Karen and Luke’s Humanist Wedding at Cairns Farm Estate

One of the things I love most about what I do is that no two ceremonies are the same. Every one of them is informed by those that have gone before it, and that’s why I’ve been writing this blog for the last fifteen years. This is the place I share inspiration, so I’m particularly pleased to bring you the story of Karen and Luke’s wedding at Cairns Farm Estate.

As they said, “we would love for our ceremony to help another couple craft their own perfect ceremony. We spent hours reading your blog posts, picking up great ideas and also just enjoying the lovely things you had to say about each couple’s ceremony, so we can’t wait to hear what you say about ours.”

Well, Karen and Luke, I like a challenge, so here goes!

Idea 1. The entrance of the wedding party. Karen and Luke started as they meant to go on. Rather than come in with her dad as most brides still do, Karen came in with her mum as well.

For the same reason, Luke walked his mum down the aisle before the bridal party came in. They’re both subtle and thoughtful ways to acknowledge that two families are being joined in marriage.

Idea 2. Telling your story. Luke and Karen invited their wedding party to tell their story,

alternating between the groomsmen and bridesmaids, so Colin, Zoe, John, Erin, Wes and Megan took it in turns to take us from a campsite on the Southern coast of Brittany,

through the ‘fort and pizza nights’

and socially distanced wild camping of the Covid years

to the day after heli-skiing down the vast Tasman Glacier, when Luke dropped to one knee at the foot of Mount Cook and asked Karen to marry him.

“The ring was beautiful and specially designed for her by him, the sapphire glistened against the backdrop of snow.” 

The guests loved the story as they always do, but what made it so much more special was that they could hear what it meant to the wedding party in their voices – even if it didn’t quite reduce all of them to tears!

Idea 3. Take time for reflection. Weddings are about love; not just for the people in front of us, but about love for the people we wish could be with us, but who can’t and I was very moved by the way Luke and Karen acknowledged that. Their idyllic odyssey around the South Island of New Zealand was brought short by Luke’s father’s illness. As I said, “They spent 6 weeks sharing memories, talking about good times, and making sure Luke’s dad felt comfortable and loved. Together, they held his dad’s hand as he slipped peacefully from this world.

Luke spoke beautifully and bravely at the funeral; Karen’s heart burst with pride and sadness. He honours his dad every day, by embodying the values his dad taught him. And one day they will share those values, and the stories of the man who taught them, with their own children.”

Idea 4. Involve your family and friends. Karen and Luke reached out to them for their advice on how to keep love alive in a long marriage, and they made it even more personal by inviting Luke’s sister Fern to share it.

Idea 6. Tell them what marriage means to you. Karen said, “marriage is about adventure together. Whether that’s as simple as trying out a new DIY project in the house, or as big as climbing Kilimanjaro (as they did on their honeymoon!), every day is an adventure when you spend it with somebody you love.” 

Luke said, “marriage is about becoming an unbreakable team. My weaknesses are Karen’s strengths, and vice versa. We both recognise when it’s the other’s time to shine and are proud to sit back and cheer the other on. Marriage is about give and take, compromise, supporting each other so that together we can achieve more.” 

And as I said, “if you’d read what Karen and Luke independently wrote about the meaning of marriage, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d copied each other’s homework. They’re so clearly on the same page about why they want to take this big step today.”

Idea 7. The Vows. Who should go first?

Karen and Luke made it a game, as they do almost everything. Rock, Paper, Scissors!

Idea 8. Secret Vows. They raise the emotional temperature, and they’re the perfect extra wedding present.

Idea 9. The Exchange of Rings. They call it an exchange for a reason. Maid of Honour Megan passed Karen the ring she gave to Luke, and Best Man Wes gave Luke the ring he gave to Karen.

Idea 10. Symbolic Gestures. If you’re going to include one, make it meaningful. When Luke was given a bottle of Ballantyne’s whisky that was older than he is, he realised it would be a great way to toast their wedding.

Idea 11. Guest Vows. One of the most powerful ways to bind your family and friends closer to you is to ask them to make some promises to you, and I really liked how they introduced that idea.  

credit: Anna Deacon Photography

“Karen and Luke wanted you to know one of the reasons why they chose me as their celebrant, which is that I plant a tree for every couple I marry. They loved this as a metaphor for their relationship. With time, their tree will only grow bigger and stronger, as will their marriage. It will have branches as Karen and Luke will have their own individual interests and hobbies, whilst remaining bound to the strong trunk of their marriage.”

Idea 12. Know where to stop. There’s alway a temptation to cram everything into your ceremony, but sometimes, less is more. Karen and Luke compressed a lifetime of love and meaning into theirs, but it lasted only 30 minutes and everyone left on a high.

There is no idea 13. But I loved these words that Karen and Luke sent me when they got back from their amazing honeymoon adventure!

It was fantastic working with you. 

When we first met and you told us we would write our own ceremony start-to-finish, we were both pretty overwhelmed and it seemed a daunting task! 

But the way you broke it down into bite-sized chunks as part of our LoveWork made it easy for us to craft our perfect and unique ceremony. 

We quickly realised we had more to say than we really had time for in a 30 minute ceremony! But because we’d written it all down in our LoveWork, we will forever have those special words we wrote for each other that were too long to share with our loved ones on our special day, and maybe those un-shared parts are all the more precious because they are just for us.

Writing our vows ended up being one of the most special parts of the wedding day for us, and gave us a good laugh at how ridiculously similar our secret vows were! 

I was worried about doing personalised vows as I didn’t think I’d be able to look Luke in the eye in front of our loved ones and read those special words without breaking down in a blubbering heap on the floor! But something comes over you in that moment as you make a solemn promise, in your own words, to the most important person in your world, it’s a feeling of complete calm and peace. 

It was the easiest and most important thing I’ve every done. I would urge anyone who is nervous about writing their own vows to just do it! However, I will leave that advice with the warning that I am now a blubbering mess on the floor re-living it!

You made our ceremony lighthearted and relaxed, which put Luke and I at ease. Things which could have been seen by some as “disruptive” such as toddlers fussing or readers crying (or Luke downing the last of the whisky in the quaich!!) you handled with a calm humour which gave us and our guests permission to laugh it off and move on. 

The ceremony was by far our favourite part of the whole day, which is exactly how a wedding should be!

Idea 14. Share what you’ve learned with those who come after you, as Karen and Luke have done. I can’t thank them enough for doing that so brilliantly, but there are others I must thank too, including my old chum, The Pickled Piper, all the team at Cairns Farm Estate, and ace lensman John Clark who managed to get all these great shots despite getting his thumb caught in the door of his car half an hour before the start of the ceremony. He gets my Award for Gallantry as well as my thanks for capturing the mood of the day so beautifully!

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