Every year, humanist celebrants across Scotland take part in remembrance ceremonies. We do so to represent Scotland’s secular majority, and to commemorate lives lost in war from a position of compassion, empathy, and respect for all human life. We spoke to Wick-based celebrant Linda Smith about why humanist remembrance matters to her.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us how you became a humanist celebrant?
I was brought up and still live in Wick, in the far north of Scotland. It is quite a traditional, close-knit community. When I left school, I worked for many years for the police, and then for the Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary, retiring in 2013. I was brought up in the Church of Scotland. But over the years I’ve attended many Christian funeral services where I was less than impressed by the content of services. As far as I could see, they often ignored the story of the departed, their family, community, and world.
My community deserves the option of marking the loss of loved ones in a non-religious manner.Linda Smith, humanist funeral celebrant
In 2010, I met two non-religious funeral celebrants in Caithness and starting asking them about their work. Through spending time with them, I began to look at my own beliefs and decided this was a route I should go down. I thoroughly believe that my community deserves the option of marking the loss of loved ones in a non-religious manner.
When did you start taking an active role in wreath laying, and why?
I have attended local Remembrance Day ceremonies since childhood. I did so first as a Brownie, then as a Girl Guide, and latterly throughout my police career, as a representative of different constabulary services. I hadn’t really considered continuing this role after my retirement. However, about five years ago I took the opportunity to lay a wreath at the War Memorial in Wick on behalf of the Humanist Society Scotland.
I wondered why the service personnel without faith did not warrant a mention during the proceedings. Only crosses were issued to ex-servicemen’s families to place on their loved ones’ graves.Linda Smith, humanist celebrant
That experience made me wonder why the many service personnel without faith did not warrant a mention during the proceedings. Only crosses were issued to ex-servicemen’s families to place on their loved ones’ graves. I approached the local branch of the Royal British Legion, which organises the annual parade. And I was touched to be welcomed immediately into the fold to make a contribution to the special day.
I’ve only encountered one negative reaction, from a church minister who did not see fit to introduce me to his colleagues or acknowledge my existence! But that kind of reaction is very unusual.
What happens at a typical remembrance event?
All the agencies to be represented on the day gather in a hotel close to the war memorial in Wick. Wreaths are issued and we are told the order of events. I have no problem coming near the end of the line, I am just glad to be there. We all march to the memorial and take our places in line. The Officer in Charge then guides us to lay our wreaths and pay our respects before returning to our places. The Humanist Society Scotland wreath takes pride of place amongst all the other tributes. We then hear a few words from a church minister. As the ceremony is organised under the banner of the Royal British Legion, I have no problem with that. I, like all others in attendance, I am sure, pay my respects inwardly, in my own way.
It seems only recently that we have begun to consider that folks of all faiths and none have made the ultimate sacrifice during conflicts across the world.Linda Smith, humanist celebrant
Why is it important that humanism is visible at remembrance events?
It seems only recently that we have begun to consider that folks of all faiths and none have made the ultimate sacrifice during conflicts across the world. It is absolutely vital that we continue to be represented at such events to acknowledge these people. This year, I will be wearing a purple poppy too, to represent the animals who also served their country in times of war and gave their lives under the hand of human beings.
Title image: Remembrance Day in Wick 2022.
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