Humanist Celebrants vs Independent Celebrants: Which is the Better Choice for You?


humanist-celebrantsYou may have already made the decision to use a celebrant for your wedding, vow renewal, or naming ceremony. That’s great! But it’s not the end of your decision-making process. There are thousands of different celebrants in the UK, each with their own individual writing and. presenting style, and some of them may sell themselves as Humanist Celebrants. But what is a humanist celebrant? What is humanism? And how does a humanist celebrant differ from an independent celebrant?

Humanist Celebrants

What is Humanism?

Humanism is a world view that many people hold, yet very few will equate their view with the word ‘humanism’, or will have ever even heard of the term. In a nutshell:

Historically there have always been non-religious people who believe that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural occurrence with no spiritual or supernatural side, and that we can live decent, caring and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. Humanists trust to the scientific method, evidence, and reason to establish truths about the cosmos and have placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.

An Ipsos Mori poll from 2007 indicated that 37% of the British population subscribe to some or all of these views, but did not subscribe to the Humanist movement itself. This may be a result of Humanism, as an organisation, becoming quite doctrine-driven in recent years, as well as requiring a membership fee for subscribers – essentially, functioning more and more like a church or other religious organisation.

How Widespread are Humanist Celebrants?

Despite the prominence of the organisation itself, Humanist celebrants actually make up a very small percentage of celebrants in the UK. It is estimated that there are over 4,000 celebrants in the UK (and this number is growing rapidly), but Humanist celebrants make up less than 10% of this number. This number may be slightly higher in Scotland, where Humanist celebrants are able to legally marry people – but more on that later.

Humanist Celebrants vs Independent Celebrants

humanist-celebrantsThere are three key things to bear in mind while deciding whether or not to choose a Humanist celebrant for your big day.

Firstly, a Humanist ceremony will differ from a ceremony led by an independent celebrant because a Humanist ceremony will reflect Humanist values, while an independent celebrant-led ceremony will reflect your values. These may coincide; if that’s the case, then perhaps a Humanist ceremony will be best for you, as the values you hold will be shared by the celebrant, and they will be able to lead the ceremony with confidence and professionalism in a manner that is befitting of your own personal values. However, if your values don’t entirely line up with those shared by Humanists, then an independent celebrant – a person who can tailor the ceremony exactly to your values and preferences – is the better choice.

Secondly, and following on from the previous point, most Humanist celebrants subscribe to Secular Humanism, which doesn’t give them allowance to acknowledge any spiritual or religious content or rituals during celebrant-led ceremonies. That means if you have a Humanist ceremony, you won’t be able to have any poems, readings or songs that have religious or spiritual connections. Again, this may appeal to you and your world view, but for many couples who grew up religious or have a religious family, a nod to this through a Bible verse can make all the difference at a wedding. An independent celebrant will almost always cater for requests like this, even if it doesn’t conform to their own personal world view.

Finally, there’s legality to consider. In England and Wales, Humanist celebrants have no more right to legally marry couples than independent celebrants do. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, however, Humanist celebrants are able to legally marry couples. If it’s important to you to not have to go to the registrar before your celebrant-led ceremony, then a Humanist wedding in Scotland or NI could be the option for you. However, don’t forget that there’s a law commission paper currently being considered which would change these laws completely and allow all celebrants to legally marry couples, and these changes may be less than a couple of years away.

Whatever you decide, you can check out our list of UKSOC-trained celebrants on our Celebrant Directory.