Saturday, 28 September 2013

Jen and Stuart's Humanist Wedding at Tyninghame Village Hall

I first met Jen and Stuart where they were taking the photos for Dave and Effie’s's wedding at the Roxburghe Hotel, so I was delighted when they asked me to conduct theirs too.  

Jen is from Surrey, where Humanist marriage is virtually unknown, so even before we met, she had to allay a few concerns. As she wrote,

My English family and friends are still pretty baffled by the concept of Humanism,  but I think I have finally successfully persuaded them it does not mean tie dye, humous or naked jumping over fires with your hands tied together, and more importantly, that our marriage will be legal in England and we won't require a second ceremony to cross the border.   Your blog has been a lifesaver to explain to everyone, so thank you for that.  I’m very convinced my mum is now going to love you!

They made it clear from the start they wanted something 'home grown', so they couldn't have chosen a better venue for that than Tyninghame Village Hall. Everyone who chooses to work with me has to put a bit of work into creating their ceremony, but Stuart and Jen really knocked me out because they didn't just write their script, they actually hand-made each other’s wedding rings from two strips of gold!

All brides plan their wedding down to the last detail, but Jen's was charmingly different from most. In her schedule she wrote Jen arrives at the kitchen door with bridal party (and has a quick cup of tea)

They made their guests very much a part of the day. As they wrote to me afterwards, 

Stuart and I have made the cake or done the photography for quite a few friends as their wedding present, and although it's sometimes stressful because we're only amateurs, we've always really enjoyed creating a part of someone's big day.  For our own wedding, we really wanted a home grown relaxed wedding that all the guests felt a part of and ownership of.  

So lots of friends helped bring our day together. For example, a friend of mine made the bride and bridesmaid jewellery out of seaglass we had collected on the beach. Another friend with a pulled pork BBQ business did our catering.  Friends and family sewed, baked, grew flowers etc and on the day they were incredible for simply making everything happen between them all.   

Our ethos of keeping things local, supporting small businesses and making from scratch was a big driver in us making the rings, and using the village halls. For us, that had more meaning than something big and shiny.

Our photographer was Patricia Rueda who's the sister in law of friends who were guests, and she does wedding photography alongside her fashion and documentary work. We chose her because we liked what she did, and she was warm, friendly, personable and she had exactly the feel we were looking for

The ceremony was very engaging. The first thing we did together was give a rousing rendition of Mhairi's wedding, accompanied by the 'Airs & Graces' string trio.

As part of the homework, I asked Jen and Stuart to share their story with me and I quickly realised they make a great writer and art director combination. Their stories made me both laugh out loud and shed a tiny manly tear. But rather than have me tell their story, they asked their friend Kate to write her own version which she delivered brilliantly, and just as they predicted, it reduced her to tears too.

Jen’s Granddad Jack and his wife Maureen celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary a few weeks before the wedding, so he gave a few words of advice for a long and happy marriage.

As we signed the Marriage Schedule, their friends Chris, Ali, and Elly sang a song called I'm Yours

Then as a final symbolic gesture, Jen and Stuart drank from a quaich, which is a Scots word for a very special loving cup.  

Quaichs have been a part of Scottish weddings since King James the VI of Scotland married Anne of Denmark in 1589, and Jen and Stuart's one was brimming with Kilchoman Whisky which comes from Islay, an island that's very special to them and to Stuart's family.  

As you might expect from a couple as thoughtful as they are, Stuart and Jen wrote me this lovely letter.

We wanted to write to you and thank you for conducting such a lovely ceremony for us at Tyninghame Village Hall last week.  Your warmth and personality shone through to help us welcome all our guests and make us all feel so relaxed and comfortable.  I felt so calm and happy from the moment I walked into the hall and although felt I needed to take the ceremony seriously, it was so much fun to be a part of it I simply couldn't stop smiling (and crying!) throughout.  

All the frantic running around in planning and in the last few days came together in a beautiful  perfect day. We really valued the guidance you gave us both in planning and on the day itself, helping us created a ceremony so full of joy, laughter and happiness. It was so important to us that our ceremony reflected us, and yet also included our friends and relatives of faith, and our older relatives who hadn't encountered a humanist event before.  

I received a wee note from my grandma today, and in it she wrote 'Thank you for a lovely day, both your granddad and I agreed it was the best wedding we had been to, the service was so personal and beautiful, and the weather helped - you certainly have a day to remember and you worked so hard to make it a success'.   That's high praise indeed from an octogenarian - she's been to a lot of weddings!! 

Thank you, Stuart and Jenny for creating such a moving and thoughtful ceremony for all of us. It was a delight!

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Coalition government: friend or foe of secularism?

I was invited to take part in a debate at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow yesterday evening, with Sophie Bridger, ex-president Liberal Youth Scotland and Gary McLelland (Chair, Edinburgh Secular Society), and we had what you might call a full and frank exchange of views. If you're interested, here's what I said...

Secularism is the only reliable protection for freedom of religion. In an open democratic society, the government should listen to all, and a secular state should have a neutral constitution that treats all religions and beliefs fairly and alike. That’s why I would have thought that Liberal Democrats would be strongly committed to the ideals of secularism, but looking at your record as part of this coalition government, I’ve had to revise my opinion.

It’s true that same sex marriage is a definite tick on the plus side. In the face of opposition from a very vocal - mostly religious -minority, the coalition has brought equality to a group of its citizens. Passing the act is indeed a friendly gesture towards secularism, but it is perhaps the only one this government has achieved. In fact, the Coalition has perpetuated the status quo in favour of religion in many areas.

Technically Scotland has no state church (even if the Church of Scotland would like us to believe otherwise). Obviously the Church of England is the state church of England but, as there has been no move towards disestablishment, the Coalition has to be seen as a foe of secularism.

Many governments have consulted on change to the House of Lords but in one of the most recent consultations, in 2011, the government proposed to retain a proportionately greater number of seats for Church of England Bishops in a smaller, partially appointed chamber. It also proposed to give the Church of England new powers to choose which bishops represent the Church, and to exempt those Bishops from provisions which would apply to other members, including those on expulsion and suspension, creating a new, independent and largely unaccountable bloc for the Church of England in our parliament. So as well as being a foe for failing to reform the House of Lords, the Coalition government becomes a bigger foe of secularism by trying to extend unaccountable religious interference in legislative processes.

It's also interesting to see how closely religious groups engage with political parties and how often they are given dispensation from laws that are denied to the non-religious. For example, the Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie received a free intern from Christian Action, Research & Education and the President of the Lib Dems Tim Farron hosted a prayer breakfast in Westminster where he stated, “Christianity is not a bit true. It's either wrong or utterly compellingly true". His letter to the Advertising Standards Agency demanding that it provide "indisputable scientific evidence" that the literal physical healing power of God did not exists gives us a clue as to what he thinks.

Not only do religions receive considerable tax breaks through their charitable status, but they go beyond that. In the 2012 budget, Listed Building alterations lost their VAT exemption but then the faith groups protested. The Chancellor then introduced the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme so the VAT change didn’t affect religious organisations, but many other secular organisations and charities suffered.

The continued permission granted to Jewish and Muslim communities to slaughter animals without prior stunning flies in the face of UK and EU scientific evidence. The Farm Animal Welfare Council which advises the government on how to avoid cruelty to livestock, says the way Kosher and Halal meat is produced causes severe suffering to animals, but the Coalition government continues to allow meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning to be sold with it being labelled as such. So, for its close relationships with religions and continued acquiescence to religious positions and organisations the Coalition is a foe of secularism.

A number of problems stem from religious involvement in our education system that are damaging to children.

Secularists believe that children should be educated about religion not forced to take part in it. Academies and Free schools, although not seen in Scotland, are able to mandate collective worship. Across the UK, in places like Glasgow in particular, religion can dictate which school a child can and cannot go to. We continue to segregate our children in cities where historically that segregation results in violence and hatred. A secular approach to education would ensure that publicly funded schools are equally welcoming to all children, regardless of the beliefs of their parents.

Schools with a religious character account for around a third of the UK’s publicly funded schools and they are allowed to deny pupils the best teachers if those teachers are not of the faith of the school.

Throughout the UK, evangelical religious groups have gained access to schools to promote their beliefs, which often conflict with what the pupils are being taught in science, Creationism being the most obvious example.

Humanists are rational. We believe in evidence. All the evidence about sex education shows that young people who have had appropriate sex and relationship education from a young age are more likely to have sex for the first time when they are older, and they are more likely to use condoms and contraception. In Scotland the Catholic Church has secured an exemption from this and still teaches abstinence. In England Academy and Free schools don’t have to teach anything about sex and relationships.

By allowing confusion to grow, between observance of religion and education about religion, and by failing to support amendments to the Education Act 2011 that would immeasurably improve sex and relationship education, the Coalition is definitely still a foe of secularism.

A democracy, and especially a democracy that contains the Liberal Democrats in government, should be crying out against the spread of Sharia Courts in the UK. There should be no parallel legal systems, especially ones biased towards cultural norms other than fairness and quality. But having accepted the Jewish Beth Din courts it seems the UK government does not accept the idea of one law for all. An attempt to begin regulation and have legislative oversight of these courts was made in the “The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill”, but the bill did not receive Coalition government support and is destined to fail.

Humanists defend the right of each individual to live by his or her own personal values, and the freedom to make decisions about his or her own life so long as this does not result in harm to others. Humanists do not share the attitudes to death and dying held by some religious believers, in particular that the manner and time of death are for a deity to decide, and that interference in the course of nature is unacceptable.

We firmly uphold the right to life but we recognise that this right carries with it the right of each individual to make his or her own judgement about whether his or her life should be prolonged in the face of pointless suffering. Currently, the needs and autonomy of patients are often disregarded, often at the behest of religious bodies. For those who do not believe, having their choices about their life curtailed by the beliefs of others is not equal and is unfair. This government, at best, hides from the issue and prevaricates when pressed. The courts have made it clear that it is up to politicians to face this challenge but the current government has resoundingly failed to do that.

By failing to address parallel religious legal systems and by bowing to religious pressure regarding end of life choices, once again we can see that this government is a foe of secularism. My question to the Liberal Democratic Party is a very simple one - what are you going to do about it?

PS the answer came back that 'politics is the art of the possible'. What do you think the Lib Dems should do?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Emma & Barry's Humanist Wedding at Springfield Mill Nature Reserve

Emma and Barry first met at the very romantic setting of a service station at Kinross, en route to T in the Park, so an outdoor wedding was an obvious choice for them. Springfield Mill was somewhere they'd both spent time during their childhoods, camping and as they said in the ceremony, 'generally doing things our parents would have disapproved of,' and when I turned up on a lovely Saturday evening in late summer, I couldn't actually find Barry because he was off hiding in the bushes. But more of that later...

Like many couples, Barry and Emma created their family first and got married later, so their beautiful daughters Morgan and Amy were their flower girls, along with their niece Dionne.

Unlike T in the Park, their wedding wasn't a mudfest, but it was very Indie, totally cool and something they and their friends will remember for years to come. Emma sent me these photos along with a lovely note to say, "Big HUGE, thank you for last Saturday. It was such an amazing day surrounded by friends and family, amazing weather and in a beautiful location. 

Everyone loved the ceremony, how relaxed and personal it was. Many people came up to us that had never been to a humanist wedding before not knowing what to expect and were blown away! "Best wedding we have ever been to," was said by many people which was great! 

Writing the ceremony ourselves completed our relaxed at times very funny wedding which was very much done our own way....or my way as Barry may argue!

Barry is sorry that when you first came to the mill he was 'taking care of some business' but as he says needs must and we have had a few laugh about it since last week. We are so pleased that you were part of our very special day even though everyone is in agreement that Amy stole the show by 'shooing' the bird away from my mum's hat. All the best and again a huge thank you from us both, Emma and Barry Hill.

P.S Someone has caught Amy shooing the bird on film which we will keep for future blackmail when she becomes a grumpy teenager!

P.P.S Sent you lots of photos as they are all amazing and I may have to build new walls in the house to display them all!

P.P.P.P.S. The photographer was Greg MacVean who's a friend of Emma's MOH, Sara, pronounced Sarah! He's a professional photographer but he doesn't do weddings except for people he knows so he doesn't have a website to link to but he did a great job and he definitely deserves a mention, so thanks to him, and to you,  Emma and Barry - send me some more shots, especially of Amy doing her shooing xxx

I'm delighted by Vicky Allan's article about 'WE DO!' in today's Sunday Herald ! My thanks to all the couples who ...