This presentation was given at the Nashville Nones Convention on 3.5.2016.
When considering becoming a humanist celebrant there are several things that must be considered. First and foremost are the legal requirements in your state for wedding officiants. I recommend checking at least 2 different sources online as a first step. The one I used when doing my research was http://www.usmarriagelaws.com/marriage-license/officiants-requirements.shtml. Near the bottom of the page was this section:
Officiants in Tennessee:
- Any ordained or licensed clergymen over the age of 18, and justices of the peace, members of county legislative bodies, county executives and former county executives, current and former judges and chancellors of this state, current and former judges of general sessions courts, current and former governors of this state, the county clerk of each county, current and former speakers of the senate and speakers of the house of representatives, and Mayors of municipalities.
- The authorized officiant must return the completed license within 3 days from the date of the marriage.
The next thing to do was to find the legal definition of “ordained or licenced clergymen”. A quick online search (https://theamm.org/marriage-laws/tennessee/) turned up this:
36-3-301 Persons who may solemnize marriages
(a) (1) All regular ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, rabbis and other spiritual leaders of every religious belief, more than eighteen (18) years of age, having the care of souls, and all members of the county legislative bodies, county mayors, judges, chancellors, former chancellors and former judges of this state, former county executives or county mayors of this state, former members of quarterly county courts or county commissions, the governor, the speaker of the senate and former speakers of the senate, the speaker of the house of representatives and former speakers of the house of representatives, the county clerk of each county and the mayor of any municipality in the state may solemnize the rite of matrimony. For the purposes of this section, the several judges of the United States courts, including United States magistrates and United States bankruptcy judges, who are citizens of Tennessee are deemed to be judges of this state. The amendments to this section by Acts 1987, ch. 336, which applied provisions of this section to certain former judges, do not apply to any judge who has been convicted of a felony or who has been removed from office.
Since the Chattanooga Humanist Assembly had already been in existence for a year at that point, we had the ability to make the legal claim that anyone in the CHA leadership qualified as a spiritual leader. The CHA leadership wrote a formal letter proclaiming that I was an ordained officiant of the CHA. This letter met the legal requirements of the state as a wedding officiant.
Having met the legal requirements of the state I was now qualified to perform weddings in Tennessee.
After performing my first wedding I signed the marriage certificate and turned it in within the 3 day grace period after the wedding. Being new to the process I had the letter on me and asked if they needed to see it for confirmation. They not only did not ask me for confirmation but implied that I shouldn’t suggest they inspect or review my ordination. I recommend that once a letter of ordination has been written, you store it in a safe place for easy retrieval at a later date.
There are further resources if you wish to go with more formalized licensure. The AHA has some information on becoming a Humanist Celebrant and getting recognized by them may be a way to get formal backing on being recognized.
AHA has a nice website set up where you can apply and become registered as a Celebrant. I recommend it if you don’t have the formal backing of a group like the CHA or other, similar organization: http://thehumanistsociety.org/
Once you are legally able to perform weddings your next question should be how much time you want to devote to this business. In my case, I do this as a service for the CHA. I have a full-time job and that takes a majority of my time. If you intend to do this regularly you’ll need to advertise. Facebook groups like CHA or Chattanooga Freethought Association are good places to let people know you’re available if people need your services. Occasionally, people will post a request for a service in such a group. CFA has a thread specifically for people who have skills and certifications. Verify with the admins that it’s ok to advertise in their group before posting.
I also recommend getting good business cards to advertise your service and always have some on you.
Additionally, find events where people will be open to the idea of secular services. Events like this one would be a great place to advertise. The CHA is starting to put up booths at local events and conventions to raise awareness of the group.
To date, the only weddings I’ve done have been outdoor ceremonies. We set up in a local park and performed the ceremonies in the open air. Parks make wonderfully scenic locations for simple but picturesque events. Any place that is open to secular ceremonies will work though. The possibility of using a church is also an option but that is really up to the couple’s and your comfort level with the church and their willingness to allow a secular ceremony in their venue.
Also make sure to be familiar with and/or visit local wedding venues and talk to them about the possibility of doing a secular ceremony at their location.
Musicians, Florists, et al.
If you don’t already, get to know several musicians who would be willing to perform at weddings. Keep their contact information on hand in case you need help on short notice. Also, visit the local florists and bakers. Find some who would be secular friendly.
Your rates should be based on your expenses should you incur any plus any amount of money you may want to charge for your time. Speak to other Celebrants and ask what they charge for their services. Personally, I only charge for any money I have to spend out of my pocket. I don’t charge any money for the ceremony itself or anything for my time. I will not turn down donations but any money collected goes to the CHA.
In Tennessee, the license fee can be reduced by going in for pre-marriage counseling. Couples may come to you asking about this. Make sure you have a list of secular-friendly therapists and counselors that you can pass on to the couple. I also recommend that you have this information on hand in case someone comes to you asking about counseling for any issue whatsoever. (Secular therapist project link goes here)
Other Types of Ceremonies
Secular funeral services are another common service that people will ask for. Have a listing of funeral homes, crematories, and other service providers handy will be helpful for when funerals come up. I have not yet been asked to perform a funeral ceremony but I suspect the topic will come up eventually.