As a celebrant, there are certain expectations for the weddings we write and deliver and one of these is that most weddings are planned well ahead, giving us plenty of time to get to know the couple, and put a lot of time into writing a bespoke script that really reflects them.
On one occasion this year, I was delighted that my Humanists UK Celebrant training - to be prepared for anything - totally came into its own! This completely unexpected wedding ceremony came with very unusual circumstances and I was so glad it turned out the way it did. What an absolute pleasure to be of assistance and what an experience!
On one Friday afternoon in May I answered my mobile phone to a delightful young lady, Laura – a bride to be the following day - who said, “It’s a bit of a random question, but is there any chance you can write and deliver a humanist wedding ceremony in the Yorkshire Dales tomorrow?”
Laura and her fiancée Alex had planned a civil wedding ceremony at a beautiful venue in the Yorkshire Dales a year previously. Everything was in place. Seventy guests had been invited. The dresses, the suits, the hotel rooms, the wedding breakfast, the flowers, the photographer and everything else had all been booked and paid for, and guests were already arriving for the big day.
Laura, who was incredibly calm, explained that the previous day (the Wednesday) her dad had been out dog walking, and his legs had mysteriously and painfully given way underneath him and he was suddenly unable to walk. Her dad had been rushed to hospital, and had later been discharged to his home, with large amounts of morphine and pain killers. The bride’s nana had also been unexpectantly admitted into hospital for some surgery, so it meant that some significant members of her family would suddenly no longer be able to attend the wedding. Laura was distraught and very worried about her dad. Nobody knew what had gone wrong, or what the prognosis was. As it stood, Laura’s dad was not going to be able to get to the wedding, let alone walk his only daughter down the aisle and so Laura, with Alex’s support, understandably wanted to postpone the entire wedding.
Explaining the scenario to the venue hosts (The Red Lion in Burnsall) and Alex’s parents, it was obvious that cancelling the wedding was the worst case scenario, and would let everyone down at the last minute, so discussions began to come up with a solution. It was decided that the civil wedding ceremony would be postponed to another date some time in the future, so that Laura’s dad would still get to walk her down the aisle later on. Meanwhile, Laura and Alex would try and find a celebrant to lead a wedding ceremony at the Red Lion – as planned – for everyone else.
Hearing Laura’s plight, I felt so sorry for them, and I happened to be free the following day. My major concern was that I wouldn't be able to do them justice with so little notice, but with a little trepidation, I said yes, I would do it.. Laura and Alex pushed back their pre-wedding family dinner that evening by a couple of hours, and came over to meet me at 5pm that afternoon (Friday). They were so lovely, and unbelievably chilled. After having got to know them over a couple of hours, and having scribbled down everything I could muster from our conversations, they left for their pre wedding dinner, and I sat up writing a unique, meaningful and very personal ceremony script from scratch - which I sent to them at 1am for approval.
I had no sleep!!! My head was buzzing! At 8am, I had an email from Alex saying they loved the script. No changes other than a couple of very small factual things. I printed out the script. At 10.30am, just a few hours before the ceremony, I received another email from Alex, saying that against all the odds, Laura’s dad was now able to attend the wedding - so they had reinstated the registrar, but they had loved the humanist script so much that they wanted to keep the humanist ceremony anyway!
When I arrived at the venue an hour or so before the ceremony was due to begin, I learned that Alex and Laura had decided to reduce down the legal ceremony to just 10 minutes, and that this would be carried out with only immediate family, right before the humanist ceremony. All the other guests were kept back so that they would watch only the humanist ceremony. It wasn’t going to be possible to know whether Laura’s dad was able to walk Laura down the aisle twice, until he’d done it the first time. Both sets of parents, who had never heard of a humanist wedding ceremony before, were worried the humanist ceremony wouldn’t be like a real wedding. I assured them it would be even better, and that they would love it!
The registrar was lovely - she was understanding, supportive and kept the legal ceremony really short and formal. The bride’s dad was amazing and managed to walk her down the aisle twice! I was so emotionally charged to see him so proudly escorting his beautiful daughter to stand with her husband-to-be at the beginning of the ceremony.
With emotional lyrics from two songs woven into the script and bespoke, highly personalised, touching vows, followed by light-hearted promises, subtle Game of Thrones references, funny references to their characteristics, a unity candle lighting, a ring exchange with tears and giggles, certificate signing, the oh so cute story of his wedding proposal and their life together so far, the ceremony was really “them".
Laughter, tears, storytelling, poignance, reflection, an adapted Bob Marley reading, guest participation, some great music and an arc of emotions really made this ceremony - like every humanist ceremony - personal and magical.
Laura and Alex said, “Even though we had only met Rachael for the first time less than 24 hours before we got married she instantly understood us and was able to write a beautiful ceremony that told the story of our relationship. Rachael helped turn what had been a very stressful build up to our wedding into a day even more special than we could have imagined and we could not be more grateful.”
Both sets of parents absolutely loved the ceremony as did the guests, many of whom told me afterwards that it was so perfectly reflective of Laura and Alex – and to watch a very happily married Laura and Alex really made it all worthwhile. It certainly all worked out for the best in the end and it was an absolute honour to rise to the occasion.
Congratulations go to the loveliest bride and groom - Laura and Alex, and also huge respect to Laura’s dad, who managed to stay partying until just before midnight. Amazing.
Thank you to Ben Jenkins for use of his photos. www.benjenkinsphotography.co.uk