Charles’s coronation. Another first for Humanists!

Humanists UK hasn’t adopted a policy on whether the UK should have an elected head of state. In the meantime, an invitation to participate in the recent ceremonial installation of our latest Head of State is welcome recognition of the importance of the non-religious. Opinion piece Barking and Dagenham Post 17.5.23 and Romford Recorder 24.5.23.

The King’s coronation service was noteworthy for being the first to include non-Church of England faith leaders. But few may be aware of the official Humanist presence – another significant first.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, was invited to attend by the UK Government. He sat amongst other community representatives, senior politicians, and leaders from around the world. The invitation acknowledges the reality of our changing belief landscape, and the important roles the non-religious play in our communities.

The transformation during Queen Elizabeth’s reign was dramatic. The 2021 census records nearly half the population ticking the no religion box, and just 12 percent saying they belong to the CofE.  The response of our institutions has often been painfully slow. For example, Humanists are still waiting to be put on an equal footing with faith groups when it comes to legalising marriages in England and Wales. But the coronation invite is the latest sign of a largely positive direction of travel.  

It is less than five years since a Humanist was first able to take part in the National Service of Remembrance alongside religious leaders at the Cenotaph.  Humanists UK now receives invitations to participate in several other national ceremonies. This year it participated for the first time in the UK Commemoration for Holocaust Memorial Day.

In 2021 the Olympic Park in Stratford saw Andrew Copson lead the national memorial ceremony organised by NHS England to remember victims of the pandemic at the Blossom Memorial Garden. 33 blossom trees have been planted, each representing a London Borough. They were a beautiful sight this Spring. The key architects of the NHS were Humanists, and Humanists made important contributions during the pandemic to the vaccine roll out, delivering pastoral care, officiating at funerals, and in countless other ways.

The ceremonial installation of a new Head of State is an important national event. Humanists welcome the recognition which comes with being invited. It is good that participants reflect the diversity of modern Britain, notwithstanding the monarchy itself inherently lacks religious, ethnic and class diversity.  

Opinions will differ on whether we might be better off with an elected head of state.  One way or another, Humanists believe any future service will need be secular and not dominated by one dwindling minority religion to be truly inclusive and reflective of Britain today.

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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