A Spiritual Humanist or Universal Life Church minister functions in the same way as any member of the traditional clergy, with one exception... we are not affiliated with traditional religious beliefs or organizations, and in many cases, we don't invoke or refer to any type of religion, god or deity in our ceremonies.
We do all the usual "ministerial" things... perform wedding ceremonies (yes, they're legal), conduct memorial services, minister to the sick, dying or traumatized, and facilitate many other types of ceremonies, such as welcoming a new baby into the family or blessing a new house. Most of us conduct less traditional ceremonies as well, and some examples of these include rites of passage such as menopause, divorce or separation rituals, commitment ceremonies for non-traditional families (polyamorous, step-families, same-sex couples, etc.). Most of us will design a ceremony for any event or personal milestone.
Many of us volunteer to work with the sick and dying, the homeless, abused children, substance abusers and others who might benefit from secular counseling. We are also in the process of organizing ourselves to go into disaster areas -- such as the sites of plane crashes, natural disasters or terrorist attacks -- to offer support to survivors who find little comfort in the words of the religious ministers who traditionally counsel in these situations..
What are Non-Religious Ceremonies Like?
Non-religious weddings can be anything from a conservative, traditional white wedding to an imaginative, off-the wall ceremony for something unusual. Speaking for myself, my wedding ceremonies focus on the couple's choice to share a life together and to function as a pair in their community. It includes the agreements (vows) they want to govern their marriage, and these agreements can be anything the couple chooses. My favorite vows include a promise to tell the truth, to allow the other person to grow at his/her own pace, to take risks and communicate no matter how painful the issue is, and to support the growth and survival of the partnership without losing sight of one's own personal growth. When kids are involved, I like to have them particpate in the ceremony as well. I may also include selected pieces of ritual or literature from a cultural heritage or legacy to which the couple feels particularly connected. Some favorties are of Celtic or Native American origin. In one wedding, the couple's dog walked down the aisle as the ring bearer (the ring was in a little pouch strapped to his back). Anything goes.
An example of a more unusual ceremony would be one I did for a man who had very long hair, and when he decided to change his life -- quit drinking, start a new relationship, let go of his anger etc -- he decided to cut his hair as a symbol of his "new" self. He had a long braid which he cut off, and we buried it in his garden so it would decompose, becoming part of the earth and growing into something new, which was symbolically what the man himself was doing. We planted seeds over it. He invited friends to witness this process, and it was very powerful. Another ritual involved a mother and son. The son was leaving home to go to college, and the mother felt that she needed help letting go of him. The ritual involved the two of them tying a ribbon around each of their waists, symbolic of the "apron strings." In the ritual, they cut the ribbon, letting each other go. They were surrounded by loved ones, and it was very moving. I've also done midlife (menopause) ceremonies for groups of women, which is a vitally important passage that is sadly under-ceremonialized in our culture.
IF YOU'RE WONDERING HOW THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT FEELS ABOUT SECULAR CEREMONIES...
Copyright 1998 Terri Mandell (aka Terri Daniel)
Contact Terri Daniel:
tel: (541) 549-4004 or (541) 537-1012