Jennifer & Casey’s Wiccan Agnostic Ceremony

I love Jennifer’s wedding graduate post. I mean, I know I love all wedding graduate posts, but the way that she re-opens our ongoing discussion of whether our weddings matter or not, is as beautiful as it is eloquent. Because for Jennifer, her wedding mattered to her community. I’d argue that part of that had to do with the fact that they fully embraced writing a service that was meaningful to them, and let go of worrying how it would be received (for more help on that see APW posts on making a traditional service your own, and crafting a secular service). So without further ado, I give you Jennifer talking about the ways her wedding mattered.

The most surprising thing I’ve discovered since becoming a wife (scary!) is how much the wedding mattered. To everyone. I mean, obviously it was going to matter to me and to my husband, Casey. It was always going to matter to our parents and probably our siblings. Our best friends were pretty involved in the decision-making too, so they clearly cared. But I suppose I rather thought, throughout the planning process, that people just show up to weddings for the food and booze… especially in a case like ours, when the couple has been together so long and lived together and all that sinful jazz. But I was very wrong (difficult admission) and in a way I’m glad I didn’t know in advance.

We had our wedding at a hotel in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. My father had managed that hotel when I was growing up and I had worked there as a teenager. The head chef and events coordinator are family friends and we trusted them to take care of us. It was Homecoming weekend for the University, so we got married on a Friday. The invitations were designed by a friend of mine from college (whom I paid a fair rate… which, by the way, you should always do). My aunt made the cakes herself as our wedding present (she owns Gotta Love It bakery in Colorado Springs).

My mother-in-law put together the bouquets and centerpieces, and all the other décor was homemade as well. I made name-tags for each guest with their relation to us and “If I were…” questions on them, to serve as conversation starters. Our DJ was wonderful, the food was delicious, and everyone seemed to have a lovely time. Our wedding was a strangely traditional, community-oriented Pagan affair with serious Midwest charm. It was simple, friendly, and genuine—my personal wedding mantra.

But it was also more than just a free party to our friends and family… even the far extended ones. Everyone still talks about it, not just to us but to strangers, as a soulful experience. We weren’t expecting that at all. My husband and I made many decisions about our wedding day that we might not have made, had we known how important it was to other people. I’m a Wiccan and Casey is agnostic, so our ceremony was far from what our relatives expected. Our best friend was ordained just to marry us, and then performed a self-composed rap at the reception.

Everyone kept asking me which church she was from. Both of our siblings gave readings and my cousins sang two songs (all secular), and the best man and matron of honor gave “assurances” (a type of short speech intended to reassure the other partner’s family of the suitability of the person they’re standing up for). The handfasting was really meaningful for us, so we took our time with that, and we wrote our own vows.

Shortly after the wedding, a cousin of mine to whom I am not very close to wrote a lovely and thought-provoking blog entry about our ceremony. He’s young (still in college) and a very devout Christian. He stated that he hadn’t been to many weddings, but that ours made him feel the presence of God. He wrote: “And to think, that one day, that is how God will see us, His church, His bride, coming down the aisle to finally be with Him for the rest of our lives.”

He saw God in what we did, and so did I, even though we were not communing with the same Holy Spirits. There’s something so incredibly beautiful about that. Would it have been possible if we had known in advance, taken into account other people’s feelings and religious persuasions, settled on a civil ceremony or (Gods forbid) a fake Christian church wedding? I really don’t think so. We invited the Power into that space ourselves, in our own way, and we allowed everyone else to do the same.

So that’s what mattered, in the end. Not the party. What mattered was that we were joined together for life under the benevolent eyes of everyone’s separate, individual Gods. That’s what stands out to me. We kept everything a secret until the rehearsal, to prevent our family from influencing our decisions, and I’m glad we did. It was too late in the day for anyone to freak out, so they all just went with the flow. If you’re in the process of planning your wedding and you’re starting to wonder if your ceremony will be “too weird” or “too much” for your friends and family, keep in mind that what you’re saying and what they’re hearing are going to be very different things. Very different. If your love and your faith (or lack thereof) are authentic, then that’s what matters. The rest is just window dressing.

Keep it simple. Keep it friendly. Keep it genuine. And trust in the overwhelming sense of love your wedding will inspire to bridge the gap.

Photos By: Taura Horn, of Taura Horn Photography

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  • Meghan

    To get the sparkly stuff out of the way, dude, i LOVE your wedding dresses and LOVE the way you did your bridesmaid’s dresses. Beautiful.

    OK, seriousness:

    “He saw God in what we did, and so did I, even though we were not communing with the same Holy Spirits.”

    This, right here? If everyone lived by this statement, I feel like the world would be a happy place. It’s so true.

    • Emma

      Love that concept and Meghan’s comment! I am now more excited than ever to show our crowd that a non-religious event can be special, and maybe even sacred. I’ve divulged too much to them already to keep everything a secret, but I think that’s a really smart idea and I applaud your insistence on eliminating the option of stress/imposing opinions/worry for you and your people! Cheers!

    • A-L

      Just hitting the “exactly” button wasn’t enough for this. I completely and totally agree.

      And your last picture was so delightful that it brought a smile to my face. Good luck to the two of you!

  • Alyssa

    Ohh, I’m sort of in love with you guys. This is SO important, that you guys stayed true to yourself rather than pleasing others, and in doing so ended up with wedding so wonderful that became something that everyone could love and believe in.

    Y’all are the best. And adorable to boot!

    • Right? So in love with them. There is a quiet confidence that radiates through this post that is all about having faith in yourselves and in those who love you. If you are authentic in your wedding, people will join in with you.

      Ack, I just don’t have the words to say how much this wedding is EXACTLY what wedding are all about.

  • Sylvia

    Jennifer, this is such a wonderful post. It resonated really strongly with me.
    We wrote our (secular) ceremony too and were very worried beforehand about how it would be received by some of our more traditional (and religious) friends. We chose readings that meant something to us (a quote from a Neil Gaiman book, a poem about glaucoma and quirky song lyrics from a cheesy film) and they were so unusual that we thought people would laugh. Our guests cried. The love in that room was so overwhelming.
    I completely know what you mean about being surprised by how much it mattered because I feel exactly the same about our wedding. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me how meaningful they found it and in two separate cases, it had made long standing couples who never planned to marry consider getting married.
    Thank you for writing about this, your wedding and your words are wonderful

    • What Neil Gaiman passage did you use? Only if you’re willing to share of course. I’m a big fan of Mr. Neil.

      • Sylvia

        I don’t mind at all – LOVE Neil Gaiman :)
        Its actually quite a soppy reading, sorry about that. Its from the film version of Stardust (couldn’t find the monologue in the book but we figured that NG was heavily involved in the film too so probably still his words) it is from the scene where Claire Danes’ character is talking to Tristan who is in the body of a gerbil… Romantic no?
        Here it is:

        You know when I said I knew little about love?
        Well, that wasn’t true.
        I know a lot about love.
        I’ve seen it.
        I’ve seen centuries and centuries of it.
        And it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable.
        AII those wars. Pain and lies. Hate.
        Made me want to turn away and never look down again.
        But to see the way that mankind loves.
        I mean, you could search the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful.
        So, yes, I know that love is unconditional.
        But I also know it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and, well, strangely easy to mistake for loathing.
        And what I’m trying to say, Tristan, is I think I love you.

        My heart, it feels like my chest can barely contain it.
        Like it doesn’t belong to me anymore.
        It belongs to you.
        And if you wanted it, I’d wish for nothing in exchange.
        No gifts, no goods, no demonstrations of devotion.
        Nothing but knowing you love me, too.
        Just your heart in exchange for mine.

        • I love that passage. Thought about using myself actually. I really wanted to use something by him, but ended up not finding anything that worked with the rest of the ceremony.

  • “He saw God in what we did, and so did I, even though we were not communing with the same Holy Spirits. There’s something so incredibly beautiful about that.”

    This gave me chills. It seems like every Wedding Grad post I comment on, I say, “Well isn’t THIS this point of it all?” This is SUCH a big part of The Wedding, the connection that we witness and bless with our presence in whatever religion we have to witness and bless it with. I was surprised by how religious/spiritual our whole day felt – we worked really hard to make it meaningful, but there was one moment when I was like, “Oh, that was God blessing us,” which was sort of a funny thought because I haven’t articulated any beliefs around God.

    Thank you for sharing your story and your pictures! And thank you for the reminder of the connections that weddings can help us make.

  • Maureen

    I got married in Lincoln, NE too! Go Lincoln brides!!

  • This made me teary. What a wonderful testament to you and to your friends and family, that you were who you were and that shone brightly enough to overpower all of the differences.

  • This is such a beautiful wedding grad post! We we married by wonderful man who has served as a mentor to me for many years, and who also happens to be the chaplain of the school where I work. My (agnostic) husband didn’t want “God” mentioned during the ceremony, but you kind of can’t stop a 70 year old preacher from doing his thing, you know? And it turns out it didn’t matter, because the blessing that he gave us at the end felt like he was encompassing the whole world, not just his or our particular feelings on spirituality. It just fit. Jennifer put this all into words much more eloquently- thanks for such a wonderful reminder of what weddings are all about.

    • meredythbyrd

      I’m glad to hear you say that in the end it didn’t matter, because I can see this being an issue with my intended as I want my step-dad (a Southern Baptist minister) to marry us. He’s open-minded and honest and respects our opinions, but I can see some god talk slipping in there. Hopefully we can find a good fit that encompasses our beliefs and makes him feel comfortable too.

      And this post made me think it’s possible. The last picture made me excited for my own!

  • I’m actually really relieved to read about the spiritual aspects of your wedding day. Although my fiance and I are both Catholic, we’re running into some trouble with the local parish because we live together. (They have a whole pamphlet about how they don’t approve.) I’ve been stressing about finding an officiant and how our Catholic families will feel if we’re not married in a Catholic ceremony. But it sounds like people can still feel connected at that spiritual level even if the ceremony isn’t exactly like the kind they’d expect. No matter what happens, I hope we have a ceremony as beautiful and meaningful as Jennifer and Casey’s.

    • Annie,

      I really worried about this too when planing my Catholic wedding. My fiance and I were both raised Catholic, although we’ve grown away from the church a little bit as we’ve grown up. It was important to our families to be married in a Catholic ceremony, and I always have felt that the point of getting married is to include your community. The Catholic ceremony, I feel, does this really well.

      (sorry, i diverged a little there — back on topic!)

      What I found was that perceptions of living together really can vary from parish to parish, and even priest to priest. Our officiant told us that yes, the Church officially looks askance on unmarried couples living together (or cohabitating, as they say, how weird is that term?), but he would rather have couples come back to the church in any way they feel is right for them rather than fleeing the Church entirely.

      So I guess that’s a long way around of saying — look around. Don’t settle on your most local parish (look in neighboring towns and such) and find a priest who sees the world like you do. It’s worth exploring before you give up on the Church entirely, or setlle on someone who makes you uncomfortable for being who you are.

      My wedding hasn’t happened yet, but just through our conversations with our priest, I’m really psyched about what I hope (fingers crossed) is going to be beautiful, meaningful and rich in tradition.

    • Richelle

      hi Annie-
      One Catholic to another- you never know what each parish will support. Definitely ask because when we were married I was so surprised by how flexible our priest was. I know it varies priest to priest/parish to parish, just don’t give up.

    • meg

      Our good friends had their shotgun wedding (don’t worry, they call it that too) in a Catholic church. The priest told them, “You’d be surprised how often this happens.” And they said, “Actually probably not THAT surprised.”

      So shop around. If some priests will marry pregnant ladies, I’m sure you can find one that will marry a cohabiting couple.

    • Kate

      If you are in the DC metro area I can recommend the priest that did our wedding to you. He was really great.


      From another cohabitating (agree, a hard word to get used to) Catholic gal to another, definitely go to another parish. I’m getting married in my Grandmothers’ because she passed away right after we got engaged and really felt moved at her funeral. The priest has been super supporting and although have lectured us on how the statistics are against us (apparently we have a higher percentage chance of divorcing living together, i don’t get it), he has been super happy to marry us as long as we are willing and able to. Which we are.

    • Thanks so much Aliddabit, Richelle, Meg, Kate, and Just Jencil for all the wonderful suggestions and supportive comments! I’m glad to hear there are lots of understanding/progressive priests and parishes out there. I’m definitely going to be checking out our options.

      • Good luck, Annie! To chime in, we just got married in the Catholic Church & our priest knew we lived together. Our friends did too in another Catholic Church. I was surprised (& grateful) that our priest was accepting.

      • Alexandra

        Yeah, a friend grew up Catholic, her husband didn’t, and they got a special dispensation to be married outdoors by a priest that she’d grown up with. You’ll find the right person.

  • Renee C

    Beautiful! This inspires me to have the more “spiritual” type of ceremony I really want, and not be worried about others’ conceptions… your experience shows that, if WE are moved, others will be also. Thank you!

  • This was a relief to read. In planning our secular (but weighty!) ceremony, I have been nervous about how it will be perceived. We aren’t trying to hold a symposium on our skepticism, but we also can’t fake a Christian ceremony just to prevent eyebrow-raising.

    While keeping the ceremony details under wraps worked for Jennifer and Casey, I think there is something to be said about being transparent about what’ going to go down as early as possible. My very very Christian mother was disappointed when I told her, we cried, we argued. The next day she told me she was sure it would be beautiful and that she is glad she knows now so that she has some time to grieve and then be a sport when the time comes. I thought the conversation would go terribly, so I put it off for two months, but I wish I had done it right away.

  • I’m Pagan, my fiancee is Protestant in the spiritual but not religious and it’s been really interesting planning our Big Gay Ceremony to go with our Big Gay Wedding (it deserves caps, yo). The head of my Pagan group is marrying us with a handfasting ceremony, but it’s been a real negotiation for us for what feels right for us, our family and our friends. What a perfectly timed reminder that it is, after all, OUR DAY.

    • meg

      Or as I always say, your wedding, and everyone’s day.

  • I’m going to admit it I made a little squeal noise when I saw Lincoln, NE in the pics. Still have nostalgia for home even though I’ve been away 10 years.

    Your wedding looks beautiful! I am glad you had the ceremony you wanted. I know how difficult it can be to do something different than your Nebraska relatives expect! I’m so happy it worked out so well for you guys!

    A note to other ladies worried about this, my Catholic family quickly came to terms with our nonreligious wedding. I told them very early on and was quite firm that it was our decision. When creating our ceremony we worked really hard to keep a tone of respect and reverence within our ceremony and got a lot of positive feedback from people about how much they loved it.

    • I squealed too when I saw Lincoln! I live here now and see so little representation of Lincoln on the web. It made my heart smile quite a bit.

  • One of my biggest achievements the day of the wedding was my super-Catholic grandmother saying it was the most beautiful ceremony she’d ever seen. I’m pretty when my mom told me I did a fistpump, big white dress and all.

    Our friends and families were moved by our ceremony, and I kept hugging crying friends after the ceremony (meanwhile, I couldn’t stop grinning, heh). Our ceremony was very important to us, and we put it together in a way that reflected who we are, how much we mean to one another, and the ten years of our relationship. I’m Unitarian Universalist, and my husband is spiritual but doesn’t like the institution of church, so we wanted to honor all parts of our spirituality. I walked down the aisle to the theme from the Princess Bride, we included a reading about gay marriage that I wrote, and instead of lighting a unity candle, we had our families contribute recipes, symbols of the start of our own kitchen and our own family. We walked back up the aisle to Cake’s “Stick Shifts and Safety Belts”, which couldn’t have been more perfect.

    We couldn’t get married in the church I grew up in, but my childhood minister was able to marry us. The way I describe my experience of the ceremony is all I could see was my husband’s face and my minister’s face, and I felt every word and the love of the community. At one point, the minister asked the people there to pledge their love and support to our union, and when they murmured their response, I held a hand to my ear, egging them on, and we were received with a wave of hollering and cheers. I was blown away then, and I’m tearing up now, remembering it.

    I think we feel and hear and find God in so many different ways, and love is the primary conduit to that. When we are authentic and real in our love, and have a wedding ceremony that really celebrates that love, then everyone gets to see a little piece of God.

    • ka

      :-D for the Princess Bride.

      • I played it for my husband-elect as a joke and he LOVED it. Same thing with our recessional music, actually. I listened to a ton of other music… Nothing else even came close. Now whenever I hear that music, I’m completely blown away by the memory of walking down the aisle. Butterflies.

        Added bonus/inside joke: my husband’s name is Wesley. :)

        • ka

          Hahaha, I love it!

          It’s my favorite movie/book in the whole world and when we first started planning/watching “My Fair Wedding” I would joke that the only “themed” wedding I would ever consider would be The Princess Bride. Well now, hilariously, we are getting married a place that looks a bit like it could be a castle out of the movie, and I keep thinking maybe I could find a Buttercup dress… Of course, incorporating some of the music is a much subtler and classier homage. ;-)

          (The more cringe-worthy coincidence is that my husband-to-be has been experimenting in growing his hair out and now has the stupid little ponytail…)

          • That’s great!! And Buttercup’s dress is gorgeous, that’s not a bad idea…. ;) The music is really pretty, and so easy to incorporate. I had to buy it from iTunes to listen to it all the way through, and to talk to our DJ about it, but that was $0.99 worth spending!!

            … husband didn’t get a haircut the week before our wedding. It was on his to-do list that just… didn’t get done. He also had just had a lab accident and had cuts on his face from where the stitches were removed, so his appearance wasn’t exactly super-stylized. :D

          • ka

            Ooh, thanks for the tip–itunes has everthing! And yikes. That sounds like one of those perspective-creating last minute emergencies! I’m not all too concerned with my fiance being stylish–in fact the other day when he mentioned a suit I nearly fell on the floor bc I was certain he was planning on wearing the only button-down and blazer he owns (purchased 3 years ago for a friend’s wedding)–but I have to draw the line at the hair, which does not represent the man I fell in love with, but does represent an array of aging metalheads as seen on Remember the 80s. :D

  • “…especially in a case like ours, when the couple has been together so long and lived together and all that sinful jazz”

    I will tell you a secret. I get REALLY weepy at weddings where the bride and groom have been together forever. Don’t ever sell yourself short just because everyone already knows you guys as a couple. You know that means? It means I’ve been rooting for you for 5, 6, 7 or 8 years and my team just made it to the superbowl. Do you think for a second I don’t want to watch you win? Hell no. I’ll be there with my dang beer hat and 7 layer dip, that’s what.

    • I LOVE that you incorporated seven layer dip into a comment about “a strangely traditional, community-oriented Pagan affair with serious Midwest charm.” THAT, my dear, is talent. Delicious, delicious talent.

    • Thank you so much for this.
      I have been with my fiance for seven years now and we’ve had some rough times (broke up briefly twice) before finally getting engaged two weeks ago. I had been hearing lots of “about time” comments since he proposed and other “I guess if you’re happy” comments from those who have helped me through the bad times.
      Thinking of us as the home town team that is finally going to the superbowl just seems perfect and I think is going to make me understand and appreciate the bandwagon jumpers I encounter in the next year and a half while I am planning this wedding.

      • Yeah, everyone gets down on the home team the second they stop having a perfect season. And I’m from New England, so I know all about that. But if you don’t apologize for your decisions then people kind of have no choice but to get on board. So go you! And congratulations!

        *I’m really impressed that I just managed to carry a sports metaphor through to fruition. I am patting myself on the back now. That is all.

        • Amy

          Maddie, I kind of want to buy you a beer with a bourbon chaser, that’s how much I love your comments. Seriously – funniest metaphor I’ve read in a long time.

      • Oh and those same naysayers are the first to change their tune too. :)

  • Kashia

    Jennifer, thank you for sharing this with us. It is very encouraging to see how your ceremony was accepted by and meaningful to friends and family who weren’t expecting it or don’t hold to the same beliefs.

    I am struggling right now with planning a traditional religious ceremony knowing that our community is (with one or two exceptions) very secular. It’s scary to think about putting that very private aspect of myself out there that much. I worry that all that mention of God will make a lot of people uncomfortable. I even offered to have a city hall wedding (my fiance is agnostic) but in the end we are getting married at my church. This is causing me more stress than any other aspect of planning.

    So thanks for a little bit of hope that everything might be just fine. Better than fine even, everything could turn out amazingly.

    • J

      I’m an atheist and I can tell you that for me, I LOVE going to friends’ weddings. It doesn’t matter how much religious content there is. As Jennifer so wisely says, if you keep it simple, keep it friendly and keep it genuine, I’m going to sing my heart out to whatever hymns are in the program, I’m going to sit and stand at all the right moments and I’m probably going to cry little weepy tears of joy about how awesome it is and how excited I am for the couple. Because weddings are not about judging someone elses beliefs in exactly the same way that they aren’t about judging someones dress or flowers.

    • As someone who is very religious, but Unitarian Universalist (hugely liberal, non-deist), try not to worry about it. I’ve been to a couple Catholic masses for weddings, and the thing that continues to make me teary-eyed and weepy isn’t all the trimmings, it’s the friends and loved ones making that commitment to one another. It’s only a half hour (or an hour, whew) of my time; I’ll stand up and sit down a million times, listen to a sermon, and sing a hymn, if it’s celebrating the union of my friends.

      My only suggestion: communion (or anything religion-specific) is VERY awkward for those of us who don’t practice that religion. Unless necessary, I’d suggest leaving out any practices that separate people of different faiths.

      • This is a good point, Sarah, and something I’ve felt weird about doing — maybe I’ll speak to our priest and see if there is something we can do to make our non-Catholic friends feel included in that part of the ceremony as well. It’s important to me to celebrate my wedding at Mass, so that’s going to be part of it. But you made me think, so thanks.

        • Talking to your priest about not doing communion is very thoughtful– If I may speak for your non-Catholic friends, we appreciate the thought. But If it’s important to you, DO IT. Whatever it is. We’ll sit awkwardly for a minute if you need to have communion, that’s fine. This is your wedding ceremony and your relationship with God; we can’t step on your toes, even if we’re twiddling our thumbs for a minute.

          Our weddings, and especially our ceremonies, are about us, the couple getting married. Think of your guests, surely, but it is a sacred ceremony first and an audience participation second. Good luck. :)

        • J

          From my perspective, as long as there is an opt-out option, I don’t mind. I’ve never felt uncomfortable staying in my seat while others took communion but there have always been a few of us doing the same.
          I’d probably be pretty uncomfortable if I knew that a couple had changed the religious content of their service for me if the part they’d removed was important and meaningful for them.
          Its good to be considerate of others beliefs but make sure you don’t compromise on the parts of the service that are important to you on the chance that some people might feel uncomfortable – thats part of Jennifer’s point I think.

        • Vmed

          I’ve heard that some priests will make an announcement before communion that any visitor who is not Catholic may come up at communion but with their hands over their heart to indicate they would like a blessing and not the Host.

          • Mallory

            I like the idea of receiving a blessing, that way other christians can at least be included. I’m in a different camp than J where I feel very uncomfortable at communion during a Catholic mass. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that most of my partner’s family is Catholic, but I always feel like it singles me out as one of the people that doesn’t really fit in.

            That being said, if it’s important to you, do it, people like me will get over it. But if you’re less committed to the idea I know I always feel relieved when I hear a Catholic wedding isn’t doing communion.

          • meg

            Oh, and on that note, if you’re doing blessings, ask your priest to do a general blessing. That way the non-Christians can get blessed. We like when that happens.

          • That is super-rad. Super-duper-crazy-rad. I would be FIRST IN LINE for that, seriously. Because the process and the meaning of it is amazing (taking in and accepting the spirit, etc), and that is a great way for people to appreciate and participate in that part of the ceremony.

            Two thumbs WAY up for this.

          • Julianna

            in reply to Meg’s suggestion – this was really important to us, as much of my husband’s family is Jewish, and so our priest actually helped us rewrite the standard ceremony script to remove a lot of the Catholic/Christian-specific language and reword the blessings to be more general. (we also removed or reworded some of the gender-specific portions). Our priest had a lot of experience with interfaith ceremonies and I think these changes went a long way toward the feelings of inclusiveness that people kept mentioning to us afterwards.

          • Thanks VMED, that’s exactly what I was thinking about.

      • meg

        I’d strongly disagree. I think incorporating meaningful aspects of your faith are really REALLY important, and really really moving. I’d be heartbroken to find out that a couple didn’t have communion at their wedding because we were coming and we were Jewish and wouldn’t take communion. Communion is important. Watching other people take communion is powerful to me, even though I don’t do it anymore. Their are parts of Judaism that non-jews are not invited to participate in, and those are powerful and important moments, not ones we should cut out to make everyone feel included.

        We’re all different. That’s RAD. We should celebrate that, not sweep it under the rug. And that’s the very thing I love so much about Jennifer’s wedding graduate post. She did that.

        • Oh, if it’s important, let nothing and no-one stand in your way, for sure. But having something that very clearly delineates who is what faith is a little hard, especially for those still sitting in the pews. I’m not saying people shouldn’t do it simply because it’s hard (uh, NO), but that if it’s not super important, that it could alienate some people.

          ….But then, so could serving meat, and I still had pulled pork at my wedding. Your mileage may vary, right?? If communion is important, ROCK ON. If it’s not, maybe that’s one thing that doesn’t need to be added. The important thing is doing what is right for you, the couple.

          • Emily K.

            I have to disagree. I’m an atheist and I don’t find it hard at all to just sit there while other folks take communion. If you don’t give me a hard time about it, there is no reason for it to be awkward. It’s only awkward if you make it so.

        • I agree, and I didn’t mean to make it sound like I was considering simply having a ceremony instead of the Mass. I just wanted to find a way that could make that moment in the rite a little more inclusive, especially considering the variety of faiths in our wedding party. (It’s a little like a bad joke… a Muslim, a Jew, and a Lutheran walk into a Catholic wedding…)

          I love my friends. I want them to be as much a part of my ceremony as possible.

          • Amy

            Aliddabit – I’d suggest in your case, a program might be helpful. Especially if you write out the order of the mass, the prayers, etc. Sometimes even just knowing when to sit/stand/kneel helps. I’m happy to share my template with you if you’d like, but there are lots available online too!

    • Amy

      Don’t underestimate your friends and family. I was all apologetic about my Catholic wedding with the hour long mass, gap in between wedding and ceremony, communion – basically all the things people love to hate on.
      I was sheepishly telling friends they didn’t have to come to the ceremony, that it would be a full mass and kind of long, etc. etc. One of my guy friends just looked at me and said “Of course I’m coming. Don’t be stupid. I want to see you get married, not just to drink”. And all my young, car-less, atheist friends showed up to the church and happily watched us get married before going to the reception (and then drinking).
      People “get it” more than I think we give them credit for – a wedding deserves some mention of what is important to you – and if that is God, then go for it.

      • Kashia

        I didn’t have a chance to check comments until just now and I am blown away by how many smart and interesting things everyone had to say in response/related to my concerns over a religious ceremony in a secular community. I guess then that I should give just as much credit to the people coming to the wedding. You all just made my heart much lighter. Thank you.

        • B

          Hey guys, I know this comment is quite late but just another thought about the whole communion thing. My family and friends are a real mix of atheists, Christians and other faiths but communion is really important to The Boy and I, so we are going to have it… But only the two of us. We’ll sign the register then have communion both in the space of 2 songs, which allows us to include something special to us without making people uncomfortable :)

  • “It was too late in the day for anyone to freak out, so they all just went with the flow.”

    I think if I followed that advice in more aspects of my life, those aspects would be a lot easier. Because when other people start freaking out, I tend to start freaking out too.

  • Beautiful. I love the essence of this post, be who you are and let the love flow. I’m all teary eyed. Thank you for sharing.

  • ka

    Thank you. This is the exact post I needed to show to my fiance why I think the ceremony is important. Why, sorry, but a 5 minute recitation of vows we downloaded off the internet isn’t going to cut it.

    And also I love that you gave people name tags! I feel like if I do that people might kill me, but it’s going to be a small group of people from all different scattered stages of our lives, and I’d like them to actually meet each other instead of sticking to the “high school friends” “college friends” etc. cliques that occur at most weddings I’ve attended.

  • I really, really loved this post. I’m the first person in my family, on both sides, to have a secular wedding. Not only is it secular, but one of my best friends has been ordained to marry us too. My parents are supportive since they are logical enough to agree that having a Catholic ceremony, when we aren’t Catholic, is hypocritical and would start our marriage off on a dishonest foot. My parents have been “breaking the news” to many of the members of my extended family. But while I’m sure they are a little wary of my nuptials now, I firmly believe that it will be one of the most wonderful weddings they’ve ever been to because it is a representation of my future husband and I. It is often hard to do what you feel is right when planning a wedding because it means so much to so many people, but it’s wonderful that you did and your family was so supportive. Congrats!

  • Class of 1980

    Jennifer, I wanted to be shallow and tell you how much I love your auburn hair and how cute I think you are.

    But then you had to go and talk about how we can feel a presence regardless of differing views on that presence. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    And good idea to keep the details a secret. People will go with the flow on the wedding day.

  • This is such a beautiful post. My fiance is Jewish, so we are planning a combined wedding. Most Indians I know who have married non-Indians have had two ceremonies, but we personally felt like we are having one marriage. Our lives are going to be about combining two traditions, so we want to have a marriage ceremony that reflects that.

    So that’s what we’re doing. We’ll do the seven circles around the fire and then the seven Hebrew blessings. My sister will steal my fiance’s shoes, and then he’ll have to get the back to step on the glass. We’ll do Shabbat the night before, and I’ll also have henna applied to my hands.

    For us, this all feels natural. But our families have had difficulties with it at times. But your post makes me realize that it’s important to push past that and not just go along with “what would be easier for others.” After all, you can’t live your marriage like that, so why live your wedding like that?

    • Sylvia

      Exactly so! Avoiding difficult conversations with your families and taking the path of least resistance when planning your wedding, whether about faith/beliefs or any of the other important stuff is likely to store up trouble for the future. I’m not suggesting that anyone should ignore important people and their opinions and be thoughtless, but if its an issue that is likely to come up again, it might be worth having the conversation now. Good on you Ruchi for finding a compromise that works for you both and negotiating on behalf of your baby family!

    • “Our lives are going to be about combining two traditions, so we want to have a marriage ceremony that reflects that.”

      I love this!! It sounds like you are navigating this part of your life beautifully. Good luck!


    “If your love and your faith (or lack thereof) are authentic, then that’s what matters. The rest is just window dressing.”

    Thank you so much, I feel some of my anxiety about the upcoming wedding ceremony slide away a little after reading your post. I have the opposite problem, most of the people closest to me are pretty non-religious and I was worried that my Catholic ceremony would be like shoving God and my beliefs in their face, since I don’t have much wiggle-room for customizing the ceremony. I have gone to secular weddings before and have been just as moved as the ones in churches, but after hearing comments about non-church-goers dreading church ceremonies from those around me, I got nervous. We went forward with the church decision because it is important to us (he’s not Catholic, but he supports my beliefs and has liked the process so far) and I have never regretted the decision, just have been a little privately nervous about it.

    Now I’m confident that as long as we are our usual happy-go-lucky selves at a traditional ceremony, that our love will shine through the traditional-ness, and everyone will still be able to be touched by the ceremony.

    Oh, and yes, I love your dress, hair and all that beautiful jazz as well, very similar to what I was envisioning – seems to happen for some reason when I see what other Jens in the world are doing.

    • Class of 1980


      Anyone who can’t handle watching you get married in your own faith without feeling personally threatened by it is just too silly for words.

      There’s a limit to how comfortable you can make people.

  • Lovely. We bowed to pressure from my family and had a Christian wedding, though that’s not quite how we’re defined (and, I hate defining spirituality, for me anyway). We wrote our own ceremony which allowed us all kinds of leeway. However, I remember talking to my dad about wanting a friend to marry us, and his response was: “You won’t be married, if you’re not married by a pastor.” My mouth dropped because my parents raised me so openly and to hear that was kind of like hearing there was no Santa Clause.

    Anyway, this is beautiful and I am so happy for you and your husband and the journey’s which y’all will have.

  • June

    I also was very excited to see Lincoln, NE!! (I’m from NE as well) What a great story, though. My fiancee’s family is very religious (Catholic) and my family is not so much (I’m not at all). If my fiancee had the wedding exactly how he wanted, he’d have the ceremony in a church as well as a religious ceremony. If I had it my way, I’d have absolutely nothing religious going on at all on my wedding day. It’s really hard to find a happy medium for us two let alone his very opinionated family. However, it is a bit of a relief to see how your ceremony turned out and that it was special for everyone of every religion and it provides me with a bit of hope :) Thanks for sharing your story!!

    • Julianna

      If it is helpful for you at all (and if it is not, ignore me!), we found that it was possible to get permission from the Catholic church to have a priest perform our ceremony (so it “counts”) but for the ceremony to be held in a location other than a church and for the ceremony to follow a form of our choosing rather than a full mass (we had a combination of scripture and secular readings, for example). This “dispensation of form”, as it is called, was easy to obtain because my husband is not Catholic and in particular because he was never baptized in any Christian faith. The priests and administrators we worked with were remarkably open in helping us find a way to hold a ceremony both partners (& families) could feel comfortable with. Of course rules will vary from dioceses to dioceses, and as you said it may still not be what your fiance prefers, but just wanted to throw it out there in case you are looking for options like that.

      • June

        Ah that is a really great idea – It definitely would partially satisfy both of us. However, my fiance was never confirmed into the Catholic church – so, it’s to his understanding they won’t perform a ceremony for us any way. It’s definitely something I’d like to confirm, though, because it’d be nice to have this middle ground. Thanks for the suggestion!

        • Julianna

          for us, it only mattered that I was baptized (although I was also confirmed). but again, every parish will likely give you a different response.

          • Amy

            June – definitely check with your diocese though. In NYC they’re pretty strict on the whole only getting married by a priest in a church thing unless you have some pretty legitimate extenuating circumstances.

  • Wednesday

    This post was really touching to me, especially because I’m in a tough spot. Unfortunately, I know already how very uptight people can be about planning a wedding. Your post was especially touching because I too come from a polytheistic tradition (Hellenismos) and I would like our wedding ceremony to reflect that in some way. My fiance’s agnostic. Unfortunately, he comes from a very conservative Southern Baptist family, and you can guess how a wedding that’s even vaguely pagan would go down there… The worst part is that it’s not that his relatives are being nasty about it. The main problem is his grandparents. He’s very close to them because they raised him. They’re both extremely nice, gracious people, who have always been very sweet and courteous to me (despite disapproving of us living together unmarried, etc, etc). They obviously don’t know about EITHER my fiance’s or my religious preferences. And moreover, they sincerely would fear for my fiance’s soul, supposedly, if he does not get married in a Christian ceremony. I honestly don’t really know what to do here. I like them a lot, and I don’t want to upset them–but neither of us are Christian. At this point I’ve pretty much settled on eloping as a solution. But still, I am glad for you that it worked out so well. Wish me luck!

    • Sylvia

      Wow – that’s a really difficult situation. I don’t have anything helpful to suggest but I really hope you manage to find a solution that feels right for you both.

    • Oh dear, Wednesday. That really is a tough spot, and I know exactly how you feel. I have very devout Christian step-grandparents myself, and they are sincerely concerned about the state of my soul in the hereafter. They pray for us. They send us religiously-themed birthday cards. I think they worry that I’m going to end up in hell, and that they haven’t done God’s work because I have yet to be saved. They love me, and Casey, so much that they genuinely fear for our souls.

      But the thing is: this is just how they deal. When they found out I wasn’t a Christian, they didn’t die of heart failure. The words “handfasting” didn’t send them running for cover. Because they love us, and they’re fully-grown folks, and they’re braver and kinder and more complex than I could ever have comprehended as a child.

      I think we tend to see our elders as static, fragile beings. We fear that disappointment and heartbreak will dislodge their carefully crafted worldview, and then we’ll be to blame for their ultimate demise. But these are fully-formed, adult-type people. They can survive disappointment. They can weather adversity. And they really love their grandson, and you too, so they’ll just learn to deal, just like any of us would in a similar circumstance… because they’ll have no choice.

      There will be awkward moments, when they discover you aren’t being married “the right way.” They may cry. They may get–briefly–angry. But they’ll appreciate that you chose to include them, rather than eloping. Because eloping shuts them out completely… It doesn’t even give them a chance to prove to you how open-minded and supportive they can be. They might not be as nearsighted as you think. Don’t they deserve a chance to really know you both, without the smoke and mirrors? There’s no time like the present.

      Best of luck, Wednesday. You’re in my thoughts and prayers.


        Beautiful words Jennifer, the exactly button does not do it justice.

        Good luck Wednesday, do what feels right in your heart and you might open some eyes and minds around you.

  • Rachel

    I got so many of the same responses about our wedding. I was agnostic in college, and many of my close friends are atheistic or agnostic. I was so concerned that my very religious ceremony would raise some eyebrows, especially since I hadn’t warned them ahead of time, “hey, by the way, I’m a Christian now… just so you know.”

    I visited my collge over the weekend, and a girl on my college team was positively gabbing about the wedding. Except… she wasn’t there. It really made me aware of how many people were “in on” my wedding. People I’d only been in school with for a year wanted to talk to me about my relationship, about my wedding, about our plans for the future. They wanted to tell me that everybody looked so darn HAPPY in the pictures.

    In sports, we talk a lot about vicarious experience, wherein people insert themselves into somebody else’s reality. I think my wedding became a vicarious experience for a lot of other people who were looking forward to being a bride or groom one day, and I look forward to years of fostering this experience!

  • Julianna

    I loved reading this post today! We worried a lot about our ceremony. A *lot*. Would it be too Catholic for his family? Not Catholic enough for mine? In trying to accommodate others would we lose our selves in the process? In the end it was that last one that drove our decisions, just as Jennifer suggested. We wound up having a Catholic ceremony that was not a mass and was not held in a church, officiated by 2 very awesome priests (who happen to be my uncles). Everyone we had worried about alienating? They all ended up feeling connected and included, and the number of comments we got about the ceremony (not the flowers, not the dress, not the food) touched me unbelievably. I didn’t think it was possible. I thought that in making ourselves happy, by definition we would end up making everyone else UNhappy. But as Jennifer so rightly put it, when you are true to yourselves and have a ceremony that reflects and celebrates that, it is *that* which people connect with.

  • This right here…”If your love and your faith (or lack thereof) are authentic, then that’s what matters. The rest is just window dressing.”…is a perfect summary of how I feel about our wedding, our different faiths/beliefs/practices, and how magically they are intertwined in our relationship. I hope it plays out as well at our wedding as it did for Jennifer and Casey.

  • Em

    First off:
    “Our best friend was ordained just to marry us, and then performed a self-composed rap at the reception.”
    YAY! I said to Nic the other day that we should totally have someone rap some sort of reading at our wedding and he looked at me askance, but I think it would be awesome, and fun, and I want a fun ceremony.
    Also, I love how everybody came together, and everybody enjoyed themselves, and that Jennifer drew on the community around her and used the people she knew for help. I so hope for our wedding that people come together and we have that same sense of community, and celebration and ‘coming together’ even throughout the ceremony (which, for some reason, around here and throughout the people I know, seems to be viewed as the ‘boring’ and ‘unimportant’ part of the wedding!), as well.

  • I love the idea of assurances. Absolutely love it.
    Looks like it was a beautiful wedding. The pictures show so much love, and everyone is obviously having a great time.

  • Pingback: It's The Bride In Me – Wedding Graduates: Jennifer & Casey « A Practical Wedding()

  • i love the photo of your guest getting their groove on with their hands in the air!

    i love the rest of this post, too. i am really looking forward to creating a ceremony that reflects and celebrates mine and my fiance’s faiths and beliefs (more or less pantheist with buddhist influences) and to sharing those beliefs with our community of friends and family, whose beliefs range from fairly traditional christianity to staunch atheism. thanks for sharing your story! i also love the assurance speeches—what a great idea.

  • LOMO

    “best man and matron of honor gave “assurances” (a type of short speech intended to reassure the other partner’s family of the suitability of the person they’re standing up for). ”

    <3 <3 <3 this! Wish I had my wedding to do all over again..would totally include!

  • I don’t have much energy right now, but thumbs up.

  • “Keep it simple. Keep it friendly. Keep it genuine.”

    We’ve tried to talk about our wedding motto before. To nail it down so people can understand in a few words that our weddig won’t be That Kind Of Wedding, it will be Our Kind Of Wedding. And this is it, right here in this post. Thank you, for saying what we’ve been trying to.

  • Simple. Friendly. Genuine. I love it! This mantra is so much better than modern-vintage garden party or whatever Martha is pushing these days.

  • Beautiful wording! Beautiful pictures! Congratulations! So well put! I wish more people understand the wedding process as much. It is so great – that you had so much “home made” for your wedding. It gives so much warmth to the event!

  • I love your post and I just had to say I had a similar experience on the God front. I was very worried as some of my family and my husband’s family are quite religious. All of the people there found what they needed in the ceremony we created. I was prepared to have to defend myself for the choice to not reference God, but instead found everyone speaking in lovely tones about the entire wedding. It makes your heart sing!

  • Alexandra

    Very much awesome. Congratulations!!!
    Lovely photos & great wisdom. ;D