Beautiful, meaningful ceremonies delivered with passion.
Funerals: When my father died in 1998 we had a humanist funeral for him and this was conducted with quiet dignity (and no little humour) by someone who is now a colleague. I emerged from the funeral wanting other families to have the option we had had so I applied to train as a humanist funeral celebrant there and then.
I care deeply about each ceremony I lead and strive to make each one a celebration of that person's life while at the same time acknowledging the (often) raw emotion of the day.
Weddings: I find conducting weddings uplifting, moving and unique. Once I had completed funeral training I then trained for weddings, too, which meant (a few years down the line) that I was able to conduct my sister's wedding, a day neither of us will ever forget.
People often say to me that weddings are ‘easier’ than funerals and I have to disagree. There’s a lot at stake with a wedding and the ceremony sets the tone for the entire day - no pressure! No matter how many times I’ve conducted a wedding I’m never complacent because I only have one chance to get it right for the couple, and this is it!
Namings: These are truly the most wonderful, exuberant occasions and they’re a reassuring alternative to those parents who wish to mark the bestowing of a child's name without having to have any religious influence or content. They're great fun and high-energy events where anything can happen (and usually does), but the watchword is joy.
A bit of Background: I was an actor and a teacher before becoming a full-time celebrant in 2006. I'm glad I took the decision to completely change the course of my life as I find it much more rewarding to help other people rather than to continually ask other people for help!
This work is deeply rewarding and after years of freelance work it is now the only thing I do. I’m available for chats or consultations seven days a week, so please do call me on 07932 888737 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, as I’d be happy to talk things through and give you guidance with no obligation.
Introducing Mark Hayford, Humanist Minister
The funerals I conduct are solely about the person and what they meant to you. I go out of my way to make the process as painless as possible for you by taking responsibility for the music and by reading family tributes if you’re too upset to do so.
I don’t pretend to be sad on the day and I do my level best to celebrate the person’s life. To this end, if I’m asked to deliver the eulogy I do it with passion, with sincerity and with humour (where appropriate.) I aim to do your relative justice and to articulate what they meant to you.
The structure and content of the ceremony can vary from family to family but the basic shape is often quite similar, in that you have music for entry, spoken tributes, music during the ceremony and music for committal and exit. Poems often feature, also, but if you don’t know where to start with poetry I can certainly make helpful suggestions.
If you don’t want to see any movement at the end of the ceremony (the committal), then we don’t have any, which means you can come forward with a flower or a card (as can everyone else) to say farewell to the person before making your way out of the chapel.
‘A huge thank you to Mark for taking our first child’s Naming ceremony. Mark was wonderful and really brought the day to life. We decided to have a Naming ceremony rather than a christening and whilst we liked the idea, we were totally new to humanist ceremonies. Mark took the time to work with us and helped to bring our ideas into a ceremony that was just as we had imagined. The day didn’t run without a slight hiccup, as one member of our family was running an hour late, but Mark insisted that he was ok to wait. This made a real difference to the day - thank you for being so understanding Mark, it was hugely appreciated. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Mark to other people, in fact, the best compliment that we can give is to say that we look forward to working with him again when we add to our family! All of our guests commented on how excellent Mark was and he truly bought some calm to an otherwise stressful day. Mark, thank you for everything and especially for turning a lovely idea into a wonderful day that we will remember forever.’ Luke & Jade
‘Mark, thank you for conducting an outstanding Funeral celebration for my Dad on Monday. Waiting for it was worse than waiting for the dentist but as soon as you started proceedings it became everything I had hoped for and more. You composed a terrific tribute and all the guests continued their day in a positive mood. At the after party so many people asked who you were, commenting that this is the way all funerals should be. First rate.’ Nigel
‘Mark, on behalf of us all I just wanted to say a big thank you for conducting the Funeral ceremony yesterday. It was very well received not only by us but by all the people attending as well. Some of them had never encountered a humanist funeral before but they left saying how powerful they thought it was. We were delighted with how it all went.’ Debbie, Matthew & Pauline
'Mark, the way you delivered mum’s eulogy was full of passion, love, fun and personality, all of which helped bring mum to life. I honestly think she would have approved. It was a day to remember and you played a massive part in that, so a big thank you from all of us.’ Steven, Jacqueline, Alison and the kids
‘Mark, just wanted to drop you a line now that things have calmed down somewhat to say an enormous thank you for all your efforts in making our wedding day so special. Several comments were made by the guests as to how much they enjoyed the service which will, needless to say, live long in our memory. Thank you so much for your kindness and for your infinite patience!’ Charlie & Rachael
Matt & Claire Wedding Video
The brilliant and lovely Matt & Claire get hitched at The Asylum Chapel in Camberwell, and are not put off by the unscheduled arrival of an ice cream van just as they’re invited to ‘remember this moment in time’!!
Never Done This Before
This is something people say to me all the time as families or couples or new parents ask themselves, often for the first time in their lives, what, exactly, a humanist wedding or funeral or naming ceremony should look like? They want guidance and they want answers and that is precisely what I have to offer. I have prepared a template for each of the three ceremonies as I feel that you have to start somewhere, and a template fits that bill: it offers a structure and it offers content ideas. Once you know what to expect you can, with my help, shape the template in any way you see fit and you can also do away with it altogether and build a ceremony from scratch - there are no hard and fast rules. I can be a big part of your ceremony or I can take a back seat - I’m happy with either role. Please click on ‘Humanist Funerals’, ‘A Humanist Wedding’ or ‘A Naming Ceremony’ for a more in-depth exploration of what these ceremonies entail? I hope the information proves to be helpful.
Frequently Asked Questions
If there are no hymns or prayers included in the ceremony isn't the humanist wedding a little... cold?
Au contraire. The non-religious wedding is infinitely more moving than a religious one because it is solely about the couple, their family and friends. What could be warmer or more apt?
Is the humanist wedding ceremony legal?
It is in Scotland but not, alas, in England and Wales. It is hoped that common sense will prevail in the near future and that legislation will be ratified to ensure humanist marriages become legal. When this happens it will do away with the need for a Registry Office ceremony altogether.
Where can humanist weddings take place?
Anywhere you choose. There is no need for a licence so the venue can be wherever you want it to be. Popular London venues include The Asylum in Camberwell, The Altitude Tower, 1 Great George Street, the Fitzrovia Chapel and even Tower Bridge!
Where are you based and are you prepared to travel?
I am based in Herne Hill in south London but I always travel for weddings and have conducted wedding ceremonies throughout the UK as well as in Europe and the wider world. The furthest I have ever been for a wedding ceremony is Mexico.
For weddings in Europe (or the wider world) I will book the cheapest return flight I can find and I do not expect to stay in a 5-star hotel! Sometimes I’m flown out at dawn and return the same day - whatever works for you works for me.
A Naming Ceremony
A humanist naming ceremony is an absolute delight. It is a lovely alternative to a traditional christening and in some ways it is the most humanist ceremony of all, in that the wording often describes what it means to formally name a child in front of its parents, relatives and friends in a non-religious way. But this is not a formal occasion, this is about joy, about involvement, about publicly welcoming a new family member to the world!
Each naming ceremony varies from family to family but most include a welcome and a few facts about the parents, details of the child's birth, how the given name was decided upon and also its derivation.
Parents, Grandparents and Guideparents (or Significant Adults/Mentors) as well as aunts, uncles and any other adult figures who will play a key role in the child's life play a pivotal role, in that all of these key figures may wish to say a few words (but it isn't compulsory.)
There are some simple, powerful pledges that the Guideparents (or Godparents, if you prefer) can make, which can sit alongside more light-hearted pledges of their own that they may have in store.
A single candle can also be lit at a certain point to mark the occasion or a song can be sung by everyone. The climax of the ceremony comes when everyone is invited to formally name the child (as a chorus), which is always a stirring moment.
The atmosphere throughout is joyful and relaxed and as there are often a great many children present things can get a little boisterous, which only adds to the fun! When the ceremony comes to an end I give each couple a copy of their naming ceremony (printed on the most expensive paper I could find!), which is theirs to keep and enjoy in the years ahead. In a decade or so that child will dig out that ceremony and will see what was said (and by whom), and will know that they were valued, loved supported and welcomed! How magnificent is that?
Personal Wedding Vows
‘Claire, since I met you I’ve had the best time of my life. You’re my co-adventurer, my best friend and the love of my life. I promise to always support you, to push you and be there for you. I promise to give everything I have to help us fulfil our dreams together. I promise to choose you, and to choose us, every day, for the rest of my life.‘
‘Matt, you are my favourite person, my partner in crime and the love of my life. I promise always to encourage you, challenge you and believe in you. I promise to be your strongest supporter and your biggest fan. I promise to choose you, to choose us, every day, for the rest of my life.’
‘Kim, I used to feel like I was treading water, like something was missing, like life was not quite complete. I was waiting for something but I didn’t know what it was. Then, in February 2016, I found my missing piece. Until I met you I never knew feelings could be quite so intense. Now it’s over two years later and I still get excited waiting for you to come home. You make me happier than I’ve ever felt. Your achievements make me feel so proud. During our time together we have had some amazing highs and worked through some spectacular lows. I feel our future could be so many things and I can’t even guess at the next adventure, but I know that together we can do anything, face any challenges, create more hilarious memories and be the family I spent all that time waiting for. I love you more than ever and I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together. I’m so glad I found my missing piece.’
Rather than make you fill out a contact form I’m going to offer you an email and a mobile phone number, instead.
My email is email@example.com
My mobile is 07932 888737
Please get in touch with me using either of these methods and I’ll come back to you as quickly as I can!
While the vast majority of Humanist ceremonies are bereft of religious content, most families usually have members of the family that hold allegiance to a faith. It doesn’t matter if it’s a wedding, a funeral or a naming, families need to know how Humanist celebrants will respond to the idea of including some religious content.
I believe it is my duty to be open to the inclusion of religious elements in any given ceremony. Why? Grieving families and engaged couples and new parents have to try to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the ceremony they finish up with, which means that I have a responsibility to be flexible enough to set their minds at ease, irrespective if my own, particular beliefs. These ceremonies are not about me, after all.
You wish to sing ‘Jerusalem’? Fine. Can we recite ‘The Lord’s Prayer’? Of course. It is often the case that tradition dictates that these elements be part of a ceremony (as opposed to a deeply held conviction), and that is yet another reason for me to be open and relaxed in my approach.
I don’t speak for Humanists UK here, only for myself.
My number one priority is to remove as much anxiety from your shoulders as humanly possible - that’s all that matters to me - and if that means including a modicum of religious content, so be it.
Here you will find links to videos I made in 2017 where I give brief glimpses into what makes me tick and attempt to dispel common myths that surround humanist ceremonies. My take is not the same as many of my colleagues and I do not speak for Humanists UK, I speak only for myself, simply so you can see what motivates me.
Here are a few thoughts on an essential ingredient for humanist Weddings. They may seem obvious, but I posted them because I’m not sure I’d realised (even after 12 years of doing this), just how important it was to handle whatever was thrown at you in a calm, measured way.
When the couple arrive at the altar I often see apprehension in their eyes, which is a fear of the unknown quantity - me. Will I do what I said I’d do? Will I cope if anything unexpected happens or will I panic? Will I try and ad lib to get laughs or give an unscheduled talk about ‘the beauty of Humanism’? Will I be over-familiar or dishearteningly remote?
No-one really knows. But I know that I’m going to stick to the plan and try and ensure that this ceremony is the best it can possibly be. I don’t want to be remembered as it is not my day; it is the couple’s day, and if the ceremony is remembered with affection, my work is done.
Memorial for a Friend
‘Seiriol was a good and loyal friend to me for many years. One of the great, accidental pleasures of my life has been my ability to be a source of humour in Seiriol’s life; a welcome distraction, perhaps, and, I hope, a source of real comfort. My desire to put a smile on her face has been a crucial component of our relationship. Over the years we have had so much fun, although Seiriol always struck me as a serious person; as a woman of high moral standards and firm beliefs. Quite the disciplinarian, good manners and decorum mattered to her; she demanded kindness and altruism and she delivered it. Seiriol was outspoken, blunt and full of love, energy and courage. She, like the women who surrounded her, was a force to be reckoned with.
I never normally talk about spirit but if such a thing can be said to exist then Seiriol had it in spades. I implore you to remember Seiriol in the coming months and years and to remember her well. Remember how she shone; remember her bravery and picture that beautiful smile. Throughout her prolonged and often horrendous ordeal Seiriol’s greatest achievement has been this: in all that ugliness, all she could see was beauty. And what I mean by that is that for decades she has taken a deep breath and said: ‘Never say die.’ For her, her various illnesses have been ‘just another battle to get through.’
Seiriol reminded us that a person with cancer has only one desire; to fight against the disease. How magnificently she fought, day and night, and for years. How ferociously she clung to life. What tenacity and maturity and sang-froid she showed (after relating the bad news of yet another demoralising scan) by typing the words: ‘Happy to be alive.’ And my final words for you, Seiriol, are these: ‘Goodnight sweet princess - may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’
This is a short film I had made where I talk about the emotion I invest in my ceremonies and how there’s often a cost involved in this that has nothing to do with money. It’s my view not that of Humanists UK.
I think there’s fine line between empathy and professionalism that every celebrant treads, but what I don’t like to see is someone putting on a ‘ceremonial’ voice or distancing themselves from the raw emotion in front of them, simply because they want to avoid it. Give the family something real; show them that you’re not just reading this you’re delivering it.
If you talk about love and joy at a wedding then mean it - don’t coast through it on autopilot. I have sometimes been close to tears at a wedding or a naming because when couples exchange vows or best friends read poems it’s powerful, and only a robot would remain impervious or impartial in those circumstances.
Many funeral ceremonies are deeply upsetting and it isn‘t always possible to distance yourself from them. Good. What is the point of us if we cannot feel anything, if our only concern is what’s for tea? Yes, hold it together for the family and do as you’ve been asked but be present, too, mean what you say and take on board whatever comes your way, no matter how difficult or painful that may be.