Secular Celebrancy – An Introduction

See also: The Value of Humanist Chaplaincies


Last summer I asked the wonderful woman I plan to share my life with to marry me. Plans were quickly made for an outdoor autumn wedding where we could get married amidst the beauty of the fall foliage.  We are both Secular Humanists and decided to have a small service that talked about love, commitment, and family … and was in no way religious. This would be no problem if we were willing to drag our families down to the courthouse and have a government official marry us but in order to fulfill our wishes we needed someone that would perform the service at the location we chose. It turned out that our choices were limited and we ended up asking a UU Minister to perform the ceremony.

When the big day arrived, it was a sunny warm October morning. The trees were showing off their autumn finery and we had gathered our immediate families in a brick courtyard under their boughs.  The minister did her thing and we shared our vows and the event couldn’t have gone better. Then the UU minister handed us our personal horoscopes that she had put together and counseled us on the importance of the stars in our lives. Sigh.

It turned out to be a small hiccup in an otherwise perfect day but it made me aware of a problem. There is a great dearth of options for those that want a secular wedding and even less choice for couples that want a Humanist ceremony. My own wedding may have been small but how many people were out there and felt stuck when it came to choosing who will marry them?

This problem came to mind from time to time but to tell you the truth, I had a more important issue on my mind. I had been out of work for a year and a half and had developed medical issues that prevented me from returning to the construction industry where I had worked as a building inspector and repairman.  Here I was at 40 years of age, trying to start over by applying for jobs I had little or no relevant experience for in one of the worst economies the world has ever seen.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened but at one point the problem of my unemployment and the issues of secular couples ran through my mind concurrently and a light bulb went off. Could I address both of these problems with one plan? After all, I had paid a few hundred dollars to the UU Minister to officiate at my wedding. My wife’s career was doing fine and we didn’t need much additional income to be able to pay the bills and start building up our savings. Could I become a Humanist Minister?

Even though I had thought of myself as a Humanist for a long time, it wasn’t that long ago that I joined the American Humanist Association (AHA). The AHA has a proud history of ordaining what they call “Celebrants” to officiate weddings and other of life’s important moments.  After a year of membership in the AHA you are free to apply to be a Celebrant.  Celebrants cover everything from weddings to funerals. They do baby naming ceremonies and help mark other milestones of life without a religious message. Wait a minute…one year?

A year sounded like forever. Could we hold out a year? Then I started thinking about what I was getting into and a year didn’t’ sound like much time to prepare.  After all, I’ve never performed a wedding before. What do I do? What do I say? But then again, how can I wait? We have been walking a tightrope throughout my unemployment. A couple of big unexpected expenses could hurt us badly. Ready or not, I decided that I couldn’t wait a year. As much as I respected the AHA Celebrant program I needed to find another solution.

Fortunately, I help administrate for a group on Facebook© called Freethought Group Organizers. These are over 400 talented organizers from all over the USA and the world with many Humanist groups represented.  We share best practices in an informal way and with so many great organizers I had a deep pool for advice. I had a heartening conversation with a friend of mine that runs a Humanist group in Cape Fear, North Carolina. Han Hills has been a Humanist Celebrant for many years and has officiated at numerous ceremonies in and around his area.  Once I got over the disconcertedness of hearing a British accent when I expected a southern one, I found that Han is an old pro at this. His obvious passion for this sort of thing came through in his advice and not only made it seem manageable but desirable. Where at first I had wanted to help a few people and earn a few bucks, now I saw that I could be a real resource for nonbelievers in my area. Han also let me in on a little secret. I didn’t need to wait a year.

As their webpage states  will make you “…an ordained member of the Spiritual Humanist clergy for free right now!”  I rushed to the site, filled out their form, verified by email and all of a sudden I was a Humanist minister. No fuss, no muss, and no waiting. I still plan to apply to be a Celebrant with AHA when the time comes, but at least now I can start thinking about making my idea a reality.

As soon as I figure out how to perform a wedding.

About Scott Rhoades

In addition to being a Secular Humanist Celebrant, Scott Rhoades is the founder and president of the Lancaster Freethought Society where he works towards providing a strong community for freethinkers in Lancaster, PA. He also is an organizer and does PR for the PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference, is a contributor to the Humanist Community Project and serves on the Executive Committee for the Secular Coalition of Pennsylvania. Scott also works as an administrator for Freethought Group Organizers on Facebook where he works with hundreds of organizers from all over the U.S. and around the world to develop best practice strategies. FGO helps freethought leaders avoid missteps and gives them an opportunity to learn from the great depth of experience and talent of seasoned freethought organizers. After many years working as an HVAC technician, truss builder, glass cutter, envelope machine technician, aluminum plant worker, forklift driver, rock driller, assistant blaster, and building inspector, Scott now works as a Celebrant and beekeeper. He and his wife teach critical thinking skills, skepticism, and humanist values to their children. He is also a long time proponent of LGBT rights. Although a strong advocate of the separation of church and state, Scott believes that you can be civil and tolerant towards those practicing religion without compromising your values or ideals and that you can be respectful to the religious without respecting the religion.

2 comments on “Secular Celebrancy – An Introduction

  1. Pingback: Humanist Celebrant Training, March 2-4, 2012 (spots are limited!) | The Humanist Community Project

  2. Pingback: I Now Pronounce You Husband and Wife…Maybe. | The Humanist Community Project

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