Thursday, 18 February 2010

Humanist Morality

I had a great evening yesterday at the Chaplaincy Centre of the University of Edinburgh, where the Student Humanist Association had asked me to give them a talk on Humanist Morality - a big subject, and one on which I am hardly expert - but what I said seemed to go down well enough, sparking a lively debate which continued in the pub later.

It's just a shame that I hadn't seen this quotation from Bertrand Russell or I would have used it in my slide show: it rather sums up how I feel about the, "is there or isn't there a god?" conversation...


Thanks to Ned, Mary & Stuart for the invitation, and to Mary Catherine from the Chaplaincy Centre for being there too.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Planning your Humanist Wedding -a Useful Timeline

If the whole idea of Humanism is new to you, please take a moment to read this to decide whether or not you want a Humanist wedding, and are willing to join the HSS.

Check the HSS web site for information on humanist weddings and make a shortlist of possible celebrants.

Check your chosen celebrants are free on your date and can access your venue.

Choose one (me I hope) and discuss the details of the ceremony.

Agree the fee and payment of any travel costs - current details here

Return signed application form and fee to your celebrant.

Sign two copies of the Legal Marriage Form, give one to the celebrant and keep the other for your records.

Confirm the date and time, and pay the deposit to the celebrant.

If you're working with me, do your homework. (I’ll explain this when we meet!)

Start looking for suitable poems or prose extracts of your own, or from the collection that your celebrant will send you.

Send me the results of your homework.

I will read it, comment and send you three or more handpicked ceremonies I think you’ll relate to.

Using elements from the examples where relevant, write and then send me the first draft of your ceremony.

I will read it, make suggestions if necessary and return it for further amendments.

Agree on a final script.

Three months before the ceremony
Contact the Registrar closest to your wedding venue and complete their forms: you can find much more information about that here.

During the week before
Collect the Marriage Schedule from the Registrar
If you want to, have a rehearsal; pay the balance of fee and any travel expenses

On the day
the groom should bring the Marriage Schedule and give it to me before the start of the ceremony.
(If you’re exchanging rings, remember them too!)

Get married. It only takes about 20 - 30 minutes, so remember to enjoy it!

Have a glass of champagne with me and all your guests

Say goodbye and promise to send me some photographs!

Make someone responsible for returning the signed Schedule to the Registrar within three days of the ceremony (even if it’s only dropping it through their letterbox).

Live happily ever after…

Some Things to Think About Before You Meet a Celebrant

Are you having entrance music?
If it’s live, what instruments will be used and where will the musicians be?
If it’s pre-recorded, will there be a CD player and a PA system at the venue, and who will operate it?


Are you having an Order of Ceremony?
It's not essential but is a good idea, as it allows everyone to see who's doing what and when. 
Click here for some examples.

The entrance of the bride
This isn't the 12th Century, so there’s more than one way to do this…
Click here here, and here for some other ideas

How do you want to stand?
In a humanist ceremony, you're not marrying in the presence of god or the state.
So you don’t have to stand with your backs to your friends.
Instead, you can face one other, so your friends and family can see how you feel.
Then during the vows and exchange of rings, you turn face-to-face, hand in hand.


Welcome & Introduction.
This is where I (or your friends) will talk about how you met and how your relationship has developed. See this post for an interesting way to approach this.
It can be a good idea to introduce the bridal party, as not everyone will know who they are.
A member of your family may want to say something to welcome your partner, and vice versa.


Readings
It’s a good idea to invite your friends or family to read a poem or a piece of prose and I’ll send you a copy of our collection to give you some more ideas.
I would suggest two or three readings, but you can have more.


Songs
Are a great way to break the ice, but remember to pick a song everyone knows...
At my wedding, we all sang a couple of verses of ‘500 miles’ by The Proclaimers which made everybody smile, and realise it was going to be a different kind of wedding! 
If you've got musical friends or family members, so much the better.

The Vows
While you are free to say the time-honoured formula, "I FULL LEGAL NAME accept you FULL LEGAL NAME as my lawful wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold, etc etc", remember that you can write your own vows, mutual as well as individual ones.
There are lots of different ways to say your vows too; check out this post.
I’ll send you lots of examples to give you ideas, but have a look at this post too.


Exchange of rings
Who will give these to you? 
Symbolically, it looks better when the bride takes a ring from another woman, rather than the best man, so you might give one to a bridesmaid - or a child. 
I've had them delivered by "Owl Post" before as well...

Signing the Marriage Schedule
Make an appointment to collect it from the Registry Office during the week before the ceremony.
The groom should be responsible for bringing it on the day.
Choose someone likely to remain 'a responsible adult' to take it from me after the ceremony and put it somewhere safe before taking it back to the Registry Office within three days.


Well-Wishings or Blessings
To my mind, these work best when everyone joins in.
I used to suggest putting the words in the Order of Ceremony; now I think it works if they repeat the lines after me, while looking at you; this is the first time that you get to see how they feel, and I think it's an important moment.

Rehearsals
I've just posted about this here, but here's the short version.
A few days before your ceremony I will be happy to host a rehearsal to which you may wish to bring anyone else involved, like your best man, bridesmaids, flower girls, photographers, parents and any friends who will be reading. 


When should we expect the celebrant to appear?
On the day, I usually turn up about 30 minutes before the ceremony starts and leave after I’ve kissed the Bride and had a glass of champagne! 
Or not, if I have to drive, Officer...

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Step by Step Guide to a Humanist Wedding no.10 - Rehearsals - Who Needs 'Em?

Opinion is divided.

I don't think anyone absolutely NEEDS to do a rehearsal, and I know that on the day, everyone will do pretty much what I tell them. BUT if it's a big production number, with flower girls and bridesmaids and multiple contributors, then I think it's worth taking the time to 'block it out'. Or as we say in plain English, work out who stands where and says what, when.

Rehearsals can be a bit of a scheduling nightmare, with bridesmaids flying in from other parts of the world, and best men not being able to be there, but even if it's just the three of us, it's well worth taking half an hour so that you know how you're going to come in, and where you're going to stand, and how you're going to speak your vows. And it's also a chance to work out how you're going to look one another in the eye, while holding the left hand of the person opposite you, and slipping a ring onto their finger...

So what I generally recommend is that you just come over to my place and we go through it together, and afterwards, you can brief everyone else in your own time. It's much easier, you can actually practice speaking your vows without anyone else being there to overhear them, and it solves all the logistical problems.

If it's a 'public' rehearsal - or in other words, one with the full cast and crew - what we WON'T be doing is rehearsing the dialogue - that should remain a secret until the day itself.



But it's usually a help for the best man and the bridesmaids, and the people who are doing readings. It calms their nerves. And it can answer some questions.



If the people who are doing readings can make it, I'll generally ask them to read a few lines to me.

Ask them to bring something to read  - not the poem or prose extract itself - so I can tell if they need to speak a bit louder. (Most people need to turn the volume up a little...)



And your dad knows that he's going to walk you down the aisle, but then what does he do?


Photographers and video people may find it useful to see the venue, so they know where the light will be at a given time. It's also a good time for them to become aware that you aren't going to be standing with your back to your friends, as is usually the case in religious ceremonies, and set up accordingly. Musicians can work out the acoustics and whether or not there's room for all their kit. All small worries in the scheme of things, but they can all be addressed in a rehearsal.




We don't need to rehearse at the venue - which can be a help, as venues are often busy, so I often hold them at my house, or in the courtyard outside. That way we all know where we're going to be when we get to the venue, whatever that's like.

But if we can all go to the venue, then I'm happy to join you there. A good time for a rehearsal is TWO DAYS BEFORE the ceremony.

That way, when I ask to see your Marriage Schedule, and you give me a blank look and say, "What's the Marriage Schedule?", you still have a day to go to the Registry Office on your knees and beg them to sort it out for you.

That's happened TWICE to me over the last two years, despite all my nagging...

So, as ever, it's up to you.

But I hope this helps you decide what you want to do.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Introducing Two New Celebrants

Great news: I got a letter today from the Registrar General of Scotland that authorises me to conduct legal weddings as a celebrant of The Humanist Society of Scotland for the next twelve months.

Better still, two alumni of the Maguire Method have also won their Wedding Wings: Louise Young and Brian Hawkins.



Louise lives in Edinburgh where she is a Liberal Democrat member of the City Council. I met her a couple of years ago when she was still called Louise Lang, and I conducted her wedding at Shieldhill Castle down in darkest Lanarkshire, so I was really pleased when I was asked to mentor her last year.



Brian Hawkins, on the other hand, I have known since we met as callow undergraduates at Edinburgh University. His late sister Judy was my first love and I was the best man at his first wedding but then I hardly saw him for twenty years as he decided to live in far off lands...

Now back in Scotland with his family and living just outside Edinburgh, he decided to join the society last year and by good luck I was asked to mentor him too. He's a natural and I'm sure that both he and Louise will become very popular in their own right.

You can find Louise's profile here and Brian's here