What is a Humanist Celebrant?
Well, one definition is ” … a person who officiates at non-religious ceremonies, including weddings, funerals, child namings, renewal of vows and other rituals.” But that really doesn’t tell the story or give any idea of the heart and soul involved in each and every one of those services.
My personal journey started when I got married for the second time in 2019. The first time round my mum organised everything from frock to flowers, from cake to car, and I don’t really remember much about it. The second time around we had the most wonderful day, completely designed by us and for us.
We got married in the middle of a maze, with just our kids. They each gave a minute’s speech during the ceremony, we had opera playing, we performed a mini playlet about dinosaurs which made us all laugh, and I wore a red dress and had bare feet. We loved it. It was a day which meant so much to us both and which we will always remember with love and a smile. And some cracking photographs. (Note to bride and groom, drones can be quite noisy. You learn as you go.)
So, why did I decide to become a celebrant? I’ve had quite a few weird and wonderful jobs in my life, ranging from being an agony aunt, through advertising, arranging international art exhibitions, running my own virtual office services business, managing a couture wedding dress shop, and finally working at a drug and alcohol rehab centre. That’s the most rewarding for me, but it’s sometimes pretty dark and sad. I decided that I needed some happiness to balance my life out, and having had such a wonderful wedding myself, what better way than to get involved in lots more? I’m sticking with this husband, so needs must, I thought I’d find out about other people’s weddings.
And of course, being a celebrant is not just about weddings – funerals by their very nature are often dark and sad, but now I can help to give positive memories to people, and that’s a happy thing in itself.
There’s not a huge number of celebrants out there, but it’s a family that’s growing as more and more people recognise that they can indeed celebrate those huge personal landmarks in a really personal, memorable and meaningful way.
Having taken the decision to train as a celebrant, there are quite a few courses to choose from. I picked the UKCAPSA online course without really thinking much about it – apart from flinching at the cost. No, it’s not cheap, and no, it’s not easy, but so incredibly worthwhile and thought provoking. Who knew that I’d be guided through creative writing, performing, learning how to speak, how to read people, how to get people to respond to me, let alone all the history and legalities that surround our society’s traditions and rituals. I didn’t. I’ve always enjoyed writing and acting, and these are a big part of being a celebrant. It feels distinctly strange standing there and role playing your first ceremony on Zoom to your mentor, but what’s life without pushing through the challenges.
So, some months later, I’m trained and raring to go. When I step out to face all those happy, nervous, excited people, there’s always an adrenaline rush. What if I forget something vital, what if there’s some drama that I can’t control? But from the moment that beautiful bride walks up the aisle – and brides are always beautiful, always – and her partner shares that first look with her, then it’s wonderful. And I get to be there. It’s a pleasure, a privilege and an honour to share in other people’s weddings and to make them the best they can be.
There are tough moments. I get so wrapped up in my couples’ stories and feelings that I quite often well up. (I bite the inside of my cheek really hard – it works.) It’s a challenge having to do half the ceremony in Spanish. It’s a challenge when the flowergirl insists on wearing her Disney dress and throws a tantrum centre stage. It’s a challenge making sure that the couple who want to leap over flaming broomsticks do it safely (dresses made of synthetic fibres are much more flammable, honestly).
An Orchestra of Happiness
Couples and families look to a celebrant to guide and inspire them. It’s a huge challenge and responsibility holding people’s most important days in your hand and heart and making them happen.
To me, humanism is something that I’ve unconsciously followed most of my life without really thinking about it. I think that we should take personal responsibility for our actions, and I think that we should always try to be the best we can be, both of which are vital in humanism. Mostly, I think that kindness is a much under-rated virtue in today’s world. Despite all the social media around, we live in our own busy bubbles, and so often forget that much of the joy in life is gained from how we interact with other people, our family and friends and those we love. To me, that’s the key to being a celebrant. I get to create and conduct an orchestra of kindness and happiness, hours and days of people tuning in to their emotions and each other and being happy. Yes! Yes! Yes!
It’s a journey, training to be a celebrant. But it’s also just a beginning, because every ceremony is another journey. I hope I don’t reach the end of the journey for a long time. There are so many people out there, just waiting for me to help make their story happen.