Most folk getting married have never been married before and, if they don’t fancy a religious wedding, it’s confusing- what exactly is the difference between a Registrar, Humanist Celebrant, Marriage Officer, Interfaith Celebrant, Officiant, Spiritualist etc?
Glad you asked. Let me try to explain.
In Scotland, you can only be married by someone who is authorised under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 and/or by the Registrar General of Scotland. This basically means that your pal who is really good at speaking loudly in front of people can’t do it, not unless they are affiliated to a religious or belief body and supported by office bearers of that body to conduct a marriage ceremony on its behalf. Hope that clears that one up.
One option is a civil ceremony. That’s one that’s conducted by a Council Registrar. They’ve changed a wee bit in recent years. I was always under the impression that they were completely non-religious ceremonies, reflecting the official, council, non-church-based nature of a civil ceremony, Turns out hymns and religious readings can be included as long as they aren’t delivered by the registrar. Who knew?
A civil ceremony can take place at the Council Marriage Suite or anywhere the Registrar is happy to travel to within their registration district and on a day and at a time they are paid to work. Some registrars will only conduct weddings at very specific times of the day and their ceremonies may be a prescribed length of time; they are council employees and their job is to provide a council function- to register births, deaths and marriages. I have met some really very lovely Registrars who are doing their best to make ceremonies less ‘council’ but, regardless of how lovely they are, they are very restricted in the time they have to create a ceremony and their flexibility is limited.
You might consider an Interfaith celebrant and they are usually happy to include religious content or not, they can have hymns and prayers or not. Let’s call them Religion Lite. Spiritualists rip ma knitting and I don’t know what a Marriage Officer is but they sound stern.
Humanist Celebrants are easy. I don’t mean easy easy, although some probably are. I mean, I know what I am talking about with Humanists, in particular, the ones who are my amazing Humanist Society Scotland colleagues.
First things first.
There are a number of Humanist organisations in Scotland. I am a member of Humanist Society Scotland (HSS from now on to save my carpal tunnel) and we are the only Humanist organisation allowed to authorise our own celebrants. This is a big deal. HUGE. HSS HQ recruits, trains, mentors and assesses the very best funeral, naming and wedding celebrants and the Scottish Government has recognised that we can be trusted to authorise them too. Wee proud face for our historic place in Scots’ Law.
What does this mean to you? Well, as long as the HSS will have me, I will be authorised to conduct your wedding. Most organisations are restricted to either a fixed term of a few years or they can be authorised on a wedding-by-wedding basis but, when you book me, I am authorised to legally marry you whenever your wedding is, regardless of how far in the future it may be.
(Just while we are on the subject, always, always check that your celebrant, whichever organisation they hail from, can legally marry you. Ask them outright. I’ve spoken to (and subsequently married) too many couples who have been misled by celebrants who don’t have authorisation and who fudge their way through the awkward questions until it’s too late and you find yourself having to have two ceremonies or looking for someone like me, at untenably short notice).
HSS has over 120 celebrants based all across Scotland and our workloads and expenses vary but we’re all superconscious that planning and budgeting for a wedding is difficult, especially when inflation sucks, so we’ve not increased our basic rate since 2017 and it will remain the same until at least 2020.
We do ask you to join the HSS and your two year membership is a bargain at £43 per couple. We ask you to join for two main reasons, the first being, when you join, you are then covered by our HSS promise. It’s a good thing. Makes me happy.
The second reason is that the HSS isn’t a wedding business or company, it’s a charity and its main function is to provide a secular voice in Scotland. Take away weddings and the HSS would still exist and would still be campaigning.
It’s so important to me that Humanist Society Scotland isn’t just a provider of weddings. I love that I am part of a much bigger thing; a worldwide Humanist family and a Scottish charity that does stuff. It takes your membership fee (and the money I give back from every ceremony I do) and uses it to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY in the face of some equally shouty people who would otherwise get their own way. And yes, shouting is rude but, believe me, some of these guys dinnae listen. Not one bit.
Did you know HSS were involved in the discussions and law-changing that ensured Equal Marriage in Scotland? I know! We monitor religious involvement in education and raise loud objections when lines have been crossed. We are part of a working group looking at Funeral Poverty, working with Funeral providers, Charities and Bereavement groups to address problems and advise government.
We campaign for Women’s Rights; I gave a speech on a wall outside the Scottish Parliament about threats to abortion law from religious nuttersmen campaigners. I did the same thing on the steps of Glasgow Concert Hall. I get about.
We work with the homeless in Glasgow (and now Edinburgh and Stirling too) through our Streetcare initiative. It’s proper hands-on volunteering and it’s local and visible and not just waving a Great Big Cheque at a camera and you can learn more about it on the HSS website. Several of my wedding couples have gone on to volunteer on our TRun and TWalk. Maybe you would like to too?
Further afield, we support and mentor colleagues in Malawi and beyond. The first humanist wedding took place in Kenya recently, the celebrant expertly overseen by our own Gary Smith in Monifieth. What a fabulous thing to be part of!
So, when you book your wedding with me or one of my Humanist Society Scotland colleagues, you are contributing to change, to making a difference and making other human lives better. That’s Humanism for ya. Gives you all the feels AND you get a legal wedding full of personality and warmth.
You get a flexible approach to timing and location (I am the actual Martini* wedding woman) and you have input and control over the content of your ceremony. We want you to create something wonderful and personal and very ‘you’.
Me? I don’t want to fill in blanks with your names and read the same thing every time; I want to be laughing and/or weeping in Costa because you’ve written the most beautiful words and I want to hear all the chat about your adorable furbabies and havoc-wreaking human babies and I want to encourage you to do what you want when it comes to your wedding because you are awesome humans and life’s too short for traditions that aren’t for you. Bin them. Do something better.
What was that? You want to arrive in a unicorn carriage suspended by glitterbees, preceded by eight flowergrannies on rollerskates? Do it. I’ll bring my own skates.
Wait. What? You want to climb a modest hill with an amazing view and get married at sunrise? Sounds like an absolute treat.
Now, you’ve read enough. You must be knackered. Take a break and go do something good and worthy and send me cake.
You know me by now. You get that I love weddings, don’t you? I love great big crazy noise-filled ones, wee teeny downing-shots-in-rock-bars ones, ones that go a bit off piste, ones that are your fairytale dream, I love ’em all. But I have a favourite.
Man, it melts my heart when people take their wedding and make it their greatest adventure. Robyn and Adam did it and they took the people they love with them too.
Glencoe is a one of the most beautiful places on the planet and, if you drive through it, and come out the other side, you find yourself in Ballachulish (pron: Ball-a-hoo-lish. You’re welcome). Robyn, Adam, their kids, a smattering of family and friends, their extraordinary photographer, Carole-Ann of Harper Scott Photography and me, we all rocked up to a wee spit of land on the edge of the village, just over a year ago, and we had a wedding….
….but not before we had climbed a gate, lugged giant wooden poles through the mud and helped a man who was previously lost in the wilderness (and possibly raised by wolves) build a teepee. Two hours later than planned, under a well-constructed, sturdy wooden structure and surrounded by big country, the marrying began.
The big kids promised to look after Mum and Adam just like they look after them and the same big kids were in charge of the rings. I’d love to say they were in safe hands but that would be a fib. The main thing is those rings went on the right fingers and that’s all that matters. There was a handfasting with silver cord. Most times, the material you use for a handfast has sentimental value or it’s something precious and relevant to the day. And sometimes the material is hastily bought from a curtain makers in Fort William because you’ve left your actual material in the hoose.
You know what though? This is Adam and Robyn. Their life is a constant juggle of kids and work, craziness and laughter and they took that with them to the peaceful waters of Loch Leven, in the shadows of Beinn Sgulaird (pron: you’re on your own with that one). It was their wedding, their way and it was absolutely brilliant.
So are Carole-Ann’s photos. I’ve only included a few here but head to her page for more. Rock n Roll Bride magazine featured this wedding later last year and no wonder. Glorious! Happy belated anniversary, lovely people x
As as wee note, when we met in the Clachaig Inn, in the heart of Glencoe, there’s a sign on the front desk.
Chris and Victoria are wedding photographers. They had a vision. They wanted to elope to Glencoe, so they did. There were wild plans to get married on the 2nd January (and I’m still laughing about that one) but once the real date was set and the paperwork lodged in Fort William, the big day came and….. actually? Do you know what? Cinemate’s video tells their story so much better than I can.
Recognise the scenery from a big ol’ Bond film.
Elope, take me with you and get these guys to film it.
Also present that day were the rather fabulous Neil Thomas Douglas and Fiona Higgins: top photographers, semi-professional witnesses and purveyors of shockingly bad chat. If the video hasn’t persuaded you that Scotland is the very best place to get married, have a look at Neil’s photo. Squeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
One of the best thing about Humanist weddings is that they are so personal.
Yada yada yada.
You know that already though, right? You know you can include readings and poetry, music and symbolic gestures. You guys are on it. You know what you like and you know what you don’t (dove release, talking about you).
So why are vows so difficult? Why do I get more panicky emails about vows than any other part of your ceremony?
Because vows are the most flexible part of your ceremony. You can say whatever you like, in whatever form you like and they aren’t even legally binding. I know! There are words we include in your ceremony that are very definitely legally binding but if you promise to always put the bins out or make a cup of tea every morning, no one is going to sue you if you don’t. Your conscience though, that’s another story. The reproachful looks, the ‘but you promised….’
This I’ll defend.
This is the motto of my clan and my promise to you.
It is these words I will always remember
It is you I will forever cherish.
It is this I will defend.
The best vows I’ve heard are genuine, honest and kind. They are full of love and warmth and gentle humour. They aren’t overly Shakespearey or flowery and, if all else fails, tell ’em you love them and they’re your best person, the Pumpkin to your Honey Bunny, your lobster…
I hope to support and encourage you as much as you do for me
Because you make me a better person and now I see,
That facial hair isn’t everything and we are meant to be.
Or don’t. Because it’s your wedding and if you don’t want to write your own vows, don’t. Choose from the examples I send you or get married the Ronseal way; accept each other in marriage, by name, in front of your witnesses and me and that’s you. Job done.
I like to blog in a timely manner. It’s important to be relevant. That’s why I’ve waited a WHOLE YEAR to blog about Claire and Steve and their tremendous winter wedding at The Lodge on the Loch on the 21st November last year. Great at weddings, useless at blogging.
Steve spent their first date grinning goofily and not really understanding what Claire was saying. Claire just kept talking regardless and time passed and lo, they got married! It was a great big, everyone’s invited kinda wedding- Steve and Claire booked out the entire hotel, filled it with their very excited pals and, as parties go, this one was tough one to leave. Nearly didn’t. Nearly went home with them to London.
Their ceremony was full of lovely moments including a band warming that started with Steve’s Dad, Richard, and ended with Sebastian and Ethan (super-nephews) polishing the rings on their kilts to make them shiny again. Then Claire and Steve’s mums lit the first two candles on a Unity candle, a nice touch and a great way to include two very important women. As for their handfasting, aaaaw man! This pair chose to use one of Steve’s ties and a piece from Claire’s dress but not just any old tie or dress, oh no. They used the dress and tie that they wore on their first date. All. The. Heart. Eyes.
I wasn’t sure I would ever find someone as caring, wonderful and inherently good to share my life with, who understands my quirks, calms me when I need it, and supports me in all I do.
I’ll be eternally grateful that we found one another.
Something that was obvious was how relaxed their guests were. This was a three day party and the wedding fell right in the middle so everyone had been hanging out together and, by the time I arrived, they were all pals. Cue the tall humanist woman trying to be part of the gang. As atmospheres go, this one was buzzing even before the Bold Colin Lawrie started blawin’ all that hot air.
Add to the mix an usher called Tudo-rhymes-with-Judo, some lovely readings read by lovely voices (sucker for an Irish reader) and the best vows and it was a spectacular wedding.
I will always be your safe place and I love you more and more as every day passes.
I spent much more time than I should have having a good nosey at all the gorgeous photos courtesy of Paul Walker Images but just look how much Claire and Steve love each other! Absolutely brilliant day and happy anniversary, Mr and Mrs Aldous!
Readings – The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach, The Union by Robert Fulghum and The One (Poet unknown)
Music- Colin Lawrie making a tuneful racket and Pharrell’s Happy for skipping back up the aisle
Here’s a thing. I thought it might be useful if you knew what happened on your wedding day, prior to your ceremony starting and guess what? There’s no one way. You’re all very different. You are all individuals <insert Life of Brian quote here>.
When I arrive at your wedding, I have a good scout* around for someone clutching a very official-looking envelope and I take it from them and I check it and I tuck it away in my folder and I smile and say, ‘There SHALL be a wedding today!’ and choirs sing and bells ring in glorious chorus and folk drop to their knees in elation. Or something like that.
When I arrive at your wedding, I have a good scout* around for someone clutching a very official-looking envelope and, instead, I see queasy, grey-faced blank stares. No marriage schedule. It’s lost, forgotten, a dog ate it, it spontaneously combusted, it Evanesco’d, it’s an ex-schedule (what’s with the Python references tonight?).
Whatever. Find it. If you don’t find it, yo wedding is a bust. It’s a very expensive party for some very grumpy people and the only saving grace is that your Mother-in-law, the one giving you the hardest, longest I’m-going-to-kill-you stare, isn’t actually your Mother-in-law BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT MARRIED.
So, for the love of All Things Dull and Ugly, remember your effing Marriage Schedule.
* Here’s a good scout, my friend and colleague, Jennifer. With a owl. Not a parrot.
I’m sure you’ve realised by now that a Humanist wedding is an opportunity for you to have the wedding of your dreams. Some people’s dreams are traditional, others less so and the wonder of our ceremonies is that that’s fine, in fact, it’s encouraged. You choose. It’s your wedding.
Themes for weddings are common, THEMED weddings less so.
On my first meeting with Angela and Ryan, we gently chatted awhile until Angela paused, leaned forward and said, ‘How do you feel about a Doctor Who themed wedding?’
Naturally I felt just fine, especially when they told me that Dr Who brought them together. Not in an ‘actual time travel’ kind of way but in a ‘both mad Whovians and met at a Convention’ turn of events. They knew what they wanted and that was a wedding that was elegantly geeky and truly reflected who they were. I think you’ll find that’s what we HSS celebrants do…..
In their wedding we covered how they got together with expedience and urgency took a hundred years to stop man-flirting and start snogging, how the proposal ended with “[sitting] under the stars, on a bench in the car park, drinking alcohol that neither of them particularly liked, listening to the sounds of the neds leaping off the pier” and how special the wedding rings were. Yes, I know, all wedding rings are special but these ones were handcrafted by Angela and Ryan (and Angela’s son) from bits of jewellery donated by their mums. And they were “currently resting on your ring bearer’s plunger”. I kid you not. Best line in a wedding ever.
Witnesses? An actual doctor and a (sometimes) pretend Doctor’s assistant.
Vows? Oh yes. Written by themselves and including the line “Your reliable, confident, constant friend and favourite Companion”
Symbolic gestures? A dinky wee handfasting with a dinky wee tardis charm to bring us luck.
When it comes to themes, you can go all out and that works….as long as you commit. Don’t be half arsed- do it like these super-cool Biffy Clyro fans. Share the love.
Alternatively, reflect your passion with subtlety and clever touches* (and a few props that even normals will recognise) and enjoy your day being a little different and very much all about you.
“Thank you so much for the work you did on conducting our ceremony at the end of August. We had a totally perfect day and the beautiful ceremony you conducted was exactly what we had hoped for. We knew the first time we met you that you were the one for us and you didn’t disappoint!
My father was pretty upset that you seemed to have stolen his ENTIRE speech. He really did explain this when it came to his turn to speak and just said “ditto”. It is good to know that our ceremony reflected us so well that it echoed the words used by someone that has loved me for my entire life (& for months before).
As a lovely story to come from the day, some relatives decided it was innappropriate for them to attend a Humanist ceremony and declined our invitation. Ryan’s Godfather was concerned that maybe he should not attend and consulted 4 Catholic priests and a BISHOP! He was told that he was ORDERED to go – “love is love and should always be celebrated in all of its forms.” (as long as he didn’t participate in any rituals)
I would not hesitate to reccomend a Humanist ceremony to everyone I know and a few people have even been asking questions about Humanism in general which can only be a good thing! We will also continue to sing your praises every time we remember our most special day.
Readings: Excerpt from Louis de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Music: Their friend, Zoe, played the flute and it was lovely
* Angela folded a thousand cranes to bring them luck. The patterned paper she used was the Exploding TARDIS. When she wasn’t folding cranes, she stuck a squillion TARDIS coloured crystals on to her shoes.