Photo courtesy of Heather Rowland Photography
Contrary to what you might think based on all the details that we talk about that feed into your reception, we truly do believe that the ceremony is the most important part of your wedding day. This is the whole reason we’re here, after all! If you choose to write some or all of your ceremony, it can make your day that much more special for you and your partner. Here are a few tips on how to get started and what to consider!
Set the tone
Discuss with your partner the tone of the ceremony. Is it to be secular or religious? Formal or laid-back? Are there certain traditions that one or both of you love that might set the mood? Also, discuss some of the logistics, like length, possible participants, and what your officiant might bring to the table.
Start with the basics
In most states in the U.S., there are certain pieces that are required for all ceremonies, whether civil/secular or religious. Make sure your ceremony includes:
- Statement of participants – what are your names?
- Consent of both members of the couple to the marriage – do you assent to the marriage?
- Vows – you should both make at least one, even if it’s just the super basic, “I, [name], take you, [name], to be my lawfully wedded [husband/wife].”
- Pronouncement – your officiant pronounces you to be legally wed!
Add some elements
If you stick to the basics, your ceremony will be less than five minutes long. If that’s how you roll, then off you go! Most couples want a slightly longer ceremony, so they add some additional elements, such as readings, remarks from your officiant, the ring exchange and vows, and a kiss at the end. These elements can be either secular or religious in nature. You can also honor your religious background(s) by using the traditions you particularly like – this might be the presentation of the bride by her father for a Christian participant, the ketubah signing for Jewish participants, a garland exchange for Hindu couples, or a blessing or prayer, which is pretty much universal. You may also want to include cultural elements or traditions, such as jumping the broom, doing a hand fasting, or exchanging sake.
Put them in order
There’s no hard and fast rule to the order of a ceremony, other than that the pronouncement should be last (go figure). The large majority of civil/secular ceremonies that we see look something like this:
Opening remarks and consent of couple
Presentation of the bride (if you’re doing this)
Reading (if you’re including one or more)
Homily or address by the officiant
Unity ceremony (if you’re doing one)
Presentation of the couple
This is just a basic structure, though. Feel free to mix things up! If you want your unity ceremony before your vows and rings because that makes sense for your relationship, then make it so! If you want a reading at the beginning and one at the end, that’s great! Whatever works for you, as long as it’s done and scripted in a meaningful and thoughtful way, will sound just fine.
Script it up
If you’re using a professional officiant, this is a good point to involve him or her more heavily, as he or she will have resources for you to use when it comes to word selection, etc. If one of your friends or family members is performing the ceremony, sit down and discuss whether you as a couple are scripting the ceremony, or if you’d like to turn over your outline and other pertinent info to your officiant to write it for you.