There have been rite of passage ceremonies since antiquity to mark the significant events in our lives – birth, the transition from childhood to adulthood, marriage, and death. These ceremonies have varied according to the customs and beliefs of the time. Religion has no special claim to them, and an increasing number of people are choosing ceremonies free from religion.
A Suffolk Humanist funeral and a Suffolk Humanist welcoming ceremony feature in the ‘Why Atheism?’ DVD by Team Video Productions for schools, available from the National Secular Society. The DVD also features young people talking about religion, and their rejection of it. We recommend it for secondary schools’ RE lessons.
As humanist weddings aren’t legally recognised (though the British Humanist Association is campaigning for a change in the law), you have total freedom to have them however and wherever you like. You’ll need to go to a register office to make your marriage legal but most couples treat this as a formality, with just a couple of witnesses. There’s no legal obligation to exchange rings during a civil ceremony.
An accredited celebrant isn’t necessary for your humanist wedding. DIY ceremonies can be wonderful, personal occasions, with family and friends contributing to make it a day like no other. A friend or relative can act as your celebrant, or you can do it between you. Unless you use a microphone (which can be intrusive and distracting), everyone involved needs to be heard clearly.
Humanists UK have published a book of guidance for humanist weddings called ‘Sharing the Future’. It was written by Jayne Wynne Willson as a resource for couples who want to organise their own weddings, as well as for trainee celebrants, and includes suggested formats and readings. However, we advise that it’s only used to give you ideas, not as a strict template for your ceremony.
These days most undertakers are familiar with humanist funerals and so should be able to connect you with a local humanist celebrant. However it is important that you let them know that you want them to arrange a humanist funeral and not just a ‘non-religious’ one undertaken by an “Independent Celebrant” as these can be formulaic and may include hymns, prayers etc. One way of checking is to ask if the celebrant is accredited by Humanists UK or you can find out for yourself via the humanists UK website.
If you are uncertain as to whether or not a humanist funeral is appropriate a concise yet comprehensive book is “Funerals without God” available from Humanists UK . This explains what a humanist funeral involves and provides practical advice not just on how to arrange one but even on how to conduct one yourself.
Finally, as there is no legal requirement to have a funeral celebration it may be decided not to have a formal funeral at all. “Unattended funerals” as these are known are often followed up with a memorial event. Again the undertaker should be able to advise.