A Wedding Day to Treasure
Planning a Humanist Wedding in Devon
I first met Hannah and Ben in a pub near Topsham. I seem to have a lot of my first meetings in pubs. I always say it’s where I do my best thinking. They were on their way back home to London after a trip to Devon. They were later to tell me that they love it down here, enjoy walking on Dartmoor and visiting the coast and so planned to live in this beautiful county eventually – perhaps when they start a family. They mentioned their jobs in radio – in fact they’d met at Radio 4 – and their busy lives in the capital. They were excited about having a simple ceremony at a family farm in Whimple. Of course, this was back in January 2020, when we were all blissfully unaware of what was to follow.
Covid-secure, but what about the weather?
Like many other couples, in the midst of huge Covid-induced uncertainty, we planned their wedding on Zoom. A lot of our sentences began, “All being well…” We hoped for the best and decided for the sake of sanity to just plough on and assume the wedding was happening. My chats with couples have two main elements: the practical bits about the ceremony itself, such as what readings a couple might have, who will have the rings, what entry music they have chosen and so on; and the bit where I get to know the story of their relationship to date, what has brought them to this point and their hopes and aspirations for their lives together. Their original date, 5th September 2020, went by and they had to postpone a couple of times before settling on Saturday 22nd May 2021. This new date was perilously close to the 17th May ‘Step 3’ announcements after which time 30 people could meet outside and hugging would be allowed at your own discretion. I prepared a Covid risk assessment, but many of the risks were mitigated by the fact that they intended to hold the ceremony in the open air.
Happily the announcement that Stage 3 was to go ahead meant that the wedding could too. The day arrived – along with a band of showers. As a former Met Office employee, I was aware of how difficult it is to forecast where showers are going to land. On my own wedding day (back in the mists of time) there were showers forecast but the whole day was, in the end, a wall of sunshine. As soon as Ben and Hannah’s guests were gathered, there was a break in the cloud and the sun began to shine through – and continued to do so for the whole ceremony. The end of May is a wonderful time of year to get married: the hedgerows are laden with blossom; the watercolour bluebells are abundant and nature is just bursting with new potential. And isn’t that how the marriage of two young people, with their whole lives ahead of them, should also be? Blossoming, abundant and full of potential.
A personalised ceremony
The ceremony area was a tree-lined lawn set up with a beautiful flowered arch at the front. In true humanist non-gender conforming style, Ben told me he’d insisted on having pink flowers: one of his favourite colours. Hannah walked up the aisle to Detectorists by Johnny Flynn. “Will you search through the lonely earth for me? Climb through the briar and bramble? I will be your treasure.” What perfect lyrics for an outdoorsy couple!
With a rural landscape as a backdrop, we told the story of their love. In similar fashion to many great love stories, their relationship began properly when one of them (Hannah) got drunk and told the other (Ben) that she liked him! Hannah says she never really considered the idea of getting married until she met Ben. It was just two weeks into their relationship, and they were on a night out at what they describe as a ‘hipster bowling alley’ in North London, when Ben started talking about wanting to get married some day. I think he must have mentioned it quite a lot, because Hannah said it was no surprise whatsoever when he proposed to her in Berlin. He thought she was going to be astonished!
Wedding vow inspiration
Hannah and Ben had written their own vows, which they’d kept secret from one another. I love it when this happens. The moment they hear those previously unspoken promises is really special. I encourage couples to ‘keep it real’ – that is to say, honest – when they write them. I brought their vows printed on cards (wedding dresses don’t tend to have pockets!) On the back of the cards I’d added a vintage-looking print of some wildflowers – the theme of their decorations. They each managed to read them beautifully, with a smile on their lips and a tear in their eye. Hannah’s included this promise: “I promise to let you have your nerdy stuff up in the house and that you can wear all the lame t-shirts you want” and Ben, who had written his vows in verse, included the line, “I promise to help curb your chocolate obsession, And that me giving in will be my only transgression”. They’ve since framed their vows as a keepsake.
The ribbons for their handfasting were laid by their Mums and two of their friends. I’ve found that handfastings are becoming increasingly popular. It’s a very visual way of expressing a desire to be ‘bound’ to one another for life and is a fantastic opportunity to involve loved ones. Readings were The Owl and the Pussycat (Edward Lear) and Sonnet 16 (Shakespeare) and were performed confidently by friends under the arch. Paper Rings by Taylor Swift played as they made their way back up the aisle for drinks and photos.
They won’t have known how happy this marriage made me. Not just because Ben and Hannah are clearly perfect for one another, but because it had been so many months since I’d performed a wedding. I’d missed the pure joy of helping people celebrate this most important milestone. I’ll treasure that day always.
If you’d like to have a chat about planning a ceremony – a wedding, naming, re-wedding, vow renewal, coming of age or another type of celebration, do get in touch. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.humanist.org.uk/mariathorne Facebook: @mthorneceremonies Instagram: @mariathecelebrant Tel: 07341 953442.
Photo Credit – Debs Alexander, Devon and Cornwall Wedding Photographer Cornwall Wedding Photographer | Elopement Photographer (debsalexander.com)