If you’re not getting married in a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, UK law is adamant that you can’t invite God to your wedding.
The law lists everything you can’t have in your civil wedding: no hymns, no chants, no religious rituals, no readings from religious texts, no worship of any kind.
That’s fine… Except for when it’s not fine.
We don’t all fit neatly into the box of either devoutly religious or resolutely atheist. If you imagine a spectrum, with the Pope sending out benedictions from one end and Richard Dawkins rolling his eyes at the other, where are you?
How many of us actually mooch about in the grey area in between the extremes? Maybe we even drift from one end to the other from day to day.
Who hasn’t found themself muttering a little prayer when they’re in the throes of panic or trauma?
And what about love? When I got married, I felt like the bit of me that had fallen hopelessly in love, the bit of me that somehow knew I could and would keep my wedding vows until my dying day… well that was the same bit that believes or wants to believe… in something.
Well, if you use an Independent Celebrant, you can do absolutely anything you like!
Just treat the legal part of your marriage as nothing more than pre-wedding admin and get it out of the way. Sign the register in ten minutes at your nearest register office - no rings, no guests, no fancy frocks.
Once the paperwork is sorted you’re free to have your dream wedding ceremony. And you can incorporate exactly as much faith or religious ritual as you like. Your celebrant can create a ceremony that fits you like a romantic, snuggly glove-for-two. (These actually exist - Google it.)
With a bespoke wedding ceremony you can even pick and mix. Choose the elements of spirituality that connect with you, while carefully avoiding anything that feels - to you - hypocritical or out-dated.
Here are just a few examples of how a Celebrant could create a personal wedding ceremony that perfectly reflects you and your beliefs:
How do you honour your own traditions and keep both your families happy if, for example, you’re Jewish and you’re marrying a Hindu?
One option is to find a Celebrant who will work with you to create a unique ceremony that incorporates elements from both your traditions. For example you could have a Jewish Chuppah and you could include the Hindu seven steps around a fire.
The right Celebrant will work sensitively with members of your two communities to get it right - letting you and your communities take the lead on what would and wouldn’t be appropriate.
My lovely hairdresser, a Christian, recently told me how sad she’d been to miss out on having the church wedding she’d always dreamt of because her husband, an atheist, said he’d feel like a hypocrite making religious vows.
Ultimately you do have to decide where your ceremony will take place and you might struggle to find a church that will let a celebrant use the premises (although a few will) but, even if you have to compromise on location, you don’t have to compromise on your vows.
A Celebrant can write you each subtly different vows; so one of you could, for example, make promises according to your own ‘heart and conscience’ while the other ‘solemnly swears before God.’
In general, we Celebrants believe you should do what you want on your wedding day. But if, like me, you’re a bit of people-pleaser, it might feel hard to enjoy the whole ‘Your Day, Your Way’ thing if people you love are obviously upset. If someone in your family is making you feel guilty about your non-religious wedding, why not talk it through with a celebrant? (No good Celebrant will charge you for a phone-call or a short meeting/Skype chat.)
You might conclude that you’re not going to pander to the guilt-trippers. After all, the chances are that when granny actually comes to your wedding, she’ll be blown away by how you’ve chosen to celebrate and mysteriously forget all her pre-wedding sniping.
But, if you’re really concerned that your family can’t get past your non-religious choices, then a Celebrant can help you create a ceremony that keeps everyone happy - giving a nod to the traditions that mean so much to the people you care about, but making sure that your love and your beliefs are still firmly at the centre of your wedding ceremony.
No matter how strong your faith, some religions have rules that you just can’t get around. A Celebrant can’t take away the pain you feel when your own faith community won’t marry you - whether it’s because you’re gay, divorced or ‘marrying out’ - but we can work with you, and more accepting members of your community, to give you a wedding that honours and reflects your faith.
A good Celebrant won’t appropriate your culture or try to take on the role of a priest or religious minister. Rather a celebrant is there to listen, to understand the lie of the land in your own tradition and community and then help you to find creative ways to have the wedding you really want - spirituality and all.
What’s more, we’ll do it joyfully! Wild horses won’t stop us from celebrating your decision to get married - no matter who you are, who you love or what has gone before. For us this isn’t an issue of being ‘tolerant’ (horrible word) or ‘liberal’ - it’s because we believe that love - all love - is what makes the world go round.
So do it. Invite God to your wedding - but do it on your terms. You don’t have to choose between two sides of yourself. Your partner loves all of you, just as you are. Make sure your wedding ceremony does too.
Charlotte Simpson lives in Cheshire and travels wherever a wedding takes her. Before she became a celebrant, Charlotte was a producer for BBC Religion and Ethics.See Charlotte's profile here
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