This isn’t the first time I’ve raved about humanist wedding ceremonies.
I love the freedom they give couples to create a ceremony around them and their union, not necessarily because they are not religious, perhaps they might be having an interfaith marriage and don’t want to choose one faith over the other, or simply choose to focus on their ceremony on their love. With more and more couples wanting to make their own personal stamp on their wedding ceremony, with a stronger desire to marry when and where they want with their values at the core, humanist weddings are definitely gathering fast momentum in the UK.
I had the pleasure of attending Mr and Mrs Love (yes, aptly named, Love really is their surname) at the Trendy Loft Studios captured by Eva Photography, this summer to see one of the most elegant humanist celebrants I know, Zena Birch.
Now I have already witnessed the magic of Zena Birch’s ceremonies, (still remains one of my most read blog posts even after all this time) it had me in floods of tears and I didn’t even know the couple. But it was a real moment of education where I realised how beautiful, fun, personal and meaningful wedding ceremonies can and should be. So it was a delight to be a fly on the wall and watch how this exciting moment unfolded for Rhys and Jo and their wonderful guests. I also felt slightly like the cat who got the cream, because I knew what was coming next and the guests didn’t. Tee hee!
Before the Ceremony
Jo and Rhys wanted a ceremony that told their story and also weaved their personalities and personal tastes into their ceremony and made a great choice in asking Zena to help them achieve this.
I managed to steal a few moments with Jo before the ceremony started and I must add, Jo was the most calm and elegant bride I have come across, completely unaware that her future husband had left their wedding rings behind and what the unexpected delay to the service was really being caused by (Tee hee).
Zena was her usual calm and measured self, wearing one of her cool trendy jumpsuits. She is exceedingly calm and re-assuring, not only for her couples, but for their guests and Rhys, especially when she discovered the rings were missing, calming and discreetly helped them retrieve them without any bumps. She is a natural guardian angel for those involved in the wedding party who are riddled with nerves or simply want some reassurance and Zena provides that and more. Don’t be fooled, Zena still gets nervous too and that’s one of the things I love about her. She cares about her couples, she is invested in them – she’s not just turning up to read a regurgitated script, she is telling their story. She wants to get it right, their memories, their nuances.
My cheeky pap of Zena getting practicing
Her dulcet tones as she practiced her script were soothing. I knew the guests would be in for a treat and one of the things I enjoyed doing was watching the friends and family and even Rhys and Jo’s photographer, Eva absorb a humanist ceremony for the first time and it was truly stunning to see the natural captivation.
One of the most touching moments for me was before the ceremony, watching Rhys and Jo’s Nana practice her walk down the aisle as a flower girl, with Zena and I. Such a powerful tribute. Not only because Nana was taking her role very seriously, or that it elicited tears from Zena, but because it was a beautiful reminder to treasure such simple moments. Many of us get married so much later in life, that many people whom we love and would want to share in our special day are no longer with us and for me, with only one grandparent left, this was a beautiful and poignant moment and a very beautiful way to involve a grandparent.
Once the ceremony started, Jo made her elegant entrance and Rhys was captivated and so very proud. Zena led the service and started by sharing the story of how they came to this moment. As the story unfolded, I felt like I had known Rhys and Jo for years, Zena recounted how Jo was a little “unsure” about Rhys when she first met him (this felt VERY familiar wit Mr Nu Bride) until something eventually changed and clicked. Rhys of course knew it was love at first sight. lol
The ceremony, as you would expect, was complemented with songs, and with hits, like Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual and The Beatles ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ I was in for a treat! The ceremony was not only filled with stories and moments that defined their relationship, but with personal and surprise readings and tributes from friends and family including Rhys’ mum who composed an entire song for us all to sing in Welsh accompanied with lyrics, blow up daffodils (yes, really) and joy!
Oh and the confetti canons! Wowzers!
Another highlight? The powerhouses that were The Gwalia Welsh Male Voice Choir were a surprise from Rhys and Jo to their guests and they were an absolute treat. In fact, unbeknownst to one of the members I had the pleasure of sitting with, he was about to experience some personalised ceremony magic. Before the ceremony started he asked if I was married and he spoke about how he had been with his partner for over 40 years and didn’t feel like a ceremonial wedding was for him. Feeling smug, I had a feeling what he was about to witness might change his mind. Then he saw the magic that was Zena Birch and let me tell you I could see a visible shift in him. He was overjoyed by how touching the ceremony was, how personalised it was and how it celebrated all that Mr and Mrs love were and are and how they came to find each other. Much like my companion, we had never met Mr and Mrs Love until their wedding day and felt like we had known them for years by the end. He was elated and I could see in that moment that, that experience of a humanist wedding ceremony had altered his mind and I asked him afterwards if he felt differently about marriage now he had witnessed a different type of ceremony and he said yes. Bingo!
Weddings can be incredibly traditional and patriarchal, or religious which is equally wonderful, however isn’t for everyone and can indeed as experienced by my new Welsh charming friend, be off-putting for some if they are not aware of alternatives. I am a fan of humanist weddings, not because they are non-religious, but because no one ceremony is the same, they celebrate you and the person you are marrying and your every being.
They allow you to celebrate your union where and when you want and they allow you to add your stamp, your music, your memories and your stories to be the backdrop.
Zena has a wonderful ability to capture the essence of the couples she marry’s and is a great story-teller. In her writing she cleverly punctuates the moments that bind us together, to tell our love stories as if we are hearing them for the first time, it is something quite magical and was a pleasure to witness again at Rhys and Jo’s wedding.
Before I end, let me leave you with some thoughts from Zena….
Working with Jo and Rhys was nothing short of a pleasure. I first met with them in a cafe thirteen months before their wedding day. They had contacted me after I had conducted the ceremony of some friends of theirs. Sitting in the cafe laughing with them both I knew before the end of my first cup of tea that I hoped they would choose me as their celebrant. They had such an easy rapport with each other and it was easy for me to glean that theirs was a story I would love to tell. They also mentioned a Welsh choir, so I was sold from the get go!
Over the following year we worked together, Jo and Rhys moved to The Netherlands and so our contact switched to Skype as well as emails, our communication and process didn’t suffer at all. It is so important to me that I get a thorough sense of what my couples hope to communicate on their wedding day and to understand what their guests mean to them, so when they agreed that they were happy for their readings to remain a surprise for them, I was able to contact their friends and family and plot some excellent surprises!Jo and Rhys were open, thoughtful and honest with me throughout all of the process allowing me to get to know them properly so that the ceremony we created was full of laughter, love and to be honest, hilarity! I ask all of my couples to write their ’Story of Us’ – the retelling of how they went from not knowing the other one existed all the way up to now, but I ask them to write these separately – so I can hear both of their individual voices as well as the story they both tell me together. Their own personal love story was one of spectacular twists and turns and both of them had such a great turn of phrase that I was able to weave in and out of the story. It was an absolute pleasure to retell. Creating and conducting Jo and Rhys ceremony was a sheer joy for me from start to finish. Amongst the laughter was genuine sentiment and dedication to one another and these memories they made (and shared) with all of their friends and family will stand Jo and Rhys in extraordinary stead for their future together. What a wonderful way to start married life.