Couples opt for online pre-wedding ceremonies: love in the time of coronavirus

30 March, 2020

Couples are adjusting to a strange new era. A temporary ban on weddings in the UK means couples whose weddings were due to take place this spring are now in the process of postponing their ceremonies.

But humanist celebrants are coming up with an ingenious way to celebrate the planned date with a promissory ‘pre-wedding celebration’ ceremonies, involving families and friends and conducted over video-conferencing services like Zoom and Google Hangouts.

Isabel Russo, Head of Ceremonies at Humanists UK, explained: 

‘As soon as the coronavirus outbreak came to the UK, we knew there’d be big changes to how we conduct our ceremonies. We were quick to issue guidance to our celebrants about how to make the most of new technology to support their clients, keeping everyone safe at the same time as working closely with them to fulfill their needs.

‘With weddings, what’s been really impressive is how many couples have adapted to the new rules and how enthusiastic they have been about supporting the national effort on coronavirus by changing their plans – giving birth to a new idea, the ‘pre-wedding’ ceremony with family and friends in multiple locations, and then the full wedding celebration in person at a later date.’

One Humanists UK celebrant, Zena Birch, suggested the idea of creating a moment to still mark their original wedding date with her couple, Paula and Loc. They were able to share their ‘pre-wedding’ celebration with family and friends in their homes around the world.

Zena Birch describes their story: 

This weekend, something really good happened: we live-streamed a pre-wedding celebration ceremony into over 38 different households. I nicknamed it the ‘Same Time, Same Place, Multiple Social Distancing Locations Aperitif Ceremony’.

Paula and Loc got engaged back in 2014, but they have made sure their children, their business, their home, and their family came first for years. So, when it looked like COVID-19 was definitely shutting down their wedding – the day they had finally allowed themselves to have – my brain started whirring. How can we honour their original date, a date so filled with anticipation, the date the kids knew something special was happening? So, I said, ‘Let’s do it anyway. We know all of your guests are free.’ 

So, we invented a ritual and, during the online ceremony, Paula and Loc took their wedding rings and placed them in a jar. As part of their home-schooling last week, Lily and Tobi made coloured rice and at the ceremony, in front of us all,  they poured it over the top of the rings to keep them safe until we get to retrieve them in their proper ceremony next year. 

Public declarations are important and so are witnesses, which is why everyone important to the family was invited to be part of it. Our communities are essential: so, Paula and Loc still made promissory statements declaring that they will stand by as a family until I get to pronounce them husband and wife next year. 

Even Lily and Tobi made promises. They promised to do their best to be good and kind, and keep the rings safe until we need them next year.

Then, I was able to get everyone involved: I unmuted the microphones of all 60+ guests (who I had prepped), and as the children said, ‘We do,’ Paula and Loc heard a cacophony of corks popping and applause as confetti rained down upon them. Yes, there was confetti!

And so, in many homes today a little bit of happiness, jubilation, and grateful splendour still happened. Thank you to absolutely everyone of Paula and Loc’s friends who with me this week have learnt the ins and outs of Zoom and thus made a family feel the full weight of love and support that surrounds them. Love wins!

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We’ve all been touched over the weekend by all the various couples who opted for humanist weddings this spring who we are now supporting to make the most of a special date in their calendars using new technology – creating something truly unique and personal to them and their situations.

‘Our pastoral carers, celebrants, and community volunteers have all been adapting their practices rapidly since the start of this pandemic. This is a shining example of our celebrants helping people to socially connect, maintain good spirits, and still find unique ways to celebrate important milestones in their lives.’


Video by Shelly Mantovani from Toast of Leeds.

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Humanist funeral celebrants and pastoral carers employed in hospitals have been designated as key workers by the government as part of the coronavirus response. Humanists UK has been deploying its own networks of supporters as volunteers throughout the wider charity sector.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony that is deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple, conducted by a celebrant who shares their beliefs and values.

Humanist Ceremonies™ has been the gold standard provider of meaningful, personalised non-religious ceremonies in the UK for over 120 years. Its celebrants are trained, accredited, insured, and quality-assured by Humanists UK. 98% of clients rate Humanist Ceremonies 5/5 in feedback forms. To find out more, visit the Humanist Ceremonies website.

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