Getting Started Working on Your Wedding Ceremony (and Vows)

If you look back at the weddings you’ve attended, what you generally remember is not the centerpieces, or the flowers, or even the dress. Chances are, what you remember is the emotion. The maid of honor who started crying during her reading, that bride who just couldn’t stop grinning as she said her vows. Two people, who seem so perfect for each other, making huge promises. 

Most of wedding media focuses on the pretty details, and the things you can spend piles of money on. But the actual wedding isn’t the first dance, or the cute photobooth, or even the emotional first dance. The wedding itself is the ceremony, and the ceremony is the part that is often forgotten till the very last minute. But a great wedding service? Well aside from the fact that it’s free, it also sets the tone for everything else that follows on the day. If your wedding ceremony is an honest reflection of your feelings for each other, everyone will be so high on happiness, that they’ll fail to notice if you even bothered with centerpieces at all. In short, a great ceremony is the ultimate wedding hack.

Whether you’re writing a wedding ceremony months in advance or at the very last minute, these resources will help you create something that makes you feel at home. They’ll help you make a religious service your own, build a wedding service from scratch, write your vows, find traditional vows that are right for you, or just pick readings. Because when you look back, it turns out that what you said when you promised to build a life together often matters more than the color of the bridesmaid dresses.

Start Writing Your Ceremony

The first step in constructing your wedding ceremony is to pick a basic structure, which you’ll then fill in with readings, text, vows, and maybe even music (or dancing, or puppets!). Think of this structure as your outline, the framework that you’ll fill in with the good stuff. The basic western wedding service is constructed out of a handful of building blocks (at least one of which is usually legally required). This article on creating a wedding ceremony outlines those building blocks, while suggesting you pick an overall tone for your ceremony. For those of you who are working to create a secular ceremony, here are some thoughts on trying to steer clear of religious traditions, as well as a roundup of resources for creating a secular service.

Browse Sample Ceremonies

If you’re creating a ceremony from scratch, start by browsing other people’s ceremonies. Not only is plagiarism ok (and encouraged!) but it will give you ideas beyond what you’ve seen over and over again in movies since birth.

We’ve worked to gather some wedding ceremony scripts for you to draw from, and here are some of our best. This modern wedding ceremony both quotes The Princess Bride, and involves shots of whiskey, so what’s not to love? Having a civil courthouse wedding? This wedding script proves you can still have a processional, readings, or even jump the broom. For even more places to start, here is a somewhat traditional secular ceremony, a short civil service, and non-traditional handfasting ceremony

Make A Religious Service Your Own

If you’re having a religious wedding, your options for modifying your ceremony are often limited. This can be a blessing (pun intended), because it allows you to go back to finding the best feathered wedding shrug ever, and just show up and get hitched. But it’s still very possible to spend some time with your religious service, and make it feel like it deeply reflects your values. To get started, here are some tips on thinking through your service. This LGBTQ Episcopal service is a great example of how to make tradition personal. For those of you having a Christian or Jewish service, here is a selection of more unusual Biblical readings, both from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. And for everyone else, here is our series on services from around the world (with a feminist spin, natch).

Pick Secular Readings

Wedding readings are a great way to set the tone of your service. They can vary from whimsical to serious to poetic to lyrical, and the best part is… you don’t have to write any of the words yourself. It’s just that with so many writings in the world, how do you narrow it down to a few you love? Well, we’ve done some of the leg work for you. Here are some poetry collections, which contain everything from the deadly serious to the seriously light hearted: poems around the themes of gifts and laughter, poems on bounty and permanence, and poems about shelter and permanence. But poetry shouldn’t get all the love at weddings, so we’ve also collected passages that are poetic, and not: a set of modern passages on transformation, a collection of words with the soaring dignity of religious texts but with none of the religion, and passages that span from death to the silliest parts of life

For even more readings, we’ve crowd sourced tons of ideas from APW’s super smart readers. Here are their best suggestions for wedding poems, along with their best selections for non-poetic passages.

Write Your Own Wedding Vows

There is nothing quite as exciting… or daunting… as sitting down with a blank sheet of paper to write your wedding vows. This post on How To Write Wedding Vows will give you a starting point, along with this list of tips on successfully writing wedding vows with your partner.

But when it comes to wedding vows, plagiarism is possibly the best form of creation. (At what other point in your life will it be appropriate to just steal words you love and use them as your own?) So if you’re looking for inspiration, APW readers have shared tons of personally written vows over the years to inspire your own. Here are two sets of collected wedding vows to get you going (pour yourself a glass of wine, and spend the night diving in). If, perhaps, you don’t have hours to peruse tons of vows, here is a smaller collection of wedding vow examples to get you started.

Choose Traditional Wedding Vows

While personal wedding vow get a lot of airtime, there is something magical about saying words that have been used by generations as a pledge of commitment. Plus, the beauty and economy of language in time-tested vows is hard to beat. “For better or for worse, in sickness and in health”? That really strikes to the heart of the matter in a few short words. If you’re looking to pick traditional vows (but are not required to use particular ones by your faith community), this collection of time-tested words should get you started.