a pair of ribbons knotted together, and their hands are free to sign the Marriage Schedule...

The other rather touching thing they did was to remember to make sure that at the end of the ceremony, there was a member of staff waiting for them when they left the room to the sound of applause, holding a silver tray on which there were not two, but three glasses of champagne.

By that point, I need a drink too! Gemma sent me a lovely message on their return from honeymoon.

'Everyone has commented on how much they enjoyed the ceremony and how moving it was. It sounds like we weren't the only ones needing tissues!'

And that wasn't just because Ireland lost 21-23! My thanks to Gemma and Colin and their families and friends for making me feel so welcome, and to Maria Falconer for the great pics.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Emma & Richard's Humanist Wedding at Mansfield Traquair

Mansfield Traquair is a stunning setting for a wedding, and I've never seen a shot that captures its magical atmosphere better than this one, from Richard and Emma. Here's what Emma wrote when she sent me these great shots.

I just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you so so much for conducting our wonderful wedding at Mansfield.  We had the most amazing day but the most memorable part was our ceremony.  We knew instantly when we met you and started discussing a humanist wedding service that it was just what we wanted and as a couple what we are really about and when the two of us were facing each other on the day listening to the words that we both had written it was a true reminder of what getting married is all about.

Everyone has told us how beautiful and different it was and how fantastic you were...  The experience of actually doing our homework and going through readings and poems was such fun and a really special time, which highlighted exactly why we are together and going through the memories to create our story was just brilliant.  it was so lovely to put a bit of us into something which defines us for the years to come.  to also make the promises to each other which we intend to keep was amazing and we will always remember that part as it was like there was only the two of us in the room.

Thanks also for getting through the service with the noise going on from the wee ones.  Getting one two year old to sit for 30 minutes is hard enough let alone three of them and when they all know each other and just want to play its very difficult, especially when their mum and dad are the bridesmaid and usher...  Thank you so much for your patience.  I do believe it did create some of the more funny moments of the day and I will always remember Ellis appearing up the aisle with a bottle of Diet Coke in her hand...  

Thanks so much again Tim - our day was the most special day of our lives and we couldn't have done it without you. 

 It's a day we will always treasure and even more so because we wrote the words ourselves. You gave us the opportunity to do that.

Thank you, Emma and Richard. It was a pleasure!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

I know where I'm going... Part 2

The day after the article on body donation appeared in Scotland on Sunday, I got a call from a producer at BBC Radio Scotland, who asked if I'd be prepared to visit the Anatomy Lab at the School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where Dr Gordon Linklater would show me precisely what will happen to me if and when I end up there after my death.

I have to admit I wasn't exactly overwhelmed by enthusiasm at the prospect, and I was more than a little worried that the sight of a recently dismembered corpse on a slab would make me feel distinctly queasy at the very least.

But I didn't want to be chicken, so last Monday, I spent a couple of hours there with the lovely Dr Linklater and a nice producer called Bonnie, and the resulting piece was broadcast this morning on the Ricky Ross Sunday show. You can listen to it here for the next week. Scroll forward on iPlayer to 4' 30"

If you want to leave your body to the School of Medicine in Edinburgh, please click here

Or if you want to find out more, read this information from the National Web Archive which gives contact information for all the schools in Scotland and some elsewhere.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Iona & Nigel's Humanist Wedding at Harburn House

I've got a classic Suzuki 1100 ES sitting idle in my garage as I type this, but not so long ago I was a keen motorcyclist, and as it says on my profile on the HSS site, I've always wanted to conduct a biker wedding. I suppose I had the idea that it would involve everyone arriving on bikes in full leathers, and it being something of a wild, high octane event, but as usual the reality was a little different.

Nigel and Iona met through Saddletramps an outfit that friends of mine also rode with, so I felt an affinity with them both from the start. But it was when they sent me their homework that I got really interested. It was amazing. Searingly honest, (their dislike for one another  was mutual for quite a while at first), emotionally open, funny and moving, there were times I thought "Woooah! Too much information", but I knew that if they chose to use any of it in the ceremony, it would be one to remember. 

And it was. But for quite the opposite reason.

Iona and Nigel hardly used any of the material they'd shared in their homework at all. Instead, they wrote something entirely new, that was just as honest, open, funny and moving, but in a very different way.

One of the quotations they chose was from Lao Tzu, the father of Taoist philosophy. 
‘Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.’ Nigel and Iona have found this to be true.

I learned a lot from Nigel and Iona's wedding, not least that the homework isn't just for the ceremony. It's its own reward; you can use it, or not use it, but you won't regret doing it.

It was a great wedding in so many ways. Sadly I left just as the wilder part of the evening was getting under way, but it looked as though it was going to be a LOT of fun.

Iona sent me a lovely note, which said, "We wanted to thank you for conducting such a wonderful ceremony and making everyone at ease. We so wish we'd heard you telling them all they would have to strip off naked, ahhh to have been a fly on the wall with a video camera at that point! 

We had such a wonderful day and really feel that the pre-picnic gathering set the scene for the relaxed day, and that the ceremony really portrayed Nigel and I and how we wanted the day and our lives to be. Thank you again for everything: for being with us and conducting our ceremony, and very very importantly for giving us our homework, )which was and is invaluable and we will value it for years and years to come), and for just being you and being part of our wedding."

My thanks to Iona and Nigel and all their family and friends for making me so welcome, and to their photographer Nick Kirk for allowing me to use so many of his great shots.

Jill and Chris's Humanist Wedding at Mansfield Traquair

Just look at Mansfield Traquair . Could it be more calm and tranquil? Little did Jill and Chris know what was to come. If they h...