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.
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.
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.
Scott and Paula have been meaning to get married for ages and yesterday, on the sunny banks of Loch Lomond, they finally did it! Their wedding was on a shingle beach at Milarrochy Bay near Balamaha and, for the first time in forever, the sun shone, absolutely perfect for a very informal and fun wedding.
‘They chose to be married on a beach, surrounded by water and hills, the wind (and possibly rain!) whistling in our ears because this is where they are happiest. It’s also a pretty good metaphor for their relationship- nothing is forced, it’s all very natural and easy and, individually, every element is amazing but, together, it’s something unbelievably special, breathtaking at times.’
Scott and Paula have two girls, eight year old Robyn and Grace, who’s five, and they have been involved throughout the planning and during the ceremony too. As well as being beautiful bridesmaids, they were happy to (very loudly) give their blessing to Mum and Dad, blew bubbles for the people who couldn’t be at the wedding, in particular Paula’s late father, and, right at the end, Robyn led the toast and introduced her Mum and Dad, for the very first time as, ‘Mr and Mrs MacDonald!’
After Scott and Paula made their vows to each other, they both made a promise to their daughters,
‘Robyn and Grace, you have always been the most important part of mum and dad’s life and we are so proud of you both. Today we are making a promise to one another. It is a promise that whatever may happen, good or bad, that we will always be there for one another.
This promise is also a promise to you.
We love you with all our hearts, and no matter how big you get or where life takes you, we want you to know that that‘s forever.’
Scott and Paul painted their names and their wedding date onto a fairly substantial wee boulder (!) which was then passed round all their guests as the ceremony went on, much like a band warming. After the bride and groom had signed their Marriage Schedule, Scott, with the Grace’s help, launched the rock into Loch Lomond, a permanent reminder of their wedding day and a really fun thing to do.
Paula and Scott’s wedding was really special as it was a proper reflection of them and their girls. It was relaxed and fun, their guests were happy and truly delighted that their twenty year wait was finally over!
Congratulations, Mr and Mrs MacDonald!
Things to consider if you are thinking of a similar wedding:
Shingle beaches = knackered shoes. Anyone wearing high heels was in trouble yesterday; trying to manoeuvre over the stones was extremely difficult and the pebbles weren’t kind to the shoes either. Lots of shredded heels.
Having the permission of the Loch Lomond Rangers is not sufficient. You MUST have requested permission from the Duke of Montrose if you want to be married on his land. Contact the National Park for more info.
You cannot release balloons. They might kill ducks or cause the sea plane to crash. Yes, really.
You cannot drink alcohol on the east side of Loch Lomond, not even for a toast at a wedding.
Scott and Paula brought several bottles of completely alcohol-free fizz for a toast to close the ceremony but it wasn’t long before the police rocked up to check we were following the rules.
There are always other people on the beach. Some are content to stand and watch your wedding from a polite distance, others actively try to photo bomb it. People are walking their dogs, traffic trundles along in the background, kids are running around screaming, dogs charge through your guests, jet-skis roar past……. It’s never as secluded as you would like but hopefully you will be so caught up in your own moment that you don’t even notice everyone else.
Shelter and seating- we were lucky as it stayed dry but you need to have a back up plan in case the weather turns. Also, your guests are hanging about for an hour or so; a few folding chairs never go amiss.
Lastly, when your eldest bridesmaid steps on her dress and rips it from hip to hip along the waist, don’t panic! Speak to your celebrant. I carry a sewing kit (amongst other things) and I am pretty nifty at emergency lochside repairs. Same goes for balloons that suddenly require a string…..
“We have just about come back down to earth after our big day. We absolutely cannot thank you enough. Your smiley face stood out to us on the HSS website and we immediately agreed we would try and tie you down to the date. Our first meet sealed the deal for us, you’re funny, witty and warm personality was exactly what we wanted for our ceremony. None of this, however, could have prepared us for the ceremony itself. You completely blew us (and our guests away) with the delivery of ‘our words’ which you gently coaxed from us.. Every single person commented on the stunning service. Your real genius came out when you sewed up my teary 8 year old daughters bridesmaid dress which she had torn climbing a fence (why did I let that happen!). Really there are no ends to your talents. Thank you so much for everything, you contributed in more ways than one to making our day blooming perfect!”
Readings: ‘I don’t believe in marriage’ (An excerpt from the wedding toast for Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego from the film, Frida) and Carrie’s Poem (from Sex and the City)