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What Is A Humanist Ceremony? with Stephen Mclaren, Humanist Celebrant

What Is A Humanist Ceremony? We chat to Stephen Mclaren, a Humanist Celebrant in Scotland, about Humanism and when this could be legal in England and Wales.

Listen to Stephen on the Wedding Espresso Awesome DIY Wedding Planning Podcast…


Stephen Mclaren Humanist Celebrant


James: [00:00:03] Hi Stevie. Good to see you. Thanks very much for coming along today. 

Stephen: [00:00:06] Thanks for inviting me James. 

James: [00:00:08] Absolute pleasure. Pleasure to have you. So when we were digging around on the Internet trying to find out what brides and grooms were asking, their big and most asked questions, we came across this one which is very, very broad and very simple. But we’re going to throw it at you and we’ll see what happens.

And the question was “What’s a Humanist Wedding?” 

Stephen: [00:00:29] Right. OK. Shall I just fire away with that? 

James: [00:00:32] Fire away with it. Give us what you got! 

Stephen: [00:00:34] There’s a good simple statement that kind of sums it up. Over the last 10 or so years, people are thinking it fits with their identity. And people’s identity has changed over quite a few years. But there’s even…

Like a survey could show this, that 69 percent of people in Scotland under 44 say they are non-religious. So straight away a humanist ceremony kind of matches their lifestyle.

And then of course, the creative process of a humanist ceremony is so good. It becomes really personal and really meaningful, and that gives it quite an advantage over a civil ceremony, which is quite more “conveyor belt” but still does a great process, still a legal wedding. But now that we have a legal license to marry people, a Humanist wedding ticks all the boxes for so many people. 

James: [00:01:29] Yes I was going to say…

we had a Humanist wedding up in Scotland, in Inverness. 

Stephen: [00:01:31] Oh good, yes! 

James: [00:01:34] And for us it was exactly what we wanted, because like you say,

we could get the legal bit done at the same time as the ceremony itself. 

Stephen: [00:01:42] Yes you can. 

James: [00:01:43] But in England there’s a massive push at the moment to combine a registry office wedding with a civil celebrant wedding, which is I think, as good as, you know, working round the legal system, as good as. But I think there are some serious pros to having a Humanist wedding. You know, getting that really, really neat package done in one go. 

Stephen: [00:02:04] Yeah. Yeah. That was the kind of stepping change for Scotland that Humanists did have a civil ceremony standing in the wings. There would be a registrar standing to one side after the ceremony had taken place. But now it’s all one package.

We are the legal authority now. So this is going to happen in England and Wales.

It will definitely follow on, the demand is so big. 

Stephen: [00:02:28] I mean some of the numbers, I was quite stunned by.

Just a quick research this morning, last year alone in Scotland, six thousand Humanist weddings. I mean that’s stunning.

Over half of them by one authority, by one organisation, the Humanist Society of Scotland. The rest by various organisations, small ones like myself, with humanism in Scotland, we’re kind of a breakaway group that started about five four years ago. So demand is huge. And it even said say about a year ago, the Humanist Society of Scotland were sort of adding up, it was going to be about the 50,000th Humanist wedding in Scotland over the last 10 or so 15 years. It’s more than that now, it will be 56,000. So the demand is incredible. But then that brings a responsibility with the demands, it has to be managed because the quality has to be high. 

Stephen: [00:03:20]

Our small organisation makes sure that we only do one ceremony a day. We kind of, we ought to be dedicated to every couple, and give our time for that whole day.

We don’t want to be rushing off to another ceremony. We’re a non membership organisation. So we don’t ask people to subscribe, we believe in autonomy. So we’re trying to manage our side of things so that the demand doesn’t make it look like it’s a monster creating money. Because it is a business for all intents and purposes, it’s creating an income for people doing these ceremonies. But there’s more to it than that.

You’re providing a really meaningful service for people in a most important time in their life. And especially if it’s young people, it really will be one of the biggest moments of their life, won’t it?

So the responsibility is really there, and with all the beautiful parts that I can talk about the creativity, and the excitement, and the fun, the love, the family moments, all the celebration that’s there is incredible. And I go away from every Wedding tingling, thinking how great that was, and couples are just so happy. The guests are just starting their day off in such style. But there is a responsibility to do it right. And when England and Wales will catch up with Scotland legislation, I think there will have to be some kind of extra look at how Scotland has developed and the demand has increased so fast. 

Stephen: [00:04:39] The Humanist Society of Scotland, they’ve got a hundred plus celebrants, and they’re trying to deal with a lot of ceremonies. So fair enough, they are having to do quite a few ceremonies over a weekend. But I don’t think that can keep up with the quality that’s required. So we’ll see how it progresses. But definitely when England and Wales catch up they will just take off, it really will. 

James: [00:05:00] Fantastic. So if you could briefly just break it down for us,

how does someone become or align themselves with humanism? 

Stephen: [00:05:11] It’s funny because it’s almost like a natural thing. A lot of people… When I first kind of got wind of it all over the last 15 or so years, you start researching it, and you see people saying things like “I already was a Humanist”. It’s just you start seeing something defined. You start seeing like a… Not quite as strong as a manifesto, but kind of the direction that the thought takes you.

You already go “well I’m non-religious, I believe in equality, I believe in fairness, I believe in being kind”. All the strengths and the things that Humanism tries to promote.

Someone like myself already was, and most people are like that. So it matches most people’s way of thinking. And of course non religion doesn’t mean anti religion. There’s no… From my point of view, from a strong point of view, is that people are allowed to believe what they want to belief. Whatever helps you through your life. So non-religion doesn’t mean anti religion, it just doesn’t have to have a faith that is the reason for having these feelings towards other people. 

Stephen: [00:06:14] And from yourself, confidence in yourself is a key element. So that you can feel empowered to be good for others. So all these little things kind of bubbling away in someone like me, and lots of other people, maybe realise well humanism is something I already am.

I already am a humanist.

So then the ceremonies came my way because my father has been doing it for 20 years. He was one of the pioneers in Scotland, doing ceremonies 20 years ago when it became legal. And over the last five years he kept saying to me, I should get involved, and I thought well why not. It’s now balanced with my other work and I’m a trained artist, so things have kind of fit together so I have time to do this. 

James: [00:06:53] That’s brilliant. That’s amazing! I love that really, really strong positive message. I think you answered that question really well there Stevie. 

Stephen: [00:07:00] Thank you. 

James: [00:07:02] You’re welcome! We’ve also just got like a really, just a quick fun question, just to round things out for you. 

Stephen: [00:07:06] OK. 

James: [00:07:07] That was…

“Do you have a favourite wedding ever?” And what made it so? 

Stephen: [00:07:14] This almost… I feel like I’m a footballer. The last game when I scored a hat trick. It’s like the wedding I did… I literally did a wedding on Saturday, just the weekend passed, and it was on Calton Hill, and I don’t if you’re familiar with Edinburgh at all? 

James: [00:07:26] Yeah we’ve been there quite a few times, certainly! 

Stephen: [00:07:29] So there’s the big hill and as everyone knows, Arthur’s Seat. Well there’s another hill at the end of Princess Street, on the top of Leith. It’s got quite a few memorials there. There’s the big pillared area and the couple had a wedding there, and this was like 3.30pm October in Edinburgh. You know you’re kind of taking a lot of chances there. But the sun was just breaking through as the vows were being said. The guests were standing next to the columns, it’s unbelievable. So the couple were brave enough to try for an outside wedding.

Everyone was in their kilts, everyone looking fantastic. Tourists were all gathering round. So it was quite a public event.

There was always a plan B. You know if the weather had turned foul, we would have gone to the venue where the meal was happening, so we were fine. But the last wedding was just amazing. You know to be part of a big scene like that was fantastic. 

James: [00:08:25] Awesome! I suppose that’s another really, really good point you’re raised there actually.

You know with your humanist wedding you’re the same as your civil celebrant led wedding, in that you can actually move the venue, if you need to. It’s not fixed is it? 

Stephen: [00:08:36] Yeah. Yeah. So as long as your registration is in place for the couple. And there’s a postcode on that registration where the wedding has to take place. So as long as your registration is up to speed, then you can have that backup. Most backups are you’re at a venue, and you just go inside to the building that’s next to you. This was quite unique because we were at Calton Hill and we went down the road to a place in Leith, so I think we were fine. We signed the document down in the second venue. But yeah normally it all works fine and everything’s OK.

It was quite special to be in such a unique venue, you know, overlooking Edinburgh, it was really good. 

James: [00:09:19] Fantastic. Awesome. All right Stevie, well thanks so much for sharing with us today. It’s been really helpful for people. 

Stephen: [00:09:24] Well thank you! 

James: [00:09:26] And we look forward to speaking to you again soon in the near future. 

Stephen: [00:09:28] Yeah let’s do it again soon. 

James: [00:09:30] Awesome, alright, cheers Stevie I’ll see you later. 

Stephen: [00:09:32] Take care, bye for now. 

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