If you’re looking to tie the knot with a non religious wedding ceremony then you’ve landed in the right place! Humanist and celebrant led non religious wedding ceremonies have been popular here in the UK for a long time but never more so than at the moment.
As a wedding photographer who loves adventurous, heartfelt, personalised celebrations, I’m a big fan of a Humanist wedding ceremony. You might already know of them and be sold on them already; you might have vaguely heard of them but not know exactly what happens at Humanist weddings; or you might have never heard of them before. Wherever you’re at, I’ve pulled together a guide for you: what are they, what happens at a Humanist wedding, how is it different, and is it right for you? Enjoy!
What is a humanist wedding ceremony?
Unlike a religious or civil ceremony, you might not know what a humanist ceremony is just from the title – because we’re all human, aren’t we (most days – sometimes I feel half human, half coffee.) Well, a Humanist wedding ceremony is, on paper, a ceremony that’s led by a celebrant trained by Humanists UK. But that might not really tell you anything, so what it means in practice is a totally unique and non religious wedding ceremony that’s completely personalised for you. Typically humanist weddings are a bucketload of fun, with less stuffy formulae, less strict formality, and much more love and feeling and celebration than your traditional textbook wedding ceremony.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland (the lucky duckies!) Humanist weddings are legal ceremonies, but in England and Wales they’re currently not legally binding. However, I’m happy to say this is set to change – Humanists recently won a court case for legal status, so it’s hopefully now a case of when, not if. (If Tim of 5 Years Into The Future is reading this, and could send me a sign that this has happened, it’d be much appreciated…)
Does a humanist wedding have a non religious wedding ceremony?
Yes…Humanist weddings have a completely non religious wedding ceremony, led by a humanist celebrant who has no religious beliefs. You have the freedom to get married wherever and however you wish!
So what happens at a humanist wedding, compared to other types of ceremony?
What happens at a humanist wedding is a bit of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question – the beauty of a Humanist ceremony is that it can be totally personalised, so no two are the same. Compared to civil ceremonies or religious ceremonies, where there’s a template that has to be followed, your ceremony is a total blank canvas!
The world is your oyster – do you fancy karaoke? A mid-ceremony game of twister? Your guests to pass the ring around, to give it their blessing? Your dogs as your ring bearers? Your grannies as your flowergirls? Shots when you announce you’re married? A game of bingo for your guests to see who wins first? Your ceremony can be whatever you like.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to try and work it out all on your own; your celebrant will work to craft the ceremony with you. Not only will they work with you to write the script for it, but they’ll also help you decide on the flow of the itinerary, too.
Where can humanist ceremonies take place?
Now we’ve established what happens at a humanist wedding ceremony, let’s ask where that magic can take place!
One of the beautiful things about Humanist weddings is that the ceremonies can take place wherever you damn please. If there’s a venue or area that has huge significance for your relationship and would feel super special to be married at – the school where you met, for example, or the lakeside where you got engaged – you’d be free to have your Humanist wedding there.
This is one of the reasons why they’re so popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as you can get married in the glorious open air in the middle of a glen or halfway up a mountain. (In these instances, part of the celebrant’s duty is to assess that the setting is appropriate and safe – then they can get on with the whole marrying you thing).
In England and Wales, this also means that you can get married outside, a setting legal and/or religious ceremonies don’t currently allow (they have to take place in licensed venues which, by law, require a roof!). This makes Humanist ceremonies the perfect choice for adventurous couples who might want to elope, or who just want to be as close to nature as possible for their wedding day.
Why have a humanist ceremony?
Obviously, as an adventurous wedding and elopement photographer I love the fact that they allow you to get married outside – but there’s so many more reasons why Humanist weddings are great. They’re a non religious wedding ceremony so if you’re not religious but still want a wedding ceremony with symbolism, a Humanist wedding is the perfect option.
Whereas a civil ceremony is by necessity a bit formulaic, due to legal/venue/scheduling/insert-red-tape here constraints, each humanist ceremony is totally personalised, and allows you to truly be yourselves. There are just a few basic rules to follow, but the rest of it is up to you – so a Humanist ceremony doesn’t have to include anything stuffy, outdated or that just simply doesn’t resonate (due to current government restrictions they’re also increasingly popular for a micro wedding).
Humanist ceremonies also give you the chance for a slightly more informal celebration. That’s not to say it’s any less important, but for people who have been to super traditional, formal weddings before – and hated them – they may breathe a big sigh of relief for a more relaxed environment.
They also allow for a really meaningful celebration, ensuring that it’s as unique as your relationship is. It doesn’t have to be totally off the wall – though it can be, if that’s what you’re dreaming of! – but it gives you the flexibility to create a ceremony that feels like you in event form. A lot of people say ‘Your wedding should feel like stepping into your living room’, and whilst aesthetically that might not be true, it’s extra lovely when your guests can feel can just feel your touch in the ceremony itself too.
Plus, if you’re looking for ways to give back with your wedding planning, having a Humanist ceremony is a great way to do that – their celebrants have to pay a membership fee to Humanists UK, which supports their work campaigning and lobbying for equality.
Is a Humanist ceremony right for you?
There are a few things to think about when assessing your options. Firstly, do you want your ceremony to be legal and symbolic at the same time? If you’re in Scotland or Northern Ireland, this isn’t a concern, so you can just skip by this question – but whilst I hope it will soon no longer be a problem in England and Wales, Humanist weddings are currently not legal ceremonies. A lot of couples use this as an excuse for 2 celebrations – the more the merrier! – with a lot of them having a civil ceremony and a celebratory meal a few days before the bigger, Humanist celebration.
Believe me when I say it doesn’t make the bigger celebration feel any less ‘real’, or exciting – and the majority of your guests will have no idea that they’re not watching a legally binding ceremony. What they’ll notice is that they’re watching the two of you have the wedding of your dreams.
Secondly, something to consider is: how important is it to have religious elements in your ceremony? Fundamentally a humanist service is a non religious wedding ceremony and although it depends on your celebrant to a certain extent, anything overtly religious won’t be included – though some culturally significant rituals may be.
The third thing to ask yourself is: does the idea of having the freedom to create your wedding day from scratch excite you? Does what happens at a humanist wedding sound up your street? Does it already bring to the surface some ideas that you had to lock away for fear of not being able to depart from the traditional way? If so, a Humanist ceremony definitely sounds like a route to explore if you fancy a non traditional wedding.
How do we arrange a Humanist ceremony? Where do we start?
The best place to go to start planning your Humanist wedding ceremony (yay!) is the Humanists UK website, and specifically their directory of Humanist celebrants. There you can find a Humanist celebrant that you like the sound of, scope them out on social media, and drop them a line to get chatting – how exciting!
Are you considering a Humanist wedding ceremony now? Were you before? Let me know – I’d love to hear about your plans!