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Writing Your Wedding Ceremony – A Modern Jewish Service


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Writing Your Wedding Ceremony   A Modern Jewish Service | A Practical Wedding

One of the questions I get asked the most often is – ‘How do you write a wedding ceremony?’ It’s such a complicated question that I have, up until now, avoided it. But with so many of you saying vows over the next few months, this seemed like the right time to dive in. I’m planning to explore this topic for the next week or so, on and off, talking about readings and other ceremony magic. But today you get the general principals I took away from writing our ceremony, which are very much colored by: the fact that it was a Jewish ceremony, the fact that I’m a writer, the fact that David and I are both trained in composition/ directing. Limited, but hopefully helpful. I’m hoping this will be the first in a series, and that other people will step forward with their stories, but until then, here is mine.

I think that the fundamental question to ask yourselves when you tackle your ceremony (and to continually ask yourself at various points during the process) is, ‘what is the relationship we want to have with tradition?’ What push/pull do we want to create with what is traditional for us and/or our families? If there is one part of the wedding where you are tackling tradition head on, it’s the ceremony. I would argue that this is a good, and maybe even important thing. The act of marriage, is, after all, thousands of years old. And by getting married, we are, in some essential way, tying ourselves to the generations that have gone before us. Our job is to figure out how, exactly, we want to tie that knot.

Structure

When David and I constructed our ceremony, we started with the traditional (reformative*) Jewish wedding ceremony. We took this as our basic structure, our frame on which we would hang shiny bits, important bits, things that made our heart sing. So for us, our basic structure looked a bit like this:

  • Processional
  • Rabbi’s Welcome
  • First Cup of Wine
  • Vows
  • Drash (translation, roughly, sermon)
  • Seven Blessings over the Couple
  • Second Glass of Wine
  • Priestly Benediction
  • Breaking of the Glass
  • Recessional

Keep in mind when looking at this list, this was *our* structure. There were things that can be included in a traditional Jewish service that we’d taken out (a veiling, and a presentation of the Ketubah, among others) when we made our frame.

It’s likely that your structure is not going to be a Jewish service. But because writing a service from scratch can feel completely overwhelming, and because the wedding ceremony is something a pretty serious link to history (like it or not), I suggest that when you’re writing a service you adopt a structure as your frame. Remember, it’s just a frame, so you can add to it or subtract to it as need be, but it gives you a very clear place to start. (And if that makes you feel rebellious, just remember: it’s hard to subvert the paradigm unless you have a paradigm.)

Your Relationship With Tradition

Once you have picked a frame (whether it’s the episcopal wedding liturgy or the civil ceremony as performed in your country) your next job is to discover your and your partners relationship to it. The most important advice I can give you here is simply allow yourself to be both honest and surprised. As you look at the ceremony, there are probably going to be bits that each of you say, “I hate this, we cannot do this,” and then there will be other bits that one or the other of you says, “This bit is really important to me.” And you may be totally shocked what bits those are. So be careful with yourself and go slowly. If you have a really strong emotional reaction to something, try to figure out why. That will help you shape your service (and marriage), and discover how close or how far you want to be from your particular version of tradition.

The Fun Bits

Next comes the bits you get to add. This is the really, really fun part, if you ask me. David and I knew that we wanted to add both readings and music to our service. The Jewish wedding ceremony is very short, if left alone. Since I grew up with wedding services that ranged from thirty minutes to an hour (hello church weddings) and included up to four hymns, I knew that I wasn’t going to feel married if we didn’t stretch it out a little.

So. We collected a list of readings and music that we might want to use, and we tried to start fitting it in to our structure. What if we put this reading here? What if we put this piece of music there? This was hands down the most fun I had wedding planning—moving things about, seeing how they work in relationship to each other—is there anything more fun in the whole world? I don’t think so! We ended up constructing our service so it had an emotional arc: it moved from the very serious parts of marriage (till death, old age, righteousness) to the very joyful and silly parts of a marriage (keeping love here, we could be a holiday, smashing the glass). The funny part is, at the beginning at the service everyone was very serious, and at the end of the service everyone was crying. Weddings are funny like that.

The Vows

Last week I got emailed a question:

How do you decide on the vows? Are the individual words so important, or is it just that you’re making a promise to each other? Do people actually look back at their vows? (And I mean really look back, not just on their anniversary in an “awww” sort of way. I mean like when times get tough and you remind yourself that you promised to love and cherish this person during just such a time.)

I thought it was amazing, because it was a question I’d never asked myself. As I explained right after our wedding – we didn’t write our vows, and we never even considered writing our vows, so that’s a bit of a wedding that I can’t speak to. What I can say is: yes, exactly what we said really mattered, and, yes, I do look back on my vows often, and yes, what we said shapes our relationship.

Our vows were short, and in retrospect I’m glad. We didn’t need to sum up all the parts of our relationship that are an ongoing negotiation, to write them in stone. What we did need to do is: say something about the change that we were making in our relationship that day, and speak to foundation that we were laying (and had already laid) for what our relationship was. I’m glad our vows were short, because they are easy to remember. I’m glad our vows were ancient, because I wanted to feel our grandparents and great-grandparents right there (even though mine said different traditional vows). I’m glad we didn’t obsess about our vows, because I needed them to be what they were: simple, matter of fact, to the point.

The promises we made are promises I can tell you at a moments notice. And yes, on most days I think, “Wear me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is infinitely strong,” because that, for me, is it.

Photo: Me, Aisle, By One Love Photo, of course

*I can’t find a good link to explain this particular slang, so. Young liberal American Jews who find themselves, theologically, somewhere between the reform and conservative moments, sometimes refer to themselves as reformative or conservaform, depending on where they started out. Then there is Conservadox, which is a different discussion all together.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • caitlin

    I can’t tell you how excited I am about this post, and the forecast for the week! As we work on our ceremony, I can’t wait to pick the brains of the amazing readers of APW.

    PS. My fiance and I read the link you sent me about your vows, and we knew immediately how important vows were. Thank you thank you thank you. I’m not sure a commitment can be declared more beautifully than with those words.

  • http://onecatperperson.blogspot.com Angie

    Our ceremony will be short and brief. Like you, we don’t feel the need to sum up our entire relationship. But we were very intentional about the readings and vows. My brother is reading something we handpicked and his sister is reading a poem she wrote. We’re reciting vows from both of our faiths and then we’ll be doing a Yichud. There are other elements that mimic our faith traditions and that was very important to us as well.

    (I actually got a lot of inspiration from a graduates Theresa & Clark. We literally just picked traditions that were meaningful to us, made sense, and weren’t dated. We also made it fair so the wedding didn’t seem like it was too much of one religion or culture.)

    Our proposal was very private and as much as I share on my blog, we are still very private people. It was a challenge to write our ceremony b/c of this fact. We wanted to give folks an idea of what our love is like through our ceremony, but we didn’t want to write our own vows or incorporate things that we feel should be shared just between us. Plus, that’s what our Yichud is for! I think we’ve found a good balance b/w sharing and withholding.

    Ellie at Wedding For Two brought up a good question in a post this weekend- “Also, a lot of people have said that proposals are such a private moment and why would you want people to watch you? Can somebody please explain the difference between that and having a ceremony?” I think that’s something we all struggle with- what do we make public and what do we keep private? I think everyone has to find their own balance of what feels right.

    • meg

      Well, I think the whole point of the ceremony *is* the people. Vows we make in private are different than vows we make in public, in front of a community that pledges to support us and them. So, up to a point, I’d argue that it’s important to let the people at your ceremony in. That’s what they are there for.

      • http://onecatperperson.blogspot.com Angie

        Totally agree. We just want to feel like ourselves and a little bit of that is keeping some things just for us. That doesn’t mean we’re not having the mush and the gush in our ceremony, but instead of all that being focused on the vows we exchange, we’re trying to accomplish it in other ways. I read something on OBB about weddings for shy people (http://offbeatbride.com/2009/03/weddings-for-shy-people), which helped. Our officiate is a very good friend of ours and is blessed with the gift of gab. So she will navigating everyone through our ceremony, explaining about the traditions we chose to include, and even sharing about us. We’ve also written in a portion where our guests will share and participate that kind of mimics a Quaker ceremony. We’re hoping these pieces will help make it less scary for us as well as allow our guests to feel like they are part of our union.

        I will admit that just like our reception has changed, I’m sure our ceremony will too. And we probably will adopt and omit things that will shock us, but I hope that in the end we will feel like we stayed like ourselves and shared/received love all around.

        • Michele

          I totally understand what you mean about wanting to keep some part of your ceremony for yourself. My husband and I aren’t “shy,” but we are private in many ways. One thing we incorporated into our wedding was a “blessing” of the rings combined with some sweeeet vocals by one of our best friends. So for a good 3 minutes in the middle of our ceremony, our guests were busy passing our rings, meditating on marriage/thinking good thoughts, and watching/listening to the vocalist.

          Those 3 minutes are amongst my favorite from the entire ceremony, because while my husband and I were standing up front all on our own, no one was paying much attention to us, so it was a very private moment during which we were able to say all of the more informal things that we wanted to, share a laugh, a kiss, etc, smack dab in the middle of the ceremony.

          It was beyond awesome.

  • http://missfancypantsthebride.blogspot.com/ miss fancy pants

    Once again, a batch of helpful information from Meg. I’d only wish it had come sooner before I had to learn some of the advice the hard way, haha. Coming from someone who just finished co-writing a ceremony, the suggestion to work within a structure is probably one of the best pieces of advice…. ever. Before we made a framework to work within, I felt completely overwhelmed and started wondering why the heck we’d wanted to write our own ceremony in the first place. But once we decided that we wanted to include certain elements like opening words, declaration of intent, ring ceremony etc. and leave our other ones like readings from the Bible or the candle lighting ceremony, it was much easier. Once we had the elements, we were able to break it down more easily and look at the dozens of examples I’d collected from the internet and from books for each “category”. Although the research online and through reading took a while, once we had all our options and were ready to use the category method, we were 95% done our ceremony within one hour.

  • Amy

    “it’s hard to subvert the paradigm unless you have a paradigm” – Love that quote!

    We used very traditional vows for similar reasons. Husband and I are lucky enough to come from long lines of very strong marriages and it was really important to me that we find a way to honor those. In my mind, using their vows was a way to add ourselves to that tradition while honoring the examples that we’d been given.

    As far as the question about referring back to the vows, I can’t really say that I think about the specific words on a daily basis. For me, the act of making the promise stands out more than the actual words.

    And picking out the readings was the most fun part of the entire wedding planning process. (I still quote bits of the poem we chose to myself because it makes me smile.)

    • Jolynn

      I couldn’t ‘exactly’ this–that’s the quote that spoke to me when I read through and I had to praise it! I also love the practicality of having a framework. Thanks for sharing how to start on this very personal journey, Meg. And I *love* that you look back on your vows often. It’s important to me to do so.

  • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

    We read a lot of ceremonies online and in print, borrowed the things we liked and stitched them together using a frame. Here are our vows: “I choose you. To live with you and laugh with you. To stand by your side and sleep in your arms. To be joy to your hrart and food for your soul. I promise to laugh with you in good times and struggle alongside you in bad times. I promise to respect you and cherish you. I promise that from this day on we shall walk hand in hand along the same path. May we have many adventures and grow old together.” I would be happy to share the ceremony with anyone who is interested…

    • Maxine

      Im interested..

    • Sandy

      I would love a copy of your wedding ceremony. I love your vows so I’m sure you’ll give me a great place to start. Mazel Tov on your marriage. I wish you many, many years of happiness.

    • Lena

      I would love to take a look at your ceremony if you don’t mind! We are trying to write a ceremony that is short and includes a bit of my jewish culture…this is hard!

      Lena

  • Amy*

    My husband and I had an interfaith (Jewish and Christian) ceremony. Our rabbi suggested that we get the book “Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: creating your Jewish/Christian ceremony” by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner. This helped us tremendously! The book talks about all aspects of the wedding, but we focused on the information it offered about the ceremony. It includes many different possible parts of a ceremony that you can include, it explains a little history behind it, then it has different variations. (It has 12 different variations on the 7 blessings, for instance.) This really helped us pick and choose exactly what we wanted in our ceremony without us actually writing it.

    As for our vows, we said traditional vows and our own written vows. After our wedding, we framed the vows and hung them on the wall. It’s so special to walk by them everyday and see the words that my husband promised to me.*

    • meg

      That is on the APW book list.

    • http://onecatperperson.blogspot.com Angie

      Need this book!

  • Sally

    We borrowed ideas from our friends’ weddings. I liked doing this because, really, there isn’t much that’s original about weddings – not to say the couple can’t/shouldn’t express their originality in the wedding but the idea of two coming together to share vows isn’t so new. Know what I mean? Anyway, we asked two couples that were close to us and had been married 16 and 46 years respectively to share their thoughts on marriage. It was beautiful and lovely and funny and great.

    As far as the vows – we didn’t really know what we were getting into with each other with marriage, but we knew that we loved each other and had chosen each other, we knew that we didn’t want to be apart from each other even though there might be a lot shit thrown our way that we can’t anticipate and that we were going to stick with each other. So we just said that. Basically. It was a little prettier.

  • Michele

    LOVE THIS. Love it.

    Creating our ceremony was by far the most enjoyable part of planning our wedding. For me, anyway. My husband would probably choose creating our playlist, but for the exact same reason – because those were the elements that enabled each of us to be our most authentic selves and give our loved ones a glimpse into our lives and our relationship, by choosing words (and songs) very intentionally.

    The ceremony is an incredibly important part of any wedding for me, and I’m always a little puzzled/disappointed when I hear people say things like ‘no one cares about the ceremony, so ours will only be ten minutes long. We just want to get to the party.’ But then, I know that this is largely because I too am a writer, and words are very, very important to me. I often say that I’m not a detail oriented person, but that’s not completely true: I’m not particularly detail oriented when it comes to the way things look, but I am VERY detail oriented when it comes to the way things SOUND – especially the words coming out of peoples’ mouths (or off the tips of their fingers).

    As for the extent to which we revisit our vows now – one year later? I can say it is often. I spend a lot of time thinking about them, particularly in moments of weakness when I catch myself not living them. I also regularly reminisce about our ceremony – having a private laugh when I think about how I literally sobbed my way down the aisle despite the fact that friends often joke that I am “dead inside”, or getting a tad weepy when I think about my dad prompting a spontaneous group hug at the end.

    A couple months ago, our house was burglarized and our laptop was stolen. On it, all of our wedding photos (professional and otherwise) were stored, along with the text of our ceremony. I’d already printed a few of our favorite photos, and several more are on Facebook, so I wasn’t terribly upset about having lost the pictures. But I was heartbroken about having lost the ceremony.

    We have an external HD, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d backed up and feared that everything was indeed GONE. This weekend, we FINALLY got our replacement computer, and I was able to access the external HD for the first time, and low and behold – it was all there.

    Which was basically the best anniversary gift in the world. :)

  • ddayporter

    awesome post Meg. this was definitely something we had a hard time finding resources about when we were crafting our own ceremony over the last year. it’s tough finding a structure for a non-religious ceremony. the traditional religious wedding, in our experience, had so much, well, religion filling up the time, we were definitely concerned we weren’t going to “feel married” if we went too short, having taken out all the religious aspects. In the end we adapted a Buddhist ceremony, which resonated with us because of the focus on the environment and the community (where they say “with respect for all beings,” we interpreted that as being environmentally friendly and being active in the community, and reworded it to make it clear to everyone how we pledged to use our partnership to strengthen our positive impact on the world around us).

    we didn’t really know the proper order of things, we just generally knew we wanted a processional, opening remarks from the officiant, 2 readings, the “we will” vows and the “I will” vows, ring exchange, and then the pronouncement of marriage/blessing, then recessional – we handed the pieces we wrote over to our officiant, and gave her free reign in organizing it properly and composing the opening/closing/transitional bits on her own. the readings and music were the most fun to pick out for sure. We went with “union” by robert fulgham and that fabulous excerpt from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which made our reader cry while she was up there, which of course made me cry.. the music was totally non-traditional and fun.

    we didn’t do traditional “for better or for worse vows,” and sometimes I feel great about it and sometimes I feel like “shoot, I definitely couldn’t recite word for word what we promised to each other.” I love Meg’s take on it, being a connection to all those generations who came before us and said those vows, it’s just not the way we were thinking about it when we were composing our ceremony.

    While I couldn’t tell you the words we used without looking, I can tell you the feeling and the sense and the meaning, that we committed ourselves to each other, with the full support of our friends and family. and though I don’t recall the words, I’ve definitely thought back to the ceremony when there’s been a disagreement (I think it’s too soon to tell about how the vows help during the rough patches, the little episodes we’ve had surely don’t count). I think for myself the words themselves don’t matter as much as the spirit in which we said them. It’s that part I remember and think about and use during the tough moments. but that’s just how I operate generally, not just in this; I usually absorb more of what is meant than what is said, and I have a hard time articulating my exact feelings.

  • Remi

    This is such an important topic and I look forward to the discussions and further posts. As a non-religious gal engaged to a Greek Orthodox guy, I am having such a hard time getting my head around the ceremony, and really the entire wedding structure. I seem to be stuck in a permanent confusion between the cultural expectations and the religious requirements. His family tells me that they do not expect a strict church wedding, but I have a feeling that if I didn’t agree to a religious ceremony in a church that I would be disappointing the myriad of extended family that puts so much importance on this type of wedding.

    I’d be very interested in hearing stories about Greek weddings in general, but especially from the perspective of other non-Greeks marrying into the culture. Any takers?

  • keira

    I will always, always be grateful that we had an amazing officiant who knew us so well.
    The same way Ariel mentions in her book about picking the most important things each partner wants for the wedding-we did a mini-version of that for the ceremony. It came out to be
    -no religious references
    -acknowledgement of our home state of MA and equal opportunities for marriage
    -no preachiness about how great we were for getting married. just how we were 2 great people who happened to be getting married.
    -our own vows
    -make sure it feels like us

    It took a few meetings and some real honesty on all sides to get where we wanted everything to be. I was working on my vows up until the morning of the wedding.
    But out of all that came some brilliant ideas. Our friend and officiant had the idea that my husband take one of his cameras and take a photo of everyone to remember the amazing feeling of love and support we were getting. (Here is what it looked like for reference: http://www.flickr.com/photos/madriwitz/4036262402/in/set-72157622517897865/)
    The best advice he gave us is this: Don’t look for a fancy way to say something. Just say it and make sure it’s true. For us, that meant a ring exchange that sounded like “I give you this ring because you are my favorite.”

    Lastly, and I know a lot of folks say this, the ceremony is so much more amazing and meaningful than I ever imagined it could be. This from the girl who claimed to want it overwith for the party to start….I gladly eat my words.

    • ddayporter

      great advice!

      but really I just wanted to chime in and say that link didn’t exactly work (didn’t link to a photo like you described) BUT I did look through the photos from your wedding and kapow! your dress! amazing. And I have to ask, did Miss Brache (Diane) make those bridesmaid dresses…?? they look conspicuously similar to the cut of my bridesmaids dresses, although I have to admit your patterns are epically cooler than mine. ;)

      • keira

        Where are my manners? Thank you DDAYPORTER for the kind words! And yes, Diane made those dresses from fabric I sent her.

      • A-L

        I just need to echo DDAYPorter here and say that your wedding dress rocked. Y’all looked like you were having such a fun day. Thanks for sharing!

        • Amy

          I agree with everybody who said that your dress is fantastic!

    • keira
      • ddayporter

        haha I think I even saw that picture in my browsing but I couldn’t take my eyes off your dress. :) that’s a great photo though, I love the whole idea of taking a photo from the couples perspective! I wish there were more of those from our ceremony – our photog got a couple (nice, but not really exactly Our perspective), but we got billions of “us” shots, where I would really love to see bunches more capturing all the supportive friends and family in the room with us. my favorite photo is one of my mother in law throwing back her head laughing (why was my MIL laughing during the ceremony? I can’t even remember).

  • FK

    Hooray! Am in the process of figuring this stuff out right now. Thanks for this and future installments.

  • A-L

    I guess I’ve always been in the camp of wanting the traditional wedding. From the “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” opening remarks, to the ’til death do us part vows, and the “with this ring, I thee wed” ring exchange. And I’ve always planned on using biblical passages for the readings. So I just thought, choose a hymn or two (and finalize your readings) and you’re done!

    But. I started reading online about many of the unique details other couples have created for their ceremonies. Details that showed their uniqueness, or involved the congregation. And it has me thinking. There’s something about the traditional service, and overall that’s what I want. But I also want to customize it, at least a wee bit. So add me to the list of those who are looking forward to this week’s posts and comments!

    • Morgan

      When we worked with the minister who was marrying us, I told him the only thing I totally wanted was the ceremony to start, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today….” and that without that, it wouldn’t feel right to me. That’s not exactly Lutheran scripture, but he took it and reworked some of the words to be less dated (nothing about sin!) and it was perfect.

      I’m not religious, but the old words have a way of really resonating, both with the couple and with the guests.

    • meg

      Here is my advice, you ready? Falling into the pit of “unique!” and “so many great ideas” and “personalized!” can be the same as falling into a real hell-hole. You’re getting MARRIED, lady, nothing and everything is unique about that moment. I totally totally get wanting a traditional service. Just go for it! Add a few readings that you like (we had beautiful biblical passages that we picked, there is so much room for creativity there), and thoughtfully pick hymns you love (again, so much room to choose), and let that stand. You don’t need to add a bunch of stuff other people did, really, you don’t. Our service was pretty traditional, and my parents service was straight from the book of common prayer… and they’ve never regretted it. They chose their hymns, their readings, and had SEVEN clergy members (all friends) officiate. I mean, how much more personal do you need, right?

  • http://katydid972.wordpress.com Kathryn

    My husband and I had a really, really hard time writing our ceremony because it forced us to negotiate lots of larger issues in our relationships with each other and our families. We’re both agnostic and wanted a purely secular ceremony officiated by a judge, but our Christian/Catholic/Muslim/Atheist families had a lot of opinions about what we should do with our ceremony. After the initial decision to have my uncle (the atheist judge) officiate, we floundered for weeks and sort of talked around everything until, finally, about a month before the wedding we spent an evening sharing a bottle of wine and making some real decisions.

    First, we set some ground rules that were important to both of us: that the ceremony be no longer than 20 minutes from start to finish, no religious references, and we wanted to write our own vows. From there, we lined up side-by-side models of Christian, Muslim, and Catholic ceremonies, and our officiant’s standard civil ceremony. We nixed most of the ritualistic elements from each of these, and ended up with a hybrid framework that we found meaningful. We also chose music that had a deep, emotional resonance with us both. Here’s what we came up with:

    Fanfare
    Welcome from officiant (He wrote this himself for us)
    Processional 1
    Processional 2
    Reading (We chose a nonreligious poem that was read at my parents’ Christian ceremony. That allowed us to nod to that family tradition without compromising our own commitment to a secular ceremony)
    Vows that husband and I wrote ourselves
    Exchange of rings
    Definition of marriage by officiant (He wrote this himself for us)
    Kiss!
    Announcement of Mr. Husbandlastname and Ms. Wifelastname

    We had a wonderful time writing our vows, and our families loved our ceremony on the big day. Well. With one exception: we did not take each others’ last names but the announcement as husband and wife was important to us. Some members of our families could not wrap their heads around the announcement at the end of the ceremony since it had two last names. We loved it that way, but it sucked explaining to them at the reception for the 30th time that, no, the officiant did not make a mistake. My name is STILL Ms. Wifelastname.

  • http://www.mysanfranciscobudgetwedding.wordpress.com Sarah

    We just started thinking about writing the ceremony. Until recently, we thought we were going to have a simple civil ceremony performed by a commissioner. Now that we are having a private ceremony, though, we have both begun to think about the ceremony. I find it fascinating that of all the wedding planning bits, this is the one thing that my fiance is really interested in. We’re too far away from the actual wedding date to have solid ideas, but I am excited to see this series as we’re beginning to think about these things.

  • Marina

    One of the reasons we chose a wedding officiant way far in advance was that we wanted someone with some experience in drafting a ceremony to help us out. She gave us about 7 different ceremony structures she’d used before, with various wordings (including lots of LGBT-friendly options) and we picked the ones we liked and tweaked some of the wordings slightly.

    One thing she mentioned that I think it’s important to bring up here is that there is no clear secular Jewish wedding service the way there is a secular Christian service. The ceremony text the judge has on hand at the courthouse is based on Christian services. So for those of us who are more on the secular than religious end but who also feel the value of honoring tradition in our weddings, and are NOT Christian, the ceremony question takes some time and conscious thought. Along those lines, I would request that people not talk about “the traditional wedding ceremony” when they mean “the traditional Christian wedding ceremony”. There’s no “for better or for worse” in my traditional wedding ceremony.

    Our vows are on our Ketubah, which I think everyone should do! They’re beautifully calligraphed and illustrated, and is a piece of art I truly feel proud to hang on my wall.

    • http://katydid972.wordpress.com Kathryn

      Marina, thank you so much for calling out the Christian origins of some courthouse wedding ceremonies and clarifying our use of the word “traditional” here. This issue bugs me in more than just weddingspeak. “Family values,” “tradition,” “history” and “morality” are not exclusive to Christianity or any other religious practice.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com Liz

      our understandings of christianity and americana are so intricately woven, i don’t know that they need to be distinguished. i approach “american” traditions with the assumption that theyre impacted by “christian” principles. (though very often, there is no true reflection of christianity- just prudist moralism) i only say this because the traditional american ceremony makes no mention of christ- thereby making it religious, perhaps (yep, there’s some “god” stuff) but not necessarily christian.

      • ddayporter

        ahhh I’m confused by this on a number of levels. I think I may be missing some of your point! but I have to object to “american” automatically having christian origins (not so much the part about that being your perspective, but the part about “our understanding” which seems to imply we all think that way?). of course yes, we have “in god we trust” on our money and everyone is always “god bless america” and “merry christmas” and all that but I hate the idea that american = christian (I’m probably overly sensitive, it just feels too close to “patriotic = christian” and that concept makes me ill). again, it was a brief comment, I am probably jumping to conclusions a bit, but it just sounds like you’re not acknowledging the thousands of other cultures/religions that have shaped american traditions.

        ..and I will fully admit that I have been set off by this comment because I’m so darn upset how a country built on the separation of church and state is still so heavily christian-centric in government, and we project such a christian-value facade to the world, when we’re supposed to be all-inclusive. BUT this is probably not the place to go off on that tangent.

        • http://happysighs.blogspot.com Liz

          i think any CHRISTIAN would be made ill by the idea that american= christian, too. many, many christians would too be made hate that patriotic=christian. most definitely. (ie, me)

          the “christianity” predominantly impacting american ideals is a simultaneously watered-down and pumped on steroids moralism. just flat puritanicalism.

          as an italian, i think i can say this (ha) but it’s like trying to separate catholic roots from your italian culture. it’s hard to find the dividing line, it’s all interwoven.

          as a christian, i find it super, super important that my christianity be split from my nationality and my culture. i want them to be distinct things- and am always frustrated by the impacts of this non-christianity that sneaks in. so that’s why to me, it’s more frustrating to lump american traditions into the christian subheading- as suggested by the above comment. because very often, those american traditions do NOT reflect the spirituality to which i subscribe.

          totally a HUGE tangent away from the purpose of an awesome post.

          • http://happysighs.blogspot.com Liz

            too be made hate?

            would too hate.

            good lord i need a nap.

      • Marina

        Right, and I think this is a very common way of looking at it. Except as a non-Christian American, I don’t see myself anywhere in the practices that used to be Christian and are now supposedly American. If Christian traditions are American traditions, how can I see myself as an American?

        There’s a lot more to Christianity than Christ or no Christ, and honestly I don’t think a lot of it is visible until you’re outside it. For instance, using the religious tradition I am most familiar with, Jewish values are more likely to be centered around actions than beliefs; Judaism does not value proselytization; if you’re born a Jew you’re always a Jew, regardless of how you live your life. (And, okay, disclaimer: the saying is two Jews, three opinions, so you could easily find Jews who disagree with all of these. But I do believe they are true in general.) Jewish values have a HUGE impact on how I look at life, even though I am not religious and was not raised religious. Being a secular Jew is very different from being a secular Christian.

        Saying a secular Christian ceremony is a secular American ceremony is exclusive. I have no traditional connection to the “for better or for worse” vows. Taking out Jesus language doesn’t mean I will.

        • meg

          I agree with you guys, but I think Liz’s observation is totally right on. Our context of “American” tends to mean “Based in Christianity,” but since that’s most people’s backgrounds, they don’t see it. Now, living on a Jewish year? Dear lord. All the holidays are different, the rhythms of the year are different, I can’t get time off without fighting for big holidays, blah blah blah. So, yeah, Liz is right, and it’s helpful to be aware of, I think.

        • http://happysighs.blogspot.com Liz

          totally.

          but as i said, the christianity that impacts american traditions isn’t true christianity. so any values that it may be assumed that i hold, based only on american values, are probably incorrect. which is frustrating. i need to analyze those old dusty vows just as you do, because chances are that what’s traditionally “americanchristian” will reflect neither my spirituality nor my concept of my culture.

          being both a christian and an american (two distinct means of identifying myself) does NOT mean that i subscribe to the faux-christian american ideals.

          like i said in an above comment- a huge tangent. and also, i have bad manners for bringing up politics and religion in the same comment, when i usually try to avoid both. (that’s what happens when you give me a day off of work, i guess)

          • meg

            Indeed, with the faux Christian. That sh*t KILLS me.

    • ddayporter

      good point Marina! I have only ever been to traditional Christian ceremonies so it’s often what I think of when I think “traditional religious ceremony” but of course there are other traditions out there! it’s important to remind us to be careful with generalizations like that. However I would still think it’s appropriate to call “for better or for worse” traditional. It doesn’t mean it’s the only traditional out there, but it’s still very much traditional. There are too many traditions out there for any one group to claim all rights to these words, of course, but I’m not sure that’s happening here.

      I would be interested in clarification of the idea of a secular Christian ceremony vs. secular Jewish ceremony. I’m not clear on how a ceremony with religious connotations is at all secular? I’m not even trying to be ornery here I’m just really not sure what you mean.

      • Marina

        I hope Meg jumps in on this one, since I only know how my secular Jewish ceremony went. :) But for me, it’s about the structure. You can take out all the god language and the structure remains. So for instance, a bride walking in to the ceremony with her father is a Christian tradition, while both bride and groom walking in with both of their parents is a Jewish tradition. Or the Jewish tradition of smashing a wine glass at the end of the ceremony. Or, for instance, in my ceremony we used non-religious wordings for the Seven Blessings. Secular, but rooted in Jewish tradition.

        I guess one of the things that makes me uncomfortable is that if those traditions are in a wedding ceremony, even if there’s no mention of God or any religious elements, it’s a Jewish wedding. If Christian secular traditions are used in the structure a wedding ceremony, though, it’s not a Christian wedding ceremony, it’s a secular wedding ceremony. It’s normalizing Christian traditions and othering traditions rooted in other religions, regardless of any actually religious language in the ceremony.

        • ddayporter

          ok I am definitely understanding you better, from this and your response to Liz’s comment, how you said “if you’re born a Jew you’re always a Jew” – so I can definitely see how there can be a secular Jewish ceremony. But I do have to object to the idea that if it’s not Jewish it’s Christian. which probably isn’t want you meant exactly but I’m not 100% sure that the bride walking down the aisle with her father is a Christian tradition. Seems more rooted in the male ownership of the female, which may have gone hand in hand with a christian society but the tradition itself is not intrinsically Christian. at least that’s my understanding of it, I am not exactly a scholar on this subject.

          I personally see weddings as a tradition older than Christianity or Judaism and while I have no idea honestly which parts of a ceremony have actual Christian origins (the processional/vows/ring exchange/pronouncement of marriage/recessional paradigm), I cannot be convinced that a non-religious non-Jewish wedding is automatically of Christian origin.

          • meg

            Yes! The bride being walked down the asile by her father is definitly something with it’s roots in chrisanity. There are about a billion ways that the “secular American wedding service” is really just a Godless christain service (which is fine, unless you have another background. For example: in a Jewish service the couple is not married by an officant, the couple says vows and marries each other – so, technically, you don’t need an officant for a Jewish wedding. That’s one example of many, but the structural underpinnings and paradigm are totally different (not to mention alllll the words).

          • Marina

            My bad, I didn’t at all mean to imply that a non-Jewish wedding is automatically Christian! I just used the example of Judaism because that’s what I’m most familiar with. There are, of course, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Bahai’i, Wiccan, and many many many more wedding traditions (like the traditional folk Hungarian wedding posted last week!). And honestly, I love that as modern Americans we have all of those to draw from, and we’re not necessarily limited to just what our parents or grandparents did.

            The point I did want to make is that a lot of the traditions Americans see as secular and not linked to any religion are actually linked to Christianity, and may not feel secular to someone with a non-Christian background.

          • ddayporter

            Marina, no worries, I mean I figured you probably didn’t mean that, but I appreciate your clarification. I have to agree on your point that “a lot of the traditions Americans see as secular and not linked to any religion are actually linked to Christianity, and may not feel secular to someone with a non-Christian background.” If I want to be honest I cannot deny the truth of that, and I can see how someone who is non-Christian but of some other religion would see it that way.

            My problem is that I cannot escape religion and that bothers me. Unless I reinvented a whole new paradigm I could not have a wedding without Christian roots. Apparently. I can’t pay for anything with cash without implying that In God I Trust. The President I helped elect called me a “non-believer” during his inauguration (am I the only one who felt a little cut by that?).

            After all this discussion I am realizing that I’ve just been in denial about certain things but all I can do is just live my life and accept that certain things have origins that have nothing to do with me.

          • meg

            Oh, and more on DDay’s comment, “I have no idea honestly which parts of a ceremony have actual Christian origins (the processional/vows/ring exchange/pronouncement of marriage/recessional paradigm)” So, speaking as a now-jew who’s mother is a Episcopalian liturgist (complicated, I know), what you just described is the outline for the Christian wedding liturgy. So, while parts of it may have origins that reach way farther back than Christianity, it’s direct roots are Christian.

            A classic Jewish marriage outline has a A) A Ketubah Signing B) A Veiling C) Totally different processional concept D) Circling E) Totally different vow concept F) An exchange of an object worth more than one zeuzm G) Seven blessings H) A Ketubah Presentation but no pronouncement of marriage (doesn’t exist, as the couple marries each other) I) A glass breaking J)No particular processional, just sort of wading out shaking hands during the singing and dancing K) A yichud, which used to be the literal, uh, consummation, which is vital to formalizing the religious marriage. So even in an quick-y rough outline, totally different.

            But I don’t know if it’s a bad thing, our ties to religion. Because really it’s just a tie to our collective history and culture, even if we choose to take the God out of it.

        • http://katydid972.wordpress.com Kathryn

          Just want to throw in the mix that we imply “Anglo-Saxon” in addition to “Christian” when we discuss traditions such as the father walking the bride down the aisle. Case in point: Sweden is currently in an uproar because Princess Victoria elected to have her father walk her down the aisle instead of walking with her fiance as is traditional in Swedish culture. The Swedish Church even made a statement against her decision! There’s a great article about it in Jezebel: http://jezebel.com/5546124/fathers-of-the-bride-tradition–tensions-down-the-aisle

        • Michele

          Loving this discussion. My husband and I are both agnostic, but were raised in secular christian environments, so of course that colored a lot of the choices we made about the framework of our ceremony. That said, there are parts of Jewish, Buddhist, Celtic, Hindu, Punjab, etc ceremonies that really, really appeal to us, and we thought about incorporating them into our own wedding, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that we’d somehow appear to be posers or just plain disrespectful to the cultures/religions that spawned these traditions/rituals if we usurped them for our own purposes.

          So in the end, we didn’t go there.

          I’m curious to know how women of faiths/cultures different from the predominant white, Christian, American paradigm feel about this. How might an African American woman feel about some lilly-white folks jumping over a broom at their wedding? How might a Jewish woman feel about atheists using a Ketubah? How might an Hindu woman feel about a non-Hindu participating in a Mehndi ceremony on the eve of her wedding?

          • ddayporter

            I’m curious about this also! particularly because we DID borrow traditions from non-Christian faiths/cultures (Buddhism-inspired ceremony, having a yichud) and I would hate to think we would have offended anyone.

          • Marina

            I’m not sure what I think about a non-Jewish couple having a ketubah, precisely, but I am ALL about couples of all backgrounds having beautiful calligraphed marriage certificates with their vows on it. I mean, if you want to get specific about it, I’m not sure I have a ketubah, because it doesn’t have the wording that makes a ketubah a ketubah. I think it’s possible to look at the meaning of various traditions, and ask yourself what you want to get out of it, and maybe modify it a bit so it doesn’t represent a tradition you have no link to, but represents your values as a couple in a multicultural society… So, for instance, maybe you wouldn’t jump over a broom, but you’d, I don’t know, step over a ribbon in a color that was meaningful to you.

          • meg

            Yes. Marina is right. I always advise people against the white-person-chuppah (Achem. As it’s often referred to…). Jews often find it super offensive when that very important symbol of a wedding for a group of historically oppressed people is appropriated in a secular way by people not inside the group.

            I think, in general, you need to watch secularizing religious rituals, if you’re not part of that culture. IE, people think a non-jewish chuppah is fine, but what if people started doing non-christian communion at their weddings? Yeah. It would be really offensive. So that’s my always my example. But a wedding ARCH? Rock it. Stealing the yichud idea? Yay! Having both parents walk you down the aisle? All good. Breaking the glass? Um, no. That’s really tied to Jewish identity. So… complicated waters.

          • Sophia

            Yeah, I can’t “exactly!” Meg enough on this point. I’m Filipina (raised Catholic) and my partner is Indian, and every time I see a blog or board post encouraging people to “cherry-pick” whatever they want from different cultures in order to “express themselves” it really bothers me. I do think it’s perfectly possible to respectfully and meaningfully borrow or adapt, but more often than not I feel like it smacks of cultural appropriation. In the comments of one blog post that I read, a professional wedding officiant said that several of her non-Jewish clients chose to break the glass and have it referred to as an “Eastern European tradition”, because, yknow, smashing glass is fun! I found that incredibly offensive.

          • http://eclpse.livejournal.com Kim

            I get your point — just wanted to point out that jumping the broom also has roots in Celtic culture. Who knew??

            I’d guess there are many elements to a wedding that are culturally shared around the globe.

        • calumnia

          I agree completely. This is part of what is frustrating me in trying to write a wedding ceremony that is legal. Even the legal civil ceremony where I live is really just a secularized Christian ceremony.

        • http://agirlsblogworld.blogspot.com agirl

          Is being walked down the aisle by both parents a Jewish tradition? I had no idea, I just did that because it felt right – *both* my parents contributed enormously to who I am today, and I wanted them both to escort me into this new phase of my life. We did use the Seven blessings knowing that their origins were Jewish, but the wording we were given seemed applicable across the board (and certainly was to us).

          I don’t know how I feel about some of the other traditions that are very recognisably linked to other cultures’ identities though. I think it might be disrespectful to just cherry-pick other marriage traditions. For example, hand-binding,, and jumping the broom were suggested to us as potential things we could include in our ceremony, but even though I’m black, they bear no part of my direct history and have no special meaning for me. Meanwhile, lighting of a candle is tied in with my Catholic background, but isn’t something we found meaningful, so we excluded it. I think sticking with things that have meaning for, and really speak to you both is probably the safest way.

  • http://corduroyskirt.livejournal.com/522232.html Elissa

    Like Meghan above, we borrowed the traditional frame but altered it so that ti was ours. Our readings included “i carry your heart with me” by e.e. cummings and a short bit by JRR Tolkien (lol). We wrote our vows in private and read them out loud. My husband’s vows to me included not ONE, but TWO references to farts. They made me laugh and cry, and made the audience laugh and cry. (Everyone there knew how much he likes fart jokes.) I wrote up a recap that includes our vows if anyone is interested (link in my name).

    • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

      Elissa, your wedding is STUNNINGLY fantastic.

      • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

        Aww thank you!

    • ANDREA

      best read of the day.

      “We Rick-rolled everyone at the end of the ceremony by playing “Never Gonna Give You Up” as our recessional song.”

      please be my friend. :)

      • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

        I would love a new friend!
        Gosh, I love APW!! such sweet people :)

  • elyse

    this is a really interesting topic, especially coming from our perspective, given that we didn’t write our ceremony or our vows. we chose to have a traditional, orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony, in which what we actually said was quite minimal. and yet, our ceremony was extremely meaningful and represented a true joining of us as husband and wife, and of our families, as exemplified by some of the following. . .

    1. we had a tisch (where the groom gathers with the men, the ketubah is signed, shots of whiskey are taken) and a bedeken (where the bride, surrounded by the important women in her family, is greeted by friends and family), and its hard to put into words how it felt when my now-husband, escorted by the men singing and dancing around him, came to me for the veiling.
    2. we were blessed to have 3 grandparents with us at the wedding, and in a jewish ceremony, they are the first to walk down the aisle
    3. both groom and bride are escorted down the aisle by both parents, and parents stay standing under the chuppah
    4. our rabbi knew both of us very well, as individuals and as a couple, and knew exactly how to make a traditional ceremony conducted in hebrew meaningful for all of our guests as well. everything was explained and translated in english, our friends and family were included by reciting the seven blessings said during the ceremony
    5. we walked down the aisle during the recessional, surrounded by guests singing and dancing around us, escorting us to our yichud (the required time alone after the ceremony)

    it worked for us. and while it certainly wouldn’t work for everyone, i think the basic point is you don’t need to write / create a ceremony yourselves to have a ceremony that is meaningful and reflective of yourselves–because that’s something that wouldn’t have worked for us, even if we weren’t going the traditional route.

    on another note – i’m just getting back from almost a month away from my computer after the wedding, honeymoon and move to a new state and i promptly moved APW from my wedding folder to my main bookmarks. looking forward to catching up on the posts i missed and continuing to follow along as a newly-minted wife!

    • meg

      Right. Like I said, our ceremony was pretty traditional too. We Added some readings, and traditionalmusic (in Hebrew) but that was it. So agreed on the fact that traditional can be wonderful.

  • A-L

    If my earlier comment came off as being insensitive to non-Christians, I apologize, as that was not my intent. When I referred to some of the traditional wording, I guess I am referring to wording that is common to Christian services. And since this morning’s post I’ve started trying to figure out the wording for my ceremony and I’ve been culling from various editions of the Book of Common Prayer as well as from the United Methodist hymnal, so it obviously colors my perspective. I’m sorry if I upset anyone with my comment.

    • meg

      You’re fine. The Book Of Common Prayer is unarguably traditional, even if other things are traditional too.

  • Allison

    This is really just what I needed today.
    With a mere 40 days until our wedding my partner and I haven’t even started writing the ceremony. I really do feel like the CEREMONY is the heart and soul of the wedding. The ceremony is why he and I are doing all of this.

    I’m little scared to get started on the ceremony though, I think it’s probably the hardest part of the entire process for me because there is so much emotional weight attached to it?

    I also don’t want anyone to see it except my partner, our officiant and myself. Am I the only one who want to keep this one close to my chest? I feel like I want to surprise people with what we wote, it seems like it will make the ceremony so personal and memorable.

    • meg

      We didn’t show our hand either :)

    • http://agirlsblogworld.blogspot.com agirl

      We kept our ceremony to ourselves beforehand too.

      • Vmed

        Both our parents are… concerned, shall we say, about the ceremony. His parents are Lutheran, mine are Roman Catholic, he and I (as an atheist engineer and an ethnically catholic scientist, respectively) see fit to be married in the woods by a thoughtful friend officiant.

        How much do we tell them about the ceremony without granting them access to altering it?

  • http://newlydomesticated.blogspot.com Newly Domesticated

    I haven’t gotten to actually say my vows yet, but I will say that sitting down to write our ceremony was the most emotional part of this whole process (in a good way!). Unlike all those gals on “Say Yes to the Dress” or any other wedding-themed movie, I did not cry when I tried on my dress. But I did cry when I read “Union” by Robert Fulgham, which it seems is becoming an APW classic! I knew it said exactly what I wanted said, and I can’t wait to hear it at my wedding.

  • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

    Another post to add to the bookmarks. I love posts on how to create ceremonies. I’m really going to enjoy this series.

  • Esther

    Wow, great timing — we’re actually meeting with my pastor this Thursday to finalize the ceremony!

    Something I would love to see addressed is the negotiation between religious and non-religious. On my side, I’m a Jewish Episcopalian with a master’s from a seminary, which translates to a whole lot of ideas for rituals and prayers and music and more. On his side, he’s an agnostic culturally-Jewish lapsed Pagan, which translates to a discomfort with including any kind of singular God in his vows/songs/rituals. Both of us are pretty flexible and willing to negotiate details, but the fundamental question of “are deities invoked in this ceremony, and if so, how” is a tricky one. I’ve found that in some ways, a “simple” interfaith ceremony would be far easier to negotiate, since you can talk about “God” and “blessings” and the like and let people fill in their own meanings. Does anyone else have experience with this tension?

    • ddayporter

      now I have no idea if this would be appropriate or acceptable to either of you, but would it make sense for you to each make slightly different vows, with yours referencing the singular god you believe in, and his either referencing no god or the gods he believes in? would he feel more comfortable having a song of your choice, if it was preceded or followed by a song of his choice? sorry I have no real experience with this issue! I wish you luck in crafting a ceremony that’s meaningful to both of you.

    • Lena

      What did you end up doing for your ceremony. I’m culturally Jewish and my fiance is basically Pagan for all intensive purposes. We want to include some Jewish culture but not an overwhelming amount.

  • http://frecklesandblondie.blogspot.com/ Adina

    Perfect timing for us as well! We’ve been struggling to create our ceremony, probably because of a lack of structure. We have no real samples that feel right to us (religious or ones used by previous family members), we aren’t even very interested in the vows portion! However, we have been looking into a modified version of handfasting which would bring our family into it.

    There were a lot of good ideas here in the comments that we hadn’t thought of yet, and I’m looking forward to the continued posts on this subject!

  • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ Sarah K.

    Our minister has been doing this for a LONG time (he’s about to retire next year, actually), and our church has a “wedding book” with details– it has the basic structure, suggested readings and hymns, and ring-exchanging wording. I feel really, really, REALLY prepared to do this, which is kind of exciting. I’ve been collecting readings for over eight months. :)

    We’re still a little under 90 days out, so we haven’t gotten really serious about planning just yet. We’ve talked about the ceremony and our vows, and one thing that is important to my fiance is the wording of the vows. He takes promises like this VERY seriously, and doesn’t want to make a promise he can’t keep– so we probably won’t be promising anything “till death do us part”. Might be kind of unusual, but we want these to be honest and real promises– we will love and honor each other, but we want to look to our vows to guide us, not to bind us.

    I am SO excited for us to plan all this together– it’s a true reflection of ourselves, and a moment to include our family and friends on a sacred moment and be socially inducted through this time-honored tradition. Whether or not it’s traditional or free-form or what– it’s momentous.

  • http://suburbaliciousliving.blogspot.com/ Lauren

    We had a template, too, which we tweaked with the readings and songs we wanted. My favorite, favorite, favorite thing in the whole wedding planning process was the day we picked the readings- I had been collecting stuff for months, and we curled up in bed and read each one out loud to each other. We used the ones that I cried at. (Which was a lot, so I made a program so I could include all the readings that I loved).

  • Magdalena

    Interestingly this is one aspect of having a religious wedding that I’m really enjoying. It’s a Catholic wedding so everything has been blocked out already for us. I don’t know about anybody else, but when I try to be “creative” in a design-your-own-wedding-ceremony kinda way, I wind up being unintentionally extra cheddar cheeeesy. Beaucoup de fromage. It’s so much easier for me to enter into a guaranteed timeless ritual already experienced by generations of my family. Easier to do that than get through an entire ceremony I wrote myself WITH A STRAIGHT FACE. O Lord, I could not do it. The lovey dovey bits would make me snort too much… a snorting bride… how lovely.

    • Bee

      I totally thought that was how I was going to feel when it came down to the ceremony, but when we sat down with our parish priest I found myself so overwhelmed by the idea of planning the ceremony that I actually cried in his office. It was probably quite the site, me in tears with my fiance and the priest not having any clue what was going on (I’m not sure I know what was going on, other than I just all of the sudden felt completely overwhelmed). However, now I’ve had some time and space and I’ve talked it through with our priest and my fiance and the music director and our cantor and the church’s wedding coordinator (wow, maybe all of that was why this seemed so daunting!), and I’ve given myself the time I need, and the ceremony is now the thing I’m most excited about.
      I figured it would be just like any other Catholic ceremony I’ve ever been to, and so personal touches would come in at other places (ie the reception), but we’ve found so many little places and small things that make the ceremony completely *us*, from the music we chose, to the readings, to the petitions (list of prayer intentions read during a Mass), to having both of my parents walk me down the aisle to my fiance and I hanging out in the narthex (entrance to the church) to greet our friends and family as the come to the wedding, to so many other little things that I can’t even name them all. Now instead of feeling faint, I just feel so full of joy when I think about how special that day is going to be!

  • http://www.cindyandjulia.com Cindy

    As an atheist lesbian couple planning a not-legally-binding ceremony (followed two weeks later by a legal one in Boston, MA)… we have a lot of free reign in our ceremony. My fiance does not want to know any of the content prior to the wedding, because she wants to be surprised and fully able to feel whatever emotions it inspires. (I had to convince her she needed to read and approve the vows in advance. Seriously.) So basically, I wrote the ceremony, with editing help from our good friend and actor who will be officiating, and his wife, who happens to be a playwright.

    I started with collecting things I liked from ceremonies on the web and sample ceremonies sent to use by our MA Justice of the Peace. Then I made an outline and put the ideas we wanted, including my own original stuff and things I found, in the appropriate places. This got me into a good place for the three of us to collectively edit and refine.

    One thing we really wanted to do was recognize the community of support (our guests!) in the ceremony. My sister had done a similar thing with just the immediate families in her wedding, which I loved, but given that my homophobic parents weren’t planning to come, and that our friends are more like family than family is a lot of the time, we decided to write a sort of communal vow to support us in the years ahead.

    The other thing that was really important to us was to talk about the fact that it wasn’t a legally-recognized wedding/marriage. To that end, we decided to make our own license (inspired by both Jewish ketubah and Quaker marriage certificates) which everyone present will sign. While working on this part, our (straight) friend/officiant had a brilliant thought, which highlights the holiday our wedding falls on – which had never even occurred to us. That’s the part I’d like to share.

    Since there has been significant discussion on this blog about acknowledging the marriage inequality right now in this country, maybe it will give some folks an idea of how to incorporate that into their own weddings. So here it is:

    “I probably don’t need to remind you that you’ve come here on Independence Day weekend. We stand here on the Third Coast of America, on the banks of Lake Michigan from which the land stretches west to the Pacific and east to the Atlantic. We have the unique perspective, here in the middle of the nation, to see America for what it is, laid out before us. Amidst all the fireworks and BBQs and running from here to there, what is the freedom that we’re celebrating? Because freedom for some is not freedom at all. But that’s ok. Because to those who might oppose why we’re here today, I have one thing to say: you’ve already lost. Our generation doesn’t care. Amidst Despite all the sham and drudgery in this world, we realize that love, where it can be found, should be revered, protected, and consecrated. Period.

    Although the state and federal governments will not recognize it for a few more years, we pronounce you married now. Today, we are the legislators who will issue the marriage license, by the power vested in our Commonwealth, and we are the enforcers of the law who will hold Cindy and Julia to their vows in the years to come.

    So, Julia, Cindy, I will ask you to sign your names to the marriage license, issued by this community that surrounds you. Friends, family – I invite you to sign this marriage into being as you leave the ceremony today.

    By the power unlawfully seized by me us in defiance of the State of Illinois’ laws prohibiting marriage equality, it is my great pleasure to declare you MARRIED!

    (Credit where credit is due: I stole that last line from another lesbian wedding.)

    • sara

      This is wonderful! A whole community to issue the license–that is a super idea! I am grateful to be getting married in Vermont even though ours is a straight wedding. It gives us one more (very) meaningful thing to list about the place we live in and chose to marry–it is a place which has committed to upholding your beautiful declaration that:

      “…love, where it can be found, should be revered, protected, and consecrated. Period.”

      very best wishes to you and yours :)

  • http://www.insideouthappy.com Jenny Lemmons

    LOVE this topic!We’re right in the heart of planning this part of our October wedding. One thing I would love to see is links to resources with some “structures” to start with, or vows/ ceremony planning from anyone willing to share! We’re planning on asking a good friend to officiate, so we don’t have the benefit of an experienced officiant to turn to.

    My FH and I are both non-religious (I’m from a evangelical southern background, he from a Christmas/Easter lapsed-Catholic Midwestern one), and we both appreciate tradition but don’t want to “fake” any religious feelings we don’t have. Ideas gratefully welcomed!

    • Carreg

      :delurk:

      There’s a short list of wedding scripts here — most if not all are secular
      http://2000dollarwedding.com/2010/04/write-your-own-wedding-ceremony-script.html

      I know what you mean about not wanting to include fake religious bits — I really feel like it would be hypocritical of me. But when you’ve taken out religion sometimes it feels like all the traditional left available is some rubbish about chucking a bouquet around.

      Does a ceremony need to be long, with lots of symbolic bits? The structure for a UK civil ceremony is just a) declare that are free to marry x b) declare that am marrying x c) exchange rings d) sign register. That can be over in about ten minutes. A bit of me feels like if we include some slightly more detailed vows in there — what I mean when I say that I marry x — then that’s all we need. But is that too plain and suggest you’re rushing through it just to get to the party? What do you think?

  • http://agirlsblogworld.blogspot.com agirl

    Really fantastic post.

    We did exactly this – we used a mix of the Church of England (the Boy’s childhood faith) and Catholic (my childhood faith) structures (they are quite similar, nevermind that Catholicism won’t accept the CofE marriage as valid) as our frame, then spent many evenings putting in music and readings and additional blessings to flesh things out, and make it personal. (Like the seven blessings from the Jewish tradition, because our Seventh Day Adventist aunt pastor who did the ceremony suggested it, and it felt perfectly right; and a lay Catholic marriage blessing, because my maternal family is stoutly Catholic, and though they were fine with our crazy mix-up non-denominational ceremony, it felt right to allow them to bless our marriage in their special way; and an additional blessing read over us by our parents at the very end. We are now very, very, *very* blessed.) Our ceremony also ended up following an arc of sorts, from serious readings that spoke of what marriage meant to us, and the enormity of the change we were entering into, to the thousand and one tremendously joyful blessings upon our new family. The tears of joy and laughter by the end were pretty awesome.

    I also *completely* agree with what you said about using traditional vows – we did it to feel as though we were joining a long line of wonderful marriages before us, and it was one of the things that I was surprised by how strongly my husband felt about. None of our grandparents could be there at the proper wedding for various reasons, but somehow knowing that we said essentially the same things they did, as they began the families that ultimately led to the two of us standing there ourselves, brought them there in spirit. In the end, our vows were perfect for us, as it was exactly what we wanted to say to each other. And having the whole community of people there joining in with resounding shouts of ‘We will’ (my aunt wouldn’t take any less of a response than a whole-hearted one), when asked if they would support us in our new life together? My heart still overflows when I remember it.

    I suppose this isn’t possible for everyone, but I found having someone who really knew us conduct the ceremony to be extremely important. At our main wedding it was my aunt, and at our CofE blessing of the marriage (where we basically followed the traditional structure for blessing marriages that have been conducted in other faiths, but were allowed to add in the same seven blessings and parents’ blessing that we’d had before), it was the vicar who’d been my husband’s family’s vicar forever. They both really *knew* at least one of us, and so were able to say things in their sermons that I hold in my heart to this day. I’ve always been left feeling a little sad and empty whenever I’ve attended weddings where the officiant clearly didn’t know the couple that well, and so their sermon felt a bit generic and hollow.

    Anyways, this comment is clearly turning into an opportunity for me to just reminisce, so I’ll go do that in my own space/time.

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