Our humanist wedding

In 2008 Melissa and I were living in London and planning to get married. We are both atheist and neither of us wanted a religious ceremony, but we did want to share the experience with our family and friends. We wanted to get married in Ireland (where Melissa is from), but the residency requirements for the marriage license made it impossible for us to do the legal bit there. In the end we decided to get a quick legal marriage in Lewisham registry office, witnessed by just our parents, followed by a celebratory wedding ceremony in Ireland some months later.

Freed from making the legal oaths part of our ceremony and not wanting to use a priest, we began to look for an alternative celebrant for our ceremony. This led us to the Humanist Association of IrelandBHA and various other humanist websites, which acted as a springboard to find out more. In the end we got in contact with Brian Whiteside who acted as our celebrant – and a fine job he did too.

The wedding was an incredible experience. We decided to do as much as possible ourselves. Melissa and I designed her dress and had it made by a designer we bumped into in Camden (fine black and white herringbone tweed – first concept in 2007 – we totally started the subsequent trend). We had a marquee at the back of the house so we could source our own alcohol and keep the party going for as long as we liked (luckily there were no immediate neighbours). Melissa’s mum Mary did an incredible job of preparing the house and everyone worked together as a team to decorate the marquee (all under Mary’s watchful eye). The whole community banded together to provide everything needed, often for free or at cost price – giving us more bang for our buck (well, Andrew’s buck). The result was fantastic.

We wrote our own vows and ceremony (with helpful guidance from Brian) and these I will post below, just in case anyone wants some ideas for their own big day.

I will add to this post, simply to have a more complete record of events for posterity, but for now, the ceremony:


Please all stand for the arrival of the bride!

MUSIC – Pachelbel Canon in D major

Brian:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here today, on behalf of Melissa and Paolo, on this very happy occasion as we celebrate their marriage.

Although Melissa and Paolo were legally married earlier this year they feel it is important that their vows are witnessed by their dearest friends and of course family.  Melissa and Paolo were keen that their wedding ceremony would be one that would be appropriate for them whilst being at the same time a personal and memorable day for everyone.  Above all, they wanted all of you to feel part of this joyous occasion.

I was delighted when they asked me to assist them today in this Humanist wedding. They have chosen a Humanist ceremony because neither is religious and both feel that Humanism best expresses their values by acknowledging the dignity and worth of all people. The vows they will exchange today demonstrate their love and commitment now and for the future, in the presence of those they love and those whose friendship they enjoy and value.

Your presence here this afternoon adds significance to this ceremony and support to their marriage.  In the years ahead, as Melissa and Paolo adapt to changing circumstances, it may be to you they will turn for support, company and laughter, as they have done in the past.

READING by Graham Fowler

Poem on Happiness (Wilfred Arlan Peterson)
A good marriage must be created. In the art of marriage the little things are the big things….
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say “I love you” at least once each day.
It is never going to sleep angry.
It is at no time taking the other for granted; the courtship shouldn’t
end with the honeymoon, it should continue through all the years.
It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives; it is
standing together facing the world.
It is doing things for each other, not in the attitude of duty or sacrifice, but in the spirit of joy.
It is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is not looking for perfection in each other.
It is cultivating flexibility, patience, understanding and a sense of humour.
It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow.
It is establishing a relationship in which the independence is equal,
the dependence is mutual and the obligation is reciprocal.
It is not only marrying the right partner, it is being the right partner.

Brian:  Marriage is, first and foremost, a celebration of the love which two people share.  It is a major and significant event in their lives and in the lives of those close to them – out of the routine of everyday life something extraordinary has happened.

It joins two people who trust the love they have found.  It is a partnership in which each can grow and be their true self, whilst sharing in the development of the other.  True love is not the first flaring up of the fire, new and bright and spectacular though that is, but the careful tending which gives warmth and comfort over a long time.  Marriage is a statement made by a couple to those around them of what they know – that they have found such love, friendship and support that they wish to share for the rest of their lives.

What really matters when a couple have decided to join their lives, is that they have absolute certainty that they are right for each other.  They must be sure that their feelings will be lasting and not fleeting.  They must also have thought about the future which stretches before them and the demands which it will make on them.

Paolo and Melissa have thought about these things and they fully understand what is required of them – as individuals and as a couple – if this commitment is to last in the way that they wish.  They know that they can pledge themselves to each other with certainty and confidence.

Paolo and Melissa, any union of two people brings together two lives which may previously have run on very different paths.  Your new life together will make demands on you both.  You will need strength and patience to cope with emotional and physical adversity, enduring trust and faithfulness, the selflessness to acknowledge the needs and interests of the other and the self awareness to recognise your own feelings and the willingness to tackle them.

It’s all quite a challenge and that is why the delight, the adventure and the anticipation must always be there, along with the happiness founded on growing a deepening certainty and love.

READING – By Emer Smith

Marriage Mark Twain

A marriage…makes of two fractional lives a whole; it gives to two purposeless lives a work, and doubles the strength of each to perform it; it gives to two questioning natures a reason for living, and something to live for; it will give a new gladness to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth, and a new mystery to life.

Brian:  We now come to the most important part of today’s ceremony when we will be asking Melissa and Paolo to exchange their vows in your presence.

Will you please stand.

Brian:  Do you Paolo take Melissa to be your wife; to share a relationship of love, tenderness and laughter; to confide in and trust above all others; to respect and stand by her in everything as an equal partner; but above all else to love and cherish her as her faithful husband?

Paolo:  I do.

Brian:  Do you Melissa take Paolo to be your husband; to share a relationship of love, tenderness and laughter; to confide in and trust above all others; to respect and stand by him in everything as an equal partner; but above all else to love and cherish him as his faithful wife?

Melissa:  I do.

Brian:  These vows transcend the legal bonds of marriage you have already taken; because they were written by you, chosen by you and witnessed by those who are most cherished by you. May these vows bind you and bring you joy.

Brian:  Christopher, have you got the rings?

Brian:  Paolo, take this ring and place it on Melissa’s finger and repeat after me:

Paolo:  I, Paolo, offer you, Melissa, this ring as a symbol of my enduring love and commitment.

Brian:  Melissa, take this ring and place it on Paolo’s finger and repeat after me:

Melissa:  I, Melissa, offer you, Paolo, this ring as a symbol of my enduring love and commitment

Brian:  The wedding bands Melissa and Paolo have exchanged are an outward symbol of the vows that they have made. They represent the pride and honour each takes in being married to the other.

Melissa and Paolo, you have freely consented to join your lives, you have pledged yourselves to each other by the exchanging of rings and in the presence of this company I pronounce you husband and wife.

Paolo, you may kiss the bride.

May I be the first to congratulate you both and wish you long life and happiness together.

Brian:  I would like to conclude the ceremony with some parting thoughts:

Melissa and Paolo, go forward in your life together with the good wishes of those who love you ringing in your ears; go forward to a life of joy and fulfilment, of tolerance and peace, giving to and receiving from those who share our concerns and ideals.

Remember this day, those who came to wish you well, the words you have spoken, the emotions you feel, the rings which symbolise all the meaning of this occasion.

May your love never die; rather may it deepen and increase so that you may be forever as you are now, happily in love and glad to be married to one another.

And finally, an Irish Blessing:

Go mbeadh an féar a shiúlfaidh tu air bheith glas,

go mbeadh spéir gorm os do chionn,

go mbeadh sonas id’ thimpeall,

go mbeadh na croíthe a bhfuil grá agat dóibh bheith fíor.


May green be the grass you walk on,

May blue be the skies above you,

May pure be the joys that surround you,

May true be the hearts that love you.

3 thoughts on “Our humanist wedding

  1. I wish your trend has reached further every time I see the trailers on TV for that wedding programme, in which every female bride so far has gone for a meringue: even a red one. The only recent alternative I’ve seen is a long slip that looks like the dress itself has been forgotten. But .. the idea of a dress to be worn only for one’s wedding is comparatively recent and by no means universal. Your own grandmother, marrying shortly after WWII, wore a tweed suit and, from the photo, looked very good in it. Women used to wear their ‘Sunday best’ for their wedding.

    Of course Melissa is stunningly beautiful and would look good in anything, but her outfit was perfect. Long skirt, neat little waistcoat and short cape over it. Modern yet at the same time completely timeless.

    People were still praising Mary for the wedding the last time I was over to stay with her and Andrew. I just wish she were still here to continue to enjoy her triumph.

    For friends who would like to see more photos of the wedding, if you are on Facebook you can ask to join the group: “Portarlington’s Halloween Wedding”.

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