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A Look Back on a Banner Year

29thDec A look back on 2017, a banner year for secular celebrants.

I am a bit amazed that I am already writing about this year in retrospect.

This year is my third as a CFI-certified secular celebrant, and in almost every respect, it has been a banner year for me in this work that I have grown to love so much.

The year started off right, with the announcement in early January that the lawsuit I filed along with CFI in July 2016 had been decided in our favor, giving secular celebrants the right to solemnize marriages in Illinois. (You can hear me talking about these issues on the Friendly Atheist and Humanist Hour podcasts in January.)

It’s difficult for me to describe how gratifying this victory was. We started lobbying back in January 2015 for the Illinois legislature to take up this issue and avoid a lawsuit, which they ultimately did not do (although we did succeed in getting a bill through the state senate). The whole process was a cycle of glimmers of hope followed by frustration, and to have the whole thing over with was just amazing.

Of course, getting this victory also meant that I needed to switch from activism mode to doing the work of a celebrant. I had performed a single wedding ceremony in 2016 for a couple who needed an officiant but not someone to solemnize the marriage, but otherwise I hadn’t had an opportunity to do what I had fought to be able to do.

If I can be perfectly honest, I initially felt some anxiety about this. What if people weren’t that interested in secular ceremonies? What if couples didn’t find me? What if they weren’t interested in me as a celebrant?

I can say now that this anxiety was ill-founded, as I will be ending 2017 having performed a total of eleven weddings. And I have been given some great reviews, both from clients and from those in attendance at weddings I performed. (One such person told me that that particular ceremony was the best officiating they’d even seen, including the “thousands” their own father had done — a statement which genuinely shocked me when I heard it.)

I’ve performed weddings now from Sangamon County to Douglas County to Lake County (and plenty here in Macon County where I reside). That’s not the whole length and breadth of the state by any means — although I’d love to book weddings in Adams County or Alexander County or Jo Daviess County — but it is more than I expected to do in my first year of full-fledged, unrestricted celebrant work.

And perhaps even more significantly, I’ve been able to provide a service to people who truly wanted it, for a variety of reasons. I’ve had mixed-belief couples who wanted a neutral ground for their nuptials; I’ve had atheists, agnostics, or other secular folks who just didn’t have any interest in religious ceremony; I’ve even had believers who wanted a secular ceremony for their own reasons.

I really think that a lot of people — particularly my fellow travelers in secular communities — underestimate the worth of secular ceremonies, something that I have argued for at length (and even more in depth in a chapter published in a brand new anthology). But I have seen it firsthand. These ceremonies do matter.

It’s even hit me on a personal level: A former student of mine reached out to me, after finding out that I’m now engaged in this work, to let me know that they were so happy to see that meaningful ceremonies were being made available to people without the involvement of civil officials or religious officiants and they were thinking about having such a ceremony in the future with their significant other. (I am not ashamed to say that I got teary-eyed over the message.)

I started pursuing certification as a secular celebrant because I wanted to provide a service that I thought was valuable. I jumped into the legal fight for secular celebrants because I wanted to make a difference. And in a stunning twist, I’m finding that just being able to do the work I wanted to do all along manages to do both.

So what’s next for me in 2018?

Well, first and foremost: more ceremonies! I’m excited to keep doing the work that I’ve been doing, talking to couples and helping them find meaningful ways to express their love and devotion. I’m also looking to get connected to help facilitate end-of-life ceremonies to help commemorate lives for those grieving recently departed loved ones.

Copyright 2017 Skepticon

And I’m not done helping the fight to normalize secular ceremonies and get secular celebrants the right to solemnize marriages in even more states beyond Indiana, Illinois, and Oregon (which passed secular celebrant legislation this year as well!).

In November, I had the pleasure of speaking to an audience at Skepticon, a free skeptic/atheist convention in Springfield, MO, about my activism and how to press forward as a “novice activist.” Next year, I’ll be turning my voice to aid efforts in Ohio to move a celebrant bill through that state’s legislature. And of course, the fight continues elsewhere.

I’m supremely honored to get to do this kind of work, which is fulfilling on a personal level and impactful even beyond that.

That alone has made 2017 a banner year for me.

Image via Pixabay

About Galen
Galen is a certified Secular Celebrant with the Center for Inquiry (CFI). The views expressed on this site do not necessarily represent those of CFI. (For more information about Galen, click here.)
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