The challenges of having a Humanist wedding in the UK (from an officiant’s perspective!)

Guest post by Holly Austin-Davies
The challenges of having a Humanist wedding in the UK (from an officiant's perspective!)
Photo by Yaritza Colón Photography

I LOVE weddings. I love the details that weddings reveal about a couple. I love hearing about how they first met, what quirky hobbies they have, what challenges they have faced. I love hearing the readings they've chosen and the music they've picked. I love all the little things that reveal how much they mean to one another. To me, this is exactly what a wedding should be about.

But in the UK, it isn't easy to have a wedding like this. Religious weddings have a section focusing on the couple, but there's also a big focus on their religion, of course. With 71% of young people in Britain describing themselves as non-religious, this isn't preferred for a lot of couples. Civil marriages are really the only option if you want a legally recognised, secular wedding, but these often aren't very personal, and can feel like a legal proceeding rather than a celebration.

Humanist weddings give non-religious couples in the UK the chance to have their wedding their way, which is exactly what drew me to them.

As trainee celebrants, we learn about every conceivable element of a wedding. We learn how to talk to the couple, to draw out the details that will be crafted into a beautiful, personal ceremony. We learn how to sensitively deal with difficult or unusual family situations. We learn how to conduct all kinds of ring ceremonies and rituals to give the couple as much choice and symbolism as they want. We learn how to write with sensitivity, humour, and respect — to create a ceremony where every guest feels included and the couple get to celebrate the commitment they are making.

We learn what, in some ways, we all already know. The point of a wedding isn't the historic venue or the expensive food. It's not the lavishly decorated cake or the dress that's only likely to be worn once. The point of a wedding is love.

Humanist weddings are in a tricky situation in Britain. As they are not legally binding, they are currently seen as a luxury or an added element. Many budgets are squeezed by the rising cost of, well, everything, and many people are looking for ways to personalise their big day without having to spend wildly. Humanist weddings can be a great way to do that.

Have your wedding in your parent's garden. Have your wedding on the beach. Have it at your favourite pub. Get your granny to lead all the guests in conga-style. Get your parents to re-enact your favourite movie scenes. Whisper your vows to one another. Shout them on a mountaintop. The point is, a Humanist ceremony and celebrant can help you to work all of this out.

Non-religious people should have more choices in their wedding planning. You should be able to choose what you want in your wedding, what should and shouldn't be included, what to say and when to say it. People often say that the only thing that people remember about a wedding is the food and drink. I would argue that at the best weddings, people remember that moment when they connect with the couple. When they get caught up in that moment of two people so obviously in love with one another that they feel they can overcome anything.

So have a wedding that reflects the two of you, and all your weird and wonderful habits. Have a Humanist help you craft it, if that's the right option for you. Enjoy looking back on it in the years to come and wondering where granny learned to conga like that.

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Comments on The challenges of having a Humanist wedding in the UK (from an officiant’s perspective!)

  1. Humanist weddings are legally binding in Scotland, yay! Maybe the article should be updated to reflect this?
    It’s one of the reasons Scotland is such a popular destination for elopements as you can get married at the top of a mountain if you so wish. Outdoor humanist ceremonies FTW! 🙂

    • Hi Sarah,
      You are absolutely right – Scotland is streets ahead of England and Wales on this one, having had legally recognised Humanist weddings since 2005. We are very hopeful we will catch up with you soon, and anyone who wants to support Humanists UK on this issue can visit their website to find out more about the campaign:
      We are currently in the bizarre situation where Scotland, Jersey and one couple in Northern Ireland can have a legally recognised Humanist wedding (the NI issue is currently under appeal), but the rest of Northern Ireland, Wales and England cannot. Hopping across the border to Scotland is a great excuse for a destination wedding (and Scotland isn’t short on beautiful wedding locations!), but couples in England and Wales shouldn’t face substantial additional costs just to have a wedding that aligns with their beliefs.
      Thanks for your interest in this article, and feel free to contact me if you have any other questions about Humanist marriage 🙂

  2. Hi all,
    The cover photo is actually from my wedding to my amazing partner, John! Funnily enough, we had a secular ceremony which we wrote ourselves (after a lot of inspiration from Off-Beat Bride): our friends playing music as we walked down the aisle, a Shakespearean Sonnet as the reading, each member of our bridal party completing the phrase, “When I think of Meaghan and John…,” and of course our vows written to each other. To top it all off, we decided who would read their vows first, through a highly competitive game of “Rock, Paper, Scissor.” And, our ceremony was officiated by our brother-in-law and online ordained Minster, Jason. We wanted people to have fun and enjoy the celebration of our love: I was basically a blubbering mess, laughing through tears of joy. Above all, it was complete reflection of us, our relationship and our community. A memory we will cherish forever!

    P.S. Our photographer, Yaritza Colon was awesome! I highly recommend her!

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