Monday, 27 June 2011

Your wedding - your responsibilities

There is a lot to think about in the weeks and months running up to a wedding but one thing that you can't get away from is the fact that you must fill out and submit paperwork to the registrar to give notice of your intention to be married.

The paperwork is called an M10 Marriage Notice and can be collected from the registrars or downloaded from the General Register Office for Scotland website - here:
Each party must fill in a separate form so that the registrar can be satisfied that you are both aware of the proposed marriage.

The earliest that this can be done is 3 months before the wedding date and the latest is 15 days before. My advice is to do it three months in advance and get it out of the way. The registrar must be satisfied that you are free to marry each other and so you will need to provide divorce or annulment papers if either of you have been married before or a death certificate if either of you is a widow or widower. If either of you is not a UK citizen, please contact the registrar as soon as possible to check what paperwork you need to provide with your M10 form. There is a fee to be paid when you submit your forms and you'll find up to date details of this at the GRO website above.

The paperwork must be submitted to a register office in the district in which the marriage is to take place. Please check carefully the opening hours of the register office you want to use as some are only open on certain days for limited hours. You can submit your M10's by post but please be sure to attach the correct postage and my advice is to send it registered post. If it doesn't have the correct postage it will be rejected at the register office.

Once the registrar has your paperwork, he/she will prepare a Marriage Schedule which is the paperwork that we will sign on the day.

The Marriage Schedule must be collected by either the bride or the groom in person during the seven day period leading up to the wedding. Nobody else can collect it.

Please check that the details are correct when you collect it. It must be delivered to me before the marriage ceremony can commence. I can't start the ceremony until I have that piece of paper in my hand - there are no exceptions to this rule.

Once you have made the required legal declarations during the ceremony and I have pronounced or declared that you are husband and wife, the Marriage Schedule must be signed straight away in permanent black liquid ink. I will provide the fountain pen for this on the day.

Both the bride and groom sign, I sign and the two witnesses sign. The schedule must then be returned to the registrar from whom it was collected within three days so that the marriage can be officially registered. Anyone can do this. It does not have to be the bride or groom and it can be popped through the letterbox if the register office isn't open. You will then receive a marriage certificate to prove that you are married.

To summarise:
  • Fill out and submit the M10 forms to the registrar between three months and fifteen days before the wedding date
  • If you post them - make sure you attach the appropriate postage and send by recorded delivery.
  • Collect the Marriage Schedule from the registrar during the seven days before the wedding. Only the bride or groom can do this.
  • Deliver the schedule to me before the ceremony can commence.
  • Return the signed schedule to the register office within three days. Anyone can do this
For any queries about the legal paperwork side of things, the best person to speak to is the local registrar. They are helpful and knowledgeable and will keep you straight about things.

I will do my best to remind you about all of this and I always go over it when we meet but I can't emphasise this enough:


I make no apologies for putting the above in big bold block capitals - you do not want to get to four days before the wedding and suddenly realise that the M10's haven't been submitted.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Be prepared

As the popularity of Humanist marriage ceremonies grows it is becoming clear to us that in some areas demand far outstrips supply. This is especially true of areas like Edinburgh and Glasgow where, even though we have a lot of celebrants in place, they still find themselves having to ask celebrants from further afield to travel so that couples can have the ceremony that they want. Of course, if you think about the logistics of it all, most couples want to get married on a Saturday in Summer so that is 12 or maybe 13 Saturdays to choose from. Add in May and that gives us another 4 dates. It really is a pretty small window of opportunity.

The point about all of this is that if you want a Humanist marriage ceremony on a summer Saturday, then my advice is to book as far ahead as possible. Some of my colleagues already have bookings for 2013 so there is no such thing as too soon!

The other thing to think about is that if you aren't tied to a Saturday, think about a Friday, a Sunday or a midweek booking. An added advantage of this is that most venues will offer you a really good deal for any day but Saturday and it could cut costs considerably!

Up here in the Highlands and Islands we are also finding that on certain dates all 11 of us are booked and it is really awful to have to disappoint couples. There is always the option for us to do two ceremonies in one day but that depends on the timings and distances involved and quite often, being a fairly rural area it means that the distance between venues means that this isn't an option.

Weddings outside the high season can be beautiful - just think of a winter wonderland or a sunset ceremony as the leaves are starting to change colour in the autumn and you get the picture. Another advantage to off season weddings in public locations like beaches or castles is that there will be far fewer tourists around, accommodation will be easier and cheaper to find and last but not least - you won't have to contend with the dreaded midgies!

So, the moral of the story is 'book early or be prepared to be flexible about days and/or times'

Sunday, 27 February 2011

A wonderful memorial ceremony

I blogged earlier in the month about preparing to do a memorial at a nursing home and I'm happy to say that it all went really well and I had a brilliant time. The 'audience' was made up of staff and relatives of the residents who had passed away and they really seem to appreciate the sentiments and the poetry elements of the ceremony. It was quite emotional as you would imagine and I was really touched by a poem that was read by the grandson of one of the reidents who had passed away last year. It was called 'Slow Dance' and has some wonderful advice for us all with our busy twentieth century lives

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round

Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly's erratic flight
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

Do you run through each day on the fly
When you ask "How are you?" do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores running through your head?

You'd better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

Ever told your child,
We'll do it tomorrow
And in your haste, not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die
'Cause you never had time to call and say "Hi"?

You'd better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift....
Thrown away...

Life is not a race
Do take it slower
Hear the music
Before the song is over.

It's really what we are all about:- slow down and make the most of life whilst you are here because it's the only chance you'll get.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Wedding Vows - don't let them stress you out

A lot of couples get stressed when they start to think about the vows that they will make to each other during the wedding ceremony. As far as I'm concerned, it is not absolutely necessary to write your own vows although I admit that a couple of lines that come from the heart are preferable to something that has been lifted randomly from the internet.

For a lot of people though, the thought of trying to put into words the kind of promises that they want to make to their future husband or wife fills them with horror. With the best will in the world, not everyone can do this and so I have a big file of sample vows which might give you inspiration. You may find something in here that says exactly what you want to say and if you do that's great, we'll go with it.

You may find a line here and a line there that you want to put together and mix and match. Again, if that's what you want to do - we'll do it that way.

If you do feel moved to write your own vows, try to do it from the heart. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare - it just has to be pledges that you really mean and that reflect the reality of your life together. Try not to make them too long and involved - short and sweet is better and it will concentrate your mind into focusing on the things that are really important to you both. Try making a list of the things that you miss about each other when you are apart, or list the things that attracted you to each other in the first place. Remember vows don't have to be deadly serious and stuffy and sometimes adding a little humour can be great if that's the kind of people that you are.

Some couples work together on their vows and say identical ones. Some work on them on their own and send them to me separately. That way, the first time that the other person hears them is on the wedding day. Only you two know whether that approach is something that you are both comfortable with.

When it comes to the ceremony itself, there are several ways that we can approach the part where you actually make your vows. Some couples are worried that they will get emotional at this point and it would be strange if they didn't. I always have tissues available so if the emotions get too much, we can take a moment to compose ourselves and then carry on. Don't worry about it....

When the time comes for you to make your vows, I'll ask you both to turn, face each other and join hands. We can then do it one of several ways:
  • We can write the vows on a card and you can just read them off.
  • I can say the lines individually and you can repeat them after me: for instance 'Stuart - please repeat after me - I promise to always surround you/ with the love that you deserve.
  • We can do it in the format where I ask if this is what you promise and you just reply I do - for instance 'Stuart do you promise to always surround Susan with the love that she deserves?' and you just reply - I do
The last option is great for those of you who feel very nervous about actually standing up in front of people and saying very personal words.

You should choose the approach that you feel most comfortable with: don't stress yourselves more than necessary on the day and try to use words that you are comfortable with. If you try to make them very flowery and poetic and that is not who you are, the people who know you will know that you are trying too hard.

Enjoy this very intimate part of your ceremony and remember to look at your future wife or husband when you speak - and not me!!!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Being a celebrant isn't just about weddings..

Weddings are lovely to do and they are certainly on the increase as far as popularity is concerned but I, like a lot of my colleagues became a celebrant to conduct non religious funerals. Weddings are a lovely bonus but for me, funerals are the most wonderfully rewarding work.

Now of course I can't blog about the funerals that I do in the same way that I can talk about weddings but I wanted to share a ceremony that I am involved in planning at the moment.

A couple of months ago I did a funeral for a lady who had passed away at a relatively young age and who had spent the last few months of her life in a nursing home. The funeral director was not one that I had worked with before and he called me a couple of weeks later with a germ of an idea. The manager of the nursing home had been toying for a while with the idea  of having a memorial service for the residents at the nursing home who had passed away the previous year and she wanted it to be non religious so as to include as many people as possible. She had spoken to the funeral director and he had suggested that she approach me which she did. I immediately thought - what a brilliant idea!

When I got to thinking about it, I realised that both the staff and the residents at the nursing home must have to deal with the death of somebody that they had become close to on a regular basis and quite often not be able to attend the funeral to say their farewells to them.

For a nurse, it is part of the job to be faced with the loss of a patient and they deal with it in a professional and yet compassionate manner. For the staff at a nursing or care home, I think it is slightly different. Quite often the residents are with them long term - sometimes for years and they must become quite close to them and to their families. I know that whenever I have performed a funeral for someone who has been in a nursing or care home the family talk about the staff almost as part of the extended family. I don't think that they could do such a wonderful job without caring and compassion but that means that they must grieve for the loss of a patient that they were close to in much the same way as if they lost a friend. The downside though is that they can't all go to every funeral for obvious reasons and so they miss out on what I consider to be a vital part of the grieving process. I hope that the memorial ceremony that I am going to do will go some way to addressing this.

I talked to my good friend and colleague Penelope about the idea for the ceremony and she told me that her mum had spent a long time in a nursing home towards the end of her life. One of the things that she commented on was the fact that when one of the residents passed away, sometimes the first that they knew about it was when they realised that their friends room was empty. Obviously there is immense pressure on nursing home beds and usually within a couple of days there was a new person in the room. With the best will in the world, nursing home staff can't always take residents along to a funeral and so they too can miss out on a chance to say their final farewells to someone they may have known for years. For them too, I hope that the memorial will provide some comfort.

The ceremony will be happening on Saturday and we are just putting the finishing touches to the poetry and the readings and we'll be finishing it all off with a well wishing. As far as I know, this hasn't been done before in this format and so I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully making it an annual occurrence.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Lots of different wedding plans

Over the past couple of weeks I've met up with lots of different couples to start planning their weddings. It's always great to meet them for the first time, even if I've spoken on the phone or exchanged loads of emails. What never ceases to amaze me is that every single couple is different and that they all have their own specific vision of what their wedding day will be like.

It's my job to help them translate that vision into reality. There is no such thing as a standard ceremony and it certainly isn't the case that one size fits all. Every single couple has a unique story and a unique outlook on life and their ceremony should reflect these things.

I encourage couples to take as big a part as they are comfortable with in writing their own ceremony and some launch themselves into it with gusto which is great. Some prefer to just let me know what kind of things they want included and leave it all to me which is also great. It's all about the right ceremony for the right couple.

It's an incredible privilege to be asked to be involved in such a momentous and important day and I try to never lose sight of the fact that I am a guest at their wedding and that it is their day and not mine.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Wedding fayres, harps and cakes and more.....

Just back from a great day at a wedding exhibition at the Ramnee Hotel in Forres. My colleague George and I met lots of prospective brides and grooms who were really enthusiastic and genuinely interested in having a Humanist ceremony. A lot of the couples that we met had got engaged at Christmas or New Year and in one case they got engaged yesterday! This meant that they were at the early stages of planning and a lot of them were talking about weddings for 2012 and even beyond. At one stage people were actually waiting in line to speak to us - we had great fun hearing all of their stories and their ideas about what they want their wedding day to be like.

There were a fair few mums and dads there as well with their daughters/sons and it's always good to be able to explain to them what we are all about. Sometimes mums and dads are a bit unsure when the couple mention the possibility of a Humanist wedding - just because they may have never heard of it. When they meet us and realise that what we offer is very personal whilst being dignified and meaningful at the same time it puts their mind at rest a bit.

Where your table is at a wedding fayre is tremendously important. Today we were between Fiona Kyle who is a talented and inspirational harpist, and Joy Potter who makes fabulous celebration cakes and is based in Fochabers.

Fiona Kyle - Inspirational Harping
Couples often ask me about music for their wedding ceremony and my own personal favourite kind of music for a wedding is a harp (perhaps because I had a harp at my own wedding) Harp music is wonderfully romantic and soothing and can be played as people arrive in the background, for the bride to make her entrance and walk down the aisle, whilst we are signing the paperwork, for the couple to walk out together and as the fizz is served afterwards. It is incredibly versatile and has a beautiful Celtic influence which fits really well within a Scottish wedding. It's often an idea for the harp to play at the quieter more contemplative moments, and have a piper to pipe for the more celebratory parts of the ceremony like when the newly weds make their exit up the aisle.

I was chatting away with Fiona this afternoon and we got talking about the kind of music that she is asked to play. One lady was asking her about some Take That tunes which she played brilliantly but my favourite was Fiona's incredible version of 'Nothing Else Matters' by Metallica. I kid you not - Metallica on the harp and it's great. Go to Fiona's website and you'll find a recording there of her playing it. So, don't think that Harp = classical music, it so doesn't!

Of course one of the best bits about a wedding is the cake and all afternoon there was a steady stream of couples at the stand next door where Joy Potter was exhibiting her beautiful wedding cakes. Joy had a huge selection of pictures in her album as well as on her computer of all the cakes she has done in the past. She had three beautiful ones on display as well - something for all tastes. The proof of the pudding though is in the eating as they say and I can personally vouch for the deliciousness of Joy's cakes. I considered it my duty to taste the chocolate, the madeira and the fruit cake so that I was able to confidently recommend them and I'm happy to say that they were all equally scrumptious!

The other thing that I'll say is that I have seen some incredible prices quoted for wedding cakes - some into the many many hundreds of pounds. I was glad to see that Joy had some of her prices on display today and they seemed to me to be excellent value for such professionally made delicious cakes.

We were lucky to have Marie from Highland Occasions by Design opposite us. Marie runs a fantastic business offering venue dressing for your wedding so that means chair covers and sashes, stunning table centrepieces and lots lots more. There always seemed to be somebody at her stand and if the gorgeous centrepieces on display are anything to go by, she will do a great job transforming your venue for your big day. For those of you considering a wedding at a local village hall or similar venue then it could be a great option. You can have the convenience and affordability of a local hall without compromising on elegance and those little details that pull it all together.

Stunning contemporary centrepiece from Highland Occasions by design

It's great to do some networking at events like this and even better when the businesses that you meet are local, affordable and professional. I believe passionately that local is always better in many ways: it keeps the economy going, it supports local jobs and it means that we aren't all travelling hundreds of miles and burning lots of fuel to do it!

All in all it was a great day, lots of chat, lovely music and cake too..