Monday, 31 December 2012

Ending The Year On A High

It's been another wonderful, love-filled, life-affirming year, and it couldn't have ended more appropriately than with a snowy wedding atop Ben Vorlich with Louise and Stuart, their witnesses, Ross and Davie and four bemused but delighted fellow hill-walkers who just happened to arrive at the summit at the same time.

More on this in the New Year, but until then, I hope you have a very happy Hogmanay wherever you are!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Humanist Weddings Legal in Ireland

It's been an extraordinary few years for Humanism. Since Humanist weddings became legal in Scotland in 2005, they've quickly become part of the fabric of society, and I am delighted to see that the Dail in Dublin has decided to make them legal in Ireland too from the start of 2013.

You can read the story here in the Irish Times, but as the Humanist Association of Ireland says, it's a major victory after a ten year campaign.

If you're living in the Republic, or just want to marry there, you can find out more here.

I can only wonder how the Catholic Church will respond, but it's hard not to see it as a judgement on their many failings over the last fifty years.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Camilla and Kevin's Humanist Wedding at Winton House

I am growing more absent-minded by the day. A chance conversation at the EdCoffeeMorning Christmas Lunch yesterday brought up the subject of Winton House, which as they say on their website, does 'intimacy on a grand scale'

It's a very beautiful house, and I've done lots of weddings there over the last few years. This was the first, on a glorious summer's day in 2010. Yes, almost two and a half years ago. I've had these photos all that time, and I completely forgot to post them. The word half-wit doesn't begin to cover it...

Camilla and Kevin made a gorgeous couple, and they got an absolutely perfect day for an outdoor ceremony in front of 'the cottage'

it was a very laid back, happy day, and Bree, their English Springer Spaniel behaved impeccably throughout.

They were serenaded by Ian & Kevin, who sang an acoustic version of ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ by The Beatles, and everyone joined in and sang along (the lyrics were printed on their Order of Ceremony)

One thing I learned about Camilla when we met was that she's an equestrienne, and has a beautiful horse, and at one point she had thought she would arrive at her wedding on horseback.

At the time, I was just setting up my allotment, so I asked if she could possibly bring me some well-rotted horse manure, and of course she said yes.

So what these photos don't show was the horsebox that Camilla's father had driven down that day, or the three brimming bags that he'd kindly brought with him, just for me. 

Let's just say I was glad that a) I still had my old Saab convertible so they could sit on the back seat and b) that it was such a beautiful day I was able to drive them all the way home with the top down!

Camilla sent me this lovely note. "We are not long back from our Honeymoon & just wanted to get in touch to say thank you for helping make our day extra special. We had so many people comment on the ceremony & how much they enjoyed it. It was so important for us to be married in front of dear friends & family. Who would have believed we would get our dream of an outdoor ceremony in Scotland. Our South African relatives promised they would send us some sunshine - even the rain in the evening was perfectly timed for the dancing in the marquee! 

PS I do hope the horse manure is helping your garden grow? There's plenty more when it came from!!!"

Well Camilla, having waited this long for me to post this story, you may want to pour it over my head, but yes, absolutely, it did, and thank you so much once again for a fabulous day!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Be Part of a Global Census of Non-Believers

And yes, you can describe yourself as a humanist... or a freethinker, agnostic, secularist or whatever floats your boat... take part here

Monday, 17 December 2012

Lisa and Alan's Humanist Wedding at The Roxburghe Hotel

I've got lots of laughter lines. 

Not all of them are due to Alan and Lisa's wedding, but  it was such a happy, fun-filled day, I can't remember when I've smiled more. Their story began seven years ago, and in the ceremony, I took their guests all the way from their first near miss in a pub on Rose Street, via a very green flat, to a romantic proposal deep in the Mexican jungle.

I remember being struck by a passage in their homework. Lisa wrote, "One of my best friends said to me not so long ago, that we were her favourite couple.  When I asked her why, she said that it was because “we are good to one another”.  I hope that we continue to be good to one another, never selfish and always true." 

In the ceremony, Lisa put that a different way. She said, "Alan is quite simple the best person I’ve ever met.  He’s loyal, kind and considerate and is always making me laugh – even when I don’t want to". 

For his part, Alan said, “Lisa is the most kind and considerate person I’ve ever met, always putting loved ones ahead of herself for anything.  She goes out of her way to help people.  Most of all she puts up with me.  She has a very un-girlie sense of humour.  She’s fun to be around and I look forward to seeing her come in every night (even when she’s had a few)."

They both chose to speak their vows directly to one another, which was very moving, and even before they set off on honeymoon, they took the time to send me this very touching note.

We just wanted to say a massive thank you for Saturday.  The ceremony was absolutely beautiful, and you did a wonderful job.

So many people came up to us to say how much they enjoyed the ceremony and that it was the best they'd been to.  And I think, half the room was almost in tears - including us.  No higher compliment than that!

Also, thank you for looking after Alan before the ceremony.  He said you got him a glass of water and calmed him down.  I was pretty nervous myself, however seeing Alan face as I walked up the aisle was worth it all.  My friends are still laughing at me for being early though!

That's true actually - I think in all the years I've been conducting weddings, Lisa was the very first bride to make it to the venue with ten minutes to go. But that worked out really well. Not only did that give Lisa and her bridesmaid Dawn a chance to get their breath back, but it also gave us a chance to chat and enjoy a glass of the hotel's delicious champagne! 

My thanks as ever to Alan and Lisa for giving me the privilege of conducting their ceremony, and to Sarah Huston of Sarah Elizabeth Photography for being so great to work with and for sending me these shots.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

2012 Census - The Rise and Rise of the Non-Religious

As reported widely this morning, the results are in from England and Wales for the census conducted last year, and I'm really pleased to see that the non-religious now amount to 25% of the population - a 10% rise on the figure in 2001.

This is particularly good news, given that the census question was phrased in such a way to make it more likely to misrepresent the nature of belief. I was the society's Media Officer at the time and we spent a fair bit of time and money campaigning on this.

"The census question was 'What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?' which pre-supposes you have a religion. We asked the Scottish Government to change it to 'Are you religious?' with three possible answers, yes, no, and don't know.

We then commissioned a scientific survey through YouGov that showed that the two questions gave very different results. 1,000 adults were asked both sets of questions, in two sets of interviews.

When asked the census question, 58% said they were religious. When asked 'Are you religious?', only 35% said 'yes'.

Mark Cuthbert, who conducted the survey on behalf of the HSS, has been a leading independent research consultant in Scotland for more than 20 years. As he said at the time, "This does not stack up. The only explanation is that the Census question significantly overemphasizes the commitment of the people of Scotland to religion."

Why does it matter? The government will use census data to justify maintaining faith schools, and the funding of religious patient support services in the NHS, while religious groups will use it to lobby for their own institutions, which will promote greater separateness in our already dangerously divided society. 

The HSS survey showed that Scotland is already effectively a secular country. Will the census data reflect that? Wait and see...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Antisocial Media?

When you got engaged, did you post your happy news on Facebook? Do you share the highs and lows of your private life on twitter? As so many of us share the intimate details of our lives online, there are bound to be times that somebody oversteps the line.

More and more often recently, I've been adding a new line to my 'pre-ceremony warm-up routine'. Along with checking people can hear me at the back of the room, and asking them to switch off their phones, I usually go on to explain 'today's rules on photography'.

Some couples rule it out completely. They want their guests to be present during the ceremony in every sense, and that's fine. Others are relaxed about guests taking pictures, but don't want them to use flash in case it interferes with the official photographer's pictures. Others still are happy for everyone to take pictures, or shoot video anytime anywhere. But now we have Facebook and twitter, and they've changed the game completely.

So I think it's well worth taking a moment to talk to your partner about your own Facebook Privacy Policy. If you're happy for the world to see someone's iPhone snap of your first blissful embrace on Facebook two seconds after I've said, 'you may kiss', it's your call.

But if you want a modicum of privacy, just ask me to say this. "Please feel free to take pictures by all means, but please don't post them to social media sites until Janet and John give you the OK".

Thanks to professional wedding photographer Ian Johnson whose snap I've used above.
I think he's right when he says, 'please tell your guests to enjoy your wedding instead of taking photos!'

Once Upon a Time They Lived Happily Ever After - Telling Your Story

The story of your relationship, from first encounter to the moment you both say 'I do' is an important part of your ceremony, and there are lots of different ways of telling it. Earlier this year, at  Sophie and Neal's wedding in the Royal Botanic Garden one of their friends, Jamie Hall, came up with a really original one, and I've been meaning to write about it for ages.

James only got in touch with me a day before the wedding to let me know that he was a surprise addition to the line up, and that he'd written a poem designed for audience participation. He read most of it, but he'd also roped in 8 friends, who had one line each, and all of whom were dotted variously about the John Muir Grove. With his permission, I reproduce it below, with thanks also to Claire Tennant for the illustrative photography.

A Rhyme for Neal and Sophie
So 2 months ago I think it was
My dear Neal asked me to state
A few lines at his wedding to Sophie
With a brief of ‘say whatever u want mate’
 Of course I accepted with overwhelming emotion
An honour beyond all words
The only things that were off the agenda
Were religion and the bees and the birds!
So I met Neal at the university of Bournemouth
And my gosh do I have some stories
And 13 years later I could regale you all
With the naughties, the funnies and the gories
But if there’s one thing I let uni teach me
Was that’s it’s best to leave the scandal behind
(ANDY) So it’s lucky for you that I aint reading,
Cos Sophie’s dad would change his mind
So that’s enough of Uni
We could talk about that all day
It’s time to talk about these amazing 2 people
For whom we’re all here today
So 2005 I believe was the year
When I first heard Neal quote
That He’d met this lovely young lady
Who was very much floating his boat
Now at the time I lived with Neal
(DUNC) so did I
(ANDY) So did I
So it was the house of bachelor bromance
Saturdays we’d go and get hammered
Sundays it was football in our pants
 But alas, our reprobate existence
Of which we’d all made an art
Would end as Neal and Sophie moved in together
But how had he won her heart?

Was it midnight walks on the South Bank?
Was it Frank Sinatra or some other crooner?
(LEE) c’mon lad let’s be honest now,
It’s cos he decided to become a Gooner

Now Lee my friend, don’t be so quick to judge
Love is a sum of many beautiful parts
(DANNY) No I really do have to agree with Lee,
For 25 years you supported Hearts!!

 Oh well Danny, all that really matters
Is that they sit in front of us right now
Amongst their nearest and dearest
Exchanging their wedding vows

But it was never always that public
When they first sparked their romantic flames
Cos they met and hooked when they were work colleagues
So at first they played the cloak and dagger game

So the clandestine relationship was blossoming a treat
The office anonymity was working out just chipper
And everything was going so perfectly until
(JACKY) I busted you snogging on the Thames Clipper

So several years on and here they are
And their love it so beautifully still stands
But if you’re a budding new boyfriend
You’ve got a challenge on your hands
Cos dear old Jon hooked up with Soph’s mate Amy
And took her way on their first romantic break
(JON) but romance was 100% off the cards,
When I discovered it was a double date

Yes Neal and Soph invited themselves along
To check the new boy out
But let’s be honest, if there’s an opinion you’d trust
It’d be these 2 without a doubt.

 So at this point Neal and Soph lived in Oz
Where their relationship reached new heights
But I don’t have too much material here
(ROZANA) yeah, cos you were too cheap to pay for flights

 Oh and how we all rejoiced
When they came back to Blighty
But that was just the start of it all
As these 2 were to become a 3

And last summer your angel Daisy came along
And I have to admire her style
As her arrival gave Neal a nudge
To at last walk Soph up the aisle

So now I conclude with a couple more lines
And I dedicate them to this breathtaking team
3 wonderful souls for whom we all cannot overstate our love
Quite simply today will be a dream

Neal and Soph you are my soulmates
Of warmth and love you are both so in wealth
And when I say I couldn’t have picked a more perfect couple
I speak for the congregation, and myself.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Kirsty and Euan's Humanist Wedding at Mansfield Traquair

Phoebe Anna Traquair's exquisite frescoes glittered in the early autumn sunlight as Euan and Kirsty tied the knot, just nine years after their first meeting in a tiny Perthshire village.

Kirsty looked stunning as she came up the extremely long aisle with her mother, who gave her away. (Fabulous dress, btw!)

Their friend Lauren told us the story of their relationship, from their first tentative flirtations all the way up to a turbulent ferry journey to the wild and wonderful Knoydart, where Euan asked Kirsty to be his wife.

Their friend Alan read a poem called "Friends", Kirsty’s cousins, Louise and Rebecca, read us Marriage Joins Two People in the Circle of its Love"by Edmund O’Neill, and Euan’s mum, Carol, gave us a reading adapted from the Jewish Marriage Ceremony, before we had a pause for contemplation just before the vows.

After their vows, but before they exchanged rings, Kirsty and Euan asked me to read a poem called “The Blessing of The Hands” by an unknown author.

As they exchanged rings, these were the words they chose to say to one another.  

"With this ring, I join my life to yours.

Wear it always as a symbol of my love and commitment to you, 

and when we are apart, look upon it and think of me."

When they got back from honeymoon, the new Mr and Mrs Thomson sent me these lovely shots by Andrew & Emmett of Wilson McSheffrey with this note.

Just a wee message to send a very overdue thank you from us both for helping to make our day such a success. Everyone thought the ceremony was wonderful - so personal and meaningful - and you of course played a huge part in ensuring that that was the case!  You definitely helped to calm the nerves a bit, and I felt as though we were in good hands.

The day was a bit like a fairytale - such a whirlwind - but we both have such happy memories of celebrating with family and friends. I can't believe how smoothly eveyrthing went, and all the folk participating in the ceremony did so well! We couldn't have asked for anything more.

Thank you, Kirsty & Euan - it was my pleasure!

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...