Humanist Celebrant – Joe Armstrong

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
 

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2 Responses to “Humanist Celebrant – Joe Armstrong”

  1. Joe Armstrong says:

    Thank you Jennie for your welcome and encouraging comment, which I appreciate. To be honest, I wasn’t happy about my performance on The Last Word show on TodayFM this evening, and I was happier about other interviews I did recently on Newstalk and LMFM. I felt I dwelt too much on the negatives of religious faith rather than the positives of Humanism. I hadn’t slept the previous night, read the bishop’s words in the middle of the night and it tapped into a toxicity about religion that I haven’t felt for a while. Having been indoctrinated and having had to clamber out of all that the hard way, I realize that there remains in me a residual anger at the church for warping my brain from innocent childhood, and an anger with myself for having let myself believe the nonsensical dogmas which I once held to be true.

  2. Jennie Synnott says:

    Hi, heard you on last word tonight. I just wanted to email you to say you were brilliant. You answered Antons Questions in such a direct and refreshing way. It was such a breath of fresh air to here someone be so direct. I’m agnostic married to an athiest and often have conversations on indoctrination and faith with our two children. Our 12 yr old considers himself athiest. Tonight’s dinner conversation was about you. Thank you for being so honest, dignified and sharing your story.
    Kindest regards, Jennie