The big difference about a humanist wedding is that it takes place not in the presence of God or a local government officer, but among the people who are most important to you - your family and your friends.
Unlike a church or register office wedding, the words are not laid down in a book. Every element in the ceremony is unique to you: the vows you exchange, the declarations you make, the involvement – direct or indirect – of the people who mean the most to you, the readings, the music, the symbolic acts.
We are not divided into platform party and congregation but come together as an integral group. We stand facing out, embracing everyone. We give a welcome to all, and we acknowledge those who cannot be with us. We aim to impart a sense of active participation rather than passive witness.
Wherever possible, we encourage your closest people to play a role in the ceremony with a reading or a song, by assisting with one of the symbolic actions we might choose to seal the promises you have made - sand blending, hand-fasting, unity candle - or simply by witnessing your signatures on a marriage certificate.
All ceremonies involve an element of theatre – weddings in particular. And as in theatre, it’s not always the big spectaculars that have the greatest emotional impact.
Engaging with the “audience” is about being emotionally truthful, with moves that everyone will follow instinctively and appropriate intervals for music or poetry, and all in the right setting.
It’s about getting the tone right, so that the look and sound and feel of the event all work together to create something truly unforgettable.
Most people come away from a humanist wedding feeling it’s the best they have ever attended – for its warm, relaxed atmosphere, its genuine emotion and the fact that it’s completely unique.
Humanist weddings are not yet legally binding in England and Wales – although they are in Scotland*, and many other civilized countries. So if you are intending to get fully, legally married you will need to plan in a simple register office ceremony. This can be as informal as you like: just a couple of friends as witnesses, on the day or the day before. You are not even obliged to exchange rings, if you would rather save that for the big day.
Because it will be a big day. My own wedding in the Isle of Man in October 2004 started with a group of close family at Douglas Register Office, following which the full party of 130-odd took the steam train down to Castletown and a very grand house lent to us for the day by friends, with a marquee on the croquet lawn. There was champagne (purchased at a Dieppe supermarket a few weeks previously, along with enough table wine to float the Pride of Normandy), a choir of friends, a humanist celebrant over from London, messages from some very dear people who couldn’t be there, a buffet of Manx specialities, and dancing until the small hours to live jazz. It didn’t cost a fortune – far from it – but it was certainly an unforgettable day for all concerned.
* I have actually conducted a wedding in Scotland, in the double capacity of humanist celebrant and temporary registrar. It was certainly out of the ordinary: here's a little taste: https://vimeo.com/61790961