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Humanist National Memorial Ceremony to mark three months since lockdown

Clockwise from top left: Phil Walder, humanist celebrant; Alice Roberts, Humanists UK President; Audrey Simmons, humanist celebrant; Mark Gatiss, actor and humanist

On 23 June at 11:00, Humanists UK is holding a national memorial ceremony to help those who have experienced loss due to the coronavirus pandemic and to mark three months since the start of the UK lockdown. The ceremony will offer an opportunity to reflect on what we have been and are still going through, pay tribute to those we have lost, offer hope, and reckon with the grief, mourning, and anxiety so many of us have known these past three months.

Taking the form of a 30-minute live broadcast across social media, the film is being released to coincide with the 3-month anniversary of the start of lockdown in the UK – a long and difficult period in which over 60,000 excess deaths have been recorded. The ceremony is presented by well-known faces like Joan Bakewell, Mark Gatiss, Alice Roberts, and Jim Al-Khalili, but also includes frontline humanist community service workers including funeral celebrants, pastoral carers from NHS chaplaincy teams, and community volunteers from across the UK who have been working at capacity during this crisis. It also features music and a performance by the London Humanist Choir.

Millions of people in the UK each year draw comfort from humanist funerals and this ceremony has been scripted in that spirit. It is principally directed at non-religious people but it is hoped that it may give comfort to those of different beliefs.

Michael Rosen, whose poem in tribute to the NHS is read in the ceremony by Mark Gatiss, paid his own tribute to health service workers:

‘The NHS has just saved my life, nursed me back to health and are now rehabilitating me to be able to walk and be strong. I will forever be a champion of the NHS.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: 

‘In every part of the UK, people have experienced loss due to the coronavirus pandemic, or suffered enormously with the weight of lockdown. Humanists UK’s national memorial ceremony is designed to bring together people from all nations of the UK to remember the lives we have lost and acknowledge the sacrifices we have made. This is a ceremony anyone can access and like all humanist ceremonies, its format is inclusive of attendees and listeners from all walks of life.

‘A humanist ceremony is typically characterised by its personalisation and its uniqueness to the situation at hand. Here, humanist celebrants have risen to the challenge of applying that same craft and care to create a ceremony that can speak to the whole nation at a time of grief and difficulty.’

Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland commented:

‘Throughout the lockdown period humanist funerals have continued, but we realise that not everyone who would have liked to attend a loved one’s memorial has had the opportunity to do so. This initiative will allow people from right across the UK to join together in a common act of remembrance via an online ceremony. It will also reflect on the changes to all our lives and the challenges we continue to face.

‘The inclusive ceremony will draw upon shared values that humanists hold in common such as compassion, love, and our common humanity.’

The ceremony is first being broadcast at 11:00 on 23 June, through Humanists UK’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. It will be available to watch back after it first goes out.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3072.

Humanists are non-religious people who shape their own lives in the here and now, understanding the world through reason and science and living by a moral code based simply on empathy and compassion. Humanist ceremonies exist to meet the timeless human need to mark life’s turning points – such as deaths, births, and marriages – with an event involving others.

Even in physically distanced times, the essential human need for personal connection and to express and share grief remains undiminished. The National Memorial Ceremony is an attempt by humanists to help address this need among the non-religious community and the country at large.

This ceremony includes contributions from humanists across all four nations of the UK, and includes participants from Humanist Society Scotland, Wales Humanists, and Northern Ireland Humanists.

Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 15,000 members across Scotland.

Wales Humanists is a section of Humanists UK.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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