Posts Tagged ‘turning points’

Still loving conducting Humanist weddings

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

I still love conducting Humanist wedding ceremonies. Each one is different. Each couple is different. Every gathering of relatives and friends is different.

Ironically, it’s great when something goes wrong! Everyone relaxes and realizes the burden of it having to be ‘perfect’ is a myth. It’s always great once that first thing happens that puts people at their ease. A baby cries. A song goes wrong. A little ring bearer runs off with the rings. The parents can’t light a candle because the air conditioning keeps blowing the candles out. Someone has a fit of the giggles.

Once, at the very end of a ceremony, the bride was trying to say something to me but the music was loud and she was on the far side of a table and it was hard to catch what she was saying.

Eventually I heard her, ‘He didn’t kiss me!’

‘Stop the music!’ I cried. ‘The groom didn’t kiss the bride!’

And the music stopped and the audience watched and the groom kissed his bride and everyone cheered and clapped and roared with glee and the music resumed and the couple processed down the aisle and there was great merriment, excitement and fun.

And yes there was a little lad who blew out the candles and ran off with the wedding rings just before the exchange of rings. He was rugby tackled by his dad – well, OK, not rugby tackled – but brought back into the ceremony room, and the rings restored to the Best Man just in time.

And yes once a guest dropped the wedding rings early in a ceremony and they were a hair’s breadth from dropping down a gap between floor boards in an ancient stately home.

It’s great when the couple, especially the bride, relaxes and enjoys every moment; realizing that it isn’t about external things at all. It’s about living the moment, cherishing the important things, celebrating the love the couple share for each other and the commitment that they are making publicly to their partner. I think of the bride who decided, when I met her outside the chapel, that she’d be far more comfortable in her boots than her wedding shoes and decided to go up the aisle in the boots instead. She asked my view. I suggested comfort first. ‘I like your style,’ she said.

And once the bride is chilled out and relaxed and living the moment it’s much more likely that everyone else will enjoy themselves too.

Happily, I’ve encountered very, very, very few bridezillas! But, unlike the deities, they do exist – perhaps just one per hundred brides. You can spot them by the state of panic of the unfortunate groom, who might remove something beautiful a florist or decorator did because ‘she’ would see red. Or I’m told confidentially by the venue manager that they’re all on tenterhooks because of the unreasonable demands of the bride. Or the musicians might agree with a small last minute amendment I propose but they wouldn’t make the change because they’re terrified of Zilla, lest the improvement incur her displeasure. Or I spot something that I know won’t work for the ceremony, fix it and come back moments later only to see that someone playing watchman for the bride has changed it back to the way that I know won’t work.

The exceptions might make the good stories but the greatest stories are the ordinary, lovely, gorgeous, hopeful, committed couples who just want a personal ceremony that is about them and who want to show their families and friends their loving commitment to one another. They want to feel relaxed and they want their guests to enjoy their wedding. I think of all the couples that I have met, wonderful people, who have found love and hope and joy, and whose lives have joined together in a union of trust and encouraging mutual acceptance. And they want to celebrate that love by getting married.

Often they may have their children there and we include the children in the ceremony. Often the kids make the ceremony. We might have planned to stand for the vows but junior decides he’s crawling up on his mother’s lap and we adjust and do the vows sitting down. Or up come the kids to pour sand or tie ribbons or have candles lit for them.

I love my work – being with people at such important turning points in their lives.

Humanist Celebrant – Joe Armstrong

Monday, July 29th, 2013

I am very happy to say that I have been accredited as a Humanist Celebrant by the Humanist Association of Ireland. It’s like an aspect of my life coming full circle – having trained for the Catholic priesthood, spent nine years in religious life, left, stopped believing in God, given up on the idea of being with people at key moments in their lives like births, marriages and deaths, and now, unexpectedly, finding myself able again, with integrity, to celebrate these turning points in people’s lives again.

When I was moving beyond religious faith but still attending religious ceremonies I often used to try to deconstruct the religious content and language of baptisms, weddings and funerals. I tried to translate them in my head, quietly and privately, so that the ceremonies could mean something to me. What was the essential human meaning behind the tissue of myth of religion? There was essential meaning there and I sensed that it was a pity that it should be clouded by religious ritual, language and daft beliefs. I wondered if they could be stripped of the nonsense and if we could just celebrate the human moments they signified: a new life born to us! a new loving union of two people committing their lives to each other publicly! a life ended, that life celebrated and mourned in equal measure, and without the unnecessary facade of an afterlife.

I conducted my first funeral last Friday. I feel that Humanist funerals do great justice to a live well lived. A person attending a Humanist funeral who did not know the deceased will have a good sense of what that person was like by the end of the ceremony. After a whole life well lived, surely it’s the least we can do, to honour someone who has died. And to remember the deceased. And it’s such a relief to be able to do that without nonsensical talk of ‘sin’ or an ‘afterlife’. Death is the most natural thing. All living things and beings die. Nothing and nobody lasts forever. And so when we die let’s be adult enough to see death as the end but to recognize that we loved the person who died and wish to honour their life and their passing.

I very much look forward to conducting naming ceremonies for families and couples welcoming new life into their midst. It is important to celebrate new birth, a new life, a new name, a new individual. It is a time of joy and wonder, a time of celebration and delight. And we can welcome new human beings without having to believe in nonsensical beliefs, such as that a baby is born in ‘original sin’. What nonsense! But let not our distaste for old mythologies discourage us from having a naming or welcoming ceremony because ceremonies are important. They are key moments in our lives.

And, yes, let is celebrate marriages. Courageous couples who publicly commit their love to one another. Love is what it’s all about, as we know. And so it’s important to celebrate love publicly and not only privately. The community gathers to acknowledge and support a new couple in their love for one another, and to publicly mark the love between two people which manifests in a new public commitment. Even in Catholic theology, the groom administers the sacrament to the bride and the bride administers it to the groom. They are the ministers of the sacrament. The priest is only there as a witness. Likewise, in Humanist ceremonies, the bride and groom marry each other and everyone else is there as a privileged witness of the loving commitment made by the couple.

Love needs support. Marriage needs support. Couples need to know that love is indeed the way, and that love can and does survive. That love is a beacon in what can at times be the stormy seas of life. And that love is worth it. Money, success, power, pleasure, health…all these things will end. But love survives.

What a privilege to be able to conduct weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals! It is an honour to be with people at such moments, at such turning points in their lives. Each is a threshold through which lives pass, changing almost everything. Each is a human moment, a singular moment, unique to that person, that couple, that family; and yet also shared by all humanity.

I look forward to helping couples and families and loved ones to craft and create ceremonies that are unique to them at key moments of their lives.

For more about Humanist Ceremonies, see Humanist Association of Ireland