Planning a Humanist Wedding – Your Questions answered

Tips from a Humanist Celebrant

I am a big fan of humanist weddings.  They are honest, personal, fun and relaxed.

Zena Birch is a humanist celebrant who is amazing at her job.  She is warm funny and friendly. I met her at Sarah and Greg’s wedding last year.

A lot of couples I work with, are planning a humanist wedding. To help you with that, I talked to Zena to find out all you need to know about humanist weddings.

Humanist wedding ceremony at One Friendly Place

What happens at a humanist wedding?

A humanist wedding isn’t unrecognisable, it is entirely possible to keep all the traditions you would normally see within a wedding ceremony – vows, exchanging rings, kiss, confetti etc.

The fundamental difference is that your celebrant will work with you closely to make sure that all of the words within your ceremony are relevant to you and your partner. The content of the ceremony should focus on what getting married means to you, what your guests mean to you as your witnesses and most importantly, it should sound like you and represent you properly.

A humanist ceremony will be written around you both and should be warm, funny, engaging and interesting to all of your guests! No one wants to have to endure a ceremony. The ceremony should be one of the very best parts of the day.

Is a humanist wedding ceremony legal?

Humanist ceremonies are legal in Scotland, Ireland and Jersey. We are working and campaigning very hard to make them legal in England and Wales and are seeing really positive strides in the right direction.

Until they are legal, you will still have to sign your legal documentation in a registry office. Every registry office in the country should offer what is known as a ‘statutory marriage’ these shouldn’t cost more than around £50 and take around 15-20 minutes. Most of my couples do this a few days before with their parents or close friends (you only officially need two witnesses) which allows them to relax on the day of our ceremony because they know that everything is signed and nothing can go wrong legally from here on in!

One of the best consequences of this is that as you don’t have to be in a licensed venue, you can hold your humanist ceremony absolutely anywhere.

 A marriage register signed by all the guests - a great idea for couples planning a humanist wedding

 What is your approach to working with couples who want a humanist wedding?

Working with my couples is a different experience every time – it’s what makes my job endlessly fascinating.

I have a process which I ask my couples to go on with me. Full disclosure – this involves homework!! But this should also prove to be one for the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of preparing to get married.

Over the months, we will work together. I do my best to get to know the couple as best I can. We explore the themes behind marriage and look at why certain things are a tradition and if they are still relevant or not? We look at who they have asked to be witness to their public declarations – this is a unique time in our lives whereby we get to be outwardly grateful to the people around us. I don’t think this should be overlooked. I ask them to reflect on the journey they have taken from not even knowing the other one existed all the way up to now and to identify the highs and the lows within this.

We live in odd times whereby we seem to polish everything we present to the outside world through social media. But choosing to get married is a real rite of passage, it is a time to be our most earnest and hopeful selves, and as such we should also look at being our most truthful.

I always hope to get to a point with my couples whereby they trust me enough to be able to truly look at their pasts and their futures so that we can celebrate everything about them – a personal ceremony should be just that, not a ‘slot your names in here whilst I talk cleverly about love’ occasion.

We want everyone there to recognise the couple, to laugh and cry with us, to nod in agreement and revel in learning things that they perhaps previously didn’t know. This leads to excellent real talk after the ceremony, polite small talk is inevitably banished, as everyone sees how they slot into the story of the couples lives, and thus, each others!

How much does a humanist wedding cost?

Costs vary from celebrant to celebrant dependng their own personal process and ways of working. My fees start from £1000 – which doesn’t make me the cheapest celebrant out there, but it does fairly represent the time, energy and commitment that I give to every single one of my couples.

I can only do a set number of weddings a year because of the amount of work I do with all of my couples and my fee reflects this.

The ceremony should also be one of the moments of your day that everyone loves and nobody forgets. It will set the tone of the rest of the day – it makes me so delighted when I receive letters of thanks afterwards from couples telling me that it was their favourite part of the day. That’s how it should be!

Warming of the rings - a tradition couples planning a humanist wedding might want to include in their ceremony

What is your advice to couples planning a humanist wedding?

Enjoy it!

In my experience, if part of your wedding planning becomes cumbersome, trouble or a chore, look at what is making you feel that way and change or get rid of it. Preparing to get married should be something that you both enjoy. If you aren’t, then you are perhaps making the wrong decisions.

Never be frightened to pull it all back in and check that the choices you are making delight you. This is your day, your money, your celebration don’t get swayed into doing something just because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do.

You and your partner will know what is best, keep checking in with each other.

What is your favourite part about your job?


I adore finding out about people. I think storytelling is one of the greatest of human skills. Retelling real stories, bringing them alive is one of my absolute favourite things to do. Watching couples make themselves vulnerable to me throughout the process and then seeing the strength they derive from that expand in them exponentially. Feeling the enjoyment in the room throughout the ceremony and knowing that all our hard work was worth every single second.

Laughing spontaneously daily! Being able to see a confetti explosion of colour and seeing the detritus that remains when the magic has passed. Hearing back from my couples as they continue to live their lives, going for catch up cocktails, seeing photos of their newborns, watching the adventures they continue to have.

All in all it is a deeply rewarding job!

Humanist celebrant, Zena Birch
 Zena has been a humanist celebrant for seven years and has told over 230 couples’ stories.  She works with couples in London, the UK and beyond. If you are planning a humanist wedding and are looking for a brilliant celebrant, do make sure to get in touch with Zena.