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


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.


*The Intent – “I do.”

Personal Vows – Promises made to each other.

Blessing and Exchange of Rings

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



 Benediction – Blessing the couple.




*required by law

Keep Your Love Alive – Keep Your Vows Alive

erika & steve kissAs a marriage officiate who has worked with more than 700 couples, I find that brides and grooms write the most wonderful personal vow statements to each other.  And for many their amazing words become a one time deal.  Stated on their wedding day and then never looked at again.

To keep your love alive, let your wedding vows be alive in your marriage.

I like to give couples homework.  I suggest that if your wedding is on a Saturday night, that every Saturday night for the first year of your marriage you re-state your vow to each other.  Take the time to reconnect to the moment of your uniting.  Let your vows remind you of the love that is so present on your wedding day. Let this vow time be the moment you reconnect if you have had a busy week.  Look your partner in the eye.  Speak the words of love and commitment. Let your vows stay alive in your memory and be a part of  the DNA of your relationship

Then in those moments (and those moments will come)  when your relationship feels strained or you even have forgotten why you married this person – your vows will be right there ready to remind you of what has brought you together.

Try it and leave a comment here. I would love to hear from you.


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.

A Small Intimate Wedding – Lisa and Dave’s Fabulous Wedding at Ici, Brooklyn, NY

Slide Show Lisa SizeRender-4 copyOn a warm summer evening in August, 2015 two amazing people joined their lives in a small celebration at ICI in Brooklyn NY.  Parents were deservidly highly honored in their ceremony for the love and the role models that they have been.  Three adorable nieces served as flower girls in their white dresses with sparkling shoes, forgetting to throw the flower petals as the walked down the aisle.  But all was perfect for Lisa and Dave and wishing them great blessings for their life together.

A small restaurant like ICI can be a great choice for an intimate wedding.  The garden was the perfect place for the ceremony.  The fresh summer air enhanced the experience for bride, groom and everyone in attendance.  And the love that was present for these two was palpable.  This is a good reason to have a wedding, rather than elope,  Something amazing happens when you gather together everyone that you love.  A sacred space is formed from that love and it permeates the wedding ritual.  This is usually a once-in -a-life-time gathering and you can feel the excitement when family and friends unite to wish a couple well.

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).