Monday, March 5, 2012

Why I spent last weekend training to be a Humanist Celebrant

            This weekend I was fortunate to be part of an exciting and fascinating training on Humanist Celebrancy, facilitated by Rabbi Miriam Jerris of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and hosted by the Humanist Community Project at Harvard. For about three days, Rabbi Jerris talked us through the principles and pitfalls of facilitating the production of Humanist life-cycle rituals, including baby-naming/welcoming, coming-of-age, weddings, and funerals. We also had brief conversations about crafting ceremonies for name changing, sex/gender changing, coming out, and “coming-of-wisdom” (hat-tip to Rev. Q). I found the entire experience electrifying, and hope to write more about my thoughts and hopes following this training. For now, I will just explain why I attended:
            My primary motivation in attending this training was professional. I am hoping that my experience and aptitude as a teacher, workshop-facilitator, and Fabrengen leader means that I could have success officiating at meaningful life-cycle ceremonies, and I was looking to add this training to my credentials. After spending three days with a veteran celebrant like Rabbi Jerris, I do feel this training provided me with a fuller sense of each ceremony's structure and substance, in addition to raising my sensitivity to the philosophical and logistical minefields built into such events.
            I was also driven to attend by my passion for philosophizing about Humanism, rituals, the life-cycle, and general meaning-making. There were plenty of opportunities for that! Foundational philosophical questions dogged every discussion. While these questions were debated on and off all weekend, we never addressed them directly or comprehensively—a necessary frustration for a weekend training. Still, these are the questions that have kept my head spinning from Friday afternoon through this afternoon:

            “What is Humanism?”
“Why would Humanists hold a life-cycle ceremony?” and
“What makes a Humanist ceremony Humanist; what makes it un-Humanist?”

So many issues sprout from these questions, I don’t yet know where to start, and it will certainly require much more writing beyond the space of this blog-post to flesh out my own theory or approach to the subject of Humanist celebrations.
            While my thoughts on these questions remain uncertain and unorganized, my ultimate motivation to attend this training was my love and commitment to the generation and popularization of modern, secular, meaningful life-cycle rituals. Lack or loss of God does not, and in my opinion should not, signal lack or loss of meaning. Perhaps it’s my conflation of Humanism with Existentialism and radical Feminism, but I think all humans deserve (and can benefit from) opportunities for personal and collective meaning-making throughout life.  
And, hopefully, more Humanist celebrants will lead to more secular individuals having those opportunities.

1 comment:

  1. "While these questions were debated on and off all weekend, we never addressed them directly or comprehensively—a necessary frustration for a weekend training."

    Sounds like you are looking for a real, substantial Humanist/Humanistic Jewish leadership training experience - like that offered by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (, or possibly the Humanist Institute. They do have specific weekends to identify and explore those questions in more depth than a survey weekend seminar. Some of their publications or online resources might also be of interest.