With over half the UK’s population stating they are not religious, and following an announcement in the 2018 Budget, the trend for tailored and meaningful non-religious and outdoor wedding ceremonies is, without doubt, on the rise. As a humanist wedding celebrant and seasoned event organiser, I hope I can provide some advice, or at least some food for thought for couples choosing to have an outdoor wedding ceremony in the UK.
What ceremony choices do I have right now?
Although marriage laws are much freer in Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey and Scotland, where the annual number of humanist wedding ceremonies have now overtaken the combined number of Church of England and Catholic wedding ceremonies;outdoor weddings in England and Wales are only legally recognised if they take place in a permanent structure with a solid roof, and are officiated by a Council registered registrar or clergy officiant. If couples opt for a registrar, it can be pot luck. Most civil ceremonies are bound by restrictions regarding the content, duration and originality of the ceremony and although some couples are lucky, others end up with a short, prescriptive ceremony delivered by a total stranger.
What’s the alternative?
There is another time honoured, but increasingly popular type of ceremony. Appointing a professional celebrant, trained by an ethical organisation like Humanists UK, offers couples the opportunity to select someone they like,can get to know, and feel comfortable with, to guide them through both the planning and delivery of a personal, significant and bespoke, non-religious wedding ceremony.
A celebrant will craft a ceremony script that incites an arc of emotions, often including laughter, romance and (good) tears; weaving into the occasion sensitivity, a clever concoction of storytelling about how the couple met and fell in love; live or recorded music, readings,traditional or creative symbolic acts, solemn and also perhaps lighthearted but bespoke vows,guest participation and a host of well thought out ‘stage directions’.
Ceremonies can take the form of being incredibly formal, casual, traditional, completely off the wall – or a mixture of styles, depending on the couple’s own values, personalities and wishes and couples see and can edit and approve the script before the big day.
“But are they legally recognised?” you ask. No. Not yet. The way to rationalise this is to group your wedding day with all the other momentous occasions in life - your own birth, the birth of your children and also death. None of these important life occasions legally require a registrar to be present at the time of the action; however by law, they all require local government registration and certification as legal proof.
So, to have a humanist or other celebrant led wedding recognised by law, the couple must simply also undertake a legal marriage ceremony with a registrar (which requires two people to witness it) or a civil partnership registration (with no witnesses). This can be carried out for under £50 at a register office, any time before or any time after the wedding day. Or in a separate ceremony on the day. It doesn’t need to be a big affair and there is no time limit.
Although some couples may find this process a little annoying, the positive flipside is that professional celebrant led weddings are truly magical, very personal and incredibly memorable. And right now, they can be held absolutely anywhere – allowing couples to be as creative, elaborate or cost effective and intimate as they like.
Celebrant led weddings can be held on the terrace in your own back garden, on a beach, in your favourite pub or boutique hotel, in the local park or woodland glade, in the splendour of an art gallery, in a deconsecrated chapel, on a boat, in a castle, at the top of a mountain or on a stage in a cosy, rug strewn tipi at your very own wedding festival in a field somewhere. Anywhere. The world, as they say, is your oyster and the limit is your imagination!
Here are eight brief pointers for any UK outdoor ceremony!
1. Date: February, May, July and September can be more reliable than June and August. February can be crisp, sunny and beautiful. And the colours in September and October are simply gorgeous. Think about intense heat as well as rain and wind, and seat your guests accordingly, taking into consideration hay fever, sinking chair legs and glaring sun.
2. Preparation: Wear sensible footwear if there is a likelihood of sinking in the mud – or supply a hard floor. Be mindful of long trains, sheer veils and windswept hair if it’s likely to be windy, rainy or muddy. Provide bottles of water, sunscreen, parasols or sun visors for hot days, and blankets and brollies for rain or cold weather. Take wellies and secure long hair!
3. Plan B: If possible, prepare an alternative ceremony room or covered outdoor space. Discuss the options with your officiant or wedding planner and be led by their expertise on the day.
4. Accessibility: Are all your guests mobile enough to get to the destination easily? What about toilet facilities?
5. Sound:If you have more than 50 guests, think about wind, road, air traffic and other ambient noise. How far are your guests from you and the officiant? Do you need an electricity fed PA System? If so, how many microphones and speakers do you need? Will you have live musicians? If not, who will operate the music?
6. Decorations– Go wild! If your ceremony is outdoors, choose flowers that can withstand a sharp breeze and a flash downpour!
7. Duration– between 20 and 30 minutes is usually about right but be prepared to cut sections of the ceremony, eg readings and certificate signing, which can be delivered later if weather is particularly inclement!
8. Relax - enjoy and love your outdoor ceremony!
Thank you to Sira Studio, Ann Aveyard and Stephen Parker for use of their photography.
Thank you to FTAV for their advice on sound systems for wedding ceremonies.
More detailed information on wedding ceremonies is available at http://www.rachaelmeyer.com