Why I'm an Officiant
Officiants often get asked why they decided to take the training. For some, they get asked before they are officiants. I serve on the Humanist Canada Ceremonies and Officiants Committee (affectionately known as HCCOP). Someone who wants to become an officiant with HC must first be an HC member for a minimum of one year. And then they can apply to take the training, but before they're invited, they must submit an application, a police background check, reference letters, and be interviewed by members of HHCOP. And that is a question we ask them all.
The reasons are usually personal, but many officiants share, and I'd like to share mine. Because the path that led me to become an officiant was life changing.
That path begins with the couple in the photo above. That's me on the left, and beside me is my niece Samantha, her fiancé Jeff, and my wife Lorraine. Lorraine and I have been married for over forty years, so I know the value of a true partner in my life. But my officiant story begins with Sammy.
In November 2014, Samantha discovered a lump in her breast. She had just turned 24. She began treatment and managed to eradicate the cancerous cells, but the disease came back, and metastasized. The prognosis wasn't great - she only had a few years of life left.
Sammy was a fighter. In spite of the odds and the terrible challenges cancer kept presenting, she threw her life head-on into the storm. She was determined to live her life to the fullest, and more importantly make her life mean something. She began raising funds for research into breast cancer and especially metastatic breast cancer, eventually started Turning the Page on Cancer. More on that in a bit.
My change began in 2016 when she and Jeff approached me and asked me to officiate their wedding. They wanted a celebration of their life that would be personal and devoted to their families, and that included uncle Ric. I was honoured and humbled that they would ask me, and of course I said I would be delighted. However, in Ontario you must be a member of an identified clergy or a municipal employee to certify a marriage, and at the time of asking I was neither. I looked into what would be required, and as I was not about to take the training to become an ordained minister in a traditional religion, my option in Ontario was Humanism. Humanists had won the right to perform marriages in 1992 in Ontario, although ironically, we are identified as clergy by the province. At least that means I get a special parking spot, I think.
But to be certified by Humanist Canada, the organization I chose, you needed to be a member for one year. So I performed a service as a celebrant, without any official signing, and Sammy and Jeff planned for civil ceremony.
The service was unbelievable. We held the ceremony at a lovely golf clubhouse, with Sammy's dad Joe managing all the catering, and both families chipping in on wedding decorations and logistics. My service was heartfelt - we didn't know how much time Sammy had, but we all knew that we were there on the happiest day of her life. I was on an adrenaline rush for the rest of the night, and I knew right then that this was what I wanted to do.
That desire led to the other life changing decision - to join Humanist Canada. Up until then I had not been concerned with my philosophical views on our existence and purpose. Religion was never a large part of my upbringing. But I realized then that I couldn't sit on the fence any longer. In the immortal words of Rush, "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice". Standing on the sidelines wasn't an option. So, I chose the natural world and the power of people to help themselves and others. And the more I learned about Humanism, the more comfortable I felt in my own skin, and the happier I became. And once I was certified as an officiant, I was happiest of all. In 2017 I became an officiant, and I've been getting that same rush ever since.
Sammy died in 2021, only thirty years old. Her motto was "one more day". She did everything she could to give herself and women like her one more day of life. In the end, she defied the odds, living longer than the professionals thought, but her fundraising on behalf of research towards mitigating and someday eliminating metastatic breast cancer goes on, safely guided by her husband Jeff, her family and her close friends. She made me see the power of a single life, even if brief. She made me a better person.
I've only done one celebration of life as an officiant, and that was for Sammy, last summer.
My way of honouring Samantha, and to thank her for making me who I am, is to donate all my fees from weddings in October to Turning the Page on Cancer. October is their fundraising month and they run many fun activities, mostly centered around Sammy's love of books and reading. Be sure to check out their Facebook page.
When you start to think about choosing a Humanist officiant for a wedding, a celebration of life, or any other milestone you would like to commemorate, ask them why they became an officiant. I'm sure you'll hear a worthwhile and human story.