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How To: Write Your Wedding Ceremony


In a perfect world, we’d all think, “Well, the ceremony is the important part,” and write that before we ever got to thinking about our dress. HAHAHAHAHA. Here on Earth, there’s a chance your wedding is a few weeks away and you still haven’t made it past opening up a Word document and staring at the screen for twenty minutes, and then realizing you still have to work on the seating chart. In the spirit of not making it to the week of your wedding and realizing that you forgot to plan that bit where you *actually get married,* we asked Jenny of Cheerleader For Love (she officiated at our own Yay New York) to help get you started. She’ll be back in a few weeks with sample ceremonies, but today’s post walks you through the important big-picture questions.

Meg

How To: Write Your Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

by Genevieve Dreizen

Sitting down to write and work on your ceremony can be overwhelming—it’s an empty document expectantly staring at you. You get that final university paper feeling with the cursor blinking in your face. You know there are a bunch of components in a ceremony, but which ones should you include? And which ones do you need to include? I am certainly not the be-all, end-all; I tend to work with a lot of couples with small, short, non-traditional weddings, but I have written and worked on many wedding ceremonies. The first wedding I ever did, I certainly had that terrified-blank-document-where-to-begin feeling. But after a lot of practice, I am here, lovely readers, with some aid. What follows is how I help couples build their ceremonies in four short steps (okay, one has a lot of parts).

1. Find a style.
Decide with your partner what sort of ceremony you’d like to have: long, short, traditional, non-traditional, etc. Know that a twenty-minute ceremony is about the average length. Are you having a Jewish ceremony (Meg wrote a great post about hers), a ceremony with Catholic touches, or a totally secular ceremony? Quaker ceremonies offer silent reflection and a chance for everyone to speak. You could always go the civil ceremony option and say the legal bare minimum. Or do you want to go totally non-traditional and build your own format? Discuss as a team of two and try consider interested parties—do your or your partners’ parents want a certain religious or traditional aspect in your ceremony? Are you willing to incorporate it? Talk to your partner about length of the ceremony and what style you’d like it to reflect.

2. Find a tone and a thesis.
Just like those university papers, your wedding ceremony should have a thesis. A thesis makes the whole ceremony cohesive, and much easier to create. For example, is your message, “We took a journey together and this is the ultimate journey we start today,” or “Our love has been tested and today we reaffirm our connection,” or “Woohoo! FINALLY!” Is your tone nostalgic? Forward thinking? Is your ceremony aimed toward the community of loved ones there to celebrate and witness your love, or it more about the team of two you’ve created with your partner? The thesis and tone will help you write vows, find readings, and help you and your officiant write an address for the wedding.

3. Decide which components of the ceremony you want to include.
These are the wedding ceremony components in loosely the order people generally use, but there is no reason you cannot flip things around (and of course, cut things entirely). Remember, it’s your wedding—do what feels comfortable to you.

The Opening: A welcome, a please turn off your cellphones, a thank you to the guests for attending.

The Address: This is when a message is shared with your guests, a speech from the officiant, sometimes including readings. In a church wedding this would be when the minister gives a sermon. If the officiant is a friend or family member, you may want them to tell a personal story about you and your partner or explain how you met. You might want the officiant to share a reading or song lyric, proverb, or religious reading. Depending on your officiant they may or may not write the address—Priests and Rabbis usually do, friends and family might want to, or might want to write it with you.

The Readings: The readings really are exactly what they sound like. You may want someone to read a poem, lyrics, a Bible passage, or even a webcomic. Your officiant will introduce the reader, the reader will stand or come up to the ceremony, and then proceed with the reading.

The Expression of Intent: I am proceeding in caps because this is important: THIS IS THE ONLY PART OF THE WEDDING CEREMONY WHICH IS LEGALLY MANDATED. The expression of intent is when you and your partner are asked if you take this person to be your legally wedded partner, and you say, “I do,” or, “Hell yes!” or, “We do,” or “Yes, yes, a million times yes.” (A handfasting can legally take the place of the expression of intent.)

The Vows: There are options with the vows. Your vows, you read them. Or your own vows, the officiant reads them, and you repeat them. You write them, or you don’t. Or you don’t do personal vows at all. Either way, having the previously mentioned thesis makes it much easier to either stick with the general theme of the ceremony or cover something outside the theme that you want included.

The Ceremony of the Rings: The officiant speaks for a moment about the meaning of rings. It usually is along the lines of, “Rings are a circle which is eternal, as is love,” but varies with different religious and cultural contexts. Feel free to add to this explanation, or keep it super simple.

The Ring Vows: This is when you present your partner with their ring. I find that most couples want to repeat after me, as it’s hard to remember what you want to say when you’re up there getting married! And I have the extra advantage of an iPad to check my notes on. You’ll place the ring on your partner’s finger and say something to the effect of, “With this ring I thee wed.” Again, you can get as creative as you like with the words to choose to say before you place the ring.

The Pronouncement: Exactly what it sounds like, the officiant will pronounce you wed, married, husband and wife, wife and wife, husband and husband, zombie hunters for life…whatever you like.

The Kiss: The kiss! I love this part, it’s so happy.

I’d like to stress this point: you do not need all of the parts just listed. You should make your wedding feel just the way you want it to—like you, like tradition, or like some combination. If you want to move all the parts around, do it. If you want to flat out leave some parts out, feel free to do that too. (With the exception of the Expression of Intent.)

4. Make it you!
I get a lot of insanely sweet questions from couples along the lines of: is it silly that we have a reading from Lord of the Rings in our wedding? Should we not mention zombies? Is it inappropriate to reference video games in our vows? To which my answer is always of course not. This is your wedding, it should sound and feel like you. I truly believe as long as you’re being kind and not making anyone uncomfortable there is nothing “inappropriate” for your wedding. Find touches that make it feel like your ceremony. There are a lot of ways to add touches that will make the wedding feel tailored to your team of two: readings, and who reads them, a song sung by a friend, a blessing given by a family member, a tradition carried out by generations, or a tradition you’re starting that day. However you make the ceremony feel right, do that—this is your day, your ceremony, your wedding, and your marriage. Make it feel like you, however that works.

How To: Write Your Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

How To Write Wedding Vows

Sample Wedding Vows

Writing a Non-Traditional Wedding Ceremony

Writing Your Ceremony—A Modern Jewish Service

Photo: Jenny officiating Yay New York by Fedorov Foto

How To: Write Your Wedding Ceremony | A Practical WeddingGenevieve Dreizen lives on Long Island and splits her time between the things she most loves: officiating weddings, teaching kids, drawing, and loving on her dog. She’s been officiating weddings since 2011 everywhere from the banks of the Hudson River to the top of the Empire State Building. When she’s not marrying awesome couples to each other in Central Park, find her either running, zumba-ing, or redesigning board games. She loves working with APW couples and would be thrilled to hear from you for questions and inquiries alike.

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  • Leila

    Awesome Post!

    We are getting married on Saturday (head currently exploding with excitment about seeing out of town guests :)), and we are incorporating personal things into the ceremony a couple of ways.
    1) Music: This includes processing to a song from My Fair Lady (very me) and recessing to a Swedish song (very FH)
    2)Poems: Each dad is saying a poem from about love from their respective languages
    3) Vows: We each wrote them and haven’t seen the others
    4) Cultural traditions: In the middle of a more “European style ceremon” we are have an adapted form a Persian ceremony (my dad’s culture)

    Note: At first these felt really random like they wouldn’t fit in in the same ceremony, but once we began to weave it together it really began to make sense. So we kind of created a thesis once we knew what we wanted included–so the backwards approach. Admittedly I don’t know how it will turn out…but very excited to find out!

    • http://www.cheerleaderforlove.com Jenny, Cheerleader For Love

      it will turn out wonderfully because it will feel like you! A lot of couples ask me if things will flow or the timing might be awkward- the truth is almost every ceremony has a few non-flow or confused moments. They’re part of life, they’re part of your wedding, they’re part of your marriage. Either way it will be wonderful because you’re marrying the person you adore!

    • Carla

      Yes, agreed, this gives me a lot to think about to make it us.

      Leila,
      My dad is Persian, would you share how you blended your ceremony together?
      I plan to have a Persian wedding table, but will have my FH’s uncle who is a minister performing the ceremony. I was planning on also having a persian friend read or talk about the table.

      thanks for any assistance!
      Carla

  • http://mommacollett.blogspot.com Jess

    As usual, great timing, APW! We’ve started writing our non-traditional / secular ceremony recently and are excited to add a component that will address our three young boys and how our vows to each other are also a promise to them. Rough draft so far:

    “Often marriage is viewed as the union of two persons. Yet marriages not only unite the Bride and the Groom, they unite families. S & Jess have both been blessed as their hearts have expanded to love J, J, and R. Will you three please join us?

    (addressing boys)
    Guys, you have always been the most important part of your dad and mom‘s life, and they are so proud of you all. Today they are making a promise to one another. It is a promise that what ever may happen, good or bad, that they will always be there for one another. This promise is also a promise to you. You are already a family. They love you with all their hearts, and no matter how big you get or where life takes you, they want you to know that that‘s forever.
    (*considering personal vows to them here… not sure*)
    From today on you are officially brothers.
    May you grow together, play together, share your mom and dad freely with one another,
    and may your family always be blessed.”

    We’re really looking forward to including them in our ceremony!

    • Amy March

      I think this is really sweet! My thought is: are there other parents around, or are you two their only parents, now getting married? If there are other parents in the picture, I might try to tweak the “mom and dad” language to reflect that.

      • http://mommacollett.blogspot.com Jess

        good point; we have one full-timer and two part timers (live with their momma). I’ll look again so as not to step on toes, even though they won’t be there.

        Thanks!

        • ASmall

          this is why I adore this web site. sensitive people, sensitively giving and receiving advice and perspective. j’adore!

  • Laura C

    Thank you. So helpful. We have a lot of pieces in our head (this song, that reading, etc) but assembling them into something coherent is still a ways away, and the idea of having a thesis is useful.

    Can I just say, while we’re on the subject, that whenever I think about vows, I come back to the person Meg quoted in her book about self-written vows often not really being promises, or being unequal promises? I leaned toward some kind of existing vows anyway, but that really pushed me further in that direction.

    • Beth

      I thought about this as well and our solution was to sit down and discuss the promises we wanted to make to one another and then we took that list and wrote our own vows around them. This allowed us be pretty equal on the promises front but still say them in our own voices with our own little touches thrown in.

  • Megan

    Very helpful as we are just starting to brainstorm our ceremony! Thank you!

    I do have a quite basic question, though. I am sort of confused about the difference between Expression of Intent and Vows.

    I might be all mixed up, but for whatever reason I thought “traditional” vows were something along the lines of: “I, X, take you, Y, as my husband/wife/whatever, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live.” But is this actually the Expression of Intent, formed as a question by the officiant, then answered with “I do” (or variation)? If so, then what would be a “traditional” vow (we don’t want to write personal vows)? OR, if the “I, X, take you, Y…” is the vow, then what is the Expression of Intent question to be answered “I do”? Sorry, complicated way to express my question… hopefully someone understands what I am asking and can answer :)

    Really appreciate the help and advice! Thanks!!!

    • http://www.cheerleaderforlove.com Jenny, Cheerleader For Love

      I believe the difference is that the officiant is asking you a direct question and you are answering directly- it is made clear in this that you come on your own free will and are not being forced. Sort of archaic and silly, if you ask me.

      • meg

        I’d say less archaic and silly, and more legal. The marriage licence is the broadest and most powerful contract you’ll ever agree to. And since you don’t sign a contract laying out the law (you should, if you ask me), the fact that you have to specifically agree to it makes a ton of sense to me.

        • http://www.cheerleaderforlove.com Jenny, Cheerleader For Love

          Meg, that makes a lot of sense! I guess I always see the paper work as the legal stuff and the ceremony as the spiritual/emotional side of the wedding. But the ceremony is a verbal contract as well, so that makes sense.

    • KE

      Expression of Intent = Officiant: “Are you going to marry this person?” You: “Yes, I am.”
      Vows = You: “Partner, here’s what I promise you.” Partner: “You, here’s what I promise you.”

      Examples from my ceremony (a traditional United Methodist ceremony):

      Expression of Intent:
      Officiant: X, will you have Y to be your wife/husband, to live together in holy marriage? Will you love her/him, comfort her/him, honor and keep her/him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her/him as long as you both shall live?
      X: I will.

      Vows:
      Bride/groom facing each other, say to one another: In the name of God,
      I, X, take you Y, to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.

      • Kerstin

        Yay! Intent vs. vows, it all finally makes sense! I have a phrase for what I was always confused by: expression of intent. Thank you all for helping me make sense of this. Now, how does it all work in a courthouse wedding? Do we/can we bring vows in addition to the expression of intent?

  • Emily

    Thank you so much for this helpful and timely post! So, I see that Jenny mentioned above that there will always be awkward transitions in a ceremony. Any suggestions of how you can minimize those?

    I’m specifically thinking of the transition from civil vows to the Jewish seven blessings (it’s an interfaith wedding, i.e. Jewish + agnostic).

    The officiant will end the civil part by saying “I hereby pronounce you to be husband and wife.” Any suggestions of how to go from that to introducing the seven blessings, since not many people will know what that means?

    • Jennie

      We too are currently writing a Jewish+Agnostic wedding ceremony. I don’t know what other Jewish traditions you are including, but our ceremony is outlined (thus far) as follows:

      -Welcome
      -Acknowledgement of Family and Friends
      -Statement regarding marriage equality
      -Statement on marriage
      -The raising of the huppah and explanation
      -Kiddush
      -Statement of intent
      -Vows – written by us together, completely secular
      -Ring exchange
      -SEVEN BLESSINGS during which the officiant will state:

      J’s sister A will now join us in the recitation of the Sheva Brachot or seven blessings. This liturgical moment of the ceremony expresses themes of joy and celebration and the ongoing power of love. Taken from the pages of the Talmud, the blessings begin with another kiddush over wine and increase in intensity in their imagery and metaphors.

      During the blessings, J & M will be wrapped in a Tallit or Jewish prayer shawl. As the link to her Jewish ancestry, J has requested that her mother and aunt come forward to wrap the couple.

      Mother-This tallit belonged to our father, J’s grandfather. Let it encircle you in the traditions of our ancestors. Let it connect you with the past that came before you, and let it remind you to embrace the rituals of all your families, while creating new traditions for your own.

      -Stomping on the glass
      -The Pronouncement
      -The kiss!

      Hope that provides some ideas!

      • Emily

        Great; thanks! We’re not doing the first kiddush, or using a tallis for the blessings — but I like that idea.

        I’ve seen in some places that the blessing over wine is the first blessing in the sheva brachot, and elsewhere I’ve seen it as the last. Do you know the “right” way?

    • Lindsey d.

      I would have the officiant say something like. “I now pronounce you to be husband and wife.” Pause for everyone to cheer…. “This ends the civil portion of the wedding ceremony. Now, Emily and Husband would like to turn to an ancient rite that is very important to them, the Seven Blessings.” Then launch into a quick explanation and say the blessings.

      • meg

        Exactly. You just sort of DO transitions, and sometimes have the officiant verbalize what you’re doing. IE, The officiant just says, “next…” or, you don’t even transition, you just do.

        I’m looking at the ceremony I wrote for our son’s bris, and one prayer or action just flowed into the next. Where I felt explanation was needed, I wrote a little paragraph for the officiant. “We are here to welcome this child… We announce the name…” Then, prayer for the name, saying of the name.

        Real suggestion: if you feel really lost about how to do this, go to a religious service, and watch how they do their movez.

      • Stalking Sarah

        We did a mix of Jewish and civil, and our 7 blessings came before all the pronouncement stuff, and here’s what our officiant said:

        In the Jewish tradition, there are typically seven blessings that are read under the chuppah. For their wedding, Catherine and Sarah have asked their friends to share seven readings (well, six readings and one song, but you get the idea).

      • Emily

        Thanks; helpful to hear it’s just fine for it to be short and sweet.

  • Ruth

    Of all the decisions we made during the gruelling months of wedding planning, the choice to create our own ceremony was definitely the best decision we ever made. We ended up having a tri-fold interfaith wedding – representing my husband’s Jewish heritage, my family”s Catholic heritage, and my husband’s and my shared affinity for Eastern philosophy – thus we ended up having a priest a rabbi and a Tibetan Buddhist meditation teacher officiating together (one officiant started his speech with “So, a priest a rabbi and a Tibetan Buddhist meditation teacher walk into a bar…”)
    We had initially gotten some flack from my husband’s folks about the interfaith wedding – not for religious reasons – more of a “why don’tnt you just get it done by the justice of the peace.” But when we took the time to really articulate why we wanted this ceremony, why it was important to us, our folks got our sincerity, and realized this was the only kind of ceremony that would really be authentic to the two of us. In the end, it was magical – our three officiants willingness to work together across religious and cultural lines was one small step for mankind, and our families’ willingness to accept us for who we are, even out “wacky spiritual” touched me to my core. Ultimately,i think if you really put your heart into the creation of something, people feel that heart and respond to it, even if it isn’t normally their cup of tea

    • Emily

      This is awesome; wish I could have witness the ceremony! Especially for the “a priest, a rabbi, and a meditation teacher…” part :-)

      • ruth

        Thanks, Emily :)

  • Elizabeth

    We married in May and wrote our ceremony (really a compilation of others I had found online and especially through A Practical Wedding). We had somewhat traditional vows including the “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” but that is because those things were very important for us to include. We also included the language of it being a choice. The vows began with “I choose you” which was also important to us.

    We did each choose readings meaningful to us and what we meant to each other so that was a way for each of us to incorporate our individuality. I also took part of a handfasting ceremony because I really liked the language of it but altered it to just have us hold hands as I didn’t want to do the binding/tying of hands.

    We had so many compliments on our ceremony and people telling us it was one of the best ones they have been to. It was short and sweet but very meaningful and powerful to us. I really do recommend coming up with your own if you are thinking of it. For me, it was worth the time it took.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      I agree with your first paragraph. Basically I studied a whole bunch of traditional vows within various protestant traditions (and made notes of the key points contained in them). (My minister-officiant-friend sent me a list of possibilities.) Then I scoured websites and blogs online (back in the days before the APW posts on vows) and made notes of vows I liked. Then I started writing, editing and drafting.

      I came up with some possibilities and themes, and then I worked with my now-husband to decide and finalize together exactly what we wanted and why. For me it was a meaningful process to study the historical vows of my (broad Protestant Christian) cultural tradition, and to keep most of the intent the same (but at the same time only keep parts that my agnostic husband is comfortable with, so we cut some stuff), and added some specifics (for ex., “I choose you”) and some other wording about what values/ideas we promised to celebrate in our marriage. For me, writing the vows was kinda like writing a mission statement for our marriage.

  • Cat

    We had a Dudeist Priest officiate our wedding, and I literally just went online, searched “Dudeist wedding ceremony,” found two, and picked the one we liked. I edited it a bit to fit us, but other than that it was perfect. Just remember, folks, it’s perfectly acceptable to purloin from other people’s ceremonies. Chances are the person who posted it did so to help future couples! The one I grabbed was like that.

    • ruth

      “Dudeist priest” – that is the most awesome thing I have ever heard of! My hubby always uses The Big Labowsky as an allegory for eastern philosophy, but I never knew you could be ordained :p Would love to have been a fly on the wall at your Dudeist wedding :)

    • fyrefly76

      I like that you use the word “purloin,” I’m going to say that instead of took, stole, or borrowed. I purloined a secular ceremony off the interwebs, modified for my bride and groom, then sent it to the bride for her modifications. I’m pretty sure if I found the original again, it would have little in common with what we ended with.

    • SamiSidewinder

      Oh. My. Awesome. I had no idea this existed. I am so including some references to Dudeism in my ceremony now.

    • Cat

      The Dude Abides.

      The main reason we went with Dudeism is because a friend of ours (already ordained) offered to officiate; before that, I had no idea it was a thing, either! We said “Abide” instead of “Amen,” and our officiant made one comment about the rug we stood on that really tied the room together. Other than that, we were really light on the Lebowski references, as many of our guests hadn’t seen it. The whole thing was really Zen, man.

  • mimi

    Great timing! I just started working on this last week for our 8/3 wedding, as we need to order programs pretty soon (outdoor wedding, so we are ordering programs from Etsy that double as fans). I can’t wait for the more detailed posts!

  • KTMARIE

    Maybe this falls as a subcategory to one of the ones listed in the post, but I’ve read before about people including family affirmations or the pastor asking your friends and family to respond ‘We do’ to a series of questions regarding supporting your relationship. Does anyone have good examples of this or have included it in their ceremony?

    • KE

      Here’s one version of the Response of the People that the United Methodist Church uses. This comes after the Expression of Intent.

      The officiant says to the families:
      The marriage of X and Y unites their families and creates a new one. They ask for your blessing. Do you who represent their families rejoice in their union and pray God’s blessing upon them? [Ours added, "If you do, say, 'We do.'"]
      Families reply: We do.

      Then the officiant says to all the attendees:
      Will you, by God’s grace, do everything in your power to uphold and care for X and Y in their marriage? [Ours added, "If you do, say, 'We will.'"]
      Attendees reply: We will.

      I found it really powerful to hear our families and friends affirm our marriage during the ceremony. I also liked that it came right after the Expression of Intent. It felt like everybody in the room was making a commitment to our marriage. It would be easy to adjust these for a secular ceremony.

    • http://mommacollett.blogspot.com Jess

      We’re planning to something similar, I didn’t know it had a name! Here’s our rough draft (ok, likely final) verbiage:

      Now, I ask that these friends and family stand,
      And that you turn and acknowledge them, as they acknowledge you

      As family and friends,
      You form a community of support
      That surrounds Jess & S
      Each of you, by your presence here today
      Is being called upon
      To uphold them in loving each other

      Always stand beside them, never between them
      Offer them your love and your support
      Not your judgment
      Encourage them when encouragement is needed
      And listen to them when they ask for advice

      In these ways, you can honor this marriage
      Into which they will be joined today

      Do you offer your love and support
      To strengthen their marriage
      And bless this family created by their union?

      Please answer by saying : We do

      [Guests: We do]

      Thank you, you may be seated.

      • http://therapyisexpensive.wordpress.com KatjaMichelle

        OMG i think I may have to steal …i mean purloin…this it is fabulous!

    • fyrefly76

      I officiated my sister’s wedding ceremony. I grabbed a secular wedding ceremony off the interwebs, put it into a google drive document, and gave my sister access to make any necessary changes. It was also very important to her to have all the parents involved. This is what she had me say.

      To the Parents: Who K and A have become as persons is determined by many factors, but none more significant than their relationship with those who loved them into life, nurtured them, and taught them by their words and example. Although we outgrow the homes of our childhood, we never outgrow the love and support of our parents and families. In many ways you have taught them how to love.

      For this they are forever grateful.

      Parents, will you please stand?

      Will you D, B, B, and M, encourage K and A in their marriage?

      Parents: We Will

      Officiant: Do you celebrate with them the decision they have made to choose each other, and will you continue to stand beside them with each passing year?

      Parents: We will

      Officiant: Thank you. You can please be seated.

      • Stalking Sarah

        We had something like this, too. I like it — it has the traditional element of the parents’ permissions, but it changes it to the progressive element of the parents’ support.

        We did this same switch up when it came to the aisle, as well: My parents walked me halfway down the aisle. I hugged them good-bye and stayed put while they walked up to the front. My wife’s parents walked her halfway down the aisle. She hugged them and stayed put while they walked up to the front. We then walked up to the front together, hand in hand.

        Message of both: Our parents are a huge foundational part of our lives; we built this relationship on our own, but it would never stand without their support and love.

    • fyrefly76

      We also did this later in the ceremony.

      Support of Community

      Officiant: Two people in love do not live in isolation. Their love is a source of strength with which they may nourish not only each other but also the world around them. And in turn, we, their community of friends and family, have a responsibility to this couple. By our steadfast care, respect, and love, we can support their marriage and the new family they are creating today.

      Will everyone please rise.

      Officiant: Will you who are present here today, surround K and A in love, offering them the joys of your friendship, and supporting them in their marriage? If so, answer We Will.

      All: We will

      Officiant: You may be seated.

  • Stalking Sarah

    I have two things to say:

    1. This is a great and useful post and exactly 100% why APW is so much better than the WIC — it really should be called A Practical Marriage. No other site ever gives as much of a crap about the marriage part of a wedding like APW does.

    2. I’m not entirely sure that the declaration of intent is legally required everywhere. We live in Massachusetts, and used a one-day marriage designation (aka a friend was designated as an officiant for one day in order to perform our wedding). Nowhere did it require that we have any sort of question/answer part of our ceremony. It just said that he had to pronounce us married and sign the license. Our wedding went through and I have a copy of our validated license, so I know we’re legally married.

    (That said, I do agree that it’s nice to have a question/answer portion. We had a LOT of declaration of intentions (vows, ring exchange, ketubah signing, etc), so I feel Properly Married as well as legally married.)

    • Kathy

      If you are in question about the requirements of your state, I would recommend checking out the actual statutes for marriage, because they will outline the specifics that are set forth by your state’s legislature. They are easy to find and should be posted online. For example, in Idaho it is listed here – http://legislature.idaho.gov/idstat/Title32/T32CH3SECT32-304.htm

      Based on the wording in Idaho’s statute, we can simply declare that we take one another to be our spouse in the presence of the person solemnizing the marriage, but it does not necessarily need to be during the ceremony or worded as a question and answer. We will probably just do this when we are all gathered together to sign the marriage license.

      Know that you may have options, but know the law itself and not what someone else may say is the case or has interpreted it to be.

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

        Random fact: in Quebec, it is tradition (law?) to sign the marriage license during the ceremony. At first I thought it was weird, but now I really like it. It incorporates the legal part into the heart of the ceremony…

        • http://seasofgales.wordpress.com/ KH_Tas

          Australia does this too. Not sure whether it’s tradition or law, but I’ve never attended a wedding without it.

        • RF

          Germany, as well. But weddings can also only be performed by civil servants here.

    • KW

      I think you are right about it being state-specific. We did not have a “statement of intent” for our wedding either, and our officiant has been performing marriages in Ohio on and off for nearly 30 years so he knows the laws.

      After reading today’s post, I was curious and decided to look further, and found this for anyone in Ohio still in the planning stages:

      “Q: Must the couple recite specific words in order to become legally married?
      A: No. Rather, it is the intent of the parties–expressed in the vow of marriage–that establishes the marriage contract. The vow does not need to include any specific words, but it must express the couple’s intent to take of each other at the moment it is spoken; it cannot be a promise to do something in the future. Also, no religious ceremony is required.” (source: https://www.ohiobar.org/ForPublic/Resources/LawYouCanUse/Pages/LawYouCanUse-563.aspx)

      And the link to the Ohio Revised Code: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/3101

    • Katherine

      Sarah –

      We’re getting married in MA in 2014, and I had already looked up the one-day designation information because we want a friend of ours to officiate. It looks like a pretty simple process to get it done, but I was curious; did you have any problems with submitting the paperwork or getting it back on time or anything?

      Let me know if you can. Thanks!! :-)

      • http://www.stalkingsarah.com Stalking Sarah

        Hi Katherine,
        Nope, no problems at all! I think we did everything as early as possible in order to give ourselves lots of time, but things went very smoothly. The only thing that was weird is that you send in the license and then you don’t get anything back — made me nervous that it hadn’t been received or something! But I just requested copies of the license and then that made me feel much better.
        Sarah

        • Katherine

          Thanks, Sarah! At least now I know to expect that there might not be a response!

    • Aubry

      Yes, good point. Up here in BC we do have certain words (I know of no lawful impediment… How romantic) but no statement of intent per se.

      • Del678

        Aubry you think that’s romantic, In Australia the celebrant must say:
        _______ and _______, I must remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the relationship that you are about to enter. Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

        Worst part is when you support equal marriage but are not allowed to remove the “man and a woman” part from your own ceremony!

        • http://www.stalkingsarah.com Stalking Sarah

          Ugh that sucks about the marriage equality part!

        • http://seasofgales.wordpress.com/ KH_Tas

          I’ve heard this a lot of times… I’ve also attended weddings here where it hasn’t been said

        • Teatime

          Yeah, I hate that I have to include that :-( We are doing a excerpt from Goodridge v Department of Health in response to the monitum basically saying we support marriage equality and that is the ‘spirit’ of marriage that we wish to enter into. Our celebrant says that a statement by the couple in support of same-sex marriage is becoming quite a common request.

        • Liz

          There’s also the ‘I take so and so’ part that both partners need to say.

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

        In Quebec, for a civil ceremony, there is a whole list of articles of the civil code that has to be read about marriage. It’s super egalitarian and blew me away when I first learned about it: http://www.justice.gouv.qc.ca/english/ministere/lois/regle/mar-uni-annexes/annexe3-a.htm
        And there is also an affirmation of intent part too.

    • Del678

      point 1. **exactly** I have actually typed apracticalmarriage.com countless times!

  • http://light0a0candle.blogspot.com Kaitlyn

    Very helpful post! Thank you!

  • Amber

    This couldn’t have come at a better time! My fiance and I are literally planning to sit down and discuss our wedding ceremony tonight so that when we meet with our family friend/officiant tomorrow we’ll know what the heck we’re talking about!! Thank you, thank you, thank you APW!!!!

  • Louise

    If I were getting married THIS August instead of last, this would be SO helpful!!! We wrote our vows super early, and then sort of mentally checked the ceremony off the list. We knew what WE were going to say… the officient would figure out the rest, right? Not so much when its a former bridesmaid that you coerce into getting internet ordained… It all worked out, but this structure would have made it WAY less stressful to craft. On behalf of this summer’s couples, thank you!

  • Carolyn

    I think the advice about the “central thesis” is great even go folks planning more traditional ceremonies. We had a Catholic service (read: pretty rigid) but knowing our general theme was family and celebration, it made it really easy to select readings and even hymns that fit what we wanted,

  • Rachel

    I’d like to add this to the pantheon of ceremony readings. I’m going to have my dad read it, in lieu of walking me down the aisle.

    Dear Cutie-Pie,
    Recently, your mother and I were searching for an answer on Google. Halfway through entering the question, Google returned a list of the most popular searches in the world. Perched at the top of the list was “How to keep him interested.”
    It startled me. I scanned several of the countless articles about how to be sexy and sexual, when to bring him a beer versus a sandwich, and the ways to make him feel smart and superior.
    And I got angry.
    Little One, it is not, has never been, and never will be your job to “keep him interested.”
    Little One, your only task is to know deeply in your soul—in that unshakeable place that isn’t rattled by rejection and loss and ego—that you are worthy of interest. (If you can remember that everyone else is worthy of interest also, the battle of your life will be mostly won. But that is a letter for another day.)
    If you can trust your worth in this way, you will be attractive in the most important sense of the word: you will attract a boy who is both capable of interest and who wants to spend his one life investing all of his interest in you.
    Little One, I want to tell you about the boy who doesn’t need to be kept interested, because he knows you are interesting:
    I don’t care if he puts his elbows on the dinner table—as long as he puts his eyes on the way your nose scrunches when you smile. And then can’t stop looking.
    I don’t care if he can’t play a bit of golf with me—as long as he can play with the children you give him and revel in all the glorious and frustrating ways they are just like you.
    I don’t care if he doesn’t follow his wallet—as long as he follows his heart and it always leads him back to you.
    I don’t care if he is strong—as long as he gives you the space to exercise the strength that is in your heart.
    I couldn’t care less how he votes—as long as he wakes up every morning and daily elects you to a place of honor in your home and a place of reverence in his heart.
    I don’t care about the color of his skin—as long as he paints the canvas of your lives with brushstrokes of patience, and sacrifice, and vulnerability, and tenderness.
    I don’t care if he was raised in this religion or that religion or no religion—as long as he was raised to value the sacred and to know every moment of life, and every moment of life with you, is deeply sacred.
    In the end, Little One, if you stumble across a man like that and he and I have nothing else in common, we will have the most important thing in common:
    You.
    Because in the end, Little One, the only thing you should have to do to “keep him interested” is to be you.
    Your eternally interested guy,
    Daddy

    • The Family Jules

      Oh my goodness that is so sweet. Love it.

  • http://www.danisaflowers.com/ danisa flowers

    Thank you so much for this post! This is so timely as we are also planning for our wedding which is only a month away. There are still lots of things that need to be done, the wedding ceremony included. The last part, about making the wedding YOU, is just perfect. Thank you!

  • Liz

    I’ve noticed a few times here and elsewhere that the sermon in religious services supposedly comes before the readings.

    Perhaps this is different overseas, but in Australia the sermon always takes place after the readings and before Communion in the liturgy. This is always the case in Catholic, Anglican (high and middle church) and Episcopal services, I guarantee you.

    There is always an introduction and beginning to the liturgy done by the priest or minister, but it’s not the sermon.

    There are plenty of examples online of services that follow what I’ve just described.

    • KE

      Ditto United Methodist services and wedding ceremonies. The sermon is about the readings, so it wouldn’t make sense to have the readings come after.

      • Liz

        Given how unapproachable and austere some celebrants are, it wouldn’t surprise me if it all sounds like a homily!

        • KE

          Oh yeah, the sermon at our wedding only mentioned us to say, “The readings KE and Husband have chosen show that…” Then the minister talked about the readings and spoke about love and marriage generally. Except that it was much shorter, it wasn’t too different from a regular Sunday sermon. Which was totally fine by us.

  • http://therapyisexpensive.wordpress.com KatjaMichelle

    I’m hoping very much that I won’t be that bride piecing together a ceremony the day before the wedding. Months ago we asked our best friends to co-officiate. After they accepted I emailed them a basic outline including some “readings” that I liked. They were then supposed to click the link to get ordained and decide who was going to say what or make any changes/additions they thought were needed…I checked in with them last night after reading this and realizing I hadn’t really head anything back from either of them. This morning I know that one will be ordained by the wedding day (he just filled out the form) but there was no discussion about if they’d talked to each other and worked out who is saying what…I see my best friend tomorrow at which time I’ll probably go a little bridezilla and force her to stop gushing about her new love and talk about this whole wedding thing so i can stop stressing.

  • http://thebeejays.blogspot.com Joann

    I’m not sure if this was included in the comments somewhere, but at what part of the ceremony do y’all sign the marriage license? Is that strictly a Canadian thing?

    In my head, the pronouncement of husband + wife (or w/w, h/h) is the climax, and we exit to cheers and high fives… so when do we sign the damn legal document?

    • Kat

      It’s funny because it is a VERY Canadian thing to sign the paperwork in front of the whole damn crowd…it’s not a legal requirement, it’s just something we do. Generally it’s done after the vows and rings but before the first kiss/pronouncement.

      Also, because you don’t HAVE to do it front of everyone, you can sign it after the ceremony in a different room or at the reception etc, as long as you have all the required witnesses there to sign too.

  • Hannah

    A well-written and timely piece, as I am meeting with friends next week to discuss their ceremony, which I will officiate this August. I’ll be printing this out to bring with me!

    By the way, you know what the Internet is missing? A smart, amateur’s guide to wedding officiating. There is plenty of advice to members of the wedding party, and some good information for couples writing their own ceremonies; but I would love to read tips from professional officiants on helping the couple and making the wedding run as smoothly as possible.

    This will be my third time officiating a wedding, so I’m getting the hang of (and absolutely loving) it, but back when I did my first one, I had so many questions! What do I wear? How do I run the rehearsal? What if the couple wants me to say something I don’t agree with? How can I support the readers, attendants, and family members? What unanticipated things could go wrong? Luckily, each of the couples I’ve worked with has been gracious and relaxed. But I imagine that, with more and more couples choosing to be wed by a friend, there are plenty of first-time officiants out there looking for guidance!

  • Kat

    Seriously APW, get outta my head!! I mean that in the nicest way possible, because it seems like whenever we’re ready to tackle that subject, that VERY week there is some sort of answer, thing to ponder, reconsider, re-examine, or an aspect to acknowledge and bring closure to that we’ve been contemplating/working on/actively trying to ignore.

    It’s been wonderful to have an opinionated but unbiased source to go to that isn’t friend or family.

    Thank you!…also, I’ve apparently been writing lots of meaningful thank you cards lately…consider this yours.

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  • Debbie

    I am a first time officiant for my sister’s wedding in October of 2013. I am feeling very overwhelmed in creating the perfect ceremony. I would love any advice, valuable websites, spreadsheets, and type of questions to ask the couple to create a more personal ceremony. if anyone is willing to share info or help it would be greatly appreciated. my email is itype2much@yahoo.com. thanks so much in advance

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