Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Humanist Wedding Ceremony

Now that our wedding and mini honeymoon are over, we thought it would be a good idea to describe our wedding ceremony to offer some help for couples who are interested in having a Humanist wedding.

Where did we start?

Who performs the ceremony?

If you are a member of a church, or temple, that's an easy question. It becomes a little tricky if you are a couple of mixed denominations or religions. For Humanists who want a ceremony which is more familiar then having a judge and two witnesses listen to your vows and make a pronouncement, you should find a Humanist Celebrant. You can sort of think of a Humanist Celebrant as a religious mentor of sorts, except that Humanism isn't a religion. You'll want to check with your local laws to see if a Humanist Celebrant can legally perform a wedding. If they can not, get your representative at the state level to sponsor legislation to make it legal. If you can't wait that long, a "minister" of the Universal Life Church, which can be anyone, can usually get a certificate and be registered with the state to perform the ceremony. If that won't work either, you can find pastors out there who will perform completely secular services. Some think that spiritual is still secular, so make sure he or she knows where you stand.

You should get in touch with your local Humanist organization. Paul Heffron was our officiant, and an active member of the Humanists of Minnesota, so over the past year leading up to the wedding, we were able to see each other often, so it wasn't strange at the wedding. You can also find former pastors who are now Humanists and may still be registered with the state under their old affiliations.

What do you do for a Humanist wedding ceremony?

As a Humanist, your options are wide open, and can be as personal as you'd like. Weddings have a long history, and now there are certain elements which make a modern ceremony. The minimal requirement is usually making vows, making a pronouncement, and signing a certificate of marriage. For some, just signing the marriage certificate with witnesses is enough. But if you want to get your friends and family together, you should come up with a ceremony with some of the following: Opening music, a greeting, a welcome message to families, various readings and/or songs, lighting a unity candle, binding of hands, vows, pronouncement, a kiss or many, and a procession out of the place. The good thing is that you get to pick what you want.

What did we do for a ceremony and how did we come up with it?

We looked through some books from the British Humanist Association, and the Australian Humanist Association to get ideas of ceremonies, as well as looking online for inspiration. Our ceremony is a combination of all of those. We chose music and readings which we already enjoyed.

Processional: The Bride walks towards the guests across a bridge while classical music plays. *We chose Aria da Capo by Bach

Celebrant: Welcome, friends! It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here on this happy occasion to celebrate and witness the marriage of Jeannette and Bjorn who now wish to make their vows for a life-long union in the presence of their family and friends. They have written this ceremony themselves to allow them to express to each other, and before us, what this occasion means to them, and the commitments and aspirations they share for the future. Jeannette and Bjorn have created this ceremony to express their understanding of love and marriage as they stand on the threshold of a great undertaking. They believe that marriage is a journey, chosen by two human beings, based on mutual love and respect that allows an individual to grow more powerfully and more beautifully then if each walked alone. Marriage is not only linking our lives to another individual. We are entering a new dimension of understanding which goes deep into our heart. The happiness that Jeannette and Bjorn embrace today contains many wishes, for they will be able to explore and enter into the mystery of who they are. The happiness that they hope for in marriage embraces the spoken and the unspoken wishes for fulfillment. What they offer to each other is the opportunity to explore, enter, ans fulfill notions of who they are and what they can be. It is the maturing of love, freely given, and gladly returned that is both ordinary, and extraordinary, because it is about everyday living, Jeannette and Bjorn are grateful that you have chosen to be here and by your presence, honor their decision to venture forward as wife and husband.

Whoever loved as we did? Let us hunt for the ancient cinders of a heart that burned and make our kisses fall one by one, till that empty flower rises again. Let us love the love that consumed its fruit and went down, its image and its power, into the earth: you and I are the light that endures, its irrevocable delicate thorn. Bring to that love, entombed by so much cold time, by snow and spring, by oblivion and autumn, the light of a new apple, light of a freshness opened by a new wound, like that ancient love that passes in silence through an eternity of buried mouths. Pablo Neruda

Welcome message to guests:
Bjorn and Jeannette spend a minute talking about each others experience so far in their relationship, about their favorite things to do together, and share an interesting annecdote that friends and family may not know about them. *Bjorn shared a story about locking his keys in his car on their first date. He never forgot again. Jeannette told a story about a bee that got into Bjorn's car, and how he ran out like a fool, but she's still with him even if he can be embarrassing at times.

Honoring the Families:
Paul speaks about the importance of family and the generosity of parents.


Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. Oh, no! It is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved. William Shakespeare

The Guests Say their Vows of Love and Support

Today I invite you to share the joy -- the joy of these two people who have found joy in each other. I invite you to hear their understandings of love and marriage. You, their friends, are all especially welcome here because you form a circle of love. Jeannette and Bjorn are as they are, in part, because they have known all of you. The loved ones in this circle have shared concerns, they have shared both agreement and disagreement, have shared tears and laughter. Through that sharing, Jeannette and Bjorn have become more as persons. You are not just spectators today. You are all a part of their past, and by your presence here, you promise to care with and uphold them as they move into the future. To show your support I ask you to make your pledge: Do you promise to love and support Jeannette and Bjorn as they begin their new life together? If so, say “We Do!” --- ALL: “We Do! “



Where is peace?

It is in your smile.

How do I cope?

Your hand steadies my nerves.

Why do I wake?

Because you are there with me.

Why should I be better?

It's you I impress.

Why do I cook?

Your happy tongue is worth it.

Why should I learn?

The things we teach each other help us grow.

Why should I love?

Never have I missed or have been missed more.

Why should I marry?

When together, I find myself.

You find my faults and strengths. I couldn't be who I am without you. You are my first thought and my last. No force affects me more then your smile or your tears. You are my future. You are my home. Your compassion and love can see past my flaws. With you, I am as best as I can be. I can give so much more with you beside me then alone. You are my reason for doing. All I can give, I give to you. I give you my promise to love and respect you. We are different and equal. Together we are more then two. I know pledging to love you is right. Nothing makes more sense to me. Gravity is less certain to me. Each day with you is like a holiday.

I, Bjorn, choose you, Jeannette to be my wife. I will respect you, care for you, and grow with you, through good times and hard times, as your friend, companion, and partner, giving the best that I can, to fulfill our lives together.


You are my best friend. We are friends who fell in love with each other. We are friends who have shared some incredible moments together. We are friends who laugh and cry together. We are friends who have a mortgage and bills together. We are friends who will grow old together. I'm so lucky to get to spend everyday with such a wonderful and caring person. Any words I say can't do justice to how much I really love you. I feel the same bliss of my childhood. It may not be as carefree, but I feel as happy and safe as I did when I was little, and know I know I'll feel that bliss everyday for the rest of our lives.

I, Jeannette, choose you, Bjorn to be my husband. I will respect you, care for you, and grow with you, through good times and hard times, as your friend, companion, and partner, giving the best that I can, to fulfill our lives together.


The ring has long been a symbol for marriage. Made from metals drawn from deep within the earth, may these rings remind you that your love, also, must be drawn from deep within you. Forged in heat and with great effort, may these rings remind you that your marriage is also crafted daily and tempered in the forge of daily giving and forgiving. Bright like the sun, may these rings remind you that your love is meant to illumine your lives. Round like arms that embrace, may these rings remind you that human love is a grace upon this world. Bjorn: Jeannette, In pledge of the marriage vows made between us, I offer you this ring. Let it be to you and to me and to all the world, a symbol of the covenant of marriage we have entered into. Jeannette: Bjorn, In pledge of the marriage vows made between us, I offer you this ring. Let it be to you and to me and to all the world, a symbol of the covenant of marriage we have entered into.

As Jeannette and Bjorn have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands, and with the exchange of rings, in the presence of this company, I pronounce them husband and wife. You may kiss! Recessional: Music plays and Bride and Groom exit down center aisle followed by wedding party. Officiant invites parents to follow immediately after, then explains to guests that they should follow the party back to the reception hall for a champagne toast. *We had a dry reception, but everyone had fun!

Should you tell your family it's going to be a Humanist wedding?

The answer depends on how many gifts you'd like. Just kidding! This is a personal question which you'll need to answer based on how you think it will effect you and effect your family. Religion is a big part of my family, and to a lesser extent, of Jeannette's family. I respect my family's beliefs. In turn, they respect mine, even if they don't agree with them. With dialog, things get better, not worse, however your mileage may vary. Sometimes, if a Humanist wedding ceremony is done in a certain way, even without mentioning God or anything spiritual, people won't notice that you've left God out, so you can get away with not telling anyone where you stand theologically, and letting them guess.

My immediate family knows I'm an atheist. My extended family, if they didn't know I'm an atheist, probably have a clue now or at least think I'm non-religious. While it's more difficult to be honest to people who you know will be upset with you, it feels more ethical to be honest, despite the consequences. I think that some people are irrationally fearful of the consequences, when they aren't that bad, but that will have to be your decision, and the decision of your partner.

Secular weddings and Humanist weddings are becoming more and more popular. What this means for you, is that you should be able to choose the style of wedding which suits you, without spending half an hour explaining what Humanism is.


Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

What a great ceremony. I wish all the best for you and thanks for putting up this post.

Love, Mike

Lorry said...

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing! Here's to many years of marital bliss to you both ;)

TheFeebleLance said...

Congrats you two! Best of luck in all things.

Thank you for thinking to share the details as well. Wonderful way to educate the masses :)

mandydax said...

Bjorn and Jeanette, I just heard you on Atheists Talk. I cried a little during the part where you read what you wrote to each other. Congratulations, live long, and prosper. :)

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of getting your guests to pledge love and support. I like it so much I think Jason and I might do something similar.

Nelnik said...

Thanks for this post, I'm about to get married and am trying to write the ceremony. Yours is inspiring.

Valerie said...

Hi- I know you posted this forever ago, but I am getting married this summer and have been searching for ways to do a non-religions ceremony and ran across your blog and noticed that you got married at the Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College- which is funny, because I used to go to school there and sit and draw the garden for countless classes! Anyways- congratulations, and thanks for sharing!

Bjorn Watland said...

Thanks, Valarie. It may take some work to develop your own ceremony, but it's worth it. Your guests will thank you for the interesting experience and it will be something to remember. Check out your local humanists group, or even a Unitarian church if you want some local help, or check out the British Humanist Association for help. It seems humanist weddings are more common in the UK.

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Love this post! Y'alls vows brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing such a special moment!

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