How did I become a secular celebrant ?
In April 2011, I was on a flight back from Australia just after my own multicultural wedding in Pearl Beach, New South Wales. I felt we had organised a powerfully genuine event that reflected our very different cultures. Especially given that my wife defines herself as a believer, whereas I do not. Furthermore, I had gone through a divorce and did not want to pretend it had not happened. So on that flight back, as I acknowledged how important that moment had been to me, I felt a strong urge to make such beautiful ceremonies available in Switzerland too. And I realised that life had provided me with useful skills to become a secular celebrant.
It helped that I am the humanist son of a Protestant pastor. And by humanist, I mean that I am an atheist with a passion for exploring the meaning of life. I grew up watching my father craft ceremonies and many times he asked me to edit them in French. In fact, I have always been surrounded by believers, from various religions.
Also, back when I was a young scoutmaster in a totally secular group, I would be the one in charge of organising a moment of meditation for dozens of teenagers from different religious (or atheist) backgrounds. It felt very natural to me.
I followed a two-year seminar in Geneva comparing Catholicism and Protestantism. It is called "Atelier œcuménique de théologie" (Ecumenical Workshop of Theology). It was launched jointly by Jesuits and by Reformed ministers. Subsequently, I read many books about Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
In 1992, I started training and working as a journalist. I was hired in 1999 by the daily newspaper La Tribune de Genève and became their correspondant at the United Nations. In 2005, I was put in charge of the World News team. Being a reporter means I trained to interview people, to identify the most meaningful information and then write a captivating story.
In 2011, I trained as a secular wedding celebrant with Ashoka, in Geneva. My teachers were Jeltje Gordon-Lennox and Julien Abegglen Verazzi. Since then, I have organised many multicultural wedding ceremonies. Baby namings followed. However, I always felt that I was not doing enough. In January 2017, I started officiating at funeral services, helping the closest relatives create a personalised ceremony for the departed. I am also training to help people create ceremonies after divorces or separations.
In 2015, I was elected president of the Association of Professional Celebrants (in French-speaking Switzerland).
In 2017, my article on "Multicultural Wedding Ceremonies: Venturing into the World of Diversity" is published in "Emerging Ritual in Secular Societies: A Transdisciplinary Conversation" (Jessica Kingsley Publishers).
More importantly, I remain passionate about social rites.
My global village
I was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in New York and then Geneva.
Life taught me to value diversity. My loved ones are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic and Atheist. Everyone is searching, in his or her own way, for a meaning to their existence. Very simply. Deep down.
I believe that "rites of passage" help us acknowledge and make sense of the transformations we undergo in life: when a child is born, when a teenager transitions to adulthood, when a wedding is celebrated, but also when a relationship ends in a divorce, when a couple needs new vows for the next stage of their life together, when time comes for retirement, and of course when we have to face the death of a loved one...
It is important for ourselves, for close relatives and friends, but also for the larger community of people who play a role in our lives. As John Donne said: "No man is an island."
PHOTO OLIVIER VOGELSANG