A selfie of Jennifer infront of a sunlit bay on the Scottish coast. She has blonde hair tied in a bun above her head and smiles at the camera.

Humanist Society interview series: Meet our new chair, Jennifer Buchan

January 29, 2024

Last year we welcomed a new Chair of Humanist Society Scotland, Jennifer Buchan. Jennifer is a registered Humanist Society celebrant and chaplain and has been involved with humanism for many decades. In this interview she tells us about her journey towards humanism, what she hopes to achieve in post, and the cheeky questions she used to ask her teachers.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m Jennifer Buchan and I’m the new chair of Humanist Society Scotland. Since 2013 I have been a registered celebrant with the society and I’ve also been a Humanist Society Chaplain (and humanist chaplain at the University of Strathclyde) since 2015.

I am 55 so I was brought up at a time when “humanism” was not a familiar word. I have never had a religious faith although my mum was a Sunday school teacher and I was regularly taken to Stenhouse and Carron Parish Church in Stenhousemuir.  I loved the theatre of the church: the building, the costumes, and the singing. And I loved the minister Mr Hardie. I did, in fact, tell him how I felt, shouting as loud as I could from a pew, “Mr Hardie, I love you,” during a service when I was three. My mum was mortified.

At primary school I started asking about the truthfulness of bible stories (“why did the tigers not eat the sheep on the ark?”) but I was told by a teacher that to question the ‘holy stories’ was cheeky.

Jennifer Buchan, Chair of Humanist Society Scotland

At primary school I started asking about the truthfulness of bible stories (“why did the tigers not eat the sheep on the ark?”) but I was told by a teacher that to question the “holy stories” was cheeky. At high school we learned about world cultures and religions but we were never taught about people who did not believe in a god. It was unheard of for pupils to refuse to attend religious assemblies or services for the school at the local church. To question that wasn’t just cheeky, I was told it was blasphemous.

And so that was that. I had no idea there were other people like me. I read about world religions and wondered which one was mine. None of them.

Jennifer (centre, wearing a pink flowery dress) posing with a just-married couple at a ceremony she has conducted in Glasgow. They stand in front of the side of a skip covered in graffiti and are all laughing and smiling, perhaps because of the strange location.
Jennifer at A wedding ceremony in Glasgow

When did you start getting interested in humanism?

By 1997 I was married with a baby daughter living in Surrey. One day I was sitting watching This Morning and Claire Raynor was talking about living a good life without a faith. I can’t remember anything else she said because I was so excited. She was talking about me! I was also so relieved that I started crying. Before the end of the programme I’d phoned the British Humanist Association [now Humanists UK] and joined. That was the day I found the word for what I am and what I always have been. I was 28 years old before I could call myself a humanist.

After I found Humanist Society Scotland and joined the Glasgow Humanist group, I discovered very quickly what we can do if we work together.

Jennifer Buchan, Chair of Humanist Society Scotland

On returning to Scotland in 2005, my daughter was nine, my son was two, and I was involved as a parent and volunteer at our local primary school. I discovered that a group was planning on arranging visits to every school in our area to present creationism as an “equal and alternative theory” to evolution.  I had no idea how to prevent this from happening so I researched humanist groups in Scotland. I found Humanist Society Scotland and I also joined the Glasgow Humanist group. I discovered very quickly what we can do if we work together.

What kind of work have you been involved in as a humanist in Scotland?

For many years I was part of a team which took care of members of the homeless community in Glasgow. I’m also part of a school visitor team which provides assemblies for schools, workshop materials for RMPS [Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies] classes and debates. I take part in health and wellbeing projects across many education authorities in the country.

For me, humanism means everything: living a dignified life with tolerance and kindness, respecting other people and the planet we live on. Humanism has no room for prejudice against individuals because of their colour, gender, sexuality, nationality, language, belief system, or culture.

Jennifer Buchan, Chair of Humanist Society Scotland

In 2008, my husband and I started a Scout group in our village but neither of us was comfortable making a promise to a god. So, our group had an alternative promise for adults and young people to make, without religious content. The Scout Association in the UK began to realise that to remain relevant they had to make changes. In 2013 an “alternative promise” very similar to the one we were using was brought into use across the UK.

I’m also a celebrant and chaplain. Because of the nature of chaplaincy (privacy and confidentiality are paramount) much chaplaincy work is never discussed or recognised. But be assured it is happening all over Scotland every single day.

Selfie of Jennifer in a purple scout leaders shirt with yellow and black scarf. She has sunglasses above her head and a streak of rainbow face paint across her cheek. She smiles at the camera.
JENNIFER AT A Pride EVENT at Blair Atholl International Scout Jamborette, July 2022

What does humanism mean to you?

For me, humanism means everything: living a dignified life with tolerance and kindness, respecting other people and the planet we live on. Humanism has no room for prejudice against individuals because of their colour, gender, sexuality, nationality, language, belief system, or culture.

I fully feel the weight of the responsibility I’ve taken on. Our society means so much to me, as does the positive influence we have on lives across Scotland.

Jennifer Buchan, Chair of Humanist Society Scotland

Humanism for me is reasonable and rational. It is a force for good. It celebrates and encourages human achievement and recognises the responsibly that we have as human beings to each other and to the planet.

What do you hope to achieve through your work with Humanist Society?

As Chair of the Board of Humanist Society Scotland I fully feel the weight of the responsibility I’ve taken on. Our society means so much to me as does the positive influence we have on lives across Scotland.

I see Humanist Society Scotland as primarily a human rights charity and that can only be a good thing. During my time as chair I would like to increase the influence of the society in Scotland and beyond. I would love to see more people engage with the Humanist Society and the projects we’re involved in. And I would love it if everyone in our country knew what being a humanist actually meant, and for every humanist in Scotland to feel comfortable and proud of their identity.

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