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Human rites

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Humanist Celebrant Kathy Diedrich presides over the wedding of Jenna and Chris Gorman in June 2012.

Michael Diedrich and Danielle Kleeberger met at Century High School as freshmen in 2001. They attended formal dances together, but their first "real" date was over dinner at the former Aviary Restaurant and a play at Rochester Civic Theatre.

Now, 12 years later, the couple wants to marry. Their choice of venue? Civic Theatre. They will exchange vows on center stage as part of a ceremony they have titled, "A Love Story in Three Acts." June 29 is their "grand opening."

And presiding over the ceremony will be Michael's mother, Kathy Diedrich, a humanist celebrant headquartered in Rochester, who has helped people mark milestones in their lives for four years.

Diedrich became interested in life ceremonies when she and her husband, Rich, reached their 25th anniversary. They "wanted to celebrate with more than a party, but not with a religious ceremony."

Diedrich already was interested in Humanism, which she describes as doing good without a God.

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"It is a life stance and ethical perspective based on reason, science, and social justice," she said. "It rejects supernaturalism and encourages us to live a good life on many levels."

At that time, she was ripe for a change, having reached a life-changing moment — a layoff.

"I had already secured my Humanist Celebrant credential and was taking classes at the Celebrant Foundation and Institute when I was laid off," Diedrich said. "I had been planning for the second career as a humanist celebrant and was able to launch my practice the month after I left IBM.

"I serve people who are not traditionally religious, but are looking for a substantive, rich celebration of milestone moments in their life," she said.

Diedrich has been certified as a humanist celebrant by the Humanist Society and as a Certified Life Cycle Celebrant by the Celebrant Foundation and Institute in New Jersey. She is registered in Minnesota to perform weddings. She presides over 30 to 40 ceremonies per year in three states — Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa — and plans to conduct same-sex marriages, too.

Diedrich has also presided over funerals. A Humanist funeral ceremony celebrates the life of the person who has died, she said.

"We are celebrating the significance of the life they led, their family, the influences they had on us," she said. "They live on in a different way."

For one funeral, she said, a family had lost their 61-year-old wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend, leaving them bereft and wishing for a ceremony to help them mourn and bring closure to the tragedy.

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Diedrich had presided over the woman's father's funeral the year before. He had specifically asked for a humanist celebrant.

At the woman's funeral ceremony, her mother lit a candle representing her birth and life. Then each person lit a candle, representing themselves; people the woman had known and spread light to. Their candles were placed so they surrounded hers.

At the end of the ceremony, Diedrich extinguished the woman's candle. The other lights still burned; signifying that her light is still in all of them.

Each client has his or her own unique style, perspective and priority, Diedrich said. One couple she's married has a tradition of sharing glasses of milk and cookies each night as a way to end their day. They talk about things and enjoy the time together.

Their routine was so important to them they included it in their ceremony. In the wedding, he poured her a glass of soy milk and offered her a cinnamon biscotti. She poured him a glass of cow's milk and offered him an Oreo.

To the couple, Diedrich said, the ritual represented their joining together in sharing their lives, but remaining individuals and keeping their own tastes.

At another couple's wedding, the bride and groom poured two different colors of sands from two crystal vases into a heart-shaped glass jar. The result blended the two sands into a graceful pattern representing their union.

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At one couple's wedding, the bride and groom poured each other's choice of milk, soy for her, cow for him and had a bite of their favorite cookies - cinnamon biscotti and Oreo - to commemorate the bedtime ceremony they share each night.

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