What is a humanist wedding ceremony?

Have a look at this video, featuring Tim McGuire, an Edinburgh Humanist.

Deciding on the best type of ceremony for your wedding can be a tricky thing. There are different options: Religious, civil, humanist and interfaith ceremonies. This article sheds some light on the details of a humanist wedding ceremony.

I met with Mary Wallace and asker her all the questions about a humanist wedding ceremony.

I have seen Mary conduct several weddings, and I have always found her service to be personal and relaxed.

If I don’t want a religious ceremony - what are the alternatives in Scotland?

Apart from a wedding performed by a registrar, a humanist wedding ceremony is the only non-religious alternative. Some people have a semi-religious wedding celebrant; there is also the Pagan network, and there are interfaith ministers.



What are the elements of humanist ceremony?

A humanist wedding ceremony has to be completely non-religious, which means there are no religious elements in your wedding ceremony. However, a humanist wedding is never anti-religious.

A humanist ceremony is all about reflecting the lifestyle, the outlook, the beliefs and values of the couple who is getting married. The couple want the ceremony to be about them. Without religion, they live a moral, ethical life, but they may not have a church connection. They have a strong belief in treating each other well, with love and respect. The humanist ceremony honours the couple’s wish to live a good live, but without God.

There isn’t a standard format for a humanist ceremony. It can be a very formal and traditional, or light-hearted and informal, with lots of fun.

The great thing is that the ceremony can be tailor-made around the couple. In Mary’s case, she willwrite a unique script especially for her clients. “During the ceremony, I tell their story, their journey as a couple. All this becomes part of their ceremony, and how did they get to this point? What do they love about each other? My clients often comment that this is their favourite part of the wedding ceremony, when they find out what the other one has to say about them. This all makes the whole ceremony very personal.”

The couple can also include poetry, readings, symbolic gestures, anything really that reflects them as a couple and what is important to them in their life.

“The smallest wedding I conducted was with only four people: the couple, a musician and the photographer, who were also their witnesses. This was a very special experience. It was no performance as such, there was no audience. I simply helped the couple celebrate their love for each other. It was totally different."

How often do we meet before the wedding?

This depends on the couple. Sometimes, they prefer to meet Mary before they actually book their celebrant. Other couples meet with Mary for the first time around 6 months before the wedding. Not every couple wants this, but - if it makes them feel better - they can have a chat just before the wedding or even a rehearsal. “I don't insist on rehearsals. I just go with the flow. If a rehearsal helps to settle the nerves, I will of course be happy to be there.”

Are we able to contribute to the service and make suggestions?

Absolutely. Mary will work with the couple and discuss their wishes and requirements. She will meet the couple approximately 6 months before the wedding and spend a couple of hours, chatting with them and most importantly to find out how they see their wedding day, and how they want their ceremony to look and feel. Some of the practical things will also be discussed.

Mary will then, in her own time, draft up the ceremony, and email it to the couple, so they can review it and suggest changes. The couple have the chance to craft the ceremony to make it truly theirs. The ceremony is a joint creation between Mary and the couple.

“I really want couples to enjoy their day, rather than something they have to get on with and just do. I want them to treasure their ceremony, feel relaxed, and most importantly be in the moment.”

Mary accepts only one wedding booking in one day. “I want to be there for my clients, I don't want them to worry about timings, for example, if something runs late. I am theirs for the day.”
She will be at the venue always an hour early. She can then have a chat with the rest of the wedding team to ensure it all runs smoothly.

“I don't mind to be photographed, or be in the video. It really needs to work for the couple.” During the ceremonies she conducts, Mary doesn’t place any restrictions on the photographer orvideographer. “I don't want this to be an obstacle. I am aware of the photographer and/or videographer and I work with them. I step out for the crucial moments, and I don’t feel distracted bythem at all.”

Can the ceremony take place anywhere I like?

“Yes. We are authorised to conduct a legal ceremony anywhere on Scotland. We do not require a special licence. Your wedding can be in your back garden, on a boat on a Scottish Loch, or up a mountain. I have conducted weddings on a beach, in the forest, I have hiked up mountain on a rainy day – it’s great that we can fulfil our couple’s wishes”.

Do we need to exchange rings?

No, you don’t have to. Frequently, only one receives a ring. You can exchange something else – for example, one of Mary’s couples – the groom received a fob watch and the bride a very special brooch. Anything goes.

Can you include any Scottish wedding rituals?

Yes. The two main Scottish wedding rituals that are frequently requested are the hand-fasting, and the drinking from a Quaich. Both are Celtic traditions, and a lovely addition to any wedding ceremony.

How long does the ceremony take?

The average time is around 30 minutes. Mary is not a fan of short and sweet. “Most people who come to me care about the words, and want their wedding to be meaningful and sincere. I cannot make it that, and personal, in less than 20 minutes. 30 minutes is long enough to have a lovely ceremony, but short enough for family and friends not to get distracted.

Do you register the marriage? Or do we deal with the paperwork?

The legal process is the same way as if the wedding was conducted in a church. Everybody has to submit a wedding notice before the wedding. During the wedding ceremony, certain legal declarations are included. The humanist celebrant does not take the paperwork; it’s the same way achurch minister/priest deals with it. The marriage schedule is signed, and the paperwork is then taken away by the couple who have to make sure it is handed into their registry office shortly after the wedding.

What actually happens on the wedding day?

Before the ceremony, Mary has a bit of time to chat to the groom, to calm him down if he is very nervous. She will discuss with the groom about what is happening when, check the rings are there. She always meets the bride as she arrives for the ceremony, check how she is feeling, if need be calm her nerves, reassure her, and discuss where she will stand, where the bridesmaids will be, and tell her to enjoy the ceremony. Mary will always be at hand to help with buttonholes and the little things that make all the difference.

How long in advance do I need to book a humanist?

As soon as you know your date and venue, get your celebrant in place as soon as possible. Saturdays in summer are so in demand, and many couples often book a year, some even two years ahead.

How much does a humanist cost?

A wedding ceremony is approximately £400-£450. This is a standard fee charged by all humanists celebrants (plus any travel expenses). This fee is encouraged by the Humanist Society. We are all self-employed, but work under the auspices of the Humanist Society. We adhere to the HS Code of Practice, and part of it is that we all charge the same fee. The current price can be found on the Humanism Website.

A humanist can also conduct other ceremonies, such as funerals, or naming ceremonies.

Where can I find information about humanists in Scotland?

There is a wealth of information on the Scottish Humanist society website.

Are there many humanists?

There are approximately 110 celebrants in Scotland: However, because there is still an increase in demand for humanist weddings, there are still more celebrants being trained.

How do you become a humanist celebrant?

If you want to become a humanist celebrant, you need to take part in some training. The first stage is becoming a celebrant for funerals. As they can be very demanding, you will learn a lot on the job, how to deal with people on the day. If you then want to become a celebrant for weddings, more training is required. There is a recruitment procedure and the Society invites people for interview. Successful candidates take part in a training course and will undertake on-the-job training with an experienced member, for however long it takes. Some celebrants get registered quickly, others take longer for the training. However, to become a qualified funeral celebrant, the training can take anything between 3 and 6 months. The wedding training would come after that.

Have you ever had any strange enquiries?

“I was once asked to conduct a naturist wedding, but in the end, the Society decided not to provide the service. The law states that a wedding has to be dignified, and a celebrant might not feel dignified at this occasion.”

How do people find you?

Most of Mary’s clients come through word-of-mouth and recommendation. Mary has been a celebrant for over 14 years, so she has conducted a lot of weddings where her service can be seen by the guests, who might want this option – a humanist service – for themselves. She also receives enquiries through the Humanist Society website.

How did you get married?

“We were married in the church. Humanist weddings didn't exist when we were married over 20 years ago. I didn't know that humanist ceremonies existed until I saw a humanist celebrant perform a personal ceremony and that is what changed my life, and what changed my career. Had it been an option, I would have had a humanist wedding ceremony too.”

Mary's Website - Humanist in Scotland
Contact Mary Wallace: 01786 842239

Who is Nadin Dunnigan - Wedding Photographer in Edinburgh

Hey, I am Nadin! (same as "Nadine" - just without the "e"). I am a wedding photographer in Edinburgh, Scotland, specialising in big family weddings in Edinburgh, Scotland, and internationally. I have photographed so many weddings, and it is my mission to help couples with planning their dream wedding. Any questions I come across repeatedly - either in person or online, I will pop in here and provide more insight.

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