Our Humanist Society interview series is about meeting inspiring people. This includes members of our community bringing humanist values into their daily lives. We can’t think of a better example of this than Humanist Society-trained celebrant Kendal Delaney. Kendal is a also secondary school teacher, and approaches her work through the humanist values of rationality, tolerance, and empathy. Last week we launched our new school guides for non-religious parents, carers, and young people. So we thought Kendal would be a great person to talk to about the role religion plays in schools and opportunities to bring humanism into the classroom. (And other things, like the little matter of donating a kidney to a stranger, for which she was nominated for Humanist of the Year 2021.)
How and when did you first become passionate about humanism?
Like many humanists I’ve spoken to, I think I was one without realising it for a long time! I first read up on humanism when I was at school. I was drawn to the idea of living a life governed by both logic and compassion.
Later on, I became a lifelong member of Humanist Society Scotland because I saw the impact of their work and campaigns. Equal marriage was something I felt passionately about, so I was delighted when Ross Wright conducted the first legal same-sex wedding ceremony on 31 December 2014.
Can you tell us a bit more about your work as a teacher and how your humanism is relevant to your work?
I’ve been teaching for (wee pause to do the sums…) jings fifteen years now! I’m a secondary teacher of English and RMPS (Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies). The students know about my work as a celebrant and we have some great conversations about ceremonies and humanism.
Most recently, I’ve been a volunteer speaker for a Higher RMPS class who were looking at a variety of religious and non-religious perspectives on organ donation. The class I worked with were so engaged and open to debate while being very respectful of the differing viewpoints we covered. I was really impressed.
Dollar Academy also asked me in as part of their programme of speakers to discuss worldviews. There were representatives from a range of beliefs and I was chuffed to be asked to talk about my work as a celebrant and touch on some of Humanist Society Scotland’s campaign work.
Currently, students can only opt out of religious observance with the formal consent of a parent or guardian but I strongly believe that secondary-school-age pupils are more than capable of making this decision for themselves.Kendal Delaney, Humanist Celebrant and secondary school teacher.
How much religion can pupils and parents expect in the average non-denominational school in Scotland?
In my experience as a secondary school teacher, students will encounter religion in two ways. Firstly, they will be taught about faith and belief when studying RMPS. Secondly, even non-denominational schools still have “religious observance” six times a year. Shockingly, this is a statutory requirement, and generally takes the form of assemblies with chaplains. In my experience these are exclusively Christian. In some cases there are visits to churches at the end of term.
I’m so grateful to Humanist Society Scotland’s campaigners, who are working to give students the opportunity to choose whether religious observance in school is for them. Currently, students can only opt out with the formal consent of a parent or guardian. I strongly believe that secondary-school-age pupils are more than capable of making this decision for themselves. The current opt-out system is not widely known about by the students themselves.
What about your work as a celebrant? How did you get going with that?
There were positive and negative prompts. I’d been to a few funerals where I left feeling that they were not a true reflection of the person. At that point, I signed up to be notified about the training courses run by Humanist Society Scotland.
That was the first nudge but the next was a real delight. My friends were married by a lovely celebrant called Mary Wallace, who was everything you’d wish from a celebrant, with her sense of calm and cheerful good humour. The ceremony was just what my friends had hoped for and it was such a brilliant day.
I’ve completed training in naming and welcoming ceremonies, weddings, and, most recently, funerals.
You were nominated for our Humanist of the Year Award after donating a kidney to someone you’ve never met. It sounds like an extraordinary story. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I was both honoured and embarrassed to be nominated for the award! While my own instinct was to keep the donation quiet, it is such an important cause that I’m pleased people heard about it through the award.
In Scotland right now there are over 400 people waiting for a kidney. They spend their days hooked up to dialysis machines and can never be further than 100 miles from a dialysis centre. I knew that being a live donor was a possibility as my first teaching mentor had donated her kidney to her son. It wasn’t until later that I realised you can choose to donate your kidney to a stranger. This is called non-directed donation.
There are serious considerations to making this decision but there is plenty of information out there. I’d suggest Organ Donation Scotland as a great starting point. For me, the whole process was complete within a year. Although it was six weeks before I could drive again after my op, I was very lucky to have such a supportive family, chauffeuring me about and dog-sitting.
I’ll never know who received my kidney but I did hear that the transplant was successful. It’s amazing to think that because of modern medicine there’s someone out there able to live a freer, healthier life.
Image: Kendal (left) marries Emma and Tom at Myres Castle, Fife. Photograph by Ashley Coombes.
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