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Humanist Wedding Ceremonies

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Author: Mavis Elliot

Humanists aim to draw positive moral values from life that are based on human experience, rather than God-given. They don't believe in an afterlife, but think that 'we should try to live full and happy lives ourselves... and make it easier for other people to do the same.

What is a humanist wedding?

  • The British Humanist Association describes its ceremonies as 'dignified, caring, and totally personal'. It publishes a practical guide to help you organise your own wedding, 'Sharing the Future', or you can work with a trained official
  • A humanist wedding can take place literally anywhere - from your front room to a mountain top
  • The rites performed have no legal status at all, so if you want to be legally married, then you'll need to have a civil wedding at the register office as well, to have a registrar present
  • However, some humanist ceremonies can now take place in some of the specially-licensed venues for civil marriages, which you can search for in our venue finder. Here, they can incorporate a legally binding ceremony, performed by a registrar, but there are some limitations: for example, no ceremonies out-of-doors and only approved readings
  • A humanist wedding is completely secular (i.e. non-religious with no hymns, prayers or Bible readings). This can be a particular advantage for couples from different faiths. Rather than plump for one tradition at the risk of alienating the other, inter-faith couples can design a ceremony that emphasises what they have in common
  • A celebrant trained and licensed by the British Humanist Association usually conducts humanist weddings, but you can ask a friend or relation to do it if you prefer. The ceremony includes vows devised by the couple, music, readings and any other symbolic actions the couple choose to make.

  • Organising your humanist wedding

    Once you have decided on a date and time, you need to do the following:

  • Unless you have chosen a friend or relation to conduct the ceremony, contact the Humanist Association on 020 7430 0908 to find someone to act as a celebrant and for more information, go to
  • Once you have found a celebrant, decide on a venue, ideally somewhere that's significant and personal to you as a couple
  • Decide whether you want to make the marriage legal first by having a civil registry office wedding and contact your local register office to arrange a date and time. (see civil wedding)
  • Decide on the type of service you'd like and what you would like to say. The job of the celebrant is to help you create a ceremony that's personal to you. They will help you explore your feelings towards one another and express this in words. You can write the entire service yourself to reflect the important aspects of your relationship or, with help and advice from the BHA, you can adapt one of the ceremonies they can suggest to you. They also have suggestions for readings and music
  • The BHA estimates that the total fees including preparation, advice, rehearsals and the actual wedding is usually less than 150.

  • Things to consider when booking a venue

  • Find out how many the venue will accommodate. There may be a limit on numbers depending, for example, on the exits available. This may affect the number of guests that can be invited to the service
  • If you decide to have the ceremony in a public place, make sure you find out if you can take photographs, arrange your own flowers, throw confetti etc.
  • Ideally, the venue should be free for a rehearsal. This usually takes place a few days before the wedding or on the evening before, depending when the main participants are available. Everyone is in normal dress, though.

  • Guests

    Having discovered how much room there is for guests at the venue, you and your parents will have to decide who to invite. It might be nice to include something on the invitation to describe what a humanist wedding entails. If you are having a reception after the ceremony, you should make it clear whether your guests are invited to both or just the reception.

    Wedding outfits

    Because a humanist service is such a personal event, there's no reason why you can't wear whatever you want. However, if you are having a civil wedding before, it is customary for the bride to wear smart day clothes, rather than the full white blancmange, although there are no set conventions. You may be influenced by whether or not you have been married before, but you don't have to be. Brides can go for a white dress and veil with the men in full morning dress, although lounge suits are more usual for men.

    The big day

    As there are no legal formalities you have to abide to, the structure of the day is entirely up to you. This will, to some extent, have been rehearsed beforehand with the "wedding party", so that the main participants know the procedure, their positions and when and where to move.

    The ceremony

    This, again, has no set structure. At some point in the ceremony, the couple will make promises to each other and although they have no legal standing, their words will bind them together in love. A number of couples like to reflect on and celebrate their relationship before they make their promises. The majority of ceremonies will include readings and music, usually chosen for sentimental and personal reasons. The most important thing to remember is that the ceremony is about a public declaration of your love and commitment to each other.

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