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Other people in our lives

Watch humanist celebrants describe the importance of other people in our lives
I think your guests in a humanist ceremony are very important. You’re not holding yourself accountable to a deity, you’re not holding yourself accountable, sadly, at the moment, to the law. You are actually holding yourself accountable to those people who really mean something to you, and in doing so what you are publicly declaring has real weight and you are being supported by the people who you have gathered. And so that exchange between you and your guests it reaffirms community, it reaffirms why they’re important to you, that they’re not just bums on seats making up numbers, and they’re also letting you know that these are your support network.
You don’t require god to observe and keep you on the straight and narrow, you’re actually asking everybody around you to just have your back, which i think is a really special thing. A symbolic action that I have used, not every time, but on a number of occasions in planning wedding ceremonies with couples is a little ritual called ‘ring warming’, and the idea here is that the rings that are ultimately going to be, end up on the hands of the bride and the groom, are passed through the hands of all of those who are gathered, to publicly witness this exchange of promises and what I would set up at somewhere near the beginning of the ceremony is that before the rings reach the couple’s fingers, we’re going to pass the warmth or communicate the warmth of our hands, but by the time the rings come back to me and I am then passing them to the couple, who are marrying each other, for them to put the rings on each other’s fingers, they will have passed through the hands of everybody who is gathered.
So instead of being cold metal, symbolically, that metal has been warmed with the wishes, the goodwill, the love, all of the best that those people want for the couple is passing on to their fingers when they put the rings on. So I recently took a wedding for a couple who had been living together for some time, they weren’t particularly young. They didn’t want their guests to be spending their money buying them traditional wedding presents, so what they did instead was that they asked all their guests to get them their favourite book and bring it along and to write in the front of the book why they’d chosen that. Some were novels, some weren’t.
But what it gave that couple was a real library, different things for them to learn about, different things for them to be inspired by, probably plenty of books there that they were never going to get on with. But it gave them some insight into the friends and family around them, into their taste, it gave them more things to think about it. But it also meant, in a very real sense their home was now going to have the influence of all the people around them.
What I personally like so much about the humanist approach is that there is no discrimination in who shall choose to marry, who shall choose to make those vows, it’s a fact that they have chosen each other, that’s what matters. It’s very interesting when you have a couple who come, for example, from two different religious backgrounds, especially if they’re not necessarily practicing but it’s still a very important part of their heritage. That’s when I find humanist ceremonies being at their most inclusive. Understanding that if we’re there based on the people that we care about rather than the contexts or the backgrounds that they may have come from that’s where you discover all the things that we have in common.
So a humanist ceremony for me has always been so rewarding because it’s about focusing on what everybody in the room has in common, which is their love for the couple. I did a wedding a couple of years ago in Spain at a venue that’s well known for weddings and a beautiful location. But it was the first time they had ever had a same-sex wedding there and it was the first time they’d had an interracial wedding there. It was two English guys, one from a typically white English background and one from a typically Pakistani English background.
There was a point in the ceremony where they had decided to do a traditional thing for an Asian ceremony, which was to take sweets from a plate, pass them round the couple’s heads and feed them from the same sweet. I said yeah that’d be great, let’s do that.
Everybody in both families did it apart from the father who was from the Muslim background and he was just sat there not moving and eventually we got to the point where he was either gonna come or he wasn’t and the best man went over to him whispered something to him and he got up and everybody, I didn’t see this as I’m too focused on what I’m doing but apparently everybody including the photographer was in tears, as this man walked across picked up a sweet from the plate and fed them both it’s almost making me cry now thinking about it, because it was so incredibly intense and to see that beautiful acceptance of the situation from this man was to me the definition of humanism.


  • Humanists acknowledge the importance of other people and the need for their support in our lives
  • The influence of other people is an important ingredient of who we are
  • Humanists believe we should not discriminate when it comes to who should be allowed to get married – the love of the couple is what is most important

Question: How much do we rely on other people as a source of support in our lives?

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Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts

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