Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Humanist NAMING /WEDDING ceremony.

Humanist combined NAMING/WEDDING ceremonies are the future. They are the sensible, practical, rational, simple, inexpensive ceremony.  YOU READ IT HERE FIRST!     Here is a video of me talking about a 2-1 Naming/Wedding ceremony.  http://youtu.be/oueXrnjRVF4

As Humanist celebrants we do namings, weddings and funerals. These rite-of-passage ceremonies are also known as hatchings, matchings and dispatchings. I firmly believe that Humanist ceremonies are significant for families, communities and society especially in this secular era. Our ceremonies are personal and therefore each one is specific and not formulaic like religious/civil ceremonies. They are real and humorous and reflect the lives, personalities and values of those taking part. The participants make commitments publicly and say the important things that need to be said before their family and friends. It is family and friends who are crucial to us as Humanists and not a deity. It is they who support us when we need them and who share in the vicissitudes of our lives, who laugh and cry with us and who sometimes drive us mad. For us Humanists it is those people that we love along with science, wonderful nature, our empathy with others and the arts that constitute our spirituality and give meaning to our lives and guide our morality. I often remark that as a celebrant I have not done my job properly unless there is laughter and tears.

I used to conduct weddings, including wedding ceremonies abroad in Chateaux and castles in France, Spain, Italy and in a salt mine in Cracow but not any longer except for honouring existing commitments. I have a wedding next May in the Algarve. Funerals are the most numerous of our ceremonies and weddings the least in demand. As many people feel that the legal registration of their marriage is adequate as a ceremony there is not so much call for our services as celebrants. It surprises me that this simple, legal procedure conducted by local authority employees suffices as a meaningful ceremony for so many. However, for others who are not religious and want a more personal and significant ceremony reflecting their philosophy of life a Humanist ceremony is right for them.

I have stopped taking wedding ceremonies for a few reasons. The lead in time can be over a year as couples are encouraged by the ‘wedding industry’ to start planning their wedding ages in advance. I used to have to take a photo of a couple who came to visit me to plan their ceremony so that I would remember them a year hence.

The costs of weddings nowadays is enormous. This is partly due to the expansion in the wedding business, with bridal magazines and wedding fairs. The exotic venues and locations, caterers, bridal dress and accoutrements, suit hire for men, rings, flowers, decorations, hairdressers, make-up specialists, exotic transport, toast masters, live music, disco hire and DJs, ancillary fads like chocolate fountains, ice sculptures, fireworks, doves etc.  Given this drive by couples to make their wedding different from others and the extravagance of it all, I found it too much and OTT. After all, Humanists are supposed to be rationalists and this behaviour around weddings I found quite alien and extravagant. Yet, when people at weddings asked about Humanist ceremonies and I told them that I mainly did funerals they would suggest that it must be a relief to do jolly weddings. The British have a different view of funerals compared to other cultures. When I tell them that I regard funerals as the most significant and privileged of our ceremonies they seem to regard me as the grim reaper.

When I mentioned to Tana, our Head of ceremonies, that I was pulling out of doing weddings but would be happy to continue doing naming/wedding ceremonies she asked me why and given my response she requested a piece for our newsletter about naming/wedding ceremonies.                                                     This was a cosy winter wedding.

When I get an inquiry for a naming ceremony, usually their first child, I would often ask the couple if they had a wedding ceremony. If they hadn’t I would suggest that their naming would seem, in some ways, like a wedding in that this would be a coming together of their families and friends formally celebrating them as a family with a ceremony. I suggest that it would make sense for them to make a commitment to each other as well as to their toddler.

We have different charges for our ceremonies. For funerals and namings it about £150-200. In south London our charge is £180. For weddings it is £350-1000. I charge £400. So when a couple contact me requesting a naming ceremony for their first child I still charge the fee for a naming, even if we include their commitment/vows to each other thus making a naming/wedding ceremony the inexpensive, relaxed, hassle free wedding ceremony option.

Most couples live together before they marry. Indeed, many make a big commitment when they buy a home jointly. I don’t know why we are not asked to do “joint mortgage” ceremonies. It is, after all, a big commitment, not taken lightly. Then, for some couples, baby arrives. Having the big fairytale wedding doesn’t feel right and is not desired by some. This is where our combined naming/wedding comes into its own. Sometimes they don’t inform their families and friends beforehand and it comes as a nice surprise, often met with emotional tears- not only their Mums either! They can always slip off to a registry office at a later date and make it legal without feeling the pressure to have a fussy and expensive wedding.

When I take a wedding I suggest that there be a section, early on, asking why are we here today? – Two people met and fell in love- the story so far. It should be done with humour which I believe is an essential ingredient of a Humanist ceremony as we all need humour to get through life. This sets the scene and it makes those present feel relaxed and adds to the intimacy of the occasion.

This “ story so far” might consist of a brief profile of each one, the tale of their meeting and becoming “an item” and the dynamics of their domestic life. After all, with a Humanist wedding the couple will be living together. I tell them I don’t marry virgins! It would be irrational.

So when it comes to a naming I would suggest that the couple include a brief section of how their little one came to be. I reckon a child should know the story of how their parents came together (not the biological explanation). When taking funerals I have often found that the children know little of the detail of how their parents met. (Mine met when taking part in an amateur production of The Pirates of Penzance in Tuam, Co. Galway!)

We recommend a name day book with contributions from their family and friends as well as the script and speeches from the ceremony for them to cherish later, perhaps when they are grandparents themselves. I suggest that hand written contributions, especially from grandparents/greatgrandparents will be treasured in the future.

I guess we could make these wedding/naming ceremonies a speciality of ours. Some of our celebrants might feel that we could lose potential revenue in wedding fees. As I get the couple to do most of the work I have no problem with charging the lower fee for a naming.

This might suit some celebrants and not others. However, I think it is important that we offer something different compared to other ceremony providers and give couples a real choice, especially those who want a low key, family centred ceremony with children present and participating.

Having had a heated discussion at a recent curry soiree about marriage, civil partnerships etc. one old socialist friend started to defend the Cameron /Tory take on marriage. The ensuing debate threw up issues of class when it comes to marriage, teenage pregnancies, childrens’ needs, promotion of stable family relationships, abortion, gay unions, next-of-kin/pensions rights, inheritance tax, cohabitating couples, sibling/friendship partnership rights, etc. The subject had to be changed and the pudding brought on!

However, the statistics on breakdown of relationships when a child is a year old are quite stark. I believe that community/family support is so significant for couples/parents families. I believe that a Humanist  naming/commitment ceremony witnessed by family and friends could become an important element in providing new ways of recognising the reality of peoples lives, the need for stability and an acknowledgment of the establishment of a new family.

Wedding on Provence very hot 2003.

We have booklets for each of our ceremonies to help those who want to conduct their own ceremonies and I am always happy to assist/advise those who wish to do it themselves. We also do memorial, anniversary, renewal of vows and significant birthday ceremonies. The latter can sometimes be viewed as the funeral ceremony whilst you are alive as often people at funerals lament that the deceased was not their to hear the things that were said about them and how much they would have enjoyed it and the readings and music. When I was getting an ad in Yellow Pages I had a young, not very literate, chap send me a proof copy stating that I offered ‘renewal-of-vowels’ ceremonies. Such a ceremony would be very short -a e i o u – Ay, ee, I owe you –  rather sweet. Dave and I ended our ruby anniversary speech with it!

I am sure that you can tell that I like these real ceremonies. Indeed, another effect of me being a celebrant is that I now host Sunday afternoon poetry parties that friends claim to really enjoy. You should try it.

This ceremony took place in a water tower in Carshalton.

Baby namings and combined naming/weddings have it all – laughter and tears, a celebration of family, unconditional love, parents, grandparents, relatives, children and friendship as well as music, feasting balloons, bubbles and bubbly. I love them, as you can probably gather.

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