Friday, October 26, 2012

Unusual wedding poetry - Ogden Nash

Ogden knew when to keep schtum!

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup
Whenever you're wrong, admit it;
Whenever you're right, shut up.

Ogden Nash certainly knew a thing or two about relationships! The verse above, although named A Word to Husbands, applies to both people in the relationship! This has been a reading at a couple of my weddings and although short, it creates quite an impact.

Here's another of my favourite Ogden Nash poems. It sprung to mind when I met one of my wedding couples who told me that what kept them together wasn't that they liked the same things but that they disliked the same things, which they felt was more important! The way such a positive sentiment is presented agains a sea of negativity is quite refreshing and unexpectedly moving.


More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That’s how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That’s how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than a subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oaths,
That’s how much you’re loved by me.

(Ogden Nash)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Singing in a humanist ceremony

Dean Martin, he knows a good singalong song!
When I meet wedding couples there's one element of the wedding they usually have very strong feelings about: singing! Many are adamant that the thought of communal signing is cringeworthy, whereas others feel that a sing song will add to the joy of the ceremony and give everyone a way to contribute.

My own personal opinion is that I like singing but only when it's done in an (almost) foolproof way. So if you like the idea of communal singing at your ceremony here are some things to consider.

Is the song easy to sing? You'd be amazed at how many popular songs aren't designed for communal singing. Hymns are composed for this purpose but pop music rarely is. One song that many couples ask about which is a no-no is Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles, it just doesn't work as the melody of the verse is too weird. If you can imagine singing a song on a football terrace chances are it will work for your wedding. You're looking for an easy melody and steady rhythm.

Is it a song everyone knows? You can't pick anything obscure and a song for everyone to sing has to cross the generational divide too.

Are your guests enthusiastic types? You have to be up for a bit of fun for a singalong and there has to be plenty of you to make a good sound. Nine out of ten times I usually make sure the guests are standing to sing. I never suggest they just sing along 'if they feel like it'.

What are you going to sing along to? Most people play the original song nice and loud and we sing to that but if someone has a guitar or plays the piano that works well providing they lead the singing too.

One effective compromise is that a singer or little choir sing the verse and everyone else joins in on the chorus. This happened at a recent wedding where a group of the bride and groom's friends sang Happy Together by The Turtles and we all joined in for the easy parts. It was even done with no backing music at all.

At another ceremony all the guests had come up from England where legal Humanist weddings aren't legal yet, so as the marriage was in an old ruined chapel they were all expecting something churchy. So as not to spoil the surprise the guests were handed sealed envelopes with song lyrics in them on arrival and I instructed them to open them just before we fired up the music to sing It Must Be Love by Madness. It worked really well and the guests couldn't have been happier.

Here are some songs that have been fun to sing:

Madness, It Must Be Love
The Turtles, Happy Together
Dean Martin, That's Amore
The Proclaimers, 500 Miles
John Denver, Annie's Song
The Beatles, When I'm 64

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wedding at The Vu in Bathgate

I've been really keen to write a blog post about The Vu in Bathgate, as I often conduct ceremonies there. The Vu is pretty much a purpose-built wedding venue. It has an awesome setting and is a great location for couples from across the central belt. Many venues like this provide a complete wedding package but I find that couples use their imaginations to make their celebrations really beautiful and personal. As you can see, Amanda and Drew got married on a lovely bright day. Their wedding was so pretty and they looked absolutely gorgeous!

I was incredibly envious of the glamorous bridesmaids, their dresses were to die for! Amanda and Drew had many wonderful friends supporting them on the day and it was lovely to express in the ceremony what these special people mean to them.

I love the snapshots couples send me of when they're signing their paperwork. As they've just said their vows and I've pronounced them to be husband and wife their faces always have a look of joy and relief. I, however, look a little bit 'Here's Johnny!' in this picture!

Drew and Amanda very kindly sent me these lovely words about their ceremony:

"Amanda and I would sincerely like to thank you for your ceremony on our Wedding Day. You were fantastic from start to finish. From our initial meeting you put us at ease and the day itself went better than we'd ever hoped.  Family and friends were also full of praise for your ceremony.  It was so personal and exactly as we'd wanted!"

Monday, October 8, 2012

A partnership of equals

You might expect me to be crying into my cornflakes upon seeing this article in the Daily Mail this morning, but far from it. As a mother of a daughter I'm always interested in changing attitudes towards women and what we consider to be positive feminine attributes. A survey of the Girl Guiding association found that whilst girls still value marriage only one in five thought it was the definition of success whereas three in five thought success was about being confident and independent. This is great news for a Humanist celebrant!

I have never in my seven years of conducting legal Humanist weddings heard a couple tell me they feel they 'ought' to get married. Humanists see marriage as a positive choice and a partnership of equals. We also respect that couples are together because they love one another but they can have quite different reasons for choosing to get married.

A partnership of two confident and independent people is an admirable one in my book. The men I admire are the ones who value strong women and respect their opinions and personalities. I seem to be marrying a lot of couples in their mid to late 20s who have been together for ten years or more. They know they don't have to get married and I'm always keen to stress in the ceremony that the wedding isn't just about the future but also a celebration of what's already been a very successful relationship.

If women no longer feel marriage is the be all and end all then there might be fewer weddings but it might also mean that if they do get married they'll choose a ceremony that reflects their choice and their own views on marriage. It will also mean that the majority of women will marry when they feel fulfilled by themselves as well as their partner and that's great news for men too!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A short but sweet wedding reading

Some couples I marry seem doubtful when I talk about the importance of readings in their ceremony. Contributions from voices other than my own are (almost) essential, as they break up what I'm saying and add colour to the ceremony. I think many people associate wedding readings with bible readings they've had to endure, but there are all sorts of readings included in Humanist weddings and they don't have to be long-winded. Here's a sweet little reading that says all you need to know about a happy relationship.

Here is Lang Leav's blog if you'd like to see more.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wedding reading - If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.

Now and again someone comes up with a wedding reading that's really unusual but strangely moving and appropriate. At a recent ceremony the couple's friend surprised them with this passage from Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without A Country:

"And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is."

I can't think of better words of encouragement for married life. Often when we're putting the ceremony together couples like to mention that they're determined to help each other through life's struggles. But what about the happy times? I think it's just as important to promise not to take these for granted.

Happy news!

I was so thrilled when it was announced last week that the Same Sex Marriage Bill will be introduced in Scotland. The reality of this means Humanist Celebrants and religious officiants who want to participate could be marrying gay and lesbian couples by 2015. Although the Scottish Government intend to include an opt out clause for religions who don't want to conduct marriages for everybody there is little 'live and let live' coming from the religious right.

This article from The Guardian goes a long way to explain the results of the consultation and demonstrates how poorly received the Catholic Church's campaign was amongst their own flock.

The infographic below shows what will really happen when gay people get married.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When a man loves a man and a woman loves a woman...

If you've been supporting the Equal Marriage campaign you'll have shared my disappointment this week. It was widely expected that the Scottish Government would announce its intention to introduce the Same Sex Marriage Bill this week. The most exciting part of this was that we'd finally know the timescale of their plans, or in layman's terms, when the first gay marriage in Scotland might happen.

There's been much negative and positive speculation as to why we are facing a delay in the Scottish Government's decision but many hope that they're simply trying to figure out a way for Humanists and  some religious groups to be able to conduct same sex marriages whilst allowing some churches to opt out. This article in The Scotsman pretty much sums up how I feel.

You've maybe come to my blog for some inspiration for your wedding ceremony or to find out more about Humanist weddings. I would really appreciate if you could take a moment to support the Equal marriage campaign. You can 'like' them on facebook, follow them on twitter and sign their petition.

Yes, same sex couples can have Civil Partnerships but these don't take into account their beliefs and allow them the same freedom of expression that your wedding can offer you. This isn't just a campaign to support same sex couples who are Humanists, it's about Christian, Jewish and couples of many other belief systems and denominations too.

If you want to know the essence of what this campaign is about please watch this video I posted some time ago, which was made for the Irish campaign.

For my own part I don't think opening up marriage to same sex couples makes marriage less meaningful - it makes its meaning complete.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Freudian Slip!

This is a very funny video but it's also an example of how a ceremony shouldn't be done - you can tell the celebrant hasn't read the script properly before she delivered it. Still, she has a good sense of humour!

I've noticed a lot of couples put jokes into the script that I can't tell are there. For example I might say something along the lines of: "Jen and Chris love nothing more than having friends round for dinner." and 150 people in front of me burst out laughing, slap their thighs and wipe tears of merriment from their eyes.  Obviously something spectacularly hilarious has happened at one of their dinner parties that everyone knows about. This has also happened recently when I've mentioned couples walking their dog, going shopping and having an occasional sunday drink in their local pub. It's fabulous when it happens and although I wouldn't mind knowing when it's coming, my unawareness of the joke does add something to it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wedding Speeches - some tips on public speaking

I've recently had a few requests for public speaking tips and as the main part of my job is to bring my wedding scripts to life I feel well qualified to share some advice. For some people speaking in front of an audience is a very nerve-racking thing to do but hopefully these tricks and tips will give you some confidence.

The Content

Keep it short — Most speeches I've heard would be vastly improved if they'd been cut down by at least a third. Think quality rather than quantity and you'll be on the right track. Nobody minds a short speech but everyone hates one that goes on too long. If you find it difficult to edit your speech ask someone else for help in getting rid of the insignificant bits.

Use humour (wisely) — Adding a few well-placed jokes will draw your audience in but there's nothing worse than a joke falling flat. Avoid anything sexist or offensive and steer clear of the 'you had to be there to find this funny' anecdotes. Wedding audiences often appreciate 'saucy' humour but measure this against something the bride's granny would find funny.

Be complimentary — Have the guests been in such great spirits to make the wedding a memorable one? Then let them know! Was the cake the bride's Aunty Maureen contributed the finest known to humanity? Tell her so. I've heard a couple of best men's speeches where the groom's reputation was hilariously torn to shreds yet the speakers ended their speeches by saying some incredibly touching things about their friend meaning there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Always try to start and end on a really nice note.

Know your stuff — Always work with notes or even a full script. Very few people can wing it successfully and they often they end up droning on for ages...

Involve others — Whilst it is really good to bring your personal experience into a speech it sometimes means that a large proportion of your audience won't get it. If you're doing a best man's speech asking other friends of the groom — outside of your own social circle — and his family for anecdotes is not only thoughtful but will give everyone something to enjoy. Equally if a groom adds in some thoughts that have come from other people who know the bride that can be a lovely surprise and shows he's made an extra effort.

The Delivery

Smile — Begin your speech with a happy face and you will instantly gain your audience's affection. I always look happy at the beginning of my ceremonies so everyone knows they will enjoy it from the word go. Smiling opens up your face, raises your head and gives you a confidence boost.

Be Heard — If you get the opportunity, do a test run in the room you'll be speaking in and ask a friend to stand at the back and let you know how you sound. A good time to do this at a wedding is either before the ceremony begins or briefly during the drinks reception — arrange this before the big day. Many venues offer a microphone for the speeches and be sure to use this if you're not confident of being heard. Always speak directly into the microphone! You'd be amazed at how many people don't.

Look up — You should know your script well enough to look up at your audience regularly. A good trick is to run your hand down one side of your script as you're speaking, marking your place. This allows you to raise your eyes without losing your next line.

Slow down — Most speeches are delivered far too quickly. This is the cardinal sin of public speaking as it makes you sound like you just want to get it over with! When I started as a celebrant I used to write 'SLOW DOWN' on every page of my script.

Bring it to life — If the story you're telling is exciting this should be reflected in your voice. Equally a sombre moment should be accompanied by a serious demeanour. Listening to short stories on Radio 4 and audio books is a good way of hearing how this is done. Newsreaders are also experts in varying their delivery according to the story.

Make eye contact — This one is the Big Kahuna of public speaking. Every time you raise your head from your script, aim to look directly into someone's eyes rather than a general gaze over the audience. This gives your words sincerity and if you perfect this you'll have your audience in the palm of your hand! Where possible I find out where people who are mentioned in the wedding ceremony script are seated so I can look towards them when I say their names.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Humanist Wedding Readings - doggy love

"Love doesn't like being left alone for long,
But come home and Love is always happy to see you."

It's often said that Britain is a nation of dog lovers. I seem to be having a run of weddings where the couple have a much-loved pooch but unfortunately most of them don't get to be at the wedding, much to my disappointment...

Often in Humanist weddings we like to mention what love is all about. Of course, love is a complex thing that's almost impossible to define. Or so I thought before I read this poem. It turns out falling in love is like owning a dog!

What's so lovely about this poem is the author Taylor Mali really wants you to use it! He's happy for you to adapt it to suit you and all he asks is that you credit him for it. What a generous chap.

Monday, March 19, 2012

How to begin a wedding ceremony

As a Humanist celebrant, my job is to represent the couple I'm marrying and make sure their personalities come across from the beginning of the ceremony. Because I marry a lot of different couples my weddings vary widely and that's great for me because I appreciate the variety of my work. Yet, whether a ceremony is relaxed or formal, I make sure they have one thing in common: they always begin with a friendly, warm welcome. A Humanist celebrant should make everyone feel that the ceremony is inclusive, and one of the things that makes our ceremonies so special is that they can be equally appreciated by everyone there, no matter what faith or none they come from. The couple getting married is at the heart of the ceremony and by focussing on them we are sure that everyone enjoys the wedding.

What I call 'ice breakers' are a good thing to include in my welcome to your guests. Making a few introductions sets us off on a very genial footing and relaxes everyone! Here are some examples of welcomes that I've had in my ceremonies.

I usually introduce the best man/men and bridesmaids. After all, they are standing with you but aren't known to everybody so it's nice to say a bit about how you know them and why you chose them. It gives them a lot of pride in the special role they are playing too.

Saying a special welcome to your parents can also be lovely, after all without them none of us would be there! However, I appreciate that it's common these days for a couple's parents to be divorced or separated and naturally I'd be sensitive to this in the ceremony.

If you have grandparents there it might be nice to give them a special welcome. Because people often marry a bit later on in life it can be rare for grandparents to be present at a wedding. I often welcome them along the lines of: "The guests of honour today are of course Jane and Jim's grandparents Dorothy and Margaret. Ladies, you both look lovely today and Jane and Jim tell me that you're likely to be the first on the dance floor later." Or something slightly less saucy...

The oldest and youngest can also be a nice theme: "Jane and Jim would like me to make a special mention of our oldest guest, Jim's Great Auntie Betty, who celebrated her 95th birthday last week, and our youngest guest, little Isla who was born only four weeks ago." For this to work the oldest has to be so ancient that they brag rather than hide their age and the youngest has to be very new!

Or what about the couple who've been married the longest, shortest or both? "Jim and Jane would like to offer a special welcome and congratulations to the couples here who've been married the longest: Margot and James, who celebrated their golden wedding earlier this year. And the shortest: Kelly and David who were married only three weeks ago. Please join me in congratulating them!" It can also be nice to mention any couples who are newly married or expecting babies.

It's very thoughtful to mention people who have travelled from far and this is how one of my couples recently had me welcome them: "Many of you have travelled a great distance to be here and we have guests from as far as Australia, Canada, the United States, Italy, Northern Ireland, the South of England and Cowdenbeath. Your combined efforts to be here have equalled a distance of four times round the Equator so please give yourselves a round of applause!"

Then there are the completely random things. In the past I've mentioned people who've completed a marathon on the day of the wedding, the Caledonian Challenge the week before, a sibling or bridesmaid who sat their final university exams the day before and a guest who happened to be the first Jordanian to climb Everest, a record he achieved two weeks before the wedding.

No mater what or who we mention at the start of the ceremony, my aim is always to make sure your guests are happy and relaxed, knowing this is a wedding ceremony they're going to really enjoy!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fun wedding readings: Edward Monkton

I've noticed a lot of couples asking for suggestions of fun readings for their wedding ceremony, which I'm all for! I find that when a couple choose a more lighthearted reading it can often be surprisingly moving and one author who captures this perfectly is Edward Monkton. For those of you who haven't heard of him, he also goes under the moniker of Purple Ronnie.

A Lovely Love Story is often used in my ceremonies but I recently discovered another story called Love Monkey. I think this reading is very appropriate for modern times: couples often get married slightly later on in life these days and the story reflects how our past experiences make us the person our ideal partner falls in love with.

Edward Monkton's charming little books are like children's stories for grown ups and their realistic but happy endings will definitely leave a tear in your eye.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Equal Love

One of the things I love most about being a Humanist celebrant is that the couples I marry are making a choice when it comes to commitment. Although I don't want to do myself or any of the other wedding suppliers out of a job, you really don't have to get married these days! However people decide to for their own reasons and I feel proud to be able to express those reasons in their ceremony.

Can you imagine what it would be like not to have that choice? Sure, we have Civil Partnership ceremonies in the UK now, and that's a very positive step forward, but why can't same sex couples have a Marriage and why can't that be a ceremony which reflects their own belief system?

I took my baby on the Love Equally March in Edinburgh on Valentine's Day and decorated her with some beautiful red hearts. She was much admired and probably the youngest person there. I hope that when she's an adult, and I show her this picture, she'll live in a world where adults who love each other can get married, regardless of their sexuality.

It would be wonderful if you could take a look at the Equal Marriage website and show your support.