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.

Leanne and Jamie

Now do you see what I mean?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

George and Momo's Humanist Wedding Ceremony at Rosslyn Castle

Some people like to plan their weddings far in advance. Today for example, I was asked to hold a date for a wedding in three years time, which is some kind of a record - for me, anyway. 

George and Momo did it the other way round. They got in touch at the end of January to discuss their wedding that was due to take place less than a month later. 

What made me think this might be something of a challenge was the fact that Momo is Japanese, but the registrars in Dalkeith were very helpful indeed and expedited their paperwork, so on the last day of February, I rolled up at the wonderfully gothic ruin that is Rosslyn Castle, quite agog with anticipation and practising my few words of Japanese for the blessing at the end.

Behind the imposing relics of the early 14th Century fortress, destroyed during The Rough Wooing, as the English invasion of 1544 is still called, the present day castle dates from the early 17th Century when Sir William Sinclair built what the Landmark Trust describes as a more comfortable dwelling, but one which retains an element of drama. On one side, a modest, two storey building, on the other, a five storey drop down a rock face to the ground sixty feet below. When I went through the door, I was delighted to see some of their friends mucking in and doing the catering (which looked delicious).

Momo's parents and sister had all flown over specially.

Their friend Big Andy played and sang

Momo's friend Fumiko read a poem called ‘Ikiru’ (which means ‘To live’), by Shuntaro Tanikawa, while Shona gave us  a lively version of 'The Owl and The Pussycat' by Edward Lear, in which you may remember that the happy couple are married by 'The turkey who lived on the hill'... what does that make me, I wonder?

And I delivered my phonetically learned blessing,
Which translates as 'Congratulations on your marriage. Be happy! Hurrah!'

And as a finale, champagne was served in a teapot - there's a long and very good story about the reason for that, but I think these pictures says it better than I can.

It was a truly remarkable day and a unique ceremony; all done with great style in less than a calendar month.  What are you waiting for?

Kate & Mark's Humanist Wedding Ceremony at Broxmouth Park, Dunbar

There's something about this photograph that makes me think of 60's TV series like 'The Avengers', or  'Man From Uncle'. Maybe it's the haircuts. Or the strange costumes. Or the location - a rather spectacular country house not too far from Edinburgh, called Broxmouth Park

It was my first visit and I hope I have the chance to return, because as you can see, it's very beautiful, as was the bride. And where else can you walk down an avenue of trees to marry by the side of a loch?

Kate and Mark created a lovely ceremony full of laughter, love and honesty. Kate also wrote a poem, that was read by one of her bridesmaids, Anna. 

They sent me a beautiful card the following day, saying, "I didn't think that we could ever have dreamed that it would be so perfect; and such an emotional and enjoyable experience. Everyone commented on what a difference it made to them to be able to see us both all the way through the ceremony."

"We both giggled throughout and what struck us most was just how much we smiled throughout the whole day. We were both so relaxed and enjoyed every moment of the ceremony. It truly was a perfect reflection of our love for one another."

"We couldn't have wished for a more perfect day and so grateful to you for all of your help and support in writing our ceremony and for delivering our hopes and dreams for our marriage so beautifully."

"We'll send you an email to show you some of the photos. We can't help smiling every time we see them!"

That email finally arrived, and now that I can see the pics too, nor can I...

Thanks, Mark and Kate!

Fran and And's Humanist Wedding in Fran's Parents' Garden in The Borders

Fran and And first got in touch with me last August; they'd wanted to marry in Fran's parents' garden and that led them to stumble across the HSS website

As they wrote at the time, "When we read a bit more about it, we both felt that the humanist values were very similar to our own - we are atheists but would like a ceremony that is more personal than a civil ceremony. We thought that your comments on humanist wedding ceremonies were very much in tune with our ideas."

So we met and talked, they did their homework and then they created their ceremony, which was brilliant. As I wrote, "It reads really well... I've never read that John Hegley poem (Beliefs and Promises) before, but it's fantastic. I loved your story of your courtship; it's funny and charming and touching. Your homework was good, but this is even better!"

Back from their honeymoon, they sent me a note along with these photos. "We particularly enjoyed spending the time doing our 'homework' and writing the ceremony - it helped to confirm that getting married was the right decision for us. Your idea to hold the ceremony under the apple tree was just brilliant and created a stunning natural frame in the photos we've seen so far." 

"So many people have commented to us on what a beautiful ceremony it was and how fitting it was for us as a couple, so thank you for helping us to create it and being there on the day to bring it to life. It was perfect."

Thanks Fran and And! As John Hegley wrote, "I promise to know when to stop".

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Laura & David's Humanist Wedding at Auchenbainzie, Dumfries

I love surprises. And this wedding, down in the wilds of Nithsdale, was certainly that.

For a start, it was held in a calving barn...

That had been converted for the weekend into an amazing Moroccan tent.

I knew that David and Laura wanted their ceremony to be really informal, but when I arrived,

I was still surprised to find the bride in her dress, pinning a boutonnière to the groom.

I'd never heard of Moniaive, either, which was where quite a few of the guests had come from. The Sunday Times recently called it 'The Coolest Village in Britain', and I can see why.

Many artists, writers and other creative people live there, and not only are there two highly regarded restaurants, it's even got its very own Chocolatiere, Laura's friend Liz Hall, who gave one of the readings.

Laura and David had two of their children up on stage with them; Sophie was the Bridesmaid while Joe was the Best Man. David's oldest friend Derek told us the story of how Laura and David got together, which got a lot of laughs, and taught me how to pronounce Auchenbainzie, too. It's 'bingie' as in John Menzies. Obvious really...

All in all, it was a magical evening. Before jetting off on their honeymoon, Laura dropped me a line to say, "We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and you really helped put me at ease when we were up on the stage. It was very emotional for many of the guests, and for us a really powerful experience. Thankyou so much for coming and making the ceremony so special and memorable. I'm so sorry you didn't stay as it turned into a night to remember....we were still dancing at 5 am!"

As I suspected,  I missed out on the party of the year! My thanks of course to David and Laura, and to Rob Leighton, the photographer - he did a great job!

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...