Rites of Passage | Atheists Marking Life’s Big Events

WeddingswansInteresting piece in this week’s Time Out: atheist Tim Arthur talks about the privilege of being asked to be ‘celebrant’ of friends’ marriages. He has done so four times, and wonders if he’s asked because he is a theatre director and has a degree in religious studies: people think he’s like a vicar, and he can make stuff look good. For those interested in following his path, there is a ‘Rites of Passage Workshop’ at this year’s Workshop Festival in London from Sept 4 – 9th.

I’m all for this to be honest. Having seen so many people go through Christian rites when they clearly have no interest in the faith, I’m all for them celebrating and marking life’s big events in ways that reflect their beliefs. Sure, some vicars would claim that bringing people in to church at these times, regardless of their faith, is helpful in leading people in to it. But I’d argue that more commonly people see vicars and other ‘faith professionals’ as having too much of an agenda, and are scared off.

One nice story: Greg in Ventura was telling me how every church leader in town had refused to celebrate the wedding of the leader of the Hell’s Angels. Greg agreed, and this did turn into a fruitful relationship.

The article mentioned Arthur’s search for resources/liturgies online, but “generally I don’t find much useful, practical advice”. In light of this, I’d like to flag the Open Office project up again, which is simply an online liturgical resource exchange. Sign up to post stuff from your community; search for and read other people’s stuff free.

What the piece does suggest to me is that, again, the church simply can’t rest on past norms. People are in search of the sacred in ways that suit them, and if we want to be part of that journey, we need to get where people are at. Would you be prepared to be celebrant at a wedding where the friends asked you because they so respected you, but to ‘keep God out of it’? I think we ought to be.


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2 responses to “Rites of Passage | Atheists Marking Life’s Big Events”

  1. I’ve done a few weddings for LA City Firemen just because my father-in-law, a fireman, always tells co-workers getting married that his son-in-law is a pastor.
    When I meet with them prior to their wedding I tell them that the service can be whatever they want it to be, but to be aware that when I pray, I close with, “In Jesus’ name Amen.” Not that I always pray that way, often times I find myself leaving that out, and I’m quite certain that it is not a magical incantation that must be recited, but I am comfortable making sure that if I close a prayer that way that they won’t be offended. So far, none of the couples have had any problem with it, even those who have never seen the inside of a church building.

  2. It’s interesting that people want to mark these things. Births, Marriage and Funerals seem to be times when people want to engage with things more deeply. I don’t really have any experience of this and so can’t comment directly, but I think we should always be willing to dialogue with people over these things, even if ultimately we feel we can’t do these things.
    I think we need to be encouraging people to have more of these ‘encounters’ where they want something deeper than they currently have, or they have questions that can’t answered by the normal means.
    I think, as always, it’s a case of dealing with the individual, not making a blanket statement, but I don’t think we should feel forced to drop beliefs just because someone else doesn’t like them. After all, why do people want to get married in a church if they don’t hold any sort of Christian faith – is it just it’s a nice setting?
    But to sum up; I think all these things sound like great opportunities to have some pretty engaging conversation on spirituality, commitment and life.