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Monday, 01 September 2014

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In total control

Most newly engaged couples are bursting with excitement and can’t wait to tell their family and friends their good news.

So it’s a true test for a couple to keep their engagement secret for a whole year but for Emma Heys and Toby Woodhead keeping the news of their engagement to themselves gave them time to think about the type of wedding they wanted.

The couple had been travelling and lived in New Zealand for 12 months and it was on their way back home when they had stopped in Bangkok that Toby proposed.

But when they arrived home they decided to keep the happy news to themselves until they settled back into life in the UK.

Emma, originally from Arlecdon, explains: “We had been away for so long and had to sort out jobs when we came back so we didn’t tell anyone about the engagement for a year.

“There were a few times when it was difficult but we managed not to tell anybody. It was good to have 12 months where we could think about what we wanted ourselves and it gave us time to get our ideas together.

“Neither of us has any religious beliefs so we knew we didn’t want a church wedding and that it would have to be a civil ceremony.”

But they had found civil ceremonies quite impersonal and short so they started to think of some kind of compromise.

The couple, who live in Leeds, decided that they wanted to come back to Emma’s home county of Cumbria to get married and when they broke the news of their engagement to their family and friends Emma’s mum Anne started looking at venues for them.

She found the Saints Room in Cockermouth which Toby and Emma loved but it didn’t have a wedding licence so they started to think of an alternative.

The register office in Cockermouth would have been too small for the number of guests they wanted to invite so Emma started thinking about a humanist ceremony.

They had been to a friend’s humanist wedding ceremony in Swindon, which they found very personal and Emma found details of Cumbrian humanist celebrant Debra Jessett through the British Humanist Association and decided to find out more.

Humanist ceremonies allow people to celebrate key times in their lives in a personal and meaningful way.

Some couples see church and civil weddings as having to follow strict guidelines for the timing, length and wording while humanist ceremonies are a flexible way of expressing your individual personalities and values. You have freedom to make your own choices about vows, music and readings as long as they don’t have any religious content, venue, you don’t need a special license and the ceremony can be held anywhere, indoors or outdoors.

Unlike Scotland where humanist ceremonies are legal, in England and Wales couples have to legally register their marriage or civil partnership at a register office.

For Emma and Toby, the humanist ceremony reflected their beliefs and wish for a personal and bespoke ceremony.

“We did get guidance from Debra when we planned our ceremony,” says Emma, 33. “We went to her home a few times so that we felt that we knew her before the wedding day.

“She helped us with choosing the readings and gave us examples of previous ceremonies she had done.

“We wanted something that people recognised as being a wedding ceremony so they knew their role so it was kept pretty similar to a traditional ceremony but with the flexibility.”

The day before their humanist ceremony and reception at the Saints Room, Emma and Toby, along with their parents, went to Cockermouth Register Office to complete the legal side of getting married.

The following day Emma walked ‘down the aisle’ at the Saints Room with her dad Ian watched by 100 guests and then Debra gave a short introduction explaining what was going to happen during the ceremony.

Emma’s sister Amy Heys and Toby’s sister Rachel Woodhead gave readings that they had written themselves.

Emma and Toby then exchanged vows, which they had written themselves, and rings and then there were two more readings, one from a friend and the other by Debra, who spoke about the meaning of marriage and a toast. “It was very straightforward at the register office and we didn’t exchange rings,” says Emma. “The humanist ceremony was very emotional.

“It wasn’t easy writing our vows but you can say what you want and it made it more personal.

“We had more control of what we wanted this way.”

There were no bridesmaids or a best man and instead Toby and Emma asked close friends to be closely involved in the day and there were a lot of short speeches from both their parents and Toby and close friends.

“It was the best way for us,” Emma reflects. “A lot of our guests did tell us that it was very personal and different from anything they had been to but it did seem like a wedding.”

As the wedding breakfast was being held in the same room as the ceremony the guests then made their way to the Bitter End pub down the road, which had close specially for the wedding guests, so the room could be prepared for the evening reception.

Humanist celebrant Debra, from Kendal, set up Inspirational Ceremonies three years ago and can perform naming, wedding, funeral and vow renewal ceremonies. She has performed a humanist wedding ceremony on a jetty on Coniston Water and as she used to be an outdoor instructor is hoping that a couple will want to hold their ceremony on the top of a Lake District mountain.

“A lot of people don’t realise that this is another option,” she says. “I spend several hours talking to the couple before putting together a script. This usually involves writing ‘their story’ and can include how they first met, what they enjoy doing together and what their hopes are for the future.”

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