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Humanist ceremonies

Any topics that are primarily about humanism or other non-religious life stances fit in here.
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DougS
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Humanist ceremonies

#1 Post by DougS » July 21st, 2008, 1:31 pm

How important are they in promoting humanism? I know some people here are acting or retired celebrants but of the rest, I wonder how many have actually attended a humanist ceremony and how many people found out about humanism through ceremonies?

Most people I talk to about humanism, if they have heard of it all, seem to have heard of it through attending a ceremony and generally these are positive experiences. Should the humanist organisations being investing more in providing humanist ceremonies?

Maria Mac
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#2 Post by Maria Mac » July 21st, 2008, 2:08 pm

I think they are very important in promoting humanism and a hell of a lot of people hear about humanism for the first time through attending a ceremony. Not me: I had to wait about seven years after joining the BHA before I attended my first humanist funeral in 1999 and it was fantastic. I think I would have wanted to know about humanism as a result of attending, had I not already been a member.

I don't think the BHA can afford to invest any more in ceremonies than it is already doing and there is a question over whether the organisation is investing too much in them.

tubataxidriver
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#3 Post by tubataxidriver » July 21st, 2008, 9:36 pm

Unfortunately, ceremonies of any nature are now a business, and with civil registrars also offering a non-religious ceremony we are being actively competed against, with all sorts of additional difficulties placed in the way of humanist celebrants / officiants. The various religions also provide such services on a fee-paying basis. I am now wondering whether humanist ceremonies should be provided for free.

Do they bring people into active humanism? One or two maybe, but probably not in significant numbers.

lewist
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#4 Post by lewist » July 22nd, 2008, 7:12 am

I have been involved in arranging two Humanist ceremonies; first there was my daughter's wedding on the front lawn at home. In Scotland we have the advantage that Humanist weddings are fully legal and no one other than a registered celebrant need be directly involved. In fact the offhand attitude of a local registrar was a factor in the decision to have a Humanist ceremony, though I was delighted that was the decision the pair made. The ceremony was dignified and serious, but with its funny and happy side too. The celebrant was superb, engaging the young couple in their ceremony and also the others there. It was a small gathering but for most attending it was their first experience of Humanism and it was a good one. Whether it attracted anyone to Humanism I'm not sure but it certainly showed Humanism in a very positive light.

The second ceremony was my wife's funeral. As a family we drafted a script for the event and discussed it with the same celebrant who had conducted the wedding. We focused on Maureen's life, her likes and dislikes, our memories of her and her musical tastes. It was a private funeral with invited guests and there were about 80 there. Some of them were practising Christians and I think it was good for them to be there. They learned something of the goodness of the Humanist philosophy. The others went away with enhanced understanding and in time some may espouse our view.

At the very least, ceremonies are an important way of promoting understanding and acceptance. Whether they promote humanism in terms of attracting adherents is hard to say. Are we adherents? Humanism is a personal philosophy; it is not a church with a joining ceremony and weekly attendance. Humanists get Sundays off! You can be a humanist without being a member of the HSS, BHA or any of the humanist and secular organisations round the world. I also question whether we should be evangelical in the way that churches are.
Carpe diem. Savour every moment.

drew
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#5 Post by drew » July 22nd, 2008, 8:13 am

The increase in non religious/Humanist ceremonies does not equate with an increase in Humanism.
I think it may raise awareness that Humanism exists but in the last three years, where I have seen ceremonies double year on year, I have only had five families request more details about joining the BHA.

But what is a Humanist ceremony? The BHA has it's model, Civil Ceremonies, Local Authorities, Independants - this is the confusing thing for the public.

You hear people both compliment and abuse Humanist ceremonies as a concept because they have been to a good or bad ceremony, I have been to a funeral conducted by a BHA celebrant - it was terrible, I have been to a funeral conducted by a County Council employee - it was fine.

It is a messy area.

DougS
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#6 Post by DougS » July 22nd, 2008, 10:35 am

Thanks for your very interesting responses.

When I asked if they promote humanism, I didn't mean did they make people want to rush out and sign up with a local humanist organisation. I was talking about raising awareness of humanism as a world view that focuses on the human rather than the supernatural. It seems feasible to me that people who are impressed with the humanist ceremony they attend may come away wanting to know more about humanism. This is what happened to me when I attended the funeral of a neighbour. But I didn't ask the celebrant because I didn't feel it was the right time or place. I wouldn't read too much into how few people come up and ask the celebrant for information.

Raising awareness of humanism is what is important. I believe that if every non-religious person tried to live by humanist principles, there would probably be no need for humanist organisations anyway.

Beki
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#7 Post by Beki » July 23rd, 2008, 1:41 pm

I think that Humanist ceremonies are hugely important. I have been to two Humanist weddings and one H funeral and all were really lovely because they were so personal.

Let's face it, the first time in years that some people go to church is for their wedding (certainly the few church weddings that I have been to, that was the case). Partly it is because the parents are paying for it and it is what they want, or it is because they think it is somehow more 'right' and the alternative won't be as special. The more people who attend Humanist ceremonies, the more people will see how good they can be and that they just don't need the church for even that!
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. - M Ghandi

Maria Mac
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#8 Post by Maria Mac » July 23rd, 2008, 4:37 pm

DougS wrote:This is what happened to me when I attended the funeral of a neighbour. But I didn't ask the celebrant because I didn't feel it was the right time or place. I wouldn't read too much into how few people come up and ask the celebrant for information.
I know what you mean. Although I was already a BHA member when I attended my first humanist funeral and didn't need information about humanism, I did want to know more about humanist ceremonies but I didn't feel comfortable about asking the celebrant about them after the ceremony. We were there to say our goodbyes and celebrate the life of our friend and I didn't think it was the right time to pursue a personal interest.

To go back to Drew's question: "What is a humanist ceremony?" The short answer is that it is one that focusses on the life that was lived and, if possible, how that life has enriched the lives of others. Of course this can be said of many funerals nowadays provided by all kinds different people and that's great and it's thanks to humanist ceremonies that it's happened. I've no doubt that civil ceremony baby naming ceremonies borrow heavily from humanist ones. I haven't been to a civil wedding in nearly thirty years so I don't know how much things have changed but the ceremonies I remember attending were somewhat impersonal. The couple weren't allowed much input and they were therefore a world away from humanist weddings.

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Aphra
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#9 Post by Aphra » July 23rd, 2008, 4:48 pm

tubataxidriver wrote:Unfortunately, ceremonies of any nature are now a business, and with civil registrars also offering a non-religious ceremony we are being actively competed against, with all sorts of additional difficulties placed in the way of humanist celebrants / officiants. The various religions also provide such services on a fee-paying basis. I am now wondering whether humanist ceremonies should be provided for free.

Do they bring people into active humanism? One or two maybe, but probably not in significant numbers.
Not sure what "difficulties" you refer to, but in my experience (as a celebrant and area co-ordinator) a good celebrant will always be busy, regardless of his or her credentials, as he or she gains a reputation for doing good work.

Competition's good - the more choice people have the better - but it can be difficult for some people to know who offers the best service.

Humanists (like me) charge a fee for funerals, except in exceptional circumstances - I've waived a fee for people who are totally skint, and for babies. Why should we be any different from religious or civil celebrants? And who do you suggest ought to be generously working for nothing? We have expenses to pay (travel, stationery, phone, suitable clothing, etc.) and it all has to come from somewhere. Besides, I think most people would regard "free" funerals (bearing in mind that the celebrant's fee is only a small part of the charges made by a funeral director, who pays us) as patronising. They expect to pay for quality. As for weddings: when most people are paying £1000s for them (sometimes ridiculous amounts), our fee is hardly worth bothering about.

I've heard people say that they didn't think many people join a Humanist organisation after attending a ceremony - the BHA's former membership officer being one of them - but I think that depends on whether or not there is a friendly and welcoming group in their area. A substantial proportion of Suffolk Humanists & Secularists members were introduced through ceremonies, and three of them went on to become celebrants themselves.

I don't work with the BHA's network, and nor does our team, and I've cancelled my BHA membership because I strongly disapprove of its approach to ceremonies development, its charges to its celebrants, and the large amount of money being spent on it.

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jaywhat
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#10 Post by jaywhat » July 23rd, 2008, 4:55 pm

There are, of course, rights and wrongs and various opinions but at least the BHA provides various sorts of insurance and some come-back to dissatisfied punters. There is also a sort of guarantee of quality through the training.

drew
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#11 Post by drew » July 24th, 2008, 8:33 am

Jaywhat wrote "the BHA provides various sorts of insurance and some come-back to dissatisfied punters. There is also a sort of guarantee of quality through the training."

Why do you need insurance if the training guarentees quality?

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jaywhat
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#12 Post by jaywhat » July 24th, 2008, 9:47 am

The training does not guarantee that an officiant might have a serious accident on the way to a ceremony.
The training does not provide a replacement officiant if the original is taken ill and so on and so on.
As for individuals taking ceremonies off their own back without any backup from an organisation (like BHA), then there is no comeback for anybody.

drew
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#13 Post by drew » July 24th, 2008, 10:54 am

I suppose you are right about accidents etc - that's why I have my own insurance.

If I cannot attend a cermeony because of illness etc, I contact one of the local BHA or AHC celebrants who have always been glad to step in.

Likewise I have been contacted by a FD two days before a ceremony because an accredited celebrant as double booked!

DougS
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#14 Post by DougS » July 29th, 2008, 12:55 pm

I am intrigued by the notion of 'competition' in ceremonies. Who do humanist celebrants see as competition and why? What are the different selling points of different ceremony providers?

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jaywhat
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#15 Post by jaywhat » July 29th, 2008, 2:21 pm

One bugbear people see are the registrars. Fear of competitions is not really fear, I suppose, but there are younger celebrants who now rely on this as a job and an income and so would quite like a level playing field.
If you (the public) have to go to a Registry Office to register births and deaths, you are a sitting target for their advertising re. namings and funerals. Unfair trading I guess.

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Aphra
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#16 Post by Aphra » July 29th, 2008, 5:12 pm

It's not just younger celebrants who may rely on the income from their ceremonies work. I can think of a few older ones (and I used to be one of them) who do.

Competition is fine, as long as it's fair. It's true that Civil Celebrants may have an unfair advantage, as they get free publicity from some local authorities - it's reasonable to challenge them if they do. However, they don't seem very popular in our area and the funeral directors don't always recommend them. For one thing, they're quite expensive. For another, they're only available 9-5, and we find that clients often want to talk to us evenings and weekends. Lastly, I've heard some negative reports about their ceremonies, including a lack of warmth and a generally disorganised, unprofessional approach.

Many people opt for what we call pick 'n mix ceremonies, with a bit of religion thrown in (a hymn or two, and maybe a religious reading). As more independent celebrants and the civils offer them, they may be chosen by those who are nervous about a totally religion-free ceremony.

However, I still maintain that if you're good at what you do and earn a reputation for being consistently available and reliable, you'll be kept busy. Cultivating good relationships with funeral directors, crematorium and cemetery staff, and anyone else who might mention your work in favourable terms, is well worthwhile. Every time you do a good job, some of the people there will remember you, and will ask for you when they have to arrange a ceremony themselves.

So, I'd say to any would-be celebrant that the main "selling point" is yourself. A warm, friendly, caring approach, a sense of humour and an unpretentious attitude will serve you better than any "branding" or whatnot.

para handy
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#17 Post by para handy » July 30th, 2008, 5:18 pm

The churches are also competition. That might seem a strange thing to say when they offer a different 'product' but the last religious funeral I attended was for someone who wasn't religious. Their children, who organised the funeral, weren't religious either. In fact, so far as I know, nobody who attended had any religious beliefs at all. So why the heck did they organise a religious funeral? I didn't ask them but I'd hazard a guess it's because it didn't occur to them to have a humanist funeral. They perhaps don't know enough about them or they just thought that a church one was more fitting for a conventional old lady.

:shrug:

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jaywhat
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#18 Post by jaywhat » July 31st, 2008, 6:44 am

Many weddings are in church because of the 'ambience and photo opportunities' -seriously.

Firebrand
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#19 Post by Firebrand » August 1st, 2008, 12:48 pm

Maria wrote: To go back to Drew's question: "What is a humanist ceremony?" The short answer is that it is one that focusses on the life that was lived and, if possible, how that life has enriched the lives of others.
Don't humanist ceremonies always include a bit of humanist philosophy? I have a copy of the script of one ceremony I attended which has a bit about the 'Tree of Life'.

Maria Mac
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Re: Humanist ceremonies

#20 Post by Maria Mac » August 1st, 2008, 4:46 pm

Firebrand, the BHA model includes a bit of what I suppose can be called humanist philosophy. In Funerals without God these are called 'Thoughts on Life and Death' and are supposed to follow the opening words and precede the tribute. Most of the examples included are quite good but I think the Tree of Life one is a bit cringeworthy for most funerals.

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