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Six couples in human rights case for legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales

Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley are amongst the claimants.

Six couples are going to the High Court on 7-8 July to take a landmark challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. Their case is being supported by Humanists UK, which has campaigned for legal recognition of humanist marriage for many decades.

The humanist couples are taking the case to try to compel the UK Government to change the law to recognise humanist weddings as legally recognised marriages, as is the case for humanist weddings in Scotland and Northern Ireland and for religious weddings across the UK. Their lawyers will argue that the current law discriminates against them because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation, which precludes such discrimination.

Parliament gave the Government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2013 but no Government has used it. In the time since then, over 6,000 couples have been denied legal recognition for their humanist wedding, either having to go to a state registrar for an unwanted second ceremony in order to gain legal recognition, or not be legally married.

The six couples challenging this discrimination lodged their case at the High Court in November last year. Permission for the case to be heard was granted by the Court on 2 March, with the full hearing due to happen on 7-8 July. After permission was granted, the claimants offered to negotiate with the Government over possibly settling the case, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but this offer was refused. It is now hoped that the case will lead to a change in the law in time to help deal with the huge backlog of demand for marriage services that is now occurring due to the pandemic.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely personalised and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple. Humanists UK has provided these ceremonies for many decades.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have a humanist wedding without legal recognition. They all must have a separate civil marriage – usually at a registrar’s office – for their marriage to be legally recognised, even though it is not what they want. Couples must go through formalities twice, leading to financial strain, and distress over the state failing to recognise their humanist wedding as their ‘real’ one.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘Couples who have humanist weddings see that day as the epitome of their love and commitment to each other, and all they want is the same legal recognition for that as is given to every religious person in our country. We have tried for decades to address this glaring double standard. Government has dragged its heels and that’s why it’s been left to these couples to bring this case. As more and more non-religious couples choose to have humanist weddings, we need a law that works for all people who want to marry and we hope this case will lead to reform.’

The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar Library of Northern Ireland. Humanists UK is supporting them in bringing the claim.

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: ‘The time for asking to be accommodated is over. The Courts are now the only appropriate and realistic method of moving this issue on. Following a successful case in Northern Ireland momentum is on our side and I believe couples who look forward to a legally recognised humanist ceremony should take great heart and hope from that.’

Below are: (a) quotes from politicians; (b) more information about the couples, including quotes and images; (c) more information about humanist weddings; and (d) further notes.

(a) Quotes from politicians

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, commented: ‘The Government has been considering bringing about legal recognition of humanist marriages for some seven years now, over three different reviews. In this context it is understandable that these six couples have given up waiting and decided to resort to legal action. Further, it has never been more urgent than it is now to extend recognition, since the coronavirus pandemic means that there is a long backlog of demand for civil marriages. Stopping people from having to have both a humanist wedding and an unwanted civil marriage in order to gain legal recognition is a clear way to unclog that backlog.’

Janet Daby MP, the Shadow Minister responsible for faith and belief, commented: ‘Parliament voted to give the Government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2013 but we have seen dither and delay from successive Tory Prime Ministers. It’s time for the Government to recognise the thousands of humanists across the country who are simply asking for a legally recognised wedding that is reflective of their beliefs and values. The Labour Party supports the legal recognition of humanist marriages and a Labour Government will act to support the thousands of couples who wish to marry with a humanist celebration.’

Liberal Democrat Equalities spokesperson Christine Jardine MP said: ‘Couples shouldn’t have to go to court to fight for the right to get married the way they choose. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money fighting this case, the Government should just make this simple but important change. The Liberal Democrats are proud of our record as champions of equal rights. That is why we have long called for legal recognition of humanist marriages and will keep calling for this.’

Green Party Co-Leader Siân Berry commented, ‘We’ve supported legal recognition of humanist marriages for a long time and it’s been disappointing to see the Government repeatedly delay bringing that about. England and Wales are now embarrassingly far behind Scotland and Ireland in affording humanists the same rights as religious people. Any further delay will mean thousands more couples missing out on the chance to have the form of legally recognised marriage that they want.’

Plaid Cymru also has party policy in favour of legal recognition of humanist marriages, while the SNP Government strengthened the law on humanist marriages in Scotland in 2014.

(b) Information about the couples and quotes

Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson.

Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson from Lincolnshire have been together for 14 years. They’re both retired from their primary careers, Kate from being a nurse and Christopher from being a project manager in the water industry. Kate is also a long-standing humanist celebrant and trained humanist pastoral carer. They want to get married in a humanist ceremony which embraces their deeply held humanist beliefs. They say they will not get married until humanist marriages are legally recognised.

Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson commented: ‘We believe that the act of getting married is profoundly personal and having a humanist ceremony is central to our identities as humanists. It is highly discriminatory that if you have a religion you can get married in a way of your choosing which is compatible with your beliefs, but if you are non-religious, the state has a complete monopoly over how you get married.

‘With us now both in our sixties, we feel it is increasingly important to legally reflect our lasting commitment to one another and that means a humanist marriage. We are very happy to be taking a case that will help to create a fairer law for people like us.’

Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway from Kent planned to get married in a humanist ceremony in September this year, but have delayed it until September next year because of the pandemic. Victoria works in heritage conservation for the council and Charli works in commercial development for the charity Parentkind, which supports PTAs and helps parents get more involved in their children’s education. They want to get married in Somerset, close to where Victoria grew up. They’re working with humanist celebrant Kevin Murphy.

Charli Janeway and Victoria Hosegood commented: ‘Our marriage is a very significant life event for us and the humanist ceremony we intend to have is the most important part of our day. It reflects our outlook on the world, how we want to live our lives, and how we treat not only each other but the rest of society. Marriage laws need to reflect the make-up of modern-day society, including the growing numbers of humanists, which is why we think this case is so important.’

Jennifer McCalmont and Finbar Graham from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, plan to marry in a humanist ceremony in late July on the beach in Devon where they first went on holiday together, and near where Jenny’s parents live. Jenny is a civil servant and Finbar is a landscape gardener. In Northern Ireland, where they live, humanist marriages are already legally recognised, so they could simply have a humanist ceremony there, but they want their wedding ceremony in Devon because it is the most meaningful location for them. Being able to do that is intrinsic to humanist ceremonies, which are all about creating a ceremony that best reflects who the couple is. They’re also working with celebrant Kevin Murphy.

Jennifer McCalmont and Finbar Graham commented: ‘Humanism resonates with us as it is concerned with the relationships humans have with each other and focuses on being caring, kind, and making the most of the one life we have. We come from two separate religious backgrounds which neither of us practices and so we didn’t want to be hypocritical in having a religious ceremony.

‘Living in Northern Ireland we could simply have a legally recognised humanist marriage here but Northam Beach in Devon is special to us as it was the first place we holidayed together. We fell in love with the beach and we want it to be part of our special day. Not being able to have the ceremony we want will undoubtedly undermine the significance of the day and devalue our beliefs. The current law discriminates against us as humanists.’

Capella Rew and Daniel Meakin from Somerset have had their humanist wedding ceremony since the start of legal proceedings, although they have not had a legally recognised marriage so they are not yet married in the eyes of the law. They are complaining about the discrimination they experienced, as much as discrimination they might face. Capella works in administration and Daniel is a security officer. They had their humanist wedding with celebrant Josie Lamb.

Capella Rew and Daniel Meakin commented: ‘The humanist approach to life is the one that best reflects our beliefs and values. This meant we wanted to have our marriage ceremony in a natural setting and at a place that held particular significance to us. We also wanted the freedom to create a ceremony that was personal and meaningful to us. Our wedding took place in the village where Capella grew up and we chose to plant a tree in the community orchard as a symbol of our union rather than exchange rings. The current law is unfair as in order to formalise our union we also have to arrange a civil ceremony and this has a further financial impact on us that many other couples getting married do not have to consider.’

Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley from St Helens have had both a humanist wedding ceremony and civil marriage ceremony since the start of legal proceedings. They didn’t want to have the civil marriage ceremony but felt they had no choice to gain legal recognition. They will complain about the discrimination they experienced, rather than discrimination they might face. Lucy is a secondary school teacher and Dan works for a local University. Lucy and Dan have their humanist wedding with celebrant Ben Jewell.

Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley commented: ‘Since the start of proceedings in this case, we’ve already had a humanist wedding ceremony as well as a civil marriage because we were unable to secure legal recognition for humanist marriages before our wedding date. However, we are now taking part in the case in the hope we can change the law for other couples in the future.

‘We see our humanist ceremony as our real ceremony, as did our family and friends, and it’s our humanist wedding that reflected our values and beliefs. It’s a shame the Government doesn’t recognise that as our real ceremony, when they would have done if we were religious.’

(c) About humanist weddings and marriages

YouGov polling shows almost 30% of the population hold humanist beliefs and 7% primarily identify as humanists. Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). They also gained recognition in the Republic of Ireland in 2012 and Northern Ireland in 2018.

69% of the public support legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales but the Government still hasn’t given legal recognition despite Parliament voting in 2013 to give it the power to do so. It has been on the statute books since but the Government hasn’t enacted that power. Figures show that (non-legally recognised) humanist wedding ceremonies in England and Wales have increased by a massive 266% over the last decade, bucking the trend of a decline in other types of marriage. Official 2018 statistics show that humanist marriages in Scotland are the least likely to end in divorce.

(d) Further 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 07815 589636.

The claimants in the case have made the following images available for use by media:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal recognition of humanist marriages.

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.

Evidence in the case

Lawyers have provided evidence from Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. He says that the lack of legal recognition in England and Wales is unlawful. Mr Shaheed told Humanists UK: ‘It is increasingly unusual internationally for liberal democracies to not give legal recognition to humanist marriages.’ The only general exception is if they follow a French-style system of not allowing religious marriages either.

Prominent experts in religion and religious figures including Linda Woodhead, Distinguished Professor of Religion and Society at Lancaster University; Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain; Tina Beattie, Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton; and Michael Booth, Church Government Adviser of the Recording Clerk’s Office of Quakers in Britain, also provide evidence on marriages from the perspective of the religious traditions in which they are experts, where religious people can marry legally in a ceremony conducted by a person who is authorised to conduct a wedding in keeping with the beliefs and conventions of their religion. The evidence they provide shows that there is no good reason for humanist marriages to be treated differently.

Other evidence is provided by Dr Lois Lee, founder of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent, on the demographics of the non-religious, and on the differences between religious and non-religious worldviews. She explains that humanism is ‘the most widely recognised non-religious worldview in the UK’. Dr Jeaneane Fowler, author of Humanism: Beliefs and Practices, gives evidence on the intrinsic nature of humanist ceremonies to humanism. Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland provides evidence on the operation and success of legally recognised humanist marriages in Scotland. And Paul Pugh, former Registrar General for England and Wales and humanist celebrant, gives his view on the Government’s approach to legal recognition of humanist marriages around the time of the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act and subsequent consultation, as well as the quality of the training Humanist Ceremonies provides.

There is also evidence from Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, Director of Community Services Teddy Prout, and Ceremonies Board Chair Zena Birch on humanism, Humanists UK, and the nature of humanist ceremonies.

The position of humanist marriages around the UK, Ireland, and crown dependencies

Humanist marriages have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than any other religion or belief group. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will do the same.

More humanist than Christian marriages in Scotland in 2019, new stats show

Marie and Tiz by Ross Holkham Photography.

An analysis of newly released official statistics reveals that for the first time, there were more humanist marriages in Scotland last year than there were Christian marriages. Humanist marriages made up 23% of all marriages, while Christian marriages made up 22%. Humanists UK has called on the UK Government to urgently recognise the need to bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, pointing to the new statistics as showing evidence of demand, and the likely over-demand for civil registrars following on from the coronavirus pandemic.

The new statistics were released by the National Records of Scotland earlier this week and then analysed by Humanists UK to calculate the total number of humanist and Christian marriages. In total there were 5,879 humanist marriages, compared with 5,812 Christian marriages. Humanists UK’s sister organisation Humanist Society Scotland was the largest single provider of marriages, with its celebrants conducting 3,276. The Church of Scotland conducted 2,225 marriages, while the Catholic Church conducted 911.

About humanist weddings

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely personalised and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple.

Humanist marriages are legally recognised in Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Channel Islands, but not England and Wales. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005. In the Republic of Ireland, they gained legal recognition in 2012 and in 2019 around 9% of legal marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages. They gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will the same.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have a humanist wedding without legal recognition. They all must have a separate civil marriage – usually at a registrar’s office – for their marriage to be legally recognised, even though it is not what they want. Couples must go through formalities twice, leading to financial strain, and distress over the state failing to recognise their humanist wedding as their ‘real’ one.

House of Lords pressure

The matter was raised in the House of Lords yesterday by All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group members Lord Low and Baroness Hayter. Lord Low said ‘Once weddings resume, there will no doubt be a huge backlog of demand for registrars, that could easily stretch through to the end of next year. One way the Government should seek to ease that demand is by extending legal recognition to humanist marriages, which would stop couples who want to have a humanist wedding from having to also have a civil marriage to gain legal recognition. Humanist marriages are already legally recognised in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. Will the Government commit to acting now to bring about similar recognition here?’

This was rejected by Government minister Lord True, who said ‘No my Lords, the current law on marriage is set in primary legislation and the Government has no plans to change it.’

Speaking for the Labour frontbench, Baroness Hayter then said ‘Could I regret the minister’s rejection of any thought being given to permitting humanist marriages, which would obviously stop couples from civil weddings. May I urge him to perhaps take time to think again about that?’ Lord True replied, ‘My Lords, I said that the Government has no time for primary legislation on this matter, and that is the position.’

Lord True’s answers were erroneous because in 2013 Parliament voted to give the Government the power to bring about legal recognition by Order (i.e. secondary legislation). The Government simply hasn’t enacted that power since.

The UK Government has announced that marriages will be able to resume in England from 4 July.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘The huge popularity of humanist marriages in Scotland shows just how many people want to have them when they are legally recognised. The fact that they are not legally recognised in England and Wales is a growing travesty.

‘There has never been a more pressing need for this reform than now, with couples having to delay their humanist weddings simply because there are no civil registrars available in their area for some time. Given the significant and growing backlog of registrar bookings, the UK Government should seek to unclog the system by bringing about legal recognition. This would mean that those couples who want a humanist wedding ceremony would not have to also have an unwanted civil marriage ceremony in order to be married in the eyes of the law.’

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 or 07534 248 596.

Read the new statistics.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal recognition of humanist marriages.

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.

Calls for legally recognised humanist marriages as religious weddings to resume in England

Bekka and Gareth’s clifftop wedding by Grant Lampard.

The Prime Minister has today announced that from 4 July, ‘places of worship [in England] will be able to reopen for prayer and services – including weddings with a maximum of 30 people’. However, the UK Government has said nothing about the resumption of civil marriages.

Humanists UK has long campaigned for legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, as is the case in the rest of the UK, Jersey, and Ireland. At present, couples wishing to have a humanist wedding ceremony must also have a civil marriage if their marriage is to be legally recognised. Humanists UK is calling for the UK Government to ensure the needs of the non-religious are provided for on an equal basis to those of the religious by extending legal recognition to humanist marriages, and by resuming civil marriages (which are the large majority of marriages in England), both subject of course to strict safeguards.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely personalised and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple. Humanists UK has provided these ceremonies for many decades In England and Wales, and over 1,000 couples a year already have humanist weddings without legal recognition.

In current law, humanist couples in England and Wales all must supplement their humanist ceremony with a separate civil marriage – usually at a registrar’s office – for their marriage to be legally recognised, even though it is not what they want. Couples must go through formalities twice, leading, amongst other things, to needless time being spent on them by registrars and increased financial strain for couples. No such restrictions apply in Scotland, Northern Ireland, or in the Republic of Ireland.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘The Government must ensure that wedding provision not only is safe but caters equally to the needs of all couples of all religions and beliefs. If the Government is now proposing to allow religious marriages to resume but not other types of marriage, then that would represent a failure to cater to the needs of humanists and other non-religious couples, as well as those religious couples who don’t want a religious wedding.

‘Furthermore, there is inevitably going to be a boom in the number of weddings taking place from when they are permitted again through to the end of next year, as pent-up demand leads to more people getting married. This will place significant strain on registrars providing civil marriages. One easy way to reduce this strain would be to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages, which would increase the number of officiants able to conduct legally recognised marriages and mean that those couples who want a humanist marriage are able to have one without also having to have a civil marriage. Such a move would be very popular, would make the system fairer for non-religious couples, and would be good for the economy by boosting the wider wedding industry. It is very much something the Prime Minister should consider as a matter of urgency.’

More about humanist marriages

Humanist marriages have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2018, 6,117 humanist marriages took place (22% of the total). Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than any other religion or belief group. Official 2019 statistics show that humanist marriages in Scotland are the least likely to end in divorce. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legal marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

Humanist marriages became legal in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and Guernsey is in the process of doing the same.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have a humanist wedding ceremony, a massive 266% over the last decade, bucking the trend of a decline in other types of marriage. But such ceremonies do not carry legal recognition without the couple also having a civil marriage as well. Humanists UK believes this is unfair, and since religious marriages do carry such recognition, discriminatory. Since 2013 humanist marriages have been on the statute books in England and Wales, but the UK Government hasn’t chosen to enact the relevant statute. 69% of the public support legal recognition.

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 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

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.

Humanist national memorial ceremony

Humanists UK has broadcast a national memorial ceremony to mark three months since the start of the UK lockdown, to 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.

The ceremony is now available to watch through Humanists UK’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

The 30-minute video has been released to mark 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 is in that spirit. It is principally directed at non-religious people but it is hoped that it will give comfort to those of different beliefs and it is entirely inclusive in nature.

The ceremony was welcomed by Communities Minister Lord Greenhalgh, who commented:

‘Covid-19 is the biggest challenge the UK has faced in decades – and we are not alone. All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this disease. It threatens to take both our way of life and our loved ones from us.

‘Three months ago, today, our Government put in place strict social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus and help prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, so that lives could be saved. We’ve seen so many communities, including humanists, support our neighbours and one another.  It is with thanks to the hard work and extraordinary sacrifice of the British people, we are slowing the spread of Covid-19.

‘And now as we begin to look forward, we look to rebuilding the UK with our roadmap to reopening that provides us with hope. We must also reflect on, and mourn the impacts this terrible pandemic has had, and the remember the lives we have lost.

‘I would like to thank everyone for the Nation’s efforts so far, and over the next months ahead.’

In the ceremony, Humanists UK President Alice Roberts says:

‘You might ask yourself what kind of meaning there is to be found in facing life’s unexpected difficulties. When anxiety, even grief and loss comes knocking on our door, and life comes to a halt. These are times when we look for strength in ourselves and place our hopes in other people.

‘You may feel cowed and beaten, levelled by loss, laid low with grief. It’s important to acknowledge that. But we’ve seen astonishing things, too. Selflessness, generosity, and bravery. Individuals placing others’ wellbeing above their own. Facing the challenges with such courage and dignity and compassion. We’ve also seen unprecedented international scientific cooperation. Competitors becoming collaborators. A glimpse of how productive we can be when we work together, not against each other. Humanity is laid bare by laid bare in a crisis like this, and there is so much goodness there.’

Humanist pastoral carer Lindsay van Dijk, who leads the NHS chaplaincy team in Buckinghamshire NHS Trust, in her contribution to the ceremony, talks about working in her role during the pandemic, and what it has been like to support people at this time:

‘What I have experienced is the tremendous amounts of love in the room when lives come to an end. We don’t always think about expressing our love to those around us during our “normal daily routines’” If we learn anything from this pandemic it is that life is precious and it is short; to experience it fully as much as we can and to do this with the ones we love – and to not wait until we come to the end of our lives to express how much they mean to us. Let’s say that we love them – today.’

Humanists UK celebrant Audrey Simmons reads words by Humanists UK Vice President AC Grayling in the ceremony. She says:

‘We never quite get over the sorrow caused by losing those most loved. We only learn to live with it, and to live despite it, which makes living a richer thing. That is sorrow’s gift, though we never covet it.’

And All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Co-Chair Joan Bakewell, in her contribution, leads a moment of reflection, for quoting Humanists UK patron Sir Terry Pratchett as saying:

‘No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away, until the clock wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life is only the core of their actual existence.’

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 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 allows people from right across the UK to join together in a common act of remembrance via an online ceremony. It also reflects on the changes to all our lives and the challenges we continue to face.

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

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.

Media are free to use any section of the ceremony on their own websites, so long as they attribute what they use to Humanists UK. Humanists UK has also made two short sections of the ceremony available as stand-alone files for media, namely Joan Bakewell quoting Terry Pratchett on death, and Mark Gatiss reading Michael Rosen’s tribute poem to the NHS that has just saved his life. We are also making available a composite image of four participants in the ceremony, namely Humanists UK celebrants Phil Walder and Audrey Simmons, Humanists UK President Alice Roberts, and Mark Gatiss.

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.

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.

Celebrants told to review funeral numbers with families in advance to help keep people safe

In response to new guidance on funerals issued yesterday by the Government, including on funeral attendance, Humanists UK’s Head of Ceremonies Isabel Russo said:

‘The law stipulates that you can only leave your home to attend a funeral if it is for a member of your household, a close family member, or – if the deceased does not have either of these – then a friend may attend.

‘To ensure people are kept safe and to prevent confusion around who can attend, we are telling our funeral celebrants to confirm, in advance, the list of close family members who plan to attend the funeral, to check the crematorium’s policy as maximum numbers allowed currently vary, and to reiterate to families the legal definition so that numbers can be reviewed before the day. We hope this will go some way in supporting families to make difficult decisions, and ensuring that numbers are kept at manageable levels to meet social distancing requirements.

‘While this situation is not ideal for anyone, we will continue to work with bereaved families to help them have a meaningful ceremony, including offering live streaming and video recording where available. Families who choose to will also be able to have a memorial in the future when other loved ones can attend, and can contribute to our online Humanist Funeral Tribute Archive, a unique opportunity to safekeep the tributes written to celebrate and remember those who have died, accessible to all.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read the Government’s guidelines.

Read Humanists UK’s previous guidelines on funerals, covering live streaming and gestures to replace hugging.

Visit our Humanist Funeral Tribute Archive.

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 benefiting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Couples opt for online pre-wedding ceremonies: love in the time of coronavirus

Couples are adjusting to a strange new era. A temporary ban on weddings in the UK means couples whose weddings were due to take place this spring are now in the process of postponing their ceremonies.

But humanist celebrants are coming up with an ingenious way to celebrate the planned date with a promissory ‘pre-wedding celebration’ ceremonies, involving families and friends and conducted over video-conferencing services like Zoom and Google Hangouts.

Isabel Russo, Head of Ceremonies at Humanists UK, explained: 

‘As soon as the coronavirus outbreak came to the UK, we knew there’d be big changes to how we conduct our ceremonies. We were quick to issue guidance to our celebrants about how to make the most of new technology to support their clients, keeping everyone safe at the same time as working closely with them to fulfill their needs.

‘With weddings, what’s been really impressive is how many couples have adapted to the new rules and how enthusiastic they have been about supporting the national effort on coronavirus by changing their plans – giving birth to a new idea, the ‘pre-wedding’ ceremony with family and friends in multiple locations, and then the full wedding celebration in person at a later date.’

One Humanists UK celebrant, Zena Birch, suggested the idea of creating a moment to still mark their original wedding date with her couple, Paula and Loc. They were able to share their ‘pre-wedding’ celebration with family and friends in their homes around the world.

Zena Birch describes their story: 

This weekend, something really good happened: we live-streamed a pre-wedding celebration ceremony into over 38 different households. I nicknamed it the ‘Same Time, Same Place, Multiple Social Distancing Locations Aperitif Ceremony’.

Paula and Loc got engaged back in 2014, but they have made sure their children, their business, their home, and their family came first for years. So, when it looked like COVID-19 was definitely shutting down their wedding – the day they had finally allowed themselves to have – my brain started whirring. How can we honour their original date, a date so filled with anticipation, the date the kids knew something special was happening? So, I said, ‘Let’s do it anyway. We know all of your guests are free.’ 

So, we invented a ritual and, during the online ceremony, Paula and Loc took their wedding rings and placed them in a jar. As part of their home-schooling last week, Lily and Tobi made coloured rice and at the ceremony, in front of us all,  they poured it over the top of the rings to keep them safe until we get to retrieve them in their proper ceremony next year. 

Public declarations are important and so are witnesses, which is why everyone important to the family was invited to be part of it. Our communities are essential: so, Paula and Loc still made promissory statements declaring that they will stand by as a family until I get to pronounce them husband and wife next year. 

Even Lily and Tobi made promises. They promised to do their best to be good and kind, and keep the rings safe until we need them next year.

Then, I was able to get everyone involved: I unmuted the microphones of all 60+ guests (who I had prepped), and as the children said, ‘We do,’ Paula and Loc heard a cacophony of corks popping and applause as confetti rained down upon them. Yes, there was confetti!

And so, in many homes today a little bit of happiness, jubilation, and grateful splendour still happened. Thank you to absolutely everyone of Paula and Loc’s friends who with me this week have learnt the ins and outs of Zoom and thus made a family feel the full weight of love and support that surrounds them. Love wins!

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We’ve all been touched over the weekend by all the various couples who opted for humanist weddings this spring who we are now supporting to make the most of a special date in their calendars using new technology – creating something truly unique and personal to them and their situations.

‘Our pastoral carers, celebrants, and community volunteers have all been adapting their practices rapidly since the start of this pandemic. This is a shining example of our celebrants helping people to socially connect, maintain good spirits, and still find unique ways to celebrate important milestones in their lives.’

Notes:

Video by Shelly Mantovani from Toast of Leeds.

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

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.

Humanist funeral celebrants and pastoral carers employed in hospitals have been designated as key workers by the government as part of the coronavirus response. Humanists UK has been deploying its own networks of supporters as volunteers throughout the wider charity sector.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony that is deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple, conducted by a celebrant who shares their beliefs and values.

Humanist Ceremonies™ has been the gold standard provider of meaningful, personalised non-religious ceremonies in the UK for over 120 years. Its celebrants are trained, accredited, insured, and quality-assured by Humanists UK. 98% of clients rate Humanist Ceremonies 5/5 in feedback forms. To find out more, visit the Humanist Ceremonies website.

See also:

Humanists UK services during the epidemic

As well as cancelling our public and member events between now and the end of July, Humanists UK is responding to the coronavirus pandemic across its range of community services by making important changes to the way they are carried out.

Funerals, weddings, and namings

Our celebrants are already making the necessary adjustments to make weddings, funerals, and naming ceremonies possible in the context of physical distancing and the self-quarantining of people at home. By making greater use of streaming and video-calling technologies, humanist celebrants will be taking forward the person-centred and uniquely tailored support we offer to grieving families and to wedding couples in web meetings to plan the ceremony and even, where people don’t wish to delay, the live-streaming of ceremonies.

Our priority remains supporting bereaved families as much as we can to make sure that they can say farewell to their loved one in a personal and meaningful way, and at the right time for them.

Naturally many people will choose to delay their important ceremonies until after the epidemic. In the case of funerals, humanist celebrants will be on hand to support families with planning longer memorial services at a later date for those who choose to have direct cremations in the meantime.

For more information, you should read the statement from Humanist Ceremonies and keep an eye on this website for further updates.

Education and schools

A poster for social media, telling parents about our support for home-schooling

Our accredited school visitors will not be making school visits for the foreseeable future, but we will be uploading new resources to our dedicated education websites Understanding Humanism and Assemblies for All.

These resources are all available for teachers and parents to use completely for free, and specially designed for children of different ages.

We want to do everything we can to make these resources as useful as possible to parents who, following school closures across the country, will need stimulating and educational materials for their children.

For those looking to explore longer and more in-depth material, we would encourage looking at our online courses, some of which are provided through the FutureLearn platform. These are a great way to engage in social learning in conversation with other learners from around the world.

Pastoral care

We have not suspended the work of our pastoral carers, but widespread rule changes across hospitals, hospices, universities, and prisons mean humanist pastoral carers will no longer be able to provide non-religious pastoral care in those institutions face-to-face.

We will look to resume this work as soon as the situation allows. In the meantime, there may be opportunities for our pastoral carers to provide care voluntarily in the national effort – such as online using a secure platform, or in developing resources to help people who are struggling, or in partnership with other charities. We are developing a series of online pastoral care sessions we will offer to NHS and other front line staff and actively exploring these possibilities.

The welfare of our volunteers and those we support remains our priority and we will continue to look for ways to provide non-judgemental pastoral care to non-religious people in this time of uncertainty and anxiety.

Other face-to-face services

Other services which rely on face-to-face contact, such as peer support groups for people leaving cults and coercive religions through Faith to Faithless, and our dialogue with religious groups, will be suspended until further notice. We encourage all those making use of these services to contact us if they have any problems.

Another priority for us is combating loneliness in the wider community. One aspect of our community services which addresses this aspect of our work is our local groups, branches, and sections bringing together non-religious people around the country. While physical meetings will not go ahead, the fellowship and community our branches and sections provide will continue. Working together with celebrants and pastoral carers, our community sections will be setting up digital forums to facilitate socialising and human connection, even in self-isolation. We will look to resume hosting regular ‘death cafes’ and other similar discussion forums about sensitive issues over digital platforms. Please keep an eye on our social media for updates.

As the situation evolves, we will be looking to contribute to the national effort in all ways we can. If you’re involved in the delivery of key national or local services, we stand ready to provide help. You can get in touch with us by email

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

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.

Humanist funeral for Terry Jones

Humanists UK Head of Ceremonies Isabel Russo had the privilege of taking the humanist funeral of Terry Jones, the much-loved comic writer and actor who became famous for his work with Monty Python. Here she writes about the experience of constructing the perfect farewell for someone who meant so much to so many.

Terry Jones had a massive heart. Not, to my knowledge, medically, but in the traditional sense. He was a man who loved boundlessly, and was boundlessly loved.

It was in one sense therefore easy to take Terry’s funeral ceremony. Love generates love. People actively want to give, to gather, to share. To speak without guile or self-concern, to express and support.  All perfect ingredients for a richly layered, authentic, and moving funeral ceremony.

Easy to take his funeral on the one hand – and yet – so hard to take it on the other.

I knew Terry. A little. He was great friends with my step-father, Miles Kington and he was a gentle support to my mother when Miles died 12 years ago. One of my best memories of Terry is of playing ‘Celebrity Boules’ with him and Miles on a summer’s day in Bath, the cherry on top being resoundingly beating my hero, Peter Gabriel.

However, my enduring memory of Terry is of an irrepressible, ebullient man, who radiated creativity and joy of life wherever he went – at the same time as radiating a sense of being a thoroughly decent bloke. When my mum stepped out of the crematorium after saying goodbye to Miles, blinded by the February sunshine and by her absolute grief, it was Terry who came to her side and gently took her arm and guided her first steps into the waiting world.

‘Terry, as we all know, wasn’t religious. So it was clear from the beginning that vicars and priests would remain relegated to his films and Monty Python sketches.’

Terry, as we all know, wasn’t religious. So it was clear from the beginning that vicars and priests would remain relegated to his films and Monty Python sketches. I offered his family support with organising the funeral – and was blown away when they asked me to actually take it.

A humanist, non-religious, funeral ceremony focuses entirely on the person who has died and on the community of family and friends around them. The aim of the ceremony is to walk the invisible line between remembering and celebrating the person, at the time as allowing a safe space to fully acknowledge and grieve the loss of them.

We do that by carefully weaving threads of stories and memories, pulses of music that contributed to the soundtrack of their life, a palette of readings, prose, poems, and whatever else is appropriate. Especially when a person has suffered a long illness, the funeral is an important time to recreate who they were before the illness stripped so much of that away. When the time for ‘committal’ comes, in a humanist funeral, we are not committing that person to Christ, but committing them to our own hearts and minds.

When it comes to someone like Terry Jones, our hearts and minds have to be mindbogglingly enormous – perhaps the size of Mr Creosote himself – to retain all that he had to offer. His legacy of anarchic creativity, considered medieval academia, lyrical fantasy, and progressive questioning of the status quo is simply immense.

Taking Terry Jones’s funeral was an immense honour, and the experience of it has stayed with me and informs my practice. To paraphrase the humanist philosopher Seneca: we can make the best of our loved ones while they are with us, and we can make sure not to bury our love with their death. Whether you knew Terry personally or not, if you were a fan of his work and haven’t already – then maybe take a moment to pause and reflect. Remember who he was – and who he will continue to be for you – and bank it. And remember that his preferred wafer was thin and minty, not sacramental.

Isabel Russo
Head of Ceremonies, Humanists UK

Notes

Humanists UK provides a network of trained and accredited celebrants to take non-religious funerals, weddings and naming ceremonies in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Channel Islands. It provides world-class training, which has been awarded an OCN Quality Mark for excellence, with 98% of clients rating their celebrant 5/5. You can contact a humanist celebrant via the Humanists Ceremonies™ website.

Humanist Ceremonies funerals, baby-namings, and weddings are attended by over one million people each year.

A humanist funeral is a non-religious service that is both a dignified farewell and a celebration of a life. It recognises the profound sadness of saying goodbye whilst celebrating the life and legacy of a loved one. One in seven people now say in YouGov surveys that they would like a humanist funeral when they die.

In recent years, Humanists UK celebrants have taken funerals for well-loved figures such as Claire Rayner, Keith Floyd, Linda Smith, Ronnie Barker, Bob Monkhouse, John Noakes, Lyndsey de Paul, David Nobbs, Doris Lessing, Cynthia Payne, Rhodri Morgan, Terry Pratchett, Victoria Wood, and Dale Winton.

In 2018, Humanist Ceremonies launched the Humanist Funeral Tribute Archive, a unique historical collection of funeral scripts to immortalise our memories of the ones we love and support future research into the lives of 20th and 21st century humanists.

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanist celebrants win ‘Celebrant of the Year’ at national wedding awards in England and Northern Ireland

Two Humanist Ceremonies™ celebrants have won the top prize at prestigious national wedding awards which recognise the best celebrants in England and Northern Ireland.

Humanist Ceremonies celebrant Jane Blackman won the coveted title of Wedding Celebrant of the Year for England at the Wedding Industry Awards which took place in Leicester Square in London last week. Later the same week her fellow Humanist Ceremonies network member Emma Bailie won Celebrant of the Year at the Northern Ireland Wedding Awards at the Crowne Plaza, Belfast.

At the awards in England, Jane was one of two Humanist Ceremonies wedding celebrants shortlisted for the Wedding Industry Award. She was also the winning celebrant for the South East of England regional award. Fellow humanist celebrant Dawn Rees was named  best celebrant in the East of England at the same awards.

The Wedding Industry Awards are the most highly regarded and sought after in the wedding industry in England, acknowledging the contribution that all wedding suppliers make to a couple’s big day. They recognise individuals and businesses whose excellent services have gone above and beyond, ensuring the most perfect days for couples getting wed.

At the fifth Northern Ireland Wedding Awards, winner Emma Bailie was one of six Humanist Ceremonies wedding celebrants shortlisted for the inaugural Celebrant of the Year Award. She celebrated her win with fellow Humanist Ceremonies celebrant nominees, Claire Taylor, Jean Barrett Quinn, Karen Bell, Fleur Mellor, and Liz Peel. Liz was named as the highly commended runner-up at the ceremony.

England Wedding Celebrant of the Year Jane Blackman said:

‘This is a very special accolade and I could not be more thrilled to receive it. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be recognised for this particular award, as it relies totally on real couples voting and giving detailed feedback about their experience of working with me – and having me there as their wedding celebrant on one of the most important days of their lives.’

Northern Ireland winner Emma Bailie said she was ‘chuffed to bits and still surprised’, and thanked the couples who nominated her, along with her friends and family for their support on her celebrant journey.

Humanists UK Head of Ceremonies Isabel Russo commented: 

‘We are delighted that the winners of two huge national wedding industry awards are members of the Humanist Ceremonies network. These prestigious awards and nominations reflect the high-quality service we provide, the high standards of our training, and the depth of personalisation and connection we strive for with all of our couples. Humanist Ceremonies are truly unique and meaningful and we are proud to deliver such important, memorable occasions.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony that is deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple, conducted by a celebrant who shares their beliefs and values.

Humanist Ceremonies has been the gold standard provider of meaningful, personalised non-religious ceremonies in the UK for over 120 years. Its celebrants are trained, accredited, insured, and quality-assured by Humanists UK. 98% of clients rate Humanist Ceremonies 5/5 in feedback forms.

To find our more about Humanist Ceremonies, visit the Humanist Ceremonies website.

If you’re curious about Humanist Ceremonies, you might enjoy reading our FAQ about humanist weddings, our interview with Northern Ireland humanist celebrant Stewart Holden, or some of the articles in our Humanist Weddings Blog.

To find a humanist wedding, naming, or funeral celebrant near you, you can use the Humanists UK Find a Celebrant map.

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.

Humanists to take part in all national Remembrance Day ceremonies across the UK

Humanist representatives are preparing to take part in all of the national Remembrance Day ceremonies across the UK this Sunday, including at the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Westminster, the Welsh National Service, the Northern Ireland Service, and the Scottish National Remembrance Service.

Humanists UK and its armed forces section, Defence Humanists, will be represented at the Cenotaph ceremony by Chief Executive Andrew Copson and at the Welsh National Service by Lorraine Barrett, a patron of Humanists UK, humanist celebrant, and former Welsh Assembly member, for the second time after being officially represented at these major events for the first time last year.

As in previous years, Humanists UK’s Northern Ireland section Northern Ireland Humanists is being represented at the ceremony in Belfast, while Humanist Society Scotland is taking part in the Scottish national ceremony in Edinburgh. As well as attending the UK’s national ceremonies, Humanists UK will also have representatives at many other ceremonies across the country.

Humanists UK campaigns for inclusive public ceremonies that are equally inclusive of everyone regardless of religion and belief. More than a quarter of serving members of the Armed Forces describe themselves as having ‘no religion’ and it is therefore important their contribution is recognised. For many years Humanists UK and Defence Humanists ran the campaign ‘For All Who Serve’ to highlight this issue.

Humanists UK Director of Community Services Teddy Prout said: ‘Remembrance Day enables us to honour those who have given tremendous sacrifices in serving their country in conflict and war.

‘We are proud to represent non-religious Armed Forces personnel at national and other Remembrance ceremonies across the UK to pay our respects to those whose lives have been lost or forever changed in war and conflict.

‘It is vital that we remember everyone who gave their lives in military service regardless of their religion or belief, and we will continue to advocate for all Remembrance services across the UK to be secular and fully inclusive occasions for all.’

Notes

For more information, contact Humanists UK Public Affairs Manager Karen Wright karen@humanism.org.uk or call 0207 324 3009 for more information.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign work on Remembrance: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/secularism/government-and-faith-communities/remembrance-ceremonies/

Visit the For All Who Serve campaign’s website: http://forallwhoserve.org.uk/

Read more about Defence Humanists: http://defencehumanists.org.uk/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Bespoke and handcrafted ceremonies: an interview with Northern Ireland Humanists celebrant Stewart Holden


Photo courtesy of CrazyHappyLove Photography

We spoke to Stewart Holden – the celebrant network support coordinator in Northern Ireland. He spoke to us about the joy of conducting humanist ceremonies, why they’re becoming increasingly popular, and their bespoke, personal, and intimate nature.

Hi Stewart. What is a humanist celebrant?

A humanist celebrant writes and conducts non-religious ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and namings, where the focus is entirely on the couple getting married or the person whose life is being honoured and celebrated. For every type of ceremony, the celebrant will meet the couple or family to ensure that they deliver the most personalised and bespoke ceremony possible.

Why are humanist ceremonies becoming increasingly popular?

More and more people are beginning to realise that you can mark significant moments in life with a ceremony that is meaningful, personal and beautiful, but also non-religious. Often, people who have experienced a humanist ceremony are far more likely to choose one for themselves. They are voting with their feet!

Tell us about some of your unique experiences and ceremonies.

I was fortunate to conduct the first legally recognised humanist wedding in Northern Ireland last year, following Laura and Eunan’s ground-breaking case (and wedding) the year before. In an amusing juxtaposition of events, the wedding took place on the same day the Pope was visiting Ireland for the first time in 40 years. Every wedding I’ve ever done has been unique and enjoyable. In the last twelve months I’ve conducted weddings on the SS Nomadic [pictured] in blazing sunshine with hundreds of tourists watching from afar, on the stage at Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast, and ankle-deep in sand at Harry’s Shack on the beach in Portstewart.

Tell us about your work as the head of the celebrant network in Northern Ireland.

In addition to conducting weddings and funerals, I have an administrative role to ensure all of the celebrants in our network (currently 23 of us) have the support they need to fulfil their roles to the best of their ability. We have regular group meetings and share ideas and experiences all the time, so no celebrant is ever working along. For funeral work it’s especially important to have a support system of colleagues who are there to advise, or sometimes just to listen.

What’s the best feedback a celebrant can receive?

The best compliment is when you’re asked to return to a family more than once. I did a wedding two years ago, and the bride asked me to conduct her father’s funeral nine months later. I was then booked to conduct a funeral of a terminally ill man who attended that first funeral himself, and he asked me to do his when the time came. I’ve now been booked by that man’s son to conduct his wedding next year. It’s an honour to get to know families this way.

What attracts you to humanism?

To me, the term ‘atheist’ simply means not believing in a deity, but you can’t define yourself by something you’re not. Humanism is the next logical step; you’ve accepted there’s no proof of a god, so what is important to you? We are social creatures and we all need a sense of community, and in my experience the people in Northern Ireland Humanists are the nicest people around.

Which Humanists UK campaigns have been closest to your heart?

I am overjoyed that same-sex marriage is now legal in Northern Ireland! And I’m of course looking forward to conducting beautifully intimate and bespoke legal weddings for same sex couples too. It truly is a historic time for Northern Ireland, and as a humanist celebrant, I feel privileged to be entwined with that history in a very unique way. But there is, of course, still work to be done. I’m also a firm believer in the need for education reform. 93% of children in this country are still educated in either Protestant or Catholic ethos schools, and although there can be a mix of children inside the school, the curriculum is still overwhelming Christian. Nowhere more than in this wee country should it be the case that children are taught how to think, not what to think.

 


 

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