What to Include in Your Wedding Ceremony

norman and gloriaA wed­ding cer­e­mony is the offi­cial start of your life together, a first rit­ual, a time of trans­for­ma­tion. This is the cer­e­mony that sets the foun­da­tion for your life together. Many cou­ples may have attended a wor­ship ser­vice together, or a fam­ily hol­i­day rit­ual. If you come from dif­fer­ent faiths, or the same back­ground, this will be your first cer­e­mony together – a cer­e­mony about your uni­fi­ca­tion and a cer­e­mony that unites your lives. Your wed­ding cer­e­mony is the first rit­ual that rep­re­sents who you are as a cou­ple, and speaks about you and the life you are cre­at­ing together.

Your wed­ding cer­e­mony is a time set aside for solid­i­fy­ing your rela­tion­ship and giv­ing your mar­riage a mean­ing­ful send off. The wed­ding cer­e­mony cre­ates the foun­da­tion for the new fam­ily being birthed by this mar­riage. Whether it’s a reli­gious or human­is­tic rit­ual, wed­dings are a sacred rite of pas­sage. As I say in many of my cer­e­monies, “Through the power of the spo­ken word, some­thing amaz­ing is going to hap­pen.” It is up to your officiate/minister to craft the sacred words, to hal­low the time, and add the spark. Your offi­ciant is the voice and the reflec­tion of your love and the love of the fam­ily and friends.

Elements of a Wedding Ceremony

Like all rit­u­als, wed­ding cer­e­monies con­tain many ele­ments. As I tell cou­ples, the law requires just three things:

1. Couples make a promise to one another of their own free will.

2. The cou­ple is pro­nounced hus­band and wife by some­one legally sanc­tioned to do so.

3. The cou­ple presents a valid license and it is prop­erly signed and returned to the county clerk.

The rest of the cer­e­mony is filler. But the filler is the stuff that makes the cer­e­mony spe­cial, unique to the cou­ple, and cre­ates sacred space.

img001A good cer­e­mony will help you set the tone for your lives together. The words that are said are the pub­lic state­ment about the lives you intend to lead together. It is a rit­ual that truly trans­forms you and your lives. And it is quite amaz­ing that a few words from you, the min­is­ter, are the cat­a­lyst that makes this all hap­pen!

Below is the basic order of a cer­e­mony. This is not etched in stone, but is offered here as a guide­line. As a wed­ding cel­e­brant, I cre­ate for you. The cer­e­monies I write for each cou­ple do not come straight from an ancient text or a book of prayer. These cer­e­monies are based on the cou­ples I serve. Your cer­e­mony will rep­re­sent you accu­rately on your spe­cial day and to give you a cer­e­mony that is authen­tic to you and your beliefs.

Order of a Wedding Ceremony

Below is the basic order of a wed­ding cer­e­mony. Know that this is not set in stone. Each cer­e­mony has its own flow, and I adjust the order as needed, par­tic­u­larly mov­ing around read­ings and rit­u­als as they make the most sense. I will some­times com­bine ele­ments such as per­sonal vows with ring exchange or can­dle light­ing with vows, etc.

Welcome – Welcome the bride and groom and acknowl­edg­ment to those

attend­ing.

Invocation – Calling in a higher pres­ence. Create sacred space.

Remembering Loved Ones Passed – Spiritually invit­ing those who have passed to the cer­e­mony, and/or men­tion­ing those who could not attend, but are very spe­cial to the bride and groom.

Reading or Sharing – Friend or fam­ily mem­ber shares a reflec­tion on the cou­ple, a read­ing on mar­riage or love.

Minister’s Address –A short ser­mon about mar­riage, love and/or a per­sonal story about the cou­ple.

Blessing

*The Intent – “I do.”

Personal Vows – Promises made to each other.

Blessing and Exchange of Rings

RitualsWine cer­e­mony, can­dle light­ing, Satapadi, incense, rose cer­e­mony.

*Pronouncement

Kiss

Benediction – Blessing the cou­ple.

*required by law

How to Write Personal Wedding Vows

Writing Personal Vows

Photo by Kristy May
Photo by Kristy May

I strongly sug­gest that cou­ples write a per­sonal vow to each other. This is your moment. You may be ner­vous about speak­ing to a large group, but remem­ber that the wit­nesses at your wed­ding are your dear fam­ily and friends.

You do not have to mem­o­rize your words. I will have them printed out on a card, ready to hand to you at the moment in the cer­e­mony they are needed. (Even actresses I have mar­ried do not mem­o­rize their per­sonal vows!)

This doc­u­ment includes 10 sam­ples of per­sonal vows ( con­tact me for more sam­ples) and a sec­tion of poetry as vows as well. Use this as a jump­ing off point, to write your own per­sonal vows.

Vows can be done a few different ways

  • You may choose the same per­sonal vow from the sam­ple vows included in this chap­ter
  • You may each choose your own per­sonal vow from those sam­pled here
  • You may write a per­sonal vow together
  • You may write sep­a­rate per­sonal vows and sur­prise each other on your wed­ding day (a pop­u­lar choice)

Like oth­ers, you may feel intim­i­dated to write some­thing, espe­cially writ­ing some­thing that will be said in front of a large group of guests. I have included some sim­ple instruc­tions I give to cou­ples in “How To Write Your Own Vows.”

1 Central Park same sexHow To Write Your Personal Vows

Writing your own vows is not as scary as you may think. I can be fun, and quite easy. It can also be a mean­ing­ful exer­cise for you and enhanc­ing to your wed­ding cer­e­mony. Vows also serve you for your life­time together. When things get rough, re-read­ing your vows to one another can be just what is needed to remem­ber your wed­ding day, remem­ber your love, and recom­mit to each other.

Think about your part­ner. Think about why in the entire world, this is the right per­son for you. Think about your rela­tion­ship and your future. What are the promises you want to make to this per­son? What are words that will tell your part­ner what they mean to you? What is impor­tant to you as you enter into the unknown future together?

Below are exam­ples of wed­ding vows, from tra­di­tional to cre­ative. One of these sam­ples may say exactly what you need to express. Or, you may choose to use a part of one, mixed with a part of another. As you read through the sam­ples, speak them aloud. Try them on for fit. You will know what is right for you. Or, if you are com­fort­able and ambi­tious, you may choose to write your own vows. You can start from one of the sam­ples and go from there.

Sample Personal Vows

  1. Thank you for com­ing into my life and for being such a won­der­ful part­ner. ____, I choose you to be my husband/wife. In the knowl­edge that I will never do this per­fectly, I promise to, as con­sciously as I can, always be grate­ful for your pres­ence in my life. I promise to choose my words with care, know­ing that what I say to you will either nur­ture our love or begin the process of its destruc­tion. I choose to cre­ate a safe haven for you to grow and be a place to heal and to feel accepted. I offer my care, my com­fort, my love, my wis­dom, truth, patience, and kind­ness, and when nec­es­sary, my for­give­ness. I offer the gift of lis­ten­ing – lis­ten­ing to your joys and sor­rows, con­fu­sion and tribu­la­tions. I promise to treat with care your emo­tional well-being. I will cel­e­brate your joys and vic­to­ries and rejoice in your achieve­ments. I promise to remem­ber love is an action and not a feel­ing, and to act that way always. I’ll be your best friend. I promise to always be truth­ful and faith­ful to myself and to you. I promise to take good care of myself, because with­out me there is no us. I com­mit myself to my own growth, and to yours, in this bond of mar­riage.
  2. ____, I will share and sup­port your hopes and visions, help­ing to ful­fill them in any way I can. I will strive to main­tain joy, imag­i­na­tion, and new­ness in our union. I will keep our high­est good as my first inten­tion. I will never do any­thing to com­pro­mise what we have, and in keep­ing with this, I will remain con­scious to never take you for granted. When life becomes dif­fi­cult, I will share your bur­den and divide your pain. I will give you strength of spirit, nur­ture your body, and pro­tect your heart. I will also con­tinue to take care of myself, to inspire your love, and to ensure, as best I can, that you’ll always want what you have. When you laugh, I will share and delight in your joy. I ask that we chal­lenge each other to become all that we can be. My hands will be for­ever open to you so that we may con­tinue to walk this world together. I can­not express in words how much I love you, and it would take me a life­time to show you just how much you mean to me. And that is what I intend to do, spend my life with you, demon­strat­ing my respect, my admi­ra­tion, and my love, com­pletely and for­ever.
  3. ____, with a free and uncon­strained soul, I give you all I am and all I am to become. I give you my heart and with it faith, respect, patience, and love, for all the days of my life.
  1. All that I am and all that I have, I offer to you, my love, my friend – in joy, in ser­vice, in sacred union.
  2. From this day on, I choose you, my beloved ____, to be my husband/wife. To live with you and laugh with you. To stand by your side, and sleep in your arms. To bring joy to your heart and food to your soul. To bring out the best in you always, and to be the most that I can be. To laugh with you in the good times and to strug­gle with you in the bad. To give you solace when you are down­hearted. To wipe your tears with my hands. To com­fort you with my body. To mir­ror you with my soul. To share with you all of my riches and hon­ors. To play with you as much as I can. I promise you this, from my heart and with my soul, for all the days of my life.
  3. I, ____, accept you, ____, as my husband/wife/partner in life. To join our lives and energy together. To spend our days in friend­ship and love. To sup­port and encour­age your growth as my own. To always be open and will­ing to lis­ten. To seek to be cen­tered in love and seren­ity through all the changes of life. To nur­ture and tend the divine light in you and in myself. To man­i­fest the high­est good for our­selves, for those we love and for beings every­where.
  1. In the pres­ence of this com­mu­nity, I, ____, choose you, ____, to be my part­ner from this time for­ward. To love you. To be a com­fort and safe haven in your life. To hold you close. To lis­ten deeply when you are sad or angry. To learn com­pas­sion with you. To nour­ish you with gen­tle­ness. To love your body as it ages. To weigh the effects of the words I speak and of things I do.
  1. ____, I take you to be my law­fully wed­ded husband/wife. Before these wit­nesses, I vow to love you and care for you as long as we both shall live. I take you, with all your faults and your strengths, as I offer myself to you with my faults and my strengths. I will help you when you need help, and will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the per­son with whom I will spend my life.
  1. I promise to you today, before God, our fam­ily, and friends, to stand by your side, and unfail­ingly share and sup­port your hopes and dreams. I vow to always be here for you through thick and thin. When you fall, I will catch you. When you cry, I will com­fort you. When you laugh, I will share your joy. No mat­ter what lies ahead for us, I will see it as a jour­ney –
    one that can only be com­pleted by the two of us together. From this moment, every­thing I am and every­thing I have is yours, and for eter­nity, my love for you will remain.
  2. ____, from this day for­ward, I will be here for you. I will sing your joys, cry your sor­rows, and stand by your side through what­ever life may bring your way. From this day for­ward, through good times and bad, I will live with you, change and grow old with you, and do all that I can to keep our mar­riage strong and happy, and alive with pos­si­bil­i­ties. From this day for­ward, I will cher­ish you. With joy, I look toward the path of our tomor­rows, find­ing peace and hap­pi­ness, know­ing we will walk together, side by side, hand in hand, and heart to heart. We have waited such a long time, and now that we are here, let us make our joys and dreams come true, with our love grow­ing through the years.

Poetry as Personal Vows

A lovely way to add poetry and have unique vows is for the bride and groom to recite a poem together. Below are a few poems I love for this pur­pose.

I Promise, by Dorothy R. Colgan

Bride: I promise to give you the best of myself and to ask of you no more than you can give.

Groom: I promise to respect you as your own per­son and to real­ize that your inter­ests, desires, and needs are no less impor­tant than my own.

Bride: I promise to share with you my time and my atten­tion and to bring joy, strength, and imag­i­na­tion to our rela­tion­ship.

Groom: I promise to keep myself open to you, to let you see through the win­dow of my world into my inner­most fears and feel­ings, secrets and dreams.

Bride: I promise to grow along with you, to be will­ing to face changes in order to keep our rela­tion­ship alive and excit­ing.

Groom: I promise to love you in good times and in bad, with all I have to give and all I feel inside in the only way I know how, com­pletely and for­ever.

Wedding Poem, by Rabindranath Tagore
(Bride and groom recite together) 

It is for the union of you and me that there is light in the sky.
It is for the union of you and me that the earth is decked in dusky green.
It is for the union of you and me that the night sits motion­less with the world in her arms; dawn appears open­ing the east­ern door with sweet mur­murs in her voice. The boat of hope sails along the cur­rents of eter­nity toward that union, flow­ers of the ages are being gath­ered together for its wel­com­ing rit­ual. It is for the union of you and me
(Bride only says) that this heart of mine, in the garb of a bride,
(Groom only says) that this heart of mine, in the garb of a groom,
(Both con­tinue together again) has pro­ceeded from birth to birth
upon the sur­face of this ever-turn­ing world to choose the beloved.

(OR CHANGE THIS LAST LINE TO: “to choose you, my Beloved.”)

Wedding Poem, by Kuan Tao-Sheng
(Both recite together)
You and I
Have so much love
(bride only says)
That it
Burns like a fire,
In which we take a lump of clay,
Molded into a fig­ure of you,
And a fig­ure of me.
(Groom only says)
Then we take both of them,
And break them into pieces,
And mix the pieces with water,
And mold again a fig­ure of you,
And a fig­ure of me.
(Bride only says)
I am in your clay. You are in my clay.
(Groom only says)
I am in your clay. You are in my clay.
(Both con­tinue together again)
In life we share a sin­gle quilt.
In death we share one bed.

Interfaith Wedding with Modern Jewish Elements

candlesThis Saturday past was a glo­ri­ous time for Michael and Emily from San Francisco as they gath­ered together their clos­est fam­ily and friends for a wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion at the The Gramercy Park Hotel.

The evening was a lovely 64 degrees allow­ing the roof to be opened to the autumn breezes that filled the room.

I offi­ci­ated their sim­ple, inter­faith, per­son­al­ized cer­e­mony along with the lovely voice of Cantor Irene Fallenborgen. Some cus­toms from the Jewish tra­di­tion were included; shar­ing wine , break­ing a glass and a mod­ern ver­sion of the seven bless­ings. Guests com­mented on the beauty of the cer­e­mony and were excited that Michael had finally taken the mar­riage plunge.

Modern Seven Blessings:

  1. May your mar­riage enrich your lives and the lives of every­one around you.
  2. May you work together to build a rela­tion­ship of sub­stance and qual­ity.
  3. May the hon­esty of your com­mu­ni­ca­tion build a foun­da­tion of under­stand­ing, con­nec­tion, and trust.
  4. May you respect each other’s indi­vid­ual per­son­al­ity and phi­los­o­phy, and give each other room to grow and ful­fill each other’s dreams.
  5. May your sense of humor and play­ful spirit con­tinue to enliven your rela­tion­ship.
  6. May you under­stand that nei­ther of you is per­fect: you are both sub­ject to human frail­ties: and may your love strengthen when you fall short of each other’s expec­ta­tions.
  7. May you be “best friends”, bet­ter together than either of you are apart.

Here are some of the ways we incor­po­rated the ancient and made it mod­ern. 

Silent Blessings

At this time I invite every­one to take a moment and to send your own silent bless­ings to the bride and groom, this sweet new fam­ily who stand before you. Each pray­ing in the way that is right for you.

And together we say Amen.

Sharing wine

There is a say­ing – “with­out wine there is no bless­ing” .

Wine is an essen­tial part of cel­e­brat­ing life’s most joy­ous moments and there­fore is a part of this joy­ous moment.

And so you have asked to share in the rit­ual of wine as a sym­bol of this occa­sion – to remind you as long as you live, may you

never be too busy to cel­e­brate what­ever great occa­sions come to your lives.

Modern version of the prayer over the wine

We praise you God, Creator of all we see, Creator of the fruit of the vine. This wine is a sym­bol of the co-cre­ation between humans and the Divine. God makes the grapes grow, pro­vides the sun shine, rain and fer­tile soil. Humans har­vest the grapes and cre­ate the wine. Bless you Beloved and bless all we see. Bless this bride and groom as they work together to co-cre­ate their mar­riage. And together we say Amen.

As you share the wine from a sin­gle cup, so may you share con­tent­ment, peace and ful­fill­ment from the cup of life.

May you find life’s joys height­ened, any bit­ter­ness sweet­ened and each of life’s moments enhanced by true com­pan­ion­ship and love. (Groom offers the bride a drink and then drinks him­self).