At the end of last year Elopement photographer Raini Rowell reached out to me with an idea of putting together a blog that she could share with the couples she works with. Raini is keen for couples to know all their options when it comes to marriage ceremonies and Celebrants in Scotland.
Some questions and prompts were kindly sent to me to ponder and I thought I’d share the answers here with you. Think of it was a way to get to know me, and my practice as an Agnsotic Scotland Celebrant, a little bit better.
Raini’s blog will be coming soon
Thank you Raini 🌙
What made you want to become an Agnostic Celebrant?
I didn’t set out to become an Agnostic Celebrant. I set out to become a Celebrant and actually I really feel the role, and title, of Agnostic Celebrant found me.
I am not religious but I would say that I have always had a level of, what you might call “modern spirituality”, and I feel that is still true today.
When I decided to train as a Celebrant I began to explore my own spirituality and norms, beliefs and values, a little further. This exploration confirmed to me that my way of thinking about individual belief was strongly agnostic and that our own thoughts, feelings and observations about god and spirituality, indeed about everything, are subjective and I really respect and value that.
A priority for me is to consider others and do no harm, so I feel it’s how I behave and how I treat others that’s important not what I believe or don’t believe.
I chose to train as an Independent Celebrant offering what I would call an ‘agnostic’ choice to couples and families.
Choice is the key word here for me. It became clear very quickly that there was a demand for this type of practice and ceremony. There were many people who were looking for more nuanced ceremonies that were unique to them, their beliefs and values yet may embrace elements of faith, spirituality and ritual.
Couples should be able to decide how they choose to mark the commitment they are making to each other through their marriage ceremony whether that’s religious or secular, mixed faith, traditional or unconventional.
It wasn’t long before I came across two other Independent Celebrants who were working with a similar philosophy and practice so we began to collaborate and created Agnostic Scotland.
Now there is a additional option in Scotland for couples and families and a growing community of like minded Celebrants, individuals and families.
How would you describe an Agnostic ceremony for couples who have never heard of it?
It’s all about you.
Both of you – as individuals and as a couple.
It’s not about what I believe or what the organisation believes. It’s non-dogmatic, open-minded and collaborative.
Every element of the ceremony is woven with your own unique blend of hopes, beliefs and values, whether these include elements of faith-based, spiritual or non-religious ethos. All the words, rituals, music and maybe much loved traditions included are entirely your choice.
My role is to hold space, inspire and guide as we co create your ceremony and then to hold space for you both on your wedding day, to not for you to just say and hear your chosen words, but to feel them in every part of your heart and body from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes.
Some of the couples I work with do wish to include or recognise an element of faith or faiths in their ceremony often this is in a bid to offer a beautiful embrace to their family, their upbringing or culture. Or all three!
What do you wish couples knew before choosing a celebrant? (any tips/pitfalls to avoid)
First of all, Humanist is not synonymous with Celebrant. This will help widen your search if you are looking for a Celebrant rather than a Humanist Celebrant specifically.
Secondly, and it links to number one, there is such a lot of choice for non religious legal marriage here in Scotland.
It’s so important to me that couples are aware they have a choice. I would encourage couples to do their research, talk to people, search on the internet, social media, educate themselves and try to get an understanding of what the different choices and belief bodies are in Scotland. A Celebrant that was right for your sister may not be right for you.
In regard to legal marriage there are Civil Ceremonies with Registrars, there are different branches of Humanist Celebrants, are also Interfaith Ministers, Pagan Celebrants and since last year, Agnostic Scotland Celebrants.
There are also Independent Celebrants – many couples choose to have a wee ceremony and register their marriage with the Registrar, just as you would a birth, then have a non legal Ceremony led by an Independent Celebrant at another date.
It’s fantastic that there are so many options.
It is so important to choose the Celebrant and the practice that is right for you both.
My practice as a Celebrant is underpinned by developing relationships, supporting choice, collaboration and having fun.
What can a couple expect from an agnostic ceremony?
No dogma, we don’t stand up for 5 minutes sharing our views on Agnosticism before your ceremony starts. It’s your ceremony. You’re free to create the ceremony you want for your marriage.
The only stipulations are is that it is safe, respectful and does no harm
What makes having an Agnostic Celebrant different to other types of celebrants?
All of the above and I would add our awareness of inclusion, equity and our responsibility to couples and families as well as our creativity, our love of community and our attention to detail.
Are there any requirements/restrictions to be aware of?
Lots of restrictions at the moment but we won’t go there….
As Officiants, when conducting a marriage ceremony there are some short sentences of legal declarations and pronouncements that must be included but they are beautiful and exciting. You’ll know them well.
Or a favourite part of the ceremony?
I always love ritual, any ritual. Hand fasting, sharing the Quaich or loving cup, bringing in the natural elements through ritual, anything the couple want to include. When couples choose to come to Scotland from overseas it’s so good to learn about, and include, marriage rituals from their culture too.
At the moment I also love surprises. For example a couple may choose to include ‘5 things I love about you’. Here, the couple share 5 things, it can be more, that they love about their partner with me, only with me, and we may need to edit, tweak a little, but I find these usually align beautifully. During their ceremony they share these with each other.
Words of love spoken to, and heard by, each other for the first time during their wedding ceremony – oh my heart!
I really find it rather moving, and also fun, when the couple invite someone to read or recite poetry and that person writes the piece themselves. At a recent ceremony, of a couple who had been together for over 37 years, a very close friend who had travelled on the journey of their relationship and planning the secret wedding, wrote a poem and recited it beautifully. It was funny and fantastic and one of a kind.
What type of couples do you normally marry? Is there anything they have in common?
When I first thought about this I didn’t think there was a ‘type’ but now on reflection I feel is the couples I work with have considered an element of faith or spirituality for their ceremony, even if they are of no faith. They don’t want their officiant to have a dogma but they may want to give a nod to a faith or a spiritual element that they are aligned with through family, culture or their life’s journey.
Also I notice that many of the couples I work with are acutely aware of the carbon footprint of a wedding, sustainability, supporting small business and what is going on in the wider world in regard to cultural appropriation, equity and diversity.
As well as the above I find that couples I work with are very creative, they are keen on outdoor ceremonies, small, intimate ceremonies (not just due to restrictions) and they are very motivated to co-create their ceremony.
How do you treat elopements differently to bigger wedding ceremonies? (if at all)
I wouldn’t treat the process, co-creation and collaboration any differently but what I do find is, if the ceremony is really intimate, so just includes the couple and two witnesses, it doesn’t have to be quite as performative in the way a ceremony may tend to be when there is a larger group of guests. At a larger gathering some guests won’t know the nuances of the couples story or indeed only know one half of the couple. I feel intimate ceremonies have potential to be a more personal but fundamentally, it is about what the couple want. So whether it’s an elopement or a large gathering, ‘the love homework’ which is what I call the couples part of the work, the collaboration and the relationship I build with the couple guides us to creating the ceremony that is right for them.
Do you have any additional advice for couples eloping to Scotland from overseas?
First of all, though we’d love to see you, please wait until this pandemic is over and while you are waiting have a good look through the National Records Scotland website. It tells you everything you need to know and don’t hesitate to telephone them if you need clarification. Take your time to find a local Elopement photographer/videographer or even an Elopement Planner. Look at instagram, it’s a rich resource, as well as websites. You want to find someone who knows Scotland, the lay of the land, the elements, the sunrises, sunsets, light levels and beasties. Also consider using local florists, dressmakers, as well as intimate unique accommodation too. When you embrace Scotland and all it has to offer it will embrace you and your love forever
Do you have a favourite place you’ve married someone?
I don’t have a favourite place but I must say I love outdoor ceremonies amongst mountains, woodland and on the fantastic beaches (and again, not just because of Covid-19). As for indoor ceremonies I’m really excited when couples go for different spaces and places for ceremony such as a vintage double decker bus, a micro brewery, or places that are meaningful to them like a bookshop, their granny’s back garden or their allotment.
What do you think makes Scotland such a special place to marry?
Oh my…. I am totally biased here because I am Scottish, it’s my home and I so love everything about the place, but I’d say:
the rich history
and the mystery,
the gloom, Scotland is a mood
the diverse landscape ….
oh my, the beaches …
I have travelled a lot and compare beaches all the time
Scottish beaches are just stunning,
the quality of the light,
the clear bright blue skies,
and our passion