Don’t get me to the church on time …



THE sounds of a ceremony in progress drifted over the fuchsia hedge from next door with a woman’s voice addressing the gathering between intervals of music. This humanist celebration to name the neighbours’ one year old daughter took place on a summer day in a Connemara garden. This charming occasion for a gathering of friends and relations is part of a growing trend in non-religious events for weddings, namings and funerals.
Before the disruption of the pandemic the Humanist Society of Ireland (HAI) were conducting 3,000 ceremonies a year and according to their administrator, Tilda Taylor, the demand for humanist celebrants is growing as things return to normal.“Some of our celebrants are fully booked already for next year. We are increasing our numbers and have 10 celebrants in training at present and will have another 10 in training next year,” she says.
The trend does prompt the question as to why are people moving away from the institutional churches to mark the major rites of passage in life? Perhaps it may be a sign of the way Irish society is becoming increasingly secular. In the 2016 census 78.3% of the population gave their religion as Catholic compared to 84.2 % in 2011 and with a sizeable drop from the peak in 1961 of 94.9 % of the population, while the 2016 figure for no religion was 9.8%.
Maybe for some the turning away has something to do with the many scandals that have emerged about the clergy and religious orders.
The biggest demand for humanist ceremonies is for weddings something the HAI’s celebrants have been able to conduct since the introduction of the Civil Registration Act 2012 which allows accepted secular bodies to conduct weddings. Couples may choose to have a secular celebration because it allows them more freedom to choose the style of ceremony they would like to have, says Tilda Taylor.
Non-religious celebrations allow couples to have the wedding and the reception in the same place, or in a garden or by the sea if they wish so there is more autonomy in their choice without regulation by the church.
There are no laws about who may conduct other types of ceremonies, like renewal of vows or memorials. Requests for secular funerals are less frequent and are most likely come from people who don’ t belong to an institutional church although the trend is growing.
When it comes to funerals there are perhaps two camps, people who talk about how they would like the ceremony to be and those who avoid the subject altogether. My late husband David belonged to the second group, the one thing he did make clear during his last illness was that he didn’t want a traditional church service. Neither of us belonged to an institutional church, whatever our ideas about faith and to go to a church seemed out of keeping with our views.
I had previously attended a humanist funeral at Mount Jerome deconsecrated chapel for a cousin which seemed a dignified way to mark his rite of passage. I was given the name of a humanist celebrant and it was reassuring to have someone as empathetic as Brian to walk me through the organisation of the ceremony, to smooth the path through unfamiliar territory and arrange the details of the service.
Somehow it mattered very much to get the occasion right both for the husband whose life I was celebrating and for the many people who came to remember him. Close fiends gave wonderful eulogies, a very dear friend and his daughter performed part my husband’s favourite piece of music. The most challenging thing at such a time for the celebrant to strike the right note and Brian did so admirably, sincerely and with dignity. It was a great comfort and it was good to have a choice about the ceremony.

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