The rise of the Humanist wedding

A non-religious wedding does not have to be dull, says Humanist wedding celebrant Ify Uchegbu

Dancing at a wedding
Photo courtesy Dwayne Branch and photographer Lee Arucci

“Please tick only one option in each section for your chosen wording. Please note, the bold type is compulsory and constitutes the legal framework of the ceremony.”

This was the text at the top of the long form that we received from the register office for our wedding ceremony.

Each section had a list of alternatives for those apparently sacred words that you will exchange during one of the most special days of your life. I knew that avoiding religion may leave the wedding ceremony somewhat municipal, but I did not expect it to be Wedding by Numbers.

This plainness is an interesting contrast to the rest of the wedding industry, which thrives on flamboyance, probably to justify inflated costs.

It’s not a unique event, 245,000 couples do it every year. But with the rise of social media, like everything else in life, there is an increasing trend in making sure your wedding is instagrammable.

This means avoiding the status quo, getting creative and letting everyone know about it.

Dwayne Branch and his husband Andrew Wood organised their Humanist wedding in Pop Brixton: “It was funny … it was emotional … a little bit over the top. It was us”.

Their idea for sharing the wedding was so unusual that it ended up in Buzzfeed. “We had a #Branchwoodwed wedding wall, which had pictures people took on the screen all night. People collected 10 pictures and posted them to Insta, Twitter, Facebook etc.”

So when it comes to the ceremony, the actual reason for the celebration that has drained you and your parents’ bank accounts, why settle for just an administrative procedure?

“We are millennials after all, we want to personalise everything,” Dwayne explains.

Wedding at Pop Brixton
Photo courtesy Dwayne Branch and photographer Lee Arucci

And this is why I became a Humanist wedding celebrant. According to the British Social Attitudes survey, 53% of the UK population identify themselves as -non-religious. A Humanist wedding is catering for this growing majority. It’s for any couple who are looking for a meaningful, non-religious and personalised ceremony, that can fit seamlessly into the atmosphere that you lovingly slaved over to create for your special day.

You don’t have to be a member of Humanists UK – the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people, campaigning for fairer society and secular state – to have a Humanist wedding. We are an open organisation that simply wants to offer a refreshing alternative.

Humanist wedding celebrants get to know the couple so they can bring a sense of their character to the ceremony. We help them choose the right readings, music and even symbolic acts that express who they are.

I even write vows (only if the couple wants me to and based on their input of course) so there’s no need to stick to “having and holding… in sickness and in health”. Everything can be tailored to what the couple wants. And we’re not judgemental. In fact, quirky ideas are embraced. Dwayne told me that “apart from dancing up the aisle to soca music … we had a reading of a poem made up entirely of Rihanna lyrics”

However not all weddings need to be as gregarious as Dwayne’s. South Londoner Stephanie Kendrick, who has been delivering ceremonies for years, told me that: “All of the weddings are different in their own way. I’ve done weddings across the UK in different venues and even different languages. But one thing that is common is that they all very personal to the couple”.

Currently Humanist weddings are not legal in England and Wales, but that doesn’t stop them from being any less special. Many couples, like me, still go to the register office to make their marriage legal, but knowing that this is just a legality makes this process less disappointing.

The campaign for legal recognition continues and ia growing in strength. The Court of Appeal for Northern Ireland recently ruled that Humanist marriage must be legally recognised – so the case for England to legalise Humanist wedding is looking even more likely.

So if you’re planning on getting married, what are you waiting for? Visit the Humanist website to find your local celebrant, who will make your wedding ceremony really mean something to you.