Because neither of us are religious, our wedding ceremony is entirely up to us to create. That’s awesome, because it gives us a ton of freedom to make a ceremony that strongly represents our relationship. It’s also scary, because we don’t have a clearly prescribed path to follow to prevent disaster.
As I sat down to write the initial ceremony draft for my fiance and then our friend/officiant to approve, I was a little overwhelmed by all the options.
You can approach ceremony writing many different ways, but a three-step process was what worked best for me.
1) Find Your Vows
It seems a little weird to start here, and it’s definitely an outlier in the logical process that follows, but the vows are the most important part of the ceremony to me. The whole day is a celebration of the promises we’re making to each other! There are millions of options available on the Internet, so I took two selections I liked parts of and cobbled them together with a little editing finesse. I tear up when I read them, so I figure they must at least be close to perfect! Besides their emotional value, your vows can also can help you decide on the tone for the ceremony. If you want references to your zombie apocalypse plans in your vows, for example, you probably don’t want the rest of the proceedings to be overly formal either. With this key piece in place, you can go through the rest of the ceremony.
2) Create an outline
I Googled several variations on “ceremony outline” and looked at a bunch of different setups. Googling “wedding programs” helps too, since many of them provide a list for guests to follow along. I used the results as a guide, but I also found it helpful to turn on the #lawyerbrain and think about how a contract would be formed. Here’s what I came up with:
– Welcome: a very brief statement from the officiant. This is nothing exciting. Just a sign to the guests that we are going to begin, and reminds them to turn off and put away their cell phones. We are going to have a technology friendly reception, but an unplugged ceremony. We’ll have a sign, but a verbal reminder is a good failsafe.
– Processional: when everyone walks down the aisle.
– Address: our officiant will make an announcement about our ring warming, and then will have free rein (#yikes!) to talk for a little bit about us, love, and/or marriage, if he wants to. The ring warming ceremony was a must for me from day one. A friend of mine had one at her wedding a couple years ago, and I just loved it. After the processional, your wedding rings are passed from person to person through the crowd. People are asked to fill the rings with all their love and best wishes. Those who are religious can pray or offer a blessing. We’ll have a couple attendants make sure the rings move through the crowd smoothly and in time for when they’re needed in the ceremony, and they’ll be attached to a small bowl for safekeeping. It’s just another way to remind ourselves that our marriage is about us, but also about our personal community.
– Reading: a different friend will read a few different selections. I also gave him free rein — lots of trusting the friends ’round here!
– Expression of Intent: this is *super* important, guys! This is you telling your officiant and your witnesses that you are intending to enter into a legally binding marriage.
– Unity Ceremony: For us, this means a hand washing ceremony. This ceremony resonated deeply with me, because it’s about washing away the mistakes, regrets and pain of your past, and moving into your marriage with a clean slate, full of grace and compassion for each other. As a second-time bride, this was a great find.
– Song: Since our vows are kind of sappy and emotional, I thought this would be a good time to let my friend sing for us. It gives us a chance to recover, and also gives the rings a chance to finish working through the crowd.
– Exchange of rings: This is when we’ll actually put on those rings full of love from our friends and family.
– Pronouncement: As you might have guessed from the name, this is the “I now pronounce you … ” part. It ends with a big smooch and the officiant introducing us as Mr. and Mrs.
– Recessional: Everyone walks back up the aisle and out.
3) Fill in the words
Once you have your outline, you just have to fill in the missing information — what do you want to say when you exchange rings? Will you have a unity candle or a sand ceremony or nothing at all or something you’ve thought up all your own? Since this will be the first wedding my friend has ever officiated, I wrote down a lot of things for him to paraphrase, and then bolded the things that must be word for word, like vows. If you have a more experienced officiant, you may not need to write down as much.
I’m sure it’ll change a bit as we refine it, but overall I’m pretty proud of my work!
Have you figured out your ceremony wording and structure? What special rituals have a place in your nuptials?