As with just about everything significant that I have ever done, there were many reasons and it wasn't a decision that I made lightly.
I worked at Liverpool Register Office from 2002. Following specialist training, with the highly regarded Civil Ceremonies in 2014, I continued to work part-time as a Superintendent Registrar, while also working as an Independent Funeral Celebrant.
I created and conducted unique, well researched, personalised, respectful, ceremonies which told the stories and celebrated the life of the person who had died. I led every single funeral and memorial service with the most genuine intent to help families and friends say farewell and honour their loved one in a way that reflected them, the life that they lived and, if pertinent, their beliefs - or lack of beliefs.
I chose to train as an Independent Celebrant because I felt that, within that context, my own beliefs were irrelevant. I felt that the content of the ceremony should always be about the person who had died - never about me (and I still do, but please bear with me).
In September 2015, after leaving the Registration Service, I was able to take bookings for other types of ceremony, including bespoke wedding celebrations, civil partnerships, namings and renewal of vows (which were very different to those that I had to conduct while working as a registrar - where just about everything was prescribed, generic, and template based!).
I immediately became super-busy crafting all kinds of personal and personalised ceremonies for amazing and awe inspiring couples and families. I loved every minute, received fabulous testimonials, went on to win several wedding industry awards and I was delighted to be fully booked for the past five years - including 2020 (but more on that in a moment).
Although I have already said that, initially at least, I felt that my own beliefs were irrelevant in my role as a Celebrant, I have for many years identified as a Humanist. I was born into a Roman Catholic family and adopted and lovingly raised by a Church of England family but I have never believed in any God, or held religious (or supernatural) beliefs of my own.
So, fast forward to 2020... We all know what happened - is still happening! So much heartbreak and uncertainty for so many - and, sadly, it continues. With 90% of my weddings and civil partnership ceremonies postponed, I found myself with plenty of time on my hands - and quite a few inches on my hips (thanks to a new found pastime of baking)
Even after making umpteen trays of cakes I still had time to do A LOT of thinking (and reading, note taking, and list making) whilst eating the cakes!
As a Celebrant, I have been asked to include (and adapt/invent) a plethora of traditional, fun, poignant, cultural, symbolic, inclusive, innovative and creative elements in ceremonies - alongside telling unique and special love and life stories. Elements such as these (and many more)...
It is worth mentioning that apart from funeral and memorial services, I have never been asked to include acts of worship in ceremonies. However, I have been asked to lead prayers in a small proportion of the (almost 700) funerals that I have conducted. It was something that I sometimes felt uncomfortable about, but as it was for and about the person who had died (and their beliefs) it didn’t feel unethical.
But earlier this year, after many conversations, deep reflection (and lots of cakes) I realised that it had started to feel morally wrong for me to conduct funerals with acts of worship. Once I had this epiphany it felt disrespectful and disingenuous to continue to lead prayers, or for me to directly refer to a belief in heaven and/or reuniting in the afterlife. In fact, it was more than that, it began to impact on my feelings of personal integrity, my sense of self, and my mental health.
I concluded that my own beliefs ARE relevant when they are at odds with those of the couple or family that I am working with/for and their desire for (and my aim to ensure that they have) a meaningful ceremony. In other words: If a person holds/held a faith that is/was important to them (particularly when there is a request for acts of worship within a ceremony), they should always be served by someone who genuinely shares that faith or the ceremony will potentially lack meaning for them.
Once I had reached this conclusion I realised how relevant my own beliefs are and how paramount it is for me to feel that I act authentically in EVERYTHING that I do. So, I decided to take my own, often given, advice of: 'Follow Your Dreams'.
I contacted Humanists U.K. and applied to be accredited as a Humanist Celebrant. Providing high-quality, personal, non-religious ceremonies to the highest possible standard is something that Humanists U.K. takes very seriously. I was delighted to meet their discerning admission criteria, partake in some additional training, pass their stringent assessment, and be warmly welcomed to the supportive and quality-assured Humanist Ceremonies Celebrant network.
However, I was conscious that my decision could potentially affect my existing couples. Before I formally accepted my accreditation, I wrote to all of my already 'booked in' wedding and civil partnership couples. Although I was confident that I had made the only decision possible, for me, I was worried that my couples had already had enough to deal with this year. I was concerned that I might cause them additional stress, but I wanted, and needed, to be honest with them - they deserved a fuller explanation.
So, I sent them each an email. This is an extract from one:
“...I personally identify as a humanist, this is something that I have never shouted about nor hidden. It means that I believe that this is the only life that I will have and I try to live it well. I endeavour to be kind to people and animals and help others as much as I can - by thinking for myself and acting for others.
Of course, I fully respect that other people hold different beliefs (or none at all) and I have always vigorously defended their right to do so (and always will)...
However, after years of deliberation, for quite a few different reasons, I have finally made the decision to align my personal beliefs with my business practices..."