Monday, September 19, 2011

Have you got the H Factor?

I'm really pleased to tell you about the launch of The H Factor, the first ever awareness campaign from The Humanist Society of Scotland.

As a celebrant, whenever I meet people to discuss a ceremony and ask them why they've chosen a Humanist one, they always begin by saying. "Well, we're not religious but..." Then they go on to say how they stumbled across the HSS web site, looked at what Humanists believe and thought, "Oh - We had no idea that we've been Secret Humanists for years!"

All the research suggests that the majority of people in the UK are secular. Although we don't expect everyone with Humanist leanings to be card carrying Humanists we feel it is very important to raise awareness of a set of ethics guided by reason, compassion and equality.

And that's what the H Factor campaign 
is about. You can see my contribution here, where I'm talking about a subject I care very much about, same sex marriage:

From September 25th, a film crew will tour Scotland for five days in a search to find the stars of the first ever Humanist TV commercial. Auditions will be held in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow, where members of the public will be asked to answer questions on major moral issues. Anyone can sign up at The H Factor web site, and individuals who appear in the final advert will receive a £500 appearance fee.

So what are you waiting for? Check it out, sign up, and who knows? You could be a star of the future!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wedding at The Hub

I'm delighted to share these lovely pictures with you of Jen and Mooj's wedding at The Hub, a wonderful venue at the top of Edinburgh's Royal Mile. This is a couple who have lots of fun together and these photos really reflect the touching intimacy between them. Jen is a well-known jewellery designer and made her stunning necklace and tiara herself.

Weddings conducted in the gallery of The Hub have to be done 'in the round', which I enjoy because it feels very friendly and I make a big effort to address the guests on either side of me. I also enjoyed this wedding very much because Jenny's brother is my favourite wedding musician, Pipe Major Roderick Deans, or Roddy the Piper as he's happy to be known. Roddy played a lovely and specially composed piece of music for his beautiful sister's entrance.

Isn't the photo above especially lovely? Here's what Jenny and Mooj thought about their wedding:

“So many of our guests have said how much they enjoyed the ceremony and how memorable it was, which has added even more to our enjoyment of the day. Being able to really put our personality into the ceremony, especially our vows, was brilliant. I don't think either of us really anticipated just how much we would enjoy the whole experience. Thanks once again for playing such a big part in our day and making it so special and memorable.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

Catch me when I fall

This is a very romantic story of a wedding dress currently displayed in The Smithsonian:

"In August 1944, Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out. Suffering from only minor injuries, Hensinger used the parachute as a pillow and blanket as he waited to be rescued. He kept the parachute that had saved his life. He later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth in 1947, offering her the material for a gown.

Ruth wanted to create a dress similar to one in the movie Gone with the Wind. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. Ruth made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple married July 19, 1947. The dress was also worn by the their daughter and by their son’s bride before being gifted to the Smithsonian."

It's especially touching when a person's personal experience is brought into their wedding. When a couple are planning their ceremony with me I encourage them to draw on their experience together as we express their hopes for the future. Some couples have faced tough times together so know they can rise to the mark when life takes a turn for the worst. Almost all couples live together for a substantial period of time before they marry so they've stood by each other despite seeing their partner at their least glamorous. Many couples have children before they marry so they've experienced romantic love and a whole new kind of love with each other.

Then there are other couples who have maybe not been together for long, had no testing situations with which to prove themselves, yet they still have experience to draw upon: courage to enter into a marriage without a long test period and a willingness to trust and nurture a growing love.

There's no getting out of the fact that we're all going to have difficult times in our lives but it's lovely to remind yourselves on your wedding day of how your past can contribute to the support you'll give one another in the future.

Friday, June 3, 2011

You are the trip I did not take...

absolutely beautiful.

I stumbled on this poem today by Anne Campbell. Originally written for her children it would make a beautiful addition to a wedding or naming ceremony. Isn't it lovely that when the right person comes along those unfulfilled dreams don't seem to matter quite so much?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Modern Marriage?

I don't want you thinking I'm completely down on the royal wedding, as I'm all for some pretty frocks and pomp and ceremony as much as the next person. However I did get very fed up with the sycophantic media proclaiming this to be a 'modern marriage'. This conclusion was reached because Kate Middleton wasn't going to 'obey' her future husband.

I still meet wedding couples who make it very clear they don't want to 'obey' one another. I always tell them that I'd never allow such a promise in a humanist wedding. Even the Church of England, purveyor of modern matrimony, did away with this eons ago.

Once aspect of the royal wedding that's been completely overlooked is the giving away of the bride. I'm not referring to the bride's father walking her down the aisle (99% of brides still do this and they and their dads like the experience). I'm talking about the part of the ceremony where Rowan Williams asks, "Who giveth this woman to be given to this man?" Kate's dad then says "I do", for she clearly belongs to him. He then gives his daughter's left hand to the Archbishop of Canterbury who gives it to Prince William. This is the point at which I asked myself how any marriage can be deemed modern when a woman is so publicly treated like chattel?

I can assure you now that this would never happen in a humanist wedding! Modern marriage is a partnership of two equals and most couples wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Married with Children

I confess I'm not usually interested in what Ed Milliband has to say. However when I read this comment about his forthcoming marriage it really made me think: "At the end of the day we're in our 40s and we've got two kids, so it wasn't a case of me suddenly popping the question." Not exactly the most romantic of sentiments, Ed!

I think that come the wedding day he might be a little surprised. It's true that in our notions of the typical fairytale wedding Cinderella and Prince Charming rarely have a toddler and a one year old in tow. However, some of the most meaningful and emotional weddings I've conducted have been for couples who already have children. The wedding is often extra special because the couple have a living, breathing symbol of the love between them at the ceremony itself. They've also faced some challenging times together: sleepless nights, worry and the joys of childbirth can make a couple closer than they've ever been before. By the time couples with children get married they've pretty much seen each other at their least glamorous and are approaching their union with a truly realistic view of who they are marrying. I think this makes for a more romantic wedding where the couple can promise to accept each other for better or for worse with absolute confidence!

Your wedding doesn't just have to be about the present and the future, it can be a celebration of the sucess your relationship has been so far. When I'm marrying couples with children I'm often careful to help them make the ceremony about them as a pair. Although we celebrate and involve the children, it should be the couple's ceremony as well as a family occasion.

I've married one couple who felt strongly that the wedding should be about them as romantic partners not 'mum and dad'. They chose to marry with five friends in attendance but not their children who were with their grandparents for the day. This wouldn't be everyone's choice but I thought it worked well for this couple and was definitely the right decision for them.

One advantage that couples who have lived together for a long time or who have a very established relationship with children find is that their weddings are even more enjoyable than they had hoped for. In general, like Ed Milliband, they tend to have more realistic expectations of a wedding but are frequently surprised by how very special their day will be. I reckon the wedding will inject a bit of spark into the future Mr and Mrs Milliband's relationship . . .

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Promises, Promises... Humanist Wedding Vows

I've noticed on my stats that most people visiting this blog are searching for Humanist wedding vows. I can completely understand this because when I meet couples the vows are often the bit they either feel very enthusiastic about or completely dread! I've already written a couple of posts — part 1 and part 2 — of how to construct your vows but that's only one way to approach them. I can't speak for all Humanist celebrants but here's my views on vows.

There is one rule: you must promise to accept one another to be husband and wife, after which the celebrant must declare you to be husband and wife which is the point you are actually married. I know! The power, eh? No, I can't go up to people and marry them in the street for a laugh. In the context of the ceremony however, it's me who says the magic words!

My main concern with the vows of the couples I marry is that they're sincere and the people saying them feel comfortable with them. I'm happy for my couples to use traditional vows: in sickness and in health, and so on. I completely draw the line at promising to 'obey' each other. That said, I've never met a couple who wanted this.

Interestingly, very few people bother to promise fidelity these days. Not, I imagine because most couples are secret swingers in their spare time but because it's pretty much a given and people don't feel the need to comment on the intricacies of their sex life in front of all their friends and family any more.

Some people like to add a bit of humour to their vows: "I promise to let you have the remote control every Tuesday", that kind of thing. It can break the ice and I'm all for vows that reflect your personalities if you are jovial sorts. When couples draw a balance between having both serious and funny vows this can work very well, as you want to demonstrate you're taking your promises seriously.

If you are the shy type you don't even have to say your personal vows but can simply answer questions with an 'I do'. I often tell nervous couples that all they have to do to be married is turn up and answer every question I ask them in the affirmative! Getting hitched really is that simple.

Once again, I can't speak for other celebrants on this but I am quite happy for couples to find vows from books, samples I give them or wherever they stumble across something they think they'd like to say. As long as you feel comfortable with what you're saying for your vows, truly mean them and can live up to them then they're the perfect vows for you!

Here's a couple of my favourite vows from a selection of samples I give all my couples:

1 I, Sophie, promise to love and cherish you, David, for the rest of your life.

I will try to bring laughter to your life and make you happy.

I will consider you in the decisions I have to make, and value your opinions.

Today I vow to be your wife for the rest of our lives.

1 Sophie, I join my life with yours today

Without hesitation and with an open and trusting heart.

Whatever we may encounter,

Let us encounter it together.

Take this ring and with it my commitment

To be the best Husband I can be.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oh Baby! Humanist naming ceremonies

As a result of Humanist weddings becoming increasingly popular Humanist naming or welcoming ceremonies are much in demand too. Unfortunately when I conduct a naming ceremony it doesn't mean I get to choose the name of the baby. Not fair!

The main part of a ceremony like this is to talk about the baby's personality and how he or she has had an impact on their mum and dads' lives. It can be lovely to involve the grandparents and friends of the family in the ceremony and often people do readings or make speeches.

We have 'guide parents' who are chosen by mum and dad to be an important part of their baby's upbringing. I like to bring these people forward and say a bit about each of them and why they've been asked to play such an important role. I love this bit because their faces light up when I talk about how special they are!

The guide parents and the parents make promises to the child that are meaningful to them, mainly vowing to offer love, friendship, support and guidance when needed.

At the end of the ceremony to build up to saying the baby's name I tend to use these words:

"This child’s name will be spoken, whispered, shouted, cried, sung, and written thousands of times, impersonally or meaningfully, by family, friends, neighbours, schoolfriends, teachers, doctors, colleagues, lovers, strangers, and maybe by children and grandchildren of her own. It will define her identity..."

It's nice to think of all the people and all the ways the name will be said before declaring it. Naming and welcoming ceremonies for children are often quite relaxed and friendly affairs, sometimes done in peoples own homes or gardens.

I've got a couple of these ceremonies coming up in the next few months and am really looking forward to them. If you have a baby you'd like to have a ceremony for, please take a look at all the celebrants on the HSS website. We're all more than happy to meet up with you and discuss your baby's ceremony.

Handmade Weddings

I've blogged before about why weddings don't have to be expensive but thought I'd share a couple of recent discoveries that might be of interest if you're thinking of letting your creative side loose.

First of all I've seen some great reviews on the web about this new book, Handmade Weddings. The projects here look really pretty, modern and stylish. This would make an ideal engagement gift for crafty types.

Another fabulous resource I can't recommend highly enough is One Pretty Wedding. On this site Rachel curates a wide range of wedding crafts and projects from around the web. It is truly inspirational and there's something here for every kind of wedding and level of ability.

I'd like to add some more links to useful resources so if you know of any I'd love to hear about them in the comments section.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Humanist Wedding Videos - fame at last!

Some recent wedding couples have remarked that they've already seen me doing weddings on YouTube and other sites. Like most people I find it quite cringeworthy watching myself on video and don't think most wedding videos can quite catch the atmosphere of the ceremony itself. However these are nice to watch and will give you some idea of how I conduct ceremonies. All my ceremonies are unique so these only represent the people getting married and not how I conduct every wedding.

Here's another video of me marrying a lovely young couple at Dundas Castle and one of my colleague Ivan Middleton conducting a wedding there too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Should you have a Humanist wedding?

I may be biased but I think Humanist weddings are simply wonderful. The opportunity to express your love for one another in a way that's personal and meaningful is incredibly special. However I do appreciate that Humanist weddings aren't right for everyone, so here's some questions you might like to consider before booking a celebrant.

Firstly, do you have Humanist values?

I appreciate there are many variants when it comes to personal beliefs but in your ceremony the celebrant is representing the Humanist movement and will want to express what Humanism is. Nobody is asking you to start calling yourself a Humanist at every opportunity but we feel our ethical code is positive and fair so ask you to show your support for it by joining the Humanist Society of Scotland for one year. You might find these Humanist Quotations interesting.

I plan to explore reasons why people who aren't Humanists may come to have a Humanist ceremony in a later post.

Would you like to work with your celebrant to create a ceremony that's both personal and thoughtful?

I imagine the answer to this would be a resounding yes. Your Humanist celebrant can help you create a wonderful ceremony but all the elements of it are led by you, therefore the more you put in the more pleasure you get from it on the day. The ceremonies I've conducted over the years have varied enormously. I've conducted some very formal and some almost horizontally relaxed weddings but the tone and feel of the ceremonies has always been influenced by the couple and their personalities. That's what makes it an interesting job for me and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Would you like to involve your family and friends in your ceremony?

In a Humanist ceremony we try to involve the people who are important to you. This could be by them doing readings or being witnesses. One of the points I make in my ceremonies is that everyone plays an important part in the wedding by being there to witness the promises the couple will make: they give the ceremony meaning by doing this.

If you've answered yes to the above and are keen to meet a celebrant the first thing you need to do is take a look at the celebrant profiles on the HSS website. Choose one you like and if they are free on your date you can either book them straight away or meet them for a chat before making a decision.

Good luck with finding a celebrant no matter what kind of wedding you're having. The ceremony is the one element of a wedding you can't do without so it's worth giving a lot of thought to.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wedding 'to do' list

So you got engaged last year and are setting the date for this year - congratulations! The first thing on many bride's to do list is invest in some wedding magazines, which make it all look very exciting! I completely understand the need for wedding magazines because they are an item that you just can't buy unless you are definitely going to get married!

However, planning your big day can be stressful too, particularly when you realise what it's all going to cost and how much organisation there is to do. Wedding magazines can be really helpful as they often have good planning and budget guides but to get you started here's how I would go about the initial planning.

Venue and Celebrant

These two are the most important elements and must come first, as booking them will allow you to have a definite date for everything else. When it comes to venues I would look at a few places of a different style but try to stick within your budget. The amount of times I've heard couples saying that they've gone way over budget because they went to see a 'mega expensive venue' just 'out of curiosity' then 'fell in love with it'. Please don't be disappointed if you can't afford castles and peacocks: you may be surprised at how special some budget venues can be.

Venues get booked up very quickly but if you're happy to have a non-Saturday wedding or get married out of peak season some of them will cut you a pretty good deal.

Humanist celebrants also get booked up far in advance, especially for Saturdays in the summer, however we often have the odd rogue day waiting to be filled so it is worth checking with individual celebrants if they're free. If not we'll help you find somebody else, so don't panic. The Humanist Society of Scotland trains new celebrants to meet the ever growing demand of our weddings and it's rare that we have to turn weddings away.

In my next post I'll have some questions you might like to consider if you're not sure whether a Humanist wedding is for you.

Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a great festive season and are looking forward to what 2011 has to bring. One of my resolutions is to post regularly on this blog!

2010 was a very busy, interesting and rewardable year for me as far as ceremonies and Humanism is concerned. Once again I got to go to some beautiful and unusual venues, work with other friendly and professional wedding suppliers and create thoughtful and beautiful ceremonies with lovely couples.

I've also had the privilege of being the Convenor of the Humanist Society of Scotland which has involved meeting many new and inspiring people within and out of the society as well as acting as a spokesperson on ethical and moral issues in the media.

I conducted two lovely ceremonies for same sex couples last year, one of which was in the city centre of Edinburgh in a very public place. It was especially moving to see tourists stop and watch the ceremony, smiling at the happy couple. It's not so long ago that gay couples could only dream of celebrating their love in such an open and public way. My biggest wish for the coming year is that we see a beginning of the process of same sex couples being allowed to legally marry in Humanist and religious ceremonies.

If you're planning on getting married this year in a Humanist or other ceremony I hope you will follow this blog, as I'll be posting some useful advise in the coming weeks.

The picture of me on this post was taken by Dom at Duke Wedding Photographers. The reason I have my file on my head is that the rain came on suddenly and we all had to run indoors!

All the best for 2011!

Juliet x