Talk review - Hugh Barton on Humanist ceremonies. 12th November 1997

Need for secular wedding, baby naming, & funerals comes directly from dissatisfaction with religious ceremonies. Hugh (Ceremonies co-ordinator for the North West) talked of Christian funerals where priests hardly said the name of the deceased, and got it wrong when they did. He called these supermarket checkout funerals. Humanist funerals allow a full dignified celebratory tribute to the deceased. The invited officiant visits the relatives of the deceased, and helps them prepare a text, based on what they most wish to remember and recollect. Officiant donít write the text but invite the family to present their tributes, poems and songs they associate with the deceased, and the funeral ceremony itself presents this in an often deeply moving way. One funeral involved a family of musicians performing together for the first time in their lives, in tribute to their loved one. funerals can unite families. A moment of silence is often included to allow religious people attending to say silent prayers. Many people (even practising Christians) write to our officiants after such ceremonies to say that Humanist funerals are the best they have ever attended.

Ceremonies are where the public see us doing, rather than talking. Officiants have faced audiences of 600. Weddings & baby-namings are happier occasions, but it is equally important that all involved feel that they have had a genuine complete ceremony. To many, a non-religious wedding means just a visit to the Registrarís office. In fact Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu weddings have no official recognition, and must also involve a registered wedding. Priests in the Christian Church are granted a license to serve as registrars for each ceremony they conduct. Itís a situation that needs to change. One of our officiants, Kate Fletcher, aims to gain recognition as an official registrar herself. Many (mostly male) registrars start as assistant Registrars and require two years form filling experience before becoming fully fledged Registrars. Our Humanist Officiants have experience of conducting weddings themselves, and are often more experienced in the field than the registrars.

Trained celebrants attain accreditation after a short training course, comprising of lectures & mock ceremonies conducted in a crematorium (while it is closed to the public). Probationary officiants are monitored carefully before, during and after the training, and unsuited applicants are gently screened out of the programme. It should not be regarded as easy or undemanding work.

We were joined by three couples who are planning and preparing Humanist wedding ceremonies, which gave this meeting a very warm and special atmosphere. We wish them every happiness. We also thank all the officiants and celebrants who joined us at this meeting, as well as for their ongoing dedication to promoting Humanism through ceremonies. Anyone planning a ceremony, or wishing to consider taking training as an officiant, (and we need you) should contact the National helpline number, 0990-168-122. Jane Wynne Wilsonís excellent ceremonies booklets are available from the BHA office.


© Copyright. Arthur Chappell