Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Future of Humanism

"Humanism is now facing an existential challenge and the idea of “free will” is under threat." 

This is an excerpt from an article by the Israeli academic and thinker Yuval Hariri who book "Homo Deus" I've been reading recently. 

The article in the Financial Times is well worth reading for anyone who thinks that Humanism as a philosophy is somehow the ultimate conclusion of a long history of philosophical development. 

Hariri echoes recent discoveries in neuroscience that cast doubt on the existence of free will and show that reason is not the opposite of emotion but the result of it and he goes on to suggest that we're now facing a crisis as Big Data threatens to know us better than we know ourselves. 

I'm not sure that his use of the word 'humanism' exactly lines up with my own understanding of it but he's a fascinating thinker. I'm more than a bit surprised that none of the Humanist magazines seem ever to have interviewed him.

So - is Humanism an outdated philosophy? Discuss!

Friday, 13 October 2017

How to cut the cost of your wedding

I don't generally post things from other people, but this little chart from MoneyGuru struck me as worth sharing: let me know if you find it useful?

X Marks the Spot

Get Married for Less than a £1,000, courtesy of

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Louise and James's Humanist Wedding at the Principal George Street

 Sometimes the best weddings are when things go wrong. Like when the groom realises that he's left the Marriage Schedule at home, and it's only half an hour till kick off...

I will never forget James's expression when I turned up at the Principal George Street, and he realised that there was one important element missing from what was to be his perfect day. Luckily, we managed to sort it all out in time, so I was delighted to get this message from him and Louise earlier this evening.

"James and I just wanted to say a massive thank you to you for being our celebrant, and for not only marrying us, but all your help and support both on the run up and on the day itself, from answering my daft questions, to helping James through the various stages of panic and the process of retrieving the paperwork from our house! 

We’ve had so many family members and friends say to us that it was the best, most personal wedding ceremony that they’ve been to, just how much that they felt included and a part of it, and they all said just how fantastic you were! 
While I’ll be honest and say I think we were both a bit daunted by the homework, it was absolutely the best part of the run up to the wedding for me, and just reaffirmed how much we love each other, what we love about each other, and why we are spending the rest of our lives together 😊 Thank you so much for taking us through that process and asking us to do it.
I’ve attached a few wee action shots from the day as well! I especially love the one of me and my sister laughing when you were reading out the stories about the bridal party!

Thank you so so much again for everything, wishing you all the best and many more happy weddings!
Louise and James Todd xx  

Louise and James, it was my pleasure: and like you, I'll never forget your wedding day - for all the best reasons!

Many thanks to Dan and Matt from Fern Photography for getting these great shots: I hope to add some more later!

Ayns and Chris's Humanist Wedding at Dalduff Farm

Earlier this year, I found myself over in deepest Ayshire where Chris and Ayns had booked Dalduff Farm for their wedding. 

It had been a long journey from our first contact, but I knew we were going to have a great day.

We did!

I'd been hoping to hear from them afterwards, because I felt theirs was a very special ceremony, so I dropped them a line yesterday. Here's what I found in my inbox this morning.

Hi Tim, 
Sorry we have taken so long to reply....we are laughing as this is how we remember starting our emails to you when writing our ceremony!

We can't believe it has been 6 months already. We can honestly say we had the best day. The ceremony was definitely our favorite part!

Based on feedback from friends and family they too were very impressed by the humanist ceremony and the personal story that was told throughout. 

Some of our guests even commented that they wished they had had a humanist ceremony.

Prior to the wedding we remember emailing back and forth, providing you with the information you were looking for. If you remember Chris struggled with the homework and that caused a ruckus. 

Anyway, eventually we got there with your guidance. When writing we had a great laugh, although it took up a fair amount of time and  a couple of arguments.  

At times before the wedding we wondered what work you were doing and what we were paying you for! Ha! Ha! #jokes. 

At that point we could never have imagined those words being told in such a personal loving way by someone we barely knew. 

The way you conducted the ceremony and put us at ease was amazing. 

We thought the ceremony would have been a nerve wracking point of the day but we have never felt so at ease and so loved by everyone present. 

You started the day in such an amazing way, and the rest of the day flowed with more love, laughs and tears! 

We feel like you did our words justice in the ceremony you conducted and expressed our story and love for each other perfectly. 

You actually are a legend, and we can't thank you enough!! We wish we could do it all again, but we do have that lovely feeling in our hearts forever to remember. 

We have joked though if it all goes wrong and we get divorced, we would definitely use you again for our ceremony! ha! 

Please find attached some photos from our friends and family, and from our friend Greg Urquhart who was our photographer. Please feel free to use any images you wish. 

Lots of love, Ayns and Chris.........and not to forget Eve and Robbie xx

Chris and Ayns (and Eve and Robbie) you just made my day! Thank you so much for these lovely words and matching photos - (thanks Greg Urquhart too), stay happy, don't get divorced, and above all, don't lose touch! XXX

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Regrets: I’ve had a few…

If you follow my blog, you’ll know I was delighted to be nominated, and then shortlisted for the Vows Awards a couple of weeks ago: that was entirely thanks to the many couples who voted for me to show their appreciation for the ceremonies that I conducted for them.

I have been a celebrant for twelve years now, and the Honorary Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh for five. 

I regard celebrancy as a vocation, and I take great pride in the ceremonies I conduct, particularly the funerals, which are the most important part of my work. 

However my nomination has been called into question, so on ethical grounds and to avoid further politicisation, I feel my only course of action is to withdraw.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone who voted for me.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Seeing with your Head and Heart

Ditte of First Light Weddings is one of my favourite photographers, and I'm delighted that she's found the time to contribute this heartfelt story to my blog.

Seeing with your head and heart - why you should have an unplugged wedding ceremony

I often lament the fact that we forget to look with our eyes and heart, but rather observe the big and small moments in our lives through a lens or screen.

But then I can hardly talk, my trigger finger itches when I see nice light or my beautiful children and I don't have a camera to hand. I'm slowly learning to see, hear, smell and live the moments rather than capturing them.

Except when I'm working, of course.
It is estimated that over a TRILLION photos will be taken in 2017. About half of those are taken as newlyweds make their way down the aisle. Ok, that last part may not be true, but it can sometimes feel that way when we battle against iPhones, iPads and other booby traps to capture wedding ceremonies.
Much as I love to capture big and small moments on my phone, I'm a fierce advocate for unplugged wedding ceremonies.

I remember walking down the aisle at my own wedding nine-and-a-bit years ago - All the well-known faces of friends and family smiling at me, whispering hellos and good-luck wishes as I passed. I remember it so keenly, each look and smile filling me with love and happiness as I approached my husband-to-be.

We had asked guests not to take photographs during the service, so instead of a sea of phones and cameras, I saw the eyes and faces of our loved ones. I will always be grateful for that.

As a wedding photographer, it can be frustrating when our photographs looking up the aisle are full of screens, detracting attention from the main point of focus: the couple. The bolder guests will sometime step out into the middle of the aisle to capture the best shot of the wedding ceremony, completely blocking our view - which in turn restricts the couple's memories of the day, as we are there for them, to document their day for them.

I don't begrudge guests wanting to take photos on a wedding day - it's a big day for them too, one they'll want to remember.
But during the ceremony, you have a responsibility to the couple - to play your part: To be there, be present, to bear witness to the joining together of two people in marriage. Not via a screen, but with your eyes, minds, hearts.

So please: for just 45 minutes, put your phone away. Look up, into the eyes of your friend/ relative as they walk up the aisle. They (and we!) will be eternally grateful.

About Ditte: 
Ditte is the owner and primary photographer of First Light Photography  A wedding and portrait photographer, her photographic style is light and natural, seeking to capture the beauty and personality of whatever or whoever is in front of her lens. 

She did the photos when Susie and I got married and you can see some of them here

Originally from Denmark, Ditte lives in Edinburgh with her husband and two kids. When not behind a camera or in front of the computer, she can be found travelling around Scotland and further afield (usually with a camera in her hand…)

Wednesday, 20 September 2017


I feel very honoured to learn that I've been shortlisted for a Vows Award: I'm told that I'm the first celebrant ever to be nominated, so I'm chuffed!

My sincere thanks go to all the happy couples who voted for me. 

The awards night is 20th November, so, fingers crossed!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

What is Humanism?

Despite the popularity of humanist ceremonies in Scotland, most people still don't know what humanism is, so I was delighted to be asked, as the Honorary Humanist Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh, to give this talk at 6.00 pm on Tuesday 19th September at the David Hume Tower in George Square.

It's been organised by the Edinburgh University Humanist Society, but all are welcome. Tickets are free, and you can book via their Facebook page here.

I won't talk for more than 30 minutes, after which there will be an hour's Q&A session. It should be an interesting and stimulating discussion, so please come along if you can.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Humanist Weddings in Scotland - More Popular than Ever!

It made me laugh when I saw my photo with this headline, but I really don't think it's all down to me!

Yes it's a big story, but there's another one in among the statistics published by the National Register of Scotland: the continuing rise and rise of humanist marriage.

While ceremonies conducted by Humanist Society Scotland have fallen by more than 14% over the last two years, weddings conducted by other humanist organisations have continued to rise.

There are four humanist organisations in Scotland of sufficiently long standing to be listed by name, but there are others of more recent creation, which is why one of the categories is 'Temporary Authorisation - Non Christian'. That's how I and my CHA colleagues are described.

By my calculation, from the Registrar's published statistics, the number of humanist marriages in 2016 was 5,533, of which the Humanist Society Scotland conducted just over half - 3,040.

I think the reason their numbers are falling could be connected to the fact that the HSS insists that couples who choose to be married by one of their celebrants also become members of the society, at an additional cost.

That surprises me, because the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), of which the Humanist Society Scotland is a member, says this.

"For Humanism, there is no entrance procedure, or rite of passage, and no hierarchy to which you must belong. Humanists are humanists, they do not have to join an organisation, or be on a list somewhere!"

That is why at the Caledonian Humanist Association we don't insist that anyone become a member, but if they want to support us and the broader humanist movement, membership is free.

If that sounds like you, come and join us: we'll be delighted to see you!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Meredith and Joel's Humanist Wedding at Carlowrie Castle

Meredith and Joel got in touch with me just over three months before their wedding in July of this year. 

As you may have guessed from their names, they're from the USA and they decided to come over to Scotland with their closest family and friends for 'a destination wedding' in the Orangerie at the glamorous Carlowrie Castle.

Just to make it a bit more of a challenge, they wanted to have a legal ceremony, which involved a fair bit of paper-chasing and official-hustling on their part, and it's a credit to their energy and determination that they did finally manage to get their official letter of approval from the Home Office in time to allow the Registrar General of Scotland to give them the all-important Marriage Schedule for us to sign on the day. If, like them, you're planning on doing this from overseas, click on this link to find out what's involved.

Legalities apart, this was always going to be a fun day. Meredith is a lady who knows her own mind, and when she finally gave in to the persistent nagging from her friends Dan and Jess and created a profile online, she had no truck with the usual nonsense. When Joel messaged her, she bluntly replied, "if you're at all interested, here's my number: give me a call'. Joel did. Clearly he had no idea what he was getting himself into!

Their first date was in a sushi bar. Of course it was: they lived in LA at the time... Meredith wasn't sure if Joel was a serial-killer with bad shoes or a genuine nice guy, but Joel reckoned that if this fashionista was prepared to order duck fat fries with her burger, he was with the right girl.

Meredith's Maid of Honour, was her college roommate and best friend, Lauren. The pair of them are known as Bossy and Bossier. I'll let you work out which one is which...

Joel's Best Man was his friend, bodyguard, and partner in crime for fifteen years, Darryl. They'd make an excellent tag team in WWF, don't you think?

I liked the way that before the ceremony began, Joel walked in with both his parents.

Meredith chose the more traditional entrance, with her father, and my old friend John Rae, AKA The Pickled Piper.

They had some great ideas for the ceremony. First of all, they invited their friend Susan to give us a reading of a poem I hadn't heard before by Terah Cox called Time Travellers

Then they combined a ring-warming ceremony with a pause for quiet contemplation, so all the guests could hold the wedding bands in their hands and think about Joel and Meredith before the time came for them to exchange their vows.

I was also really pleased that they decided to get their guests to make some promises to them before they made their personal vows to one another. I call that 'The Guest Vows' and it's a great way to remind everyone that they're not there just to give you some nice bed-linen: they're a part of your future!

Having brought their guests almost to the climax of the ceremony, they then cleverly delayed it as they both spoke of their reasons for wanting to marry each other directly, from cards.

Lauren gave Joel's ring to Meredith, while Darryl gave Joel Meredith's ring, as they spoke their vows. Meredith isn't a traditional kind of gal, so she chose to wear her wedding ring on her pointer finger, rather than the usual third finger of the left hand. 

Then we signed the Marriage Schedule, with more emotion than usual: they actually brought along their original letter from the Home Office just to double prove their wedding was real!

I could tell it was going to be a great party! 

A couple of days ago, Meredith sent me these excellent reportage-style shots from the talented Glasgow-based lensman, Neil Thomas Douglas, and this note.

"I wanted to thank you for all that you did for us leading up to our ceremony, and of course the ceremony itself. It was an amazing day, and everything was perfect. Joel and I can't thank you enough." 

The pleasure was entirely mine, Meredith. You took the idea of creating a ceremony that was original and full of meaning, and you ran with it, and for that I can't thank you enough either!

The Future of Humanism

"Humanism is now facing an existential challenge and the idea of “free will” is under threat."  This is an excerpt from an art...