Whats the difference between a Humanist and Independent Celebrant?

Feb 10, 2022 | Weddings

Photo Credit : Joshua Lawrence

I am often asked what the difference is between a humanist and independent wedding celebrant.

Indeed over the years I have received many enquiries from couples thinking they want a humanist ceremony.   They seem under the impression that this is the only alternative to a run of the mill civil wedding or a church wedding.

Furthermore even some well established wedding venues refer to ceremonies other than those officiated by a Registrar as humanist.  Time for some clarification I think so here goes.

Humanist and Independent celebrants are similar

It’s confusing mainly because the focus of independent and humanist celebrants is the same.  Its on the celebration of a couple’s love with their story, the beating heart of the ceremony.

Both humanist and independent celebrants are also just thoroughly lovely people.  Their sole purpose is to celebrate a couple’s love and thereby uniting everyone.   Both write every word of the script, based on information gleaned from lengthy meetings with couples, and not only include the unique love story but also vow and ring exchanges, words about marriage and love and ending with a joyful pronouncement.

These ceremonies are never boring.  They are peppered with humour and sincerity in equal measure and never fail to exceed expectations.

But there is a difference and that difference comes down to religion or the lack of it.  Humanist ceremonies are based on humanity and reason.  Humanists have no religious beliefs so none are included in the ceremony whereas independent celebrants will do if that’s the couples wish.

humanist or independent celebrant

Photo credit: Heather Photography

Humanist beliefs

Humanists are non religious.  They look to science, reason, empathy and compassion in order to live an ethical and meaningful life.  They do not believe in an after life.

Stephen Fry describes humanism as follows “An approach to life, which encourages ethical and fulfilling living on the basis of reason and humanity, and rejects superstition and religion.  The most immediate impact of living as a humanist is that we believe this life is all there is – so what we do and the choices we make really count.”

During my research into this blog I really enjoyed doing the quiz ‘how humanist are you’ on the Humanist UK website to see how close my beliefs came to humanism. Interestingly a 67% match.

My beliefs

My beliefs do strongly affect how I work as an independent wedding celebrant.  Although not overly religious I do believe that choice is paramount.  My ceremonies have been described as traditionally modern.  I like the familiar format of a church wedding and many of the traditions.  My ceremonies lean that way but without the stuffiness.  They are light, filled with warmth, sincerity and, in my opinion an essential ingredient, playfulness.

My husband and I were married in church.  The million dollar question is would I marry in church now?  In those days one did rather do what one’s parent’s did without question.

But one of the reasons I became a celebrant was because I firmly believe that couples should be aware that there are alternatives to a registrar led civil wedding ceremony or a traditional church service.  That you should be able to have your wedding ceremony as you want it.

humanist or independent celebrant

Photo Credit: Little Phat Dog Photographic

Independent wedding celebrant

Independent wedding celebrants have total freedom; they are able to include whatever the couple want within their ceremony.  Be that a prayer or a hymn or equally no religion at all.  This flexibility means that your ceremony can be tailored to your exact wishes including possibly just a small religious element which will satisfy the most traditional of guest.

To be honest in my experience very few couples want much religion within their ceremony.  Hymns are popular and sometimes the odd religious reading but mostly none at all.

Independent celebrants’ own personal religious, spiritual or atheist beliefs vary from celebrant to celebrant.  Some are christian, some are buddhist, some agnostic.

Where we are all the same is that we are truly inclusive, embracing tradition and individuality ensuring that the couples we work with ultimately have a ceremony that reflects them and their beliefs.  It’s this inclusiveness along with the ability to personalise your ceremony to the nth degree which is seeing the rise in popularity of the celebrant led wedding.

Media exposure

Humanist celebrants have received a fair amount of media exposure recently.  The reason being that a couple of years ago some couples went to the High Court making a landmark challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England.  The judge ruled that “the present law gives rise to ……. Discrimination”.  For the record humanist marriages in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Jersey are already recognised as legally binding.

This ruling is of course good news and gives hope that change is afoot for  Humanist UK but does rather leave us independents out in the cold.  However, the government is currently giving the whole matter consideration in the form of a review into marriage law by the Law Commission.  We are all on the edge of our seats to see what changes, if any, will be made. We are expecting the results later this year.

humanist or independent celebrant

Photo credit: DHW Photography

How a change in the laws would affect me

Although I really welcome the prospect of a change to the marriage laws I have to be honest and admit that a part of me feels cautious and a touch apprehensive.   There is a chance that the change in the law may mean that the celebrant is licensed rather than a venue.

One of the joys of being an independent celebrant is that there are literally no restrictions.  The very word licensed indicates regulation.

I for one will be hoping that the registrars, who are trained to ensure that the correct and important procedures prior to a legal marriage are completed, continue their great work and hopefully leaving the creating and officiating of ceremonies to the celebrants.

Whatever the result is of the long awaited Law Commission review, I say bravo to the Humanists for shining a light on the dire need for a change – whatever that may be.

If you would like more information on my ceremonies click the link here I’d love to have a chat and tell you all about the service I provide.





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