Success the only hitch for Humanists tying the knot

THEY have become victims of their own success. Soaring numbers of secular weddings, funerals and baby namings in Scotland have led to a shortage of officials capable of carrying them out.

THEY have become victims of their own success. Soaring numbers of secular weddings, funerals and baby namings in Scotland have led to a shortage of officials capable of carrying them out.

The dramatic rise in the popularity of Humanist ceremonies has led to some of the movement’s celebrants being asked to conduct as many as three weddings a day and couples having to delay their nuptials until the celebrant of their choice is available.

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Humanist celebrants are taking bookings up to two years in advance of the big day and the organisation is appealing to its 7,000 members north of the Border to train as celebrants and help them relieve the pressure.

Les Mitchell, convener of the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS), said: “Ideally we would have more full-time celebrants in Scotland to meet demand but our training and review processes are rigorous, so training new celebrants is a lengthy process.”

The Humanist Society provides weddings, funeral and naming ceremonies – the secular equivalent of christenings – as well as affirmation services for people who are not religious but understand the important role ceremonies play in their own lives.

Since 2005, secular weddings have grown in popularity from 50 to 58 per cent of wedding ceremonies in Scotland.

Last year, one in 12 weddings were performed by HSS. They are now the third most popular choice of wedding behind civil and Church of Scotland weddings, and ahead of the Catholic Church.

In 2011, HSS also conducted one in 18 funerals in Scotland, and in the past five years, demand for Humanist funerals has grown by 57 per cent. Humanist naming ceremonies have almost doubled since 2007.

The rise in the popularity of Humanist ceremonies reflects a significant shift towards secular ceremonies in Scotland. Of the 31 Scottish council registration areas, 25 recorded more secular than religious wedding ceremonies.

Mitchell said: “Our society is less religious and many people are drawn to Humanist ceremonies because they are centred on the people involved. Our celebrants focus on the individuals and personal stories behind the ceremony, which many find more meaningful than a religious ceremony in reference to a being they don’t believe in.”

One busy celebrant is Brian Hawkins, head of the training programme for the HSS.

He said: “The number of ceremonies I conduct continues to rise exponentially. I would say I average around 70 weddings a year. I haven’t a weekend free between now and October.” But he added: “Becoming a celebrant requires a high level of commitment, skill and life experience.’

Hawkins chose to become a celebrant following the death of his father, an atheist who specifically requested a funeral that did not involve religion.

“Becoming a celebrant was an enlightening experience,” he said. “It’s about having a conversation with people, listening to their story and understanding their wants and motivations.

“I never conduct the same ceremony twice.”

John and Jacqueline Clark are among the couples who have chosen a Humanist wedding ceremony. Theirs was held at Strathallan Castle, Perthshire, last year.

Jacqueline Clark said: “We chose a Humanist ceremony because neither of us were particularly religious. With a Humanist wedding the whole ceremony was personal. Our celebrant, Jane, told our story of how we met, and talked about special moments we wanted to share with our friends and family. We wrote our own vows. The whole thing was romantic and beautiful.”

Scotland is at present the only country in the UK, and one of only six in the world, where Humanist weddings are legal. Humanist weddings have the same legal status as civil and religious weddings as long as they are conducted by a HSS celebrant who has been authorised by the Registrar General of Scotland.