Writing a Non-Traditional Wedding Ceremony

This post is about how we created our non-traditional wedding ceremony, when we didn’t really have a tradition that felt 100% right to us. There are aspects I might tweak if I had it to do over, but it married us, so it was perfect in its way.

nontraditional wedding ceremony

Our Context

First of all, I’d like to clarify where we were coming from. We come from families with varying degrees of adherence to Catholic and Presbyterian faiths, but my husband and I are not religious. And by that I don’t mean, “well we’re sort of [insert denomination] but don’t go to church or anything.” We don’t believe in god, period. I don’t even like the words atheist or non-believer, because it makes me feel like I’m deficient in some way. But this is just to provide some context; nothing in what I’ve said or am about to say is intended to be any kind of judgment on those who do have faith and follow a religion, or have faith but don’t necessarily follow a religion, or don’t have faith but still plan to include biblical or other religious aspects in their ceremonies.

I’d also like to say that YES, the obvious has been pointed out to me, that as far from religious as we tried to make our ceremony, the shell of it comes directly from Christian roots. Yes, you can groom a dog to look like a panda, but it’s still a dog. (I’m not sure if that metaphor works but I’m excited about the excuse to share that link)

Finding a Structure

Honestly we would not have gotten too far without our officiant. The internet is surprisingly unhelpful regarding ceremony structure and content, and I’ve gotten to the point where, if the internets can’t help me, I have no idea what to do (I’m gonna come out and admit that I wasn’t even fully aware that I could THINK for myself, before I came across APW). Luckily the internet did lead us to our officiant (thank you WeddingWire), and she helped us from there. In the interest of giving good advice, I would say you definitely want to shop around when you’re looking for a stranger to perform your wedding, and make sure they will take the time to get to know you. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you we spoke with two candidates, and the one we chose was based on a telephone conversation (we didn’t meet her in person until 2 weeks before the ceremony). We had a good feeling about her approach, and it worked out – but it was a bit of a gamble.

So this what our structure looked like:

  • Prelude / Processional
  • Welcome/Opening remarks on love/marriage/etc. (composed by officiant)
  • Reading 1
  • Reading 2
  • Vows – Including questions with “We will” answers, then “I will” answers, then a request for the guests to pledge their support for the marriage
  • Reading 3 (picked by our officiant without our input – she ended up choosing one of my all-time favorite love-related poems)
  • Ring Exchange
  • Closing remarks/Pronouncement of Marriage (composed by officiant)
  • Recessional

Our officiant provided us with several different types of vows and ring exchange wording, and we pretty much picked from what she gave us, with a little tweaking. Then we added some additional vows that we would answer together (pledging to channel our loving feelings into our community rather than turn inward and isolate ourselves; to seek to understand ourselves, each other, and others in our life, and continually examine our own minds and approach life with curiosity and joy) – we were inspired by traditions that were not our own, but instead of adopting whole pieces, took the spirit behind certain traditions and incorporated them in a way that felt true for us. The structure was largely of Christian origin, some of the vows were inspired by a Buddhist wedding service, and we had our brief time alone directly after the ceremony, similar to the Jewish yichud.

secular wedding ceremony

When you don’t feel an affinity to the traditions you grew up with (if you didn’t really grow up with any traditions that relate to weddings), it becomes a delicate process, building a ceremony that feels right to you and your partner, and feels familiar and relateable to your guests, but above all feels True and Honest. The best you can do is basically what Meg is advising all the time: Be Thoughtful. Also, remember Google is not your friend in this. Drawing from what you already know, have already read, have already experienced, will be way more personal than any internet search results. OH. And have fun with the music.

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  • We had two main resources when it came to writing our ceremony from scratch: the internet and a book called “The Wedding Ceremony Planner” (http://www.amazon.com/Wedding-Ceremony-Planner-Essential-Important/dp/1402203438).
    When I started writing ours, I was completely overwhelmed. I mean, c’mon, it’s a big task. But like this post suggests, the best way to do it is to break it down into components. We wanted stuff like the ring and vow exchange but left off other things like unity candles. The book was incredibly helpful in this regard because it explains a little about each component of a traditional wedding service but also provides secular and non-traditional spins on each component too.
    But honestly, the best resource we had was the internet. It allowed us to read other people’s ceremonies and I spent weeks reading dozens of examples online. I know Rachel mentions that this didn’t work for her, but for us, the internet was a great resource. However, I will give her this, if you type “wedding ceremony example” into Google, you are definitely likely to find a ton of ceremonies that are anything from, like Meg said, “bizarre to generic, with fake wedding industry ‘tradition’ lurking in the background”. On the other hand, not-so-mainstream wedding blogs are an awesome resource. For us, the collection of ceremonies 2000dollarwedding and Cupcake Wedding compiled a few months back was ridiculously helpful and reading the ceremonies of other couples who were on the non-traditional side helped us to figure out what would work for us and what wouldn’t. So honestly, I say, don’t snub the internet when it comes to using it as a resource for wedding ceremonies; you just need to know where to look.

    • katie

      Yes! The Wedding Ceremony Planner was quite helpful – I found it online and got it from the library. (It’s due back today, we’re getting married Saturday!)
      In particular, the book helped with the gent. As the bride, I’m all over the place looking at websites and such, but he’s not that type. I was able to hand him the book to show him all the different ways the pieces could come together so he could understand. I’m very excited to share our ceremony with our family – we’re the first ones doing a secular wedding among a bunch of catholics – but I love how we’ve worked in many friends. For example, for the declaration of support, we’re having our officiant call up two good friends who will speak on behalf of everyone present:
      Mike: (directed to bride and groom)
      Bride and Groom, today we have come together
      to celebrate the love that you have found with each other.
      By being here with you,
      each of us is declaring our support
      for your decision to join together in marriage.

      Susie: (Directed to guests)
      As family and a friends,
      we form the community of support
      that surrounds Katie and David.
      Through our presence here today,
      we are called upon to uphold them
      in honoring and loving each other.

      Mike: (directed to Bride and Groom)
      On behalf of everyone here today,
      we promise to always stand beside you, never between you,
      offering our love and support, not our judgment.

      And may we return to you the love you have given us,
      The love that has brought us together here today;
      And may it grow deeper and sweeter with each passing year.

      • Rachel

        Ooooooooooh wow I wish I knew something like this existed before I got married. That is so beautiful. And, really, I love the extended promise of the community.

        Wonderful wonderful wonderful.

      • Lianne

        Katie, this is beautiful! I was researching ideas for our secular ceremony, and yours is really awesome. We’ll be doing a variation on this at our ceremony with two members of the bridal party. Thank you! :)

    • ddayporter

      you are right miss fancy pants! I was really talking more about general google searching, not so much all the great wedding blogs out there. back when I was doing my searching, I didn’t know about a lot of the more helpful blogs. that’s why everyone’s comments on here will be so helpful, so we can have all this stuff in one place, and nobody ever has to try googling “wedding service” ever again. :)

    • Yes to Cupcake Wedding! She posted so many amazing secular weddings she found trolling the internet.


    • Haley Y

      Yes! I used this book too. For me it was especially helpful as I’ve never been to a wedding as a guest (yes, I know, I’m a freak) and my now-husband and I are non-religious, so I felt quite uninformed as to what our ceremony should be like. We basically took a paragraph here, a line there, from the many examples in this book, and followed one of the general structures it explains. In the end I’m pleased to report we made something that represented us and our relationship very well.

  • Jess

    I don’t have many resources to share, except my story on how I found a “non-traditional” officiant. I am getting married this coming weekend and my officiant is from the Washington Ethical Society, which is a group that practices ethical humanism. She came armed with several lovely ceremonies, from which we could mix and match. If you want to have a secular (or more accurately, ethical humanist) wedding, I highly recommend that route. I had always vaguely thought that I would want to write my own ceremony rather than use something impersonal and conventional, but it was much easier to pick and choose from her words than to start from scratch ourselves.

    We did pick our own readings. One of our readings will be from Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health, the legal case that legalized same-sex marriage in MA, which I love love love.

    • Jess, do you mind sharing which part Goodridge vs. Dept of Public Health? I LOVE that you’ve chosen this :)

      • Re: Goodridge – when Prop 8 was overturned, being a law geek I immediately sat down and read the whole judgment, cried, and copy-pasted this bit for inclusion *somehow* in our ceremony:

        “Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre. When the Supreme Court invalidated race restrictions in [the case of] Loving, the definition of the right to marry did not change. Instead, the Court recognized that race restrictions, despite their historical prevalence, stood in stark contrast to the concepts of liberty and choice inherent in the right to marry.

        The marital bargain in California (along with other states) traditionally required that a woman’s legal and economic identity be subsumed by her husband’s upon marriage under the doctrine of coverture; this once-unquestioned aspect of marriage now is regarded as antithetical to the notion of marriage as a union of equals. As states moved to recognize the equality of the sexes, they eliminated laws and practices like coverture that had made gender a proxy for a spouse’s role within a marriage. Marriage was thus transformed from a male-dominated institution into an institution recognizing men and women as equals. Yet, individuals retained the right to marry; that right did not become different simply because the institution of marriage became compatible with gender equality…

        The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.”

        I’m not sure yet whether I will have it included or read somehow, or whether it will be printed in the program, but I feel really compelled to use it. Somewhere along the way it became very important to me to *explicitly* state that versions and ideas of marriage that as little as 50 years ago that were completely normalised – the idea that women were owned by their husbands, the idea that people of different races couldn’t marry or would be stigmatised for doing so, the still prevailing idea that same sex couples can’t marry – this is *not* what we are stating by marrying, we buy into none of it. Marriage under law IS a union of equals. And by making marriage our own, by demonstrating a contemporary marriage that shares none of those past values but instead equality and acceptance, we’re hopefully shaping the institution of marriage for the future.

        (Maybe this isn’t a very technically romantic reading! I find it romantic, though :) )

        • Jen

          I agree, but I don’t want people to skim it if it becomes too political. Therefore, we’re using the following statement which we found a version of online for our August 18, 2012 wedding:

          (to be shared after the remembrances portion)
          And as we remember those who are not with us,
          We also recognize those
          Who are still denied the civil right of wedded union
          And forbidden the social and legal benefits of marriage.
          We have come a long way toward treating all men and women as equals,
          And yet,
          we acknowledge that we have farther still to go
          And more we can do to respect the choice to love,
          and be married.

          We are putting it in the program fan.

    • sara

      We used the excerpt from Goodridge as well (which I found through comments on APW!) since we really valued the meaning it had – indirectly about equality because of its source, and directly about marriage because of its words. That part of the ceremony was one that so many guests held onto saying how much they loved the reading with remarks of “how beautiful” and “how perfect!”

      On a separate note, I was a bit concerned that our very atypical and informal ceremony was going to leave guests (especially Grandma!) feeling a bit adrift, but because it was so crucial for my now-husband to feel right about it, I knew that was where priorities needed to be! And, while sort of stressful (ok, more than sort of), the risk of having something that is very unfamiliar to guests is lower risk than having something not true to you both as a couple.

      thanks for this discussion and for what it sure to be a really good compilation of resources for others!

      • brendalynn

        We used a segment from Goodridge too, but a different section (er, well sections edited together). This started out considerably longer, but when we read it aloud with our friend who would be officiating, we decided it needed to be considerably shorter. It’s relatively vivid language for a legal document, but ultimately is *still* a legal document.

        So this version is significantly cut up and mashed together.

        There’s been a lot of discussion in the annals of APW of how to reference or use this text, if you’re interested (maybe: http://apracticalwedding.com/2009/04/honoring-marraige-equality-in-your/). We decided to make it part of how our officiant defined marriage (as opposed to making it a separate reading), and liked that solution in particular since we were crafting a secular/civil marriage ceremony afterall. Here’s what we used:

        “Without question, civil marriage enhances the ‘welfare of the community.’ It is a ‘social institution of the highest importance.’ … Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for and supported whenever possible. Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. … Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

        If you’re looking for the whole text, I used this PDF to scan http://www.boston.com/news/daily/18/sjc_gaymarriage_decision.pdf

  • Mary

    I pulled from 3 resources when I wrote my ceremony. I largely just reworked and rewrote bits of other things that I found, to make them juuuust right for us. As a result, our ceremony is still probably the best 20 minutes of my life.

    My resources:
    Peonies & Polaroids
    Mrs. Cherry Pie
    Indie Bride

    And here’s how it all came together for us:
    Our Ceremony

    Feel free to steal liberally.

    • Mary

      Oh, also, our officiant with his badass beard?
      I found him via a ridiculous craigslist ad for a biker officiant. The byline read something like, “I do biker weddings. Large weddings. Outdoor weddings.” or something to that effect. I sent the ad to my husband as a joke aaaand he called my bluff.
      And it was AWESOME.
      I’m just sad he didn’t show off his tats for the wedding. :P

      • I know this is SO not the point, but your dress is gorgeous.

        • Oh, and also, just reading your ceremony almost brought me to tears. Maybe I’m just in an extra mushy mood now but it fit so perfectly together and it was lovely. Nicely done.

      • Heather

        So years later, I’m looking through the “How To” section so that we can write a non-traditional ceremony that is personal and meaningful to us- and your ceremony text had be in tears. How lovely and beautiful!

        We will, in fact, liberally steal.


        • Maggie

          And here we are another year later and I’m in the same spot. This will now be liberally stolen yet again. Thanks!

    • Kate

      We got married a little over a week ago and used the same two readings you did in the same order, how cool! We also first had a reading from Song of Solomon (I think the one Meg used?) because we had a priest doing the wedding (not in a church) and had to have at least one Bible reading. That last one in your/our ceremony was my absolute favorite and made my cousin cry when she read it to us. I just cried and nodded the entire time. We APW readers sure have good taste ;)

      • Hannah

        Kate’s comment convinced me that it really was worth clicking through in the time I had, and I found the second reading was one that I’d picked and suggested to a good friend, and ended up reading at his wedding. Brilliant!
        I also recognised the first one as a quote that I’d read and been guided by, but had forgotten about. So glad of the reminder.

    • Marie Bernard

      thank you!! you helped us alot to write our own wedding ceremony.

    • Rachel

      Dear Mary,

      I just read your ceremony on your website. I pretty much copied and pasted the whole thing. It is so utterly perfect and beautifully put together there are really no words to describe it. Thank you so much for posting it, these words will ring in my memory forever.

      Lots of Love, Rachel

      • Renee

        I absolutely loved your ceremony!!!!! I am trying to plan my ceremony and am so stealing a lot of this. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Joy

      What is the source of the first reading? It is so perfect for us. We will be under the trees at our ceremony. Can’t wait! Thanks for sharing!

  • Agreed– Google is definitely NOT your friend when planning a wedding ceremony. Sheesh. ‘about.com’ pretty much made me want to throw the whole wedding out! I originally thought I was doing pretty well at thinking for myself by going to the library and checking out every wedding ceremony planning book they had. But no. Those books were entirely unhelpful. I at a loss, and by this time the wedding was only a few weeks away. So, K and I wrote up a mish-mash of things that we thought were supposed to go into a ceremony and sent it to our officiant and his wife. (Side Note: our officiant was a friend of ours who has performed several non-traditional weddings but is actually a doctor by trade. His wife is a writer. Yes, we were lucky.) She helped us decide what the basic message of our ceremony was, and from there put in some traditional bits (consecration, benediction, etc.). We wrote our own vows, by reading hundreds of possible options anywhere we could find them, taking the pieces we liked and throwing out the ridiculous parts, and coming up with a bit all our own. And the wording for the rings was borrowed from APW (thank you Meg!). The reading was from The Little Prince– also an APW (comments) suggestion. So I guess my best resource is APW… not very helpful, I suppose.

    I found it really hard not to sound pompous/ridiculous when writing the ceremony in advance. I couldn’t anticipate how it would feel on the day of, and so I didn’t really know what the tone should be. When our offieiant’s wife threw in things like “as a collection of words, this ceremony would count for little, were it not for the love and commitment you have pledged to one another” and “at the end of this ceremony, you will be husband and wife, but you still must decide, each day that stretches before you, that you want to be married”, we relaxed. THAT was what we wanted the tone to be.

    Before you write a ceremony from scratch, I think you need to figure out what you believe about marriage fundamentally. That has to be your foundation, and then when you wade through the insane amount of books/suggestions/google results, you will at least know it when you see it.

    • Sept Bride

      I feel you 100%. When I looked at our ceremony script before the wedding, sometimes I felt like it was too gushy. Sometimes too stoic. But on the day, it was perfect. I think one of the biggest things that holds couples back from writing their own ceremonies is that the words just look so wrong on paper.

  • Anna

    Bwaaaa!! I love this. So helpful. Thank you for sharing.

    As always this post is coming at the perfect time.

  • Rachel

    We included group singing, which was the weirdest part of our half-Jewish-half-secular ceremony. Picture a congregation singing a hymn. Not that weird, right? Now what if they’re singing ‘Til There Was You in the middle of a wedding ceremony and D’Lovely during the recessional?

    We had no idea how this would turn out, since we’d never attended a wedding with group singing. We were a little worried that no one would sing or that people would be embarassed. However, it was perfect for us and our guests. Instead of having more guest readers, we asked one friend to be a Song Leader: his job was to stand in front facing the congregation and sing out. We also posted the lyrics in the program, and we put the lyrics and youtube clips on our website in advance so that anyone who wanted to could practice. I was doubtful how well this would work, but several (older) people mentioned to us that they practiced ahead of time.

    The end result was one of the most meaningful things we did, and very “us”. Our only complaint was from one of my friends from college choir- he was surprised there wasn’t more singing!

    • meg

      We did that too, but we made them all sing in hebrew. What can I say? I miss hymns, and we couldn’t hav amplified music.

    • ddayporter

      aahhhh why wasn’t I invited to your wedding?? haha. but seriously that sounds amazing.

    • Amandover

      Yes! Group singing is a great way to emphasize the communal nature of a wedding. I really like the idea of posting it ahead of time. We’ll definitely have lyrics in our program.
      I think it’s very interesting, and rather perplexing, that secular ceremonies are assumed to include very little music. I grew up going to (and singing in) Catholic church weddings, and even if you take out the mass parts, there are usually 6 or 7 songs, none of which are supposed to be entirely solo. And several of which can be secular love songs. So we’re having that many songs, too, even though we’re having basically a secular humanist ceremony.
      Our venue’s event coordinator (who’s been great) had to clarify multiple times that, yes, we actually think our ceremony might take an hour, and no, we don’t think our guests will be bored. Because to us, the ceremony is the point. Just because we’re making our promises to each other and our community, and not specifically to God, doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot to say/sing about. As has been said before, if it’s meaningful to us, it will be meaningful to our guests.

    • That is so cool! If I weren’t getting married in 4 days, I might just want to rework our ceremony to incorporate something like that. That is such an awesome idea.

    • Carrie

      I really wanted everyone to sing “Seasons of Love” at the beginning of the ceremony while we were walking in. The musicians said “No, no, you don’t want that, you want everyone paying attention to you!”, and my mom chimed in to agree, and my now-husband nodded too, and I just let it go without a fight. But I wish I hadn’t. I really love the element of everyone singing. It says “we are here celebrating together.”

  • Darcy

    Early in the process of writing our ceremony we stumbled upon a fantastic resource on a unitarian website which treats the ceremony as a giant choose your own adventure (and as geeks we couldn’t resist). Yes, it has the Apache Wedding and the unity candle as options, but thanks to the magic of cut and paste we got rid of those and added a ring warming ceremony and a wine, letter and box ceremony. We had three readings, one bible verse, “Habitation” by Margaret Atwood and a selection from the Prophet by Khalil Ghibran.

    My husband’s brother is a minister (so he was able to legally perform the ceremony) who agreed to do a secular ceremony and helped craft the ceremony with us. Win win. The biggest bonus? Our religious families commented how unique and thoughtful our ceremony was.

    Unitarian ceremony: http://www.firstunitarianottawa.ca/pdf/WeddingBooklet-20070822web.pdf

    Wine, letter and box ceremony: http://www.weddingofyourdesire.com/unique_ideas.html

    • Kristi

      Thanks for this! Exactly the type of resource I was looking for!!

  • Carbon Girl

    I must second Rachel’s advice about getting a great officiant. I am not sure what we would have done without her. She was the niece of close family friends and my mother had seen her officiate two of their weddings. I was raised Catholic, my husband Lutheran. He is not practicing but thinks their may be a god. I absolutely do not think there is. It was very important to me to not have anything religious mentioned in the ceremony. Despite this officiant being a minister of a United Church of Christ (those churches can be quite liberal), she was completely comfortable performing a secular service and had tons of resources on vows and readings. I would suggest looking for ministers of liberal denominations to see if they perform secular services.

    Our structure was very much like Rachel’s. We decided that we wanted readings that focused on the essence of marriage with a nod to both community and the nature. We looked at many examples of ring ceremony and the I will/We will declaration wording and tweaked it all to be our own. We wrote our own vows. We also had a soil ceremony that was loosely based on the sand ceremonies. But we used soil from the backyards of the houses we grew up in. I really wanted a ceremony that embodied the idea that we were two people with two different backgrounds that made us who we are today. And that we were coming together bringing the experience of those backgrounds as a foundation for our marriage. Being environmentalists, we also have a huge sense of place–how a landscape can help mold you into who you are–and we wanted that sense to be part of the ceremony.

    Lastly, I wanted to mention that I compromised. God was mentioned once out of respect to those guests who are religious. It was in the context of the opening remarks and it is she recognized different belief systems and mentioned the power of community and nature as well.

    • Ruth

      Carbon Girl, while our overall wedding ceremony was religious, we added a similar unity component in the form of a tree planting. We had an aspen sapling in a clear planter. Our mothers brought soil from the backyards where each of us grew up. After they added their jars of soil to the tree, we added a jar full of soil from the yard of the house we were in the process of purchasing. Not only did we honor where we came from and the families who raised us, we also focused on the new life we are building together and the ways it will continue to grow (like the tree, which is now planted in our own backyard).

    • Jennifer

      I would be really greatful for some direction on the declarations (the “i will”‘s) as I have really be struggling with this part. We are having a traditional Christian wedding but I am keen to incorporate a more secular version of the declarations rather than the “in sickness and in health” version as we already have this in our vows (my boyfriend argues that the repetition gives our ceremony a “theme” but I’m keen for us to explore the alternatives!)

      • Carbon Girl

        Our I will’s included things like I will promise to laugh and have fun, I will promise to make time for you, to hold your hand, etc. along with more traditional things.

      • Tricia

        Jennifer- we felt the same way. I didn’t want to say the same thing twice, and more than that I wanted to be sure we got to say all the things we wanted to say to each other. We had a Lutheran ceremony, and worked a lot with the pastor to come to these:
        “_____, will you have this woman/man to be your wife/husband, to live with her/him in holy marriage according to the Word of God? Will you love her/him, comfort her/him, honor her/him and keep her/him, and forsaking all others, be husband/wife to her/him as long as you both shall live?”
        “I will (with the help of God”)

        For our vows we originally didn’t want the richer/poorer sickness/health part included. We felt that they were such extremes of life. What about everyday life? Will you love me in every day life? Our pastor was adament about keeping them in the vows, and eventually we saw their value too, but we still added our own in addition:
        “I promise to be faithful to you and honest with you, I will share my life with you, and stand by you. From this day forward I will love and cherish you for all that is to come, as long as we both shall live”

        Your declaration and vows are such important words. They are a promise you make to each other, to your family & friends, and to God. They are words to help articulate your marriage, and they are words to strive to live by every day. They are words to hold you up in bad times, to bring you closer in good times, words you can rely on, words to try to hold yourself & partner to.

  • Abby C.

    Couldn’t be better timed. AMAZING, Meg and Rachel. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • It is amazing how much it helps me to actually see the ceremony, broken down into pieces I can understand. I have been slightly concerned about the whole, “officiant for hire” aspect of the ceremony for a little while now, to the extent where I have considered a courthouse wedding the weekend before to make it legal and then asking a family friend to stand up and speak at our real-but-not-legal ceremony.

    I am still considering. But in the short term I need to get more literary and start collecting readings!

    On a lighter sidenote, YAY for dogs groomed to look like pandas!!!

    • What about using a legal officiant just for the legal parts (vows, etc) and your friend for everything else, to make it much more personal? That way it all could happen at the same time. :)

    • Or just have a friend get ordained! That’s what we did. It was so easy, and someone we love will be officiating over our marriage, which makes it so special.

      • That is actually what we did too. :) We had my husband’s brother get ordained, but he only wanted to do the legal parts, and one of my good friends (a pastor) did the rest of the ceremony. (But she was not able to officially make our marriage legal because we got married in Canada, and she is not Canadian.)

      • I have looked into this a little, as I know it is really easy to do the online ordination thing – DC’s rules confused me a little bit. There are a couple of forms to fill out, and it seemed as if you didn’t have someone within the church org. to “endorse” your application, then they wouldn’t accept the application?

        I still have loads of time to figure this out, as the wedding is now just less than a year away (less than a year! yay!) but it is something that has been gnawing at me a bit. I guess the way I was approaching it, in my mind, is that having a civil ceremony the week before would take care of the legal bits, which to me are only important in a minor way, and then the “actual” wedding with family and friends would cover the aspects I really care about – the vows in front of our community.

        As Megtak mentioned in a reply below, I agree that it would be so much nicer to have a dear friend or family member in our photos, sharing that moment with us, than someone we didn’t know. On the flipside, I do remember Meg offering some wise advice, that a professional officiant is often able to help things be that much better…so I guess I have some thinking to do. As an alternative, I am looking into having an officiant from my fiance’s grandmother’s church come to our secular location – that would make her super happy, but he would have to be the right fit for us too.

    • This is exactly what we did. Courthouse on Friday, bigger ceremony and reception on Saturday. We didn’t want the courthouse to become a big deal, so it was reserved for the wedding party members who’d really helped us with planning; no parents, grandparents, etc.

      It helped soooo much. Whenever anyone would say “don’t worry, at the end of the day all that matters is that you’ll be married,” I could reply, “No, actually, we’re already married and I wasn’t stressing anyways.” Which, honestly, was true. I didn’t stress over anything day of till we were at the venue and the sky started to threaten rain. It didn’t rain, but I did stress a little then.

      Also, all of the photos have a longtime family friend (who was also involved on the show we were working on when we met) as the officiant, and it was just so much more meaningful for us to have him there instead of some random person we could find.

    • Susan

      My husband and I had a similar dilemma. Having a secular ceremony that felt right and true for us was very important. So, we decided that going to the courthouse to be married by a magistrate was the best approach. It worked out really well for us.

      The magistrate in our small town was flexible and willing to perform the ceremony the way we wanted. We wrote our own vows and ceremony (based on resources found online and in ceremony-planning books), but based it on the traditional Protestant structure. Our ceremony was brief but heartfelt. We met with the magistrate several weeks before the wedding to show her the ceremony and make sure she was comfortable with the text. We structured the ceremony so that my husband and I did a lot of the speaking ourselves.

      On the morning of our wedding day, our immediate families joined us at the courthouse. From the beginning of wedding planning, we had wanted an outdoor ceremony. When we decided on the courthouse route, we thought that was off the table. Turns out we got that after all! The magistrate took us inside the courthouse to complete the paperwork, but was willing to perform the ceremony in the lovely grassy field behind the building.

      After the ceremony, we had a big lunch reception at a local venue with 135 friends and family.

      Hope this helps!

  • Thank you for this. My “husband” and I have been struggling with even the concept of having a wedding as it seems to be so fundamentally religious. I will definitely be checking out all of the links provided here for some ideas.

  • Mallory

    I think Sarah over at $2000 Wedding has a compilation of some ceremonies as well as her own. I haven’t read any of them but hers (yet) so I don’t know if the other ones listed are secular or religious but her’s is pretty secular and it’s a beautiful ceremony with unique traditions. I especially love their vows in the form of:

    I love you because…
    Because I love you…


  • Margaret M.

    Is traditional code for religious? Can’t you be traditional and secular? I certainly felt like our ceremony was secular and traditional.

    • meg

      Yes, I think you can. History is something it’s pretty hard to get away from, religion is something you can get away from.

    • Carreg

      Yeah, what does a registry office wedding count as? Is it traditional if it only dates back to 1836? Especially as the ceremony is almost content-free

  • Emily

    First off, thanks so much to Meg and Rachel for this post. It’s something I needed. For many people, religion is what gives marriage meaning (for good reason). But for those of us who don’t have religion, marriage still has meaning. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. So it’s really wonderful to have input that takes marriage seriously, but from a secular perspective. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I used to be almost resigned to the idea that my wedding would be a Christian service, even though neither of us are religious (in the way Rachel describes — we’re not “lapsed” Catholics, we genuinely don’t believe). But then a few months ago, two of my dearest friends were married in a beautiful, meaningful, and FUNNY ceremony. It was the first wedding I’ve ever attended that spoke specifically to my beliefs about marriage and family. I’ve been to many wedding of many different traditions. And I’ve always appreciated the way different faiths approach the ceremony. But a part of me was also envious and frustrated, because I knew I wasn’t a part of those traditions. So attending a ceremony that had personal meaning for me (but which was not in any way disrespectful towards people of faith) was a revelation.

    Here’s what I took away from the ceremony:

    *Humor. This seems counter-intuitive, but humor done right actually gives a ceremony more meaning, not less. Laughter is a form of celebration. So a funny reading, or an officiant who is good at lightening the mood, can bring people into the sense of joy and celebration the couple is hopefully feeling. As long as the humor comes from a place of love and joy, it’s amazing how much it can bring the moment home.

    *The officiant needs to be on board. One reason I never had much faith that I would have the secular ceremony I wanted is that I’ve been to weddings of secular people where the officiant didn’t keep it secular. It might not seem like a big deal for a ceremony to reference God, but if you don’t believe in God, it can actually make the whole thing feel fake. So seeing an officiant respect the couple by giving them the ceremony they want and believe in made me realize that it’s possible. They found this officiant by asking pretty much every wedding vendor they dealt with if they knew of a good secular officiant (which makes sense! Wedding vendors obviously know more about officiants than regular people, because they are involved in so many more weddings.). I also love the “biker wedding” officiant mentioned above. And there’s the option of having a friend or family member marry you. The point is — the officiant should agree with your vision and not try to shoehorn in his or her own beliefs. Imagine if you were Jewish and your officiant starting throwing in Greek Orthodox at your ceremony (I know, I know, this wouldn’t happen because the officiant would be a rabbi, but stay with me). It’s disrespectful and kind of absurd. So I plan on sticking to my guns and finding an officiant who enthusiastic about the wedding we want.

    *Familiarity. Another issue with secular weddings is the fear that your families and friends won’t get it, because it doesn’t have the familiar religious components. So when my friends got married, one of their readings was from a Shakespeare play (Much Ado About Nothing). The other was more obscure. They told me they wanted to include elements that people recognized and would feel connected to, and this is one way they did it. They also included a pledge of support similar to the one Rachel mentions. Most people probably didn’t love and relate to every thing about the ceremony the way I did, but there was definitely something there for pretty much anyone to latch on to. Which is not to say it was a grab bag. It just means the couple thought about the ways in which their feelings about marriage are universal, and then found ways to emphasize that universality in the ceremony. That helped make the ceremony feel inclusive without the couple caving into the pressure to do things they don’t believe.

  • Maureen

    To echo comments from above, as non-belivers (or whatever you want to call it), we stuggled to write our own ceremony. We got a Unitarian minister who was totally on board with no mention of the man upstairs, chose our own readings- Union by Robert Fulgham (mostly becuase of the dancing partner line- my partner in crime and I LOVE a good dance party- also, we got rid of the lover line, becuase… well obviously). The most important thing to me was to include marriage equality in some way that would not make my very religious extended family squirm too much. We settled on this:
    “To choose the person one loves is a natural right; to marry is a civil right, and so it should be for everyone. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition. Buster and Maureen will now say their vows.”

    Vauge enough to fly over the heads of those who don’t agree with us on this and clear enough to get to the ears that want to hear it.

    • Class of 1980

      I love Unitarians. I agree with the Unitarian option with one caveat.

      Unitarian ministers marry secular people all the time, but one recently wrote in a blog that he wished couples would understand Unitarianism before choosing that option. He said a lot of secular couples get herded to Unitarian ministers to perform their weddings and he often has to spend quite a long time explaining what Unitarianism is.

      Also, there are variations in Unitarian churches and among individual Unitarians. Most are agnostic to atheist, but study the traditions of many religions for what the best teachings add to their lives, but some Unitarians believe in a God and some are even Christians! There is no requirement to choose and you can find all those differences in a single congregation.

      Best to read up on their interesting history and then find out where your local Unitarian minister and church is on the spectrum.

      • I have found that Unitarianism varies by region, too. East Coast Unitarians are very different from West Coast Unitarians, for example.

        • Class of 1980

          Didn’t know there was a notable difference between coasts, but there is between congregations and individuals in congregations. It’s all very laissez-faire.


          “Diverse beliefs about the existence of a higher power are welcome in Unitarian Universalist congregations. Unitarian Universalists may be Atheists, Humanists, Christians, Pagans, or identify with other theological and philosophical traditions.”

  • LeahIsMyName

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. My husband-to-be and I are both atheists, and our families run the gamut from ultra fundamentalist Christian (my mom) to believe-in-god-but-hate-organized-religion (his dad).

    We wanted, no needed, a ceremony that is true for us, but that wouldn’t offend our families. I found a non-denomination officiant online. The wedding hasn’t taken place yet, but she’s been very nice about everything. She’s very open about not including any reference to divinity or fate, and she’s allowed me to basically write the whole thing.

    Because, see, when we got her “sample ceremony” with our chosen readings included, it was awful. I mean, a total mess. The thing is, she’s clearly not a writer. And that’s OK, not everyone *is* a writer. But for someone who makes a living writing wedding ceremonies, I’d expected more than what I got.

    Just last week, I sat down and wrote out the whole thing from scratch, putting words into her mouth that I want to hear. I wrote transitions into and out of the different sections of the ceremony (vows, rings, etc), removed references to “divine destiny” that managed to creep in, even though we asked for a secular ceremony.

    I apologized for my obsessive control, and tried to explain that I am a writer, my fiance is a writer, and we’re just weird that way. She replied that she wasn’t offended, but that she’d never had a bride take such an interest in the wording before. Wording, however, is extremely important to me. I never say anything I don’t mean, and I think long and hard before I say anything.

    I basically just tried to think of what I’d want to promise, what I’d want to emphasize, what I’d want my families to hear at my wedding. Because, in some ways, the words at your wedding are a representation of your own beliefs about your own relationship.

    I googled “secular humanist wedding ceremony” and used some ideas from one of the websites that came up. I can’t remember which one it was now. The trouble is that a lot of that flowery language isn’t really my style, so I modified and rewrote until I was happy with it.

    I decided that the most important things were: our rejection of concepts of true love, perfection, fate, destiny, etc; our embracing of the idea of teamwork and facing life’s troubles as a united front; and our knowledge that our relationship will not be in cruise control after the wedding and that we’ll be working and fiddling with it forever. And I tried to build a ceremony around these ideals. Not terribly romantic, but that’s part of it too. I find the rejection of romantic notions of true love to be terribly attractive.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

  • Kathryn

    I love the part where the guests were asked to support the marriage. I think that’s so important and something I don’t think I’ve seen before. And Buddhist wedding influences? How cool is that!? Rachel, I’m so glad to know you :)

    • meg

      That’s so funny, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a religious wedding when that wasn’t done in one form or another. Instead of asking if the guests would support the marraige, we had a communal blessing, with everyone’s hands on us. You know, “May god bless you and keep you…” It felt the same way, but even more emotional.

      It’s a rad, rad thing, and you should steal it (possibly along with the passing of the peace, another goodie.)

      • Sept Bride

        Yes! We also “stole” the traditional Quaker wedding certificate – we created a large art print of our vows and some info about our wedding (date, location, etc.) on zazzle.com and then had everyone at the wedding sign it in lieu of a guest book. Now it is framed and hanging on our bedroom wall. Every time I look at it I remember the joy of our wedding day and the commitment I made. (Really helps on those days you want to rip your partner’s face off.)

      • Margaret M.

        I remember during passing of the peace, everyone was chatting and laughing for so long – “a foretaste of the celebration later” or something, as our officiant put it – that for a moment I thought we would never get back to the ceremony. I loved it.

    • LeahIsMyName

      I think it’s great too. I had something like this at my first wedding, though, and the audience was totally not into it. I mean, it was embarrassing: a few scattered “we dos” and some nervous giggles.

      Or maybe they just didn’t support the relationship. ;)

      Anyway, we’re doing the stealing-the-Quaker-certificate this time, and I think it’ll be awesome. My family’s not very good at speaking in public, even in groups!

  • Hi! We just got married on 9/11 and, not to toot my own (toot toot), but our ceremony was pretty awesomely secular/fun/touching/humorous/us. Our goal was to incorporate all of our families/friends/guests, so they weren’t just sitting/standing there watching us wax poetic about our love. We wanted to acknowledge that yes, the wedding is about us, but no, it’s not about us. It’s about US like, everyone in the room. The ceremony is a little wordy to just copy and paste here, and I haven’t gotten around to writing about it on our blog yet in all the post-wedding haze, but I’m happy to share the whloe shebang with anyone who wants to get ideas–you can email me at lauren(dot)stash(at)gmail.com

    To start, the readings we used were:
    “Gift From the Sea” by Ann Morrow Lindbergh (chosen and read by Man of Honor)
    “Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali (chosen and read by Best Sister)
    “I Like You” by Sandol Stoddard Warburg (chosen by us, read by whole wedding party)

  • Arachna

    We didn’t really use resources.

    And we liked our officiant fine – that’s why we chose her (many months in advance because that was our only visit to the area) but she didn’t have much to do with our ceremony except provide us samples from which we choose the opening remarks/her words.

    1. Our ceremony was completely secular with Jewish touches (as we are ethnically/culturally jewish).

    2. The thing we did that no one had heard of was we read to each other. We had three readings, one was in Russian by my dad, and the other two were us to each other (mine was the Litany by Billy Collins – I had no idea how popular it was till after :)). Everyone loved this. I think it really made the ceremony about us and our emotions and not so much the officiant. I don’t know why no one does this. I love poetry and it was a lovely way to express our sentiment.

    3. We wrote our own vows, basically this was just why we wanted to get married. We sat down separately and wrote down what we thought we were doing and why. Also we threw in “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship and with all my wordly goods I thee endow” because I love love love it and it is the essence of it all to me.

    4. We had the officiant read our (completely secular) Ketubah. This worked well because our Ketubah was very… legalistic and not very sappy. It was all about rights and obligations and so wasn’t repetitive of the vows.

    5. We had a passing of the flowers. All the guests were given flowers that were then collected. We wanted some kind of participatory section and I think people liked that.

    Then we broke the glass and that was that. Loved it. Everyone else loved it too.

    I have to say, our ceremony was pretty much the perfect part of our wedding. No regrets.

  • saveroomforpi

    I think our ceremony fits somewhere in the middle between traditional and non-traditional.

    Given that ours was an interfaith ceremony, my rabbi was unable to perform the ceremony, but the cantor knew a Jewish judge whose daughter she had tutored. The judge offered to officiate/perform the vow portion, but said that if we wanted any other pieces that we would need to organize it ourselves.

    I wanted more than a 10-15 minute ceremony (given the distances I felt people were traveling and for ourselves), but as my husband pointed out, we weren’t trying to create tension (will they? won’t they?).

    My father is a college professor, and very engaging speaker, so he composed and gave the opening remarks, we had three friends/family do readings including Darwin’s pro/con views on marrying from Creation by Randal Keynes, The Succah and the Chuppah by Debra Cash page 228-229 in The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant, and Explanation of breaking the glass/The Kiss from the portion about Explaining Jewish Traditions/approximately page 230 in The Wedding Ceremony Planner by Judith Johnson (I needed to provide the list to someone recently).

    Then the judge performed the vows/legal portion and my husband broke a glass (best advice – buy a couple to practice/see what breaks easily).

    I appreciated the readings blog posts that had been posted here already and looked at a couple other blogs along with a couple posts on Offbeat Bride where readers left comments about their readings, but in the end I sat myself down in Borders with the ceremony books.

    I agonized over whether to use the Succah and Chuppah reading since we weren’t having a Chuppah, but the reading had beautiful architectural symbolism and I am an intern architect, and the ceremony location had been designed by the architecture firm I work for (a children’s library).

  • Margaret M.

    Here was our framework:

    Greeting and Introduction
    Welcome from Families – our families welcomed each of us into the other’s family.
    Passing of the Peace
    Declaration of Intention
    Signing of the Marriage Certificate
    Pledge of Support from Community and Family
    Final Blessing

    As I mentioned above, it felt very grounded in tradition (Christian tradition, too) but there was no talk about God or Jesus. We didn’t feel the need to use any recently revived or invented elements. I would say this was the lazy person’s guide to writing your ceremony – I just let my officiant know that we didn’t want anything flashy but we didn’t want any mention of God and she ran with it. But she is an amaaaazing person and I’d watched her marry other members of my family so it was not surprising to me that it was so beautiful and transporting.

  • Lily

    De-lurking to say: Thank you thank you thank you! My man and I met at church when we were little. When we found each other again we found that we had separately developed very similar views on faith. Specifically, both of us are now atheists (we could be called secular humanists) but we also recognize the very positive role faith can have in people’s lives.

    My mom has said multiple times that she believes that true marriage is not just a promise between a couple but a promise to God. Trying to plan a meaningful secular wedding knowing that to many attending it will not be “real” has been a very painful process for me. I want to have a ceremony that truly reflects our views on love and marriage rather than cave and start our married life with a lie. I was beginning to feel like I couldn’t plan a ceremony with the amount of gravity and significance I wanted without mentioning God.

    I will definitely use these resources, but more than that, this post makes me feel a lot less alone going through this process.

  • My husband and I aren’t religious at all and, unfortunately, we actually weren’t ever able to locate any online resources that were terribly helpful. Most of the examples of secular ceremonies I was able to find just sounded too…fluffy and spiritual. It was like someone took a religious ceremony and hollowed it out. Rachel is right: in this case, Google is truly not your friend.

    So we finally just sat down and knocked out our ceremony together. It was paired down and utilitarian, but I think what gave it meaning for us was (1) it was a combined effort and (2) we worked really hard to make it communal. My oldest brother officiated (this was one of the best decisions we made, by the way). My sister-in-law did a reading. My husband’s aunt played the processional (Death Cab’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” on piano) and his cousin played the recessional (Warren Zevon’s “Searching for a Heart” on guitar).

    We didn’t write our own vows. Instead, we used an excerpt from a favorite poem that we repeated to one another. It’s certainly not the same as saying religious vows that generations of people before you have uttered, but I do think it helped us to feel a sense of history on our wedding day, of the context of our actions. I’m sure many of our guests were familiar with the poem (we also used it as one of our readings to make it clear that we hadn’t written the thing – you gotta cite your sources, after all). We felt we were repeating words that many different people had said and read and given meaning.

    Anyway, it worked out wonderfully. Our ceremony constituted twenty of the most amazing minutes of my life. It felt natural and meaningful. It didn’t feel lacking, or like we were trying to fill in a gap left by religion. I loved it.

    • LeahIsMyName

      Exactly!! Most of the examples online of “secular” wording are so flowery and fluffy, and always make references to “fate bringing you together.”

  • Marina

    I know it’s been mentioned before, but just wanted to echo that we also relied heavily on The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant. If nothing else, it provided a sense of just how many ways traditional blessings and structure could be interpreted, and in many cases inspired my husband and I to have really good talks about what wording it was important for us to have or not have and why.

    We relied heavily on our officiant for the structure and wording of most parts, though. I do think finding the right officiant is key. The reasons we chose ours were 1) familiarity with both of our backgrounds, 2) sense of humor, and 3) her answer to the question, “What was your favorite wedding ceremony you’ve performed?” We liked her before we asked her that, but her answer absolutely sold us (a lesbian Jewish-Buddhist wedding involving the couple’s son), and after that we felt comfortable trusting her entirely.

    One thing that surprised me was how much I enjoyed not saying anything other than the vows during the ceremony. I love public speaking and originally imagined the ceremony as something where I could read out my long, beautifully written vows… So at first I was disappointed when I realized the ceremony was going to be a performance by our officiant and readers, not by me and my husband. But it was immensely powerful when it actually happened–I felt buoyed by our community, like I was an observer of their love for us more than they were observers of our love for each other. In retrospect I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  • Sept Bride

    disclaimer – I am writing this comment before I read any of the others because I just want to get my experience out there without the distraction of wanting to comment on everything everyone else has said. :o) Sorry this is a novel.

    My husband and I are coming from the same place as Rachel (my name, too!!) and her husband in that we aren’t religious. We just aren’t. And we have been to too many wedding of similarly non-religious friends who had really religious ceremonies and it just felt wrong. Some included the religion as a nod to their upbringing, some did because their parents demanded it. (Sigh.) Weddings are about compromise and I definitely understand that, so I am not judging these other ceremonies, just adding some context so you will know why it felt wrong for us to go the traditional route.

    I am also writing this out because Meg is right. Coming up with a unique, non-traditional ceremony that will feel like a wedding, give people something to relate to, and – above all – feel like YOU, is really, really, really hard. My husband and I spent hours struggling over the script, the officiants, the readings, the poems (he picked his by reading several aloud in the car on the way to the rehearsal), the vows, and on and on and on. Hours. But in the end we had a ceremony that was (I think!) beautiful, heartfelt, and very, very representative of who we are as a couple. Since the ceremony, we have gotten tons of compliments of the “realness” and “intimacy” of our ceremony. Those compliments are the most treasured of any we have received about our wedding, because the ceremony was by far the most important and time-consuming element.

    Our ceremony went something like this:
    Processional (“On and On and On” by Wilco*)
    Welcome, the meaning of marriage, community vow of support (Officiant 1**)
    Reading (Officiants 2 and 3)***
    Bride and Groom Exchange of Poems****
    Vows, Ring Exchange, and Handfasting (Officiant 4 and 5)*****
    Reading (Officiants 6 and 7) (“Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess)
    Announcement of Marriage, Kiss (Officiant 1)
    Recessional (“I Got You” by James Brown******)

    *which my mother HATED. She said it was too sad and would make our wedding too depressing. We used it anyway and kept the rest of our ceremony a secret from our parents until the big day. I think that made it more emotional for them, and it saved us from any more unwanted opinions.
    **we did not have a wedding party, but really wanted to include our closest friends in our wedding. I was also vehemently against having an officiant that did not know us. Enter brilliant idea. We had several officiants – our main (i.e. legal) officiant was my husband’s childhood best friend – who introduced us and could speak directly about our relationship in his parts of the ceremony, and we asked several of our married friends to give readings together. Having couples participate in our wedding felt like being welcomed into a club, in a really good way.
    ***We used the Apache blessing. I KNOW! But we loved it and properly cited it’s origins.
    ****We stole this from Officiants 3 and 4’s wedding. I read “Patagonia” by Kate Clanchy, which I originally found on APW and knew instantly I wanted to include in my wedding.
    *****My husband’s family is Scottish, so we loved the idea of doing a Celtic handfasting as part of our ceremony. We had one of the officiants read a variation of that really lovely “Hands” poem while the other wrapped our hands in a tie made from the remnants of my dress.
    ******This was a nod to my parents, who used this as their recessional. I wanted to do something to show continuity between generations, and my parents loved it. :o)

    One more note – on vows: We used a slightly tweaked version of the traditional wedding vows. For exactly the reasons Meg has articulated here before. We had our officiants say “In exchanging wedding vows today, X and X acknowledge that their commitment joins them to a tradition of marriage that is thousands of years old. As a tribute to this covenant and to the generations of people who have stood in this place before them, X and X have chosen to recite traditional wedding vows.”

    Finally, although we spent months and many, many hours deciding who would officiate, what they would read, what our vows would say, etc. the actual wedding script came together surprisingly quickly. One day – after reading APW – I was thinking a lot about what marriage means to me and our community (my husband and I were together for 6+ years before getting married, and I was not sure we would ever take the step of making it legal) and why I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my husband. I sat down and started writing. With very few edits, we used the script I wrote that day.

    Best of luck to all of you taking this path. I would not have changed our ceremony for the world.

    • Sept Bride

      Agh. I just realized that my comment about our processional music sounds like I was being disrespectful to our parents. Not the case. Both of our parents were very open about the wedding – and especially the ceremony – needing to be about US, not their preconceived notions of what a wedding should look like. I realize how incredibly lucky this makes us. I also know that our mothers cannot.help.themselves. They must offer opinions on everything. My husband and I knew we had done a good job on our ceremony and were really proud of it, so we wanted our parents to see it in it’s real form, not on a piece of paper or being blocked out in rehearsal.

    • Dude. I *love* the idea of having multiple officiants.

  • ej

    Most of you may have seen this in the indie bride archives, it was very useful for me:

  • Miranda Tejon

    We used a Write Your Own Wedding Ceremony E-Kit http://www.lyssabeths.com/write_your_own_wedding_ceremony_book.html

    It’s probably similar to the book mentioned by Miss Fancy Pants, but I liked that it was an online resource–I’m sort of a green freak, plus it was easy to copy and paste all of our choices. There were a ton of sample ceremonies along with some tips for the amateur officiant, which was great cuz there was a lot of things we hadn’t considered. It also came with some coaching from an experienced officiant, but honestly, it was so straightforward, that we didn’t bother to do that.

    The choices were varied and had some things I hadn’t heard of. I didn’t think any of it was cheezy, but then again I can be pretty schmaltzy myself, so I might not be a good judge. We inserted a Bowl of Blessings, which I had never heard of, but everyone got to participate and I had tons of compliments on it afterward.

    My uncle got ordained through the Internet and the ceremony was great! (Except for our doggy ring bearer who took off during the ceremony, but what the heck–that was the only problem we had and my cousin was able to finally grab him and take him for a walk to cool his doggy heels!) We didn’t have any mention of God–which fortunately for us, our parents were cool with. I’m so glad we took the time to make our ceremony all about us. We might have been able to find this stuff on the Internet, but quite frankly, we didn’t have the time to spend hours surfing for pieces here and there. For $20, it was all right in front of us with a worksheet, samples and a how-to.

    • Tiffany

      We used this too. It was great! I wanted more than just readings to make my ceremony unique. (no offense to those of you who like readings–we just wanted something more interactive). I really liked the Ceremony of the Elements–it was much more unique than the sand ceremony, which where I live (on the ocean) is done at practically every wedding I go to. Thank you very much, Trista and Ryan, but enough is enough!

  • Whitney

    I am going to make my first APW comment in support of Google, because I think you can find resources that can become meaningful for you or you might find readings, etc. that you forgot about using it. Or at least that’s my personal experience from writing our ceremony. I’m not really sure how to describe our ceremony, but it included aspects of God and that presence without forcing my beliefs on anyone, particularly my fiance (now husband) as he is a nonbeliever. We also had a literary/book-themed wedding, so we tried to incorporate that into our readings and music instead of solely focusing on religious readings and hymns. One of my favorite readings/prayers was found by searching literary wedding readings–it was a wedding prayer written by Robert Louis Stevenson (even though they spelled his name wrong . . .) that really worked for our ceremony that I may not have found otherwise. We also went through search results for wedding vows to find and combine vows that really reflected what we wanted for our ceremony and also found our wedding message core message through searching. Even though these didn’t necessarily have meaning in our lives before our wedding, they reflected our ideals of marriage and what we wanted to have people get from our wedding, and thus do have meaning. HOWEVER, I think you definitely need to examine the results and take the time to go through them, and also, you do need to rely on what is meaningful to you in your non-googled life, as well, and perhaps do a combo–for example. I had a poem I’d always wanted read at my wedding (Desiderata) that was also read at my cousin’s wedding, that I couldn’t imagine not using. Just my two cents on finding readings, and that it is possible to find meaninful things if you search smartly.

  • Carrie

    I need to post our secular ceremony under a Creative Commons license, actually. I was really happy with it and would like to share it.

    Believe it or not, I actually found The Knot Guide To Wedding Vows And Traditions to be a reasonable starting point. It gave me a sense of some possible frameworks. I also participated in a wedding-planning community where people would often share their ceremonies, and picked up a few ideas that way. Starting from some examples (but not feeling bound to them) makes the whole process easier.

    Mostly, I brainstormed about what themes we really wanted in our ceremony. Family and community support of our marriage were the biggest ones for us. That was the reason why we had a wedding with friends and family there — we wanted them to share in our marriage because they are part of our lives. We also knew we wanted to begin with a statement about what marriage meant to us, one that was explicit about our belief in marriage equality and what we believe about the purpose of marriage in the community. That gave a natural progression to the ceremony: definition of marriage; our vows to each other; family vows with our parents; and vows to our wider community about how we would live as a married couple.

    From there, I wrote from the heart about what we really wanted to say and promise out loud. I also put readings and songs at points in the ceremony where I thought it was important to pause and meditate for a few minutes on the meaning of what had been said and done.

    I knew I wanted to include some ritual that symbolized the participation of our friends and family in our lives and marriage. I considered a candle-lighting ceremony — where everyone would have a candle, and would light each other’s candles, ending up with us lighting ours — but eventually settled on a ring-warming ceremony instead. We tied our rings together on a ribbon and asked our guests to pass them around, offering whatever thoughts, intentions, or prayers they wished, before we exchanged rings. People really liked that element of the ceremony.

    In the end, the order of our ceremony was like this:

    Welcome and Introduction
    Definition of Marriage — we had an excerpt from “Goodridge v. Dept of Health” as a reading for this part. It truly defines what marriage means to us, as well as being a pro-marriage-equality statement.
    Couple’s Vows — we used the standard “for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, from this day forward until death do us part” wording. It said what we wanted to say, and it resonated with tradition in a good way for us.
    Reading about the meaning of marriage in the couple’s relationship — from “The Irrational Season” by Madeleine L’Engle — it’s become a wedding standard, but it’s one of my mother’s favorite books, and we asked her to do this reading.
    Ring Warming Ceremony — with the song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn” played as the guests passed the rings (the one with lyrics from Ecclesiastes). This was as close as we came to a Bible reading; we both think this passage from Ecclesiastes is beautiful and true.
    Ring Ceremony — where we exchanged rings
    Family Vows — we asked our parents to stand up with us, thanked them for all they had given us and taught us, and we vowed to continue to love and support each other together as a family.
    Community Vows — we vowed to live our values of peace and compassion as a married couple. We also had our officiant ask if anyone wanted to stand up and offer any wishes, intentions, prayers, etc. — I was sad that no one did.
    Final reading, one describing our general principles and how we want to live — we chose the Lovingkindness Meditation, adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village Chanting Book, since both of us agree with Buddhist philosophy
    Pronouncement and kiss!

    • We’re still writing our ceremony (wedding is next summer), but we’ve come up with something similar in order to incorporate my children.

      Welcome (We’re not doing a processional, so we’re going to greet our guests and then our officiant, my brother, is going to make an announcement to let everyone know that we’re starting)
      Definition of marriage — We’re using a mix of definitions from case law on marriage equality
      Reading #1 —
      Reading #2 — I like you (read by my daughter and niece, unless they chicken out)
      Couple’s vows/poems — We’ll each have something nice to say to one another and then exchange promises
      Ring exchange
      Signing of the marriage license — We’re not having a wedding party, so we’re choosing our witnesses to represent our besties
      Definition of family — We haven’t narrowed this down yet, but it’s important to us that we define our family for my kids
      Reading #3 — This will be a reading about family
      Family vows — My fiance will make promises to my children and give them each a small keepsake
      Family sand ceremony — We’re modifying the language from the sand ceremony so that there is no implication that the individuals are subsumed by the family, but we generally like the symbolism, and our young children will love having a pretty sand bottle to look at (I’m also going to let them fill their own little bottles to keep in their rooms).
      Community Vow
      Pronouncement & Kiss
      All guests asked to sign a keepsake Quaker-style marriage certificate

    • Annie

      Hi Carrie –

      I’d love to incorporate a pro-marriage equality reading into our ceremony; could you please tell me which excerpt from Goodrich you used? Thanks!

    • Alyssa

      Hi Carrie, I’m officiating my best friend’s wedding this summer, and the way in which you’ve described your wedding ceremony really resonates with me and I believe the values that my friends share. Would you mind sharing your ceremony with me? Thanks!

  • we’re only just beginning to figure out our ceremony, but i feel like we’ve got some good ideas for a middle-ground sort of ceremony – and a lot more resources from all y’all!

    we’re not religious, but i totally respect that religion is important to people who are important to us (her step-dad is a minister, after all!). we are also fairly traditional, but a little weird and (oh yeah!) gay, so it won’t be a legal ceremony either. so, to me the ceremony is really, really all about community.

    as such, i think we are going to have some friends and/or family do “surprise readings” – passages they choose themselves and don’t tell us about. the idea of having our loved ones shape our ceremony like that makes me kind of giddy. (plus -giant aside – i think we’ll be having her step-dad do one of them, which will allow him to choose a biblical passage if he likes. i don’t want to be “married in the eyes of god” or any other religious promises on our part, because they simply wouldn’t be true. in the same way, if *we* chose a religious passage, it would feel like a lame attempt at conciliation. but! there are beautiful things in religious texts, and i think having it chosen and read by someone who *does* believe it gives it a truth and weight that will make it a meaningful part of the ceremony. even were it the same words.)

    the other thing i’m excited about is an idea for tweaking the “i pronounce you” part. generally, i think, in a religious ceremony it is something like “by the power vested in me by god i now pronounce you…”* so, you can go secular by replacing “god” with “the state of arkansas” or what-have-you, but we are not going to be married in the eyes of god or the state. however, i like the traditional phraseology, so i am thinking or replacing “god/state” with “this community” or something similar, because that is really what *our* marriage is going to be about.

    *the ellipsis is because i’ve no idea what to be pronounced. i’m thinking “unlawfully wedded wives,” but i don’t want her mother to have a heart attack =D

    • Carrie

      While “unlawfully wedded wives” is AWESOME, you could always go with “I now pronounce you married” to reduce the chance of cardiac arrest :)

    • I love the idea to cite the community as the authority. I also love “unlawfully wedded wives” but…yeah, I see your concern. I am not 100% sure of my memory on this, but I think at my friends’ (legal, in their case, yay Massachusetts) ceremony a couple of years ago that part was phrased “by the power vested [yadayada] I pronounce that you are indeed married, and are now each husband to the other.” Something like that?

    • meg

      You don’t have to be pronounced anything. That’s not done in jewish ceremonys (religiously) and since we didn’t change our names we didn’t want it done in a secular way, so we didn’t do it.

      How it worked for us is we said our vows early, then kissed and moved right on to the next thing (that’s how it works in Jewish weddings), and then at the end we broke the glass (again, jewish wedding) and kissed, and everyone sang Siman Tov and Mazel Tov and that was that.

      So! Always remember, if something is not working for you, you don’t have to make it work, you can ditch it.

    • Sarabeth

      “Spouses for life” or just “married” are popular options I’ve seen in California (mostly among het couples who want to signal support for marriage equality).

    • I also really want a pronouncement, but didn’t know how to write that for our lesbian wedding. I decided that “newlywed” subs in nicely for “husband and wife.” Maybe you could do something like:

      “In the presence of these witnesses, you have spoken the words and preformed the rites that unite your lives. Lady Brett and her partner, I now pronounce you newlywed in the sight of your family, your friends, and your community. You may now kiss the bride!”

  • The tiger dog! I died of the hilarity!

    • ka

      yessss, so glad to see that referenced! hahahahaha

  • I’d like to echo what Rachel said. My husband and I were in the same boat – not religious at all. We wanted a ceremony that felt like us, but we didn’t want to offend any of our guests, including some very religious ones (for example, my uncle is a minister) as well as some LGBT couples (we tried to stay away from gender specifics). We started by thinking of how we wanted our guests to feel during the ceremony. While we were obviously doing something pretty profound with our lives in that moment, we knew we’d also be grinning like fools – so we chose joy. Joy was the theme of the ceremony, and from the opening remarks, to the “Let’s Get It On” recessional, we tailored everything to fit that theme. We followed a similar structure to Rachel’s and used the readings to create a flow. We had two readings – Bob Dylan lyrics (our first real date was a Dylan concert so we had to include a shout-out to the man that brought us together) read by my grandmother, which was both touching and hilarious (picture Mommom going “uh huh, yeah”) and the “Love is the ultimate outlaw” quote from Still Life With Woodpecker (one of the first books Kevin shared with me), which led into our “I do”s (i.e. “Kevin, do you take Melinda to be your lawfully wedded accomplice? Do you promise to always watch her back, never rat her out, and work together to reach your goals, no matter what life throws at you?”). We wrote our own vows, and surprised each other with them. They turned out to be a good balance of funny and sincere. Afterward, we got so many compliments on how authentic and happy the ceremony was, that we felt very happy with our decision to do a non-traditional ceremony. Another bonus was that our personalities showed through – given that I hadn’t met many of his relatives and he hadn’t met many of mine, it was a big step in terms of everyone gaining familiarity with each other.

    Anyway, I’m happy to share the ceremony with anyone who needs some inspiration for a non-traditional ceremony. I remember being at a loss when I first started to construct it (and wasn’t really able to find anything helpful online, but I may have missed some of the above resources), so I’m happy to help out any APW readers! Email me if you’d like: melinda.gilbert (at) gmail.com

    All in all, I think if you and your partner clarify what is most important for you to convey in the ceremony, and then stay true to yourselves and that message, your guests will feel it and then you can’t go wrong. Best of luck!

  • Pamela

    I’m so glad you posted this, Meg! Thanks.

    The ceremony was something I struggled with too – I was raised devoutely Protestant Christian, converting to Eastern Orthodox church in my teen years; my man was kind of raised Catholic and he has Jewish roots. Now, for a lot of reasons, neither one of us is devout at all; I’m not sure what our “label” would be – agnostic, maybe, but in any case we wanted a secular ceremony. We met with our officient, who is a judge, and I guess we didn’t make that clear enough to him. He sent us a sample ceremony that began and ended with a Christian prayer. I didn’t feel right about including that, since I’m not a believer. So, my man and I re-wrote the whole thing together, which was an awesome experience. I did a lot of googling, and I also scoured the indie bride thread of readings and vows, and we played with what I found there until we came up with something that felt right.

    Even though I’m not religious/devout any more, I wanted to include something that felt like a blessing – something that reminded me of the Psalms (for a lot of personal reasons, I didn’t feel right including a reading from the actual Psalms – yes, I have a lot of religious baggage!). I found this poem, and it just seemed to click for me – a secular blessing, if you will. It’s attributed to Rumi:

    May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
    May it be sweet milk,
    this marriage, like wine and halvah.
    May this marriage offer fruit and shade
    like the date palm.
    May this marriage be full of laughter,
    our every day a day in paradise.
    May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
    a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
    May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
    an omen as welcome
    as the moon in a clear blue sky.

    • Sarah M

      Eric Whitacre put these words to music. 4 of my best people performed it at our wedding last weekend and it was beyond beautiful. I also was part of singing it at another friends wedding a few years ago.


      • Pamela

        That is gorgeous! I had no idea – thanks for sharing the link.

        (I’m totally wishing I knew people who could sing that…sigh. I love choral music)

    • Alex

      Two dear friends of my family read this poem at my wedding a year ago. The husband of this couple–a sweet, gentle man who I consider my godfather–is Pakistani by birth and loves to recite Rumi from memory. He recited the Wedding Blessing in Persian, then his wife recited it in English. We had asked them to choose a Rumi poem to read for us, but they kept their choice a secret until our wedding day, so that the first time I heard these words was when I was standing under our huppah, looking at the man I was marrying. It was an incredibly moving part of the ceremony.

  • we just went through this. we both grew up methodist, but have come to agnosticism on our own, very different paths. writing our own ceremony was the obvious way to go, but it was hard to figure out how to do it. if anyone is interested in what we ended up doing, it’s here.


  • Diana

    We had a completely secular ceremony, as my husband is a major lapsed Catholic who was leery of even a cross on the wall (fortunately, there was no religious iconography anywhere in the chapel we chose!). It was hard to figure out what to do, because we wanted something short, heartfelt, simple, and beautifully worded (we’re both writers and theatre people).

    My advice when planning a ceremony is: look to what you already have and know, whether it’s your favorite philosophy book, your favorite poems, your favorite nonfiction story, your officiant (ours was my husband’s best friend, who has done several weddings before and was great at helping us out). Our entire ceremony was based on a wedding ceremony in a book by one of my favorite authors. Ok, ok–most of it was word-for-word exact. The book is ‘Dark Moon Defender’ by Sharon Shinn; it’s a small wedding, just two main characters surrounded by their friends, who promise to support and love the wedded pair throughout their lives. It was perfect, and no one has to know it came from a fantasy novel!

  • birdandbeef

    Our family runs the gamut of religiosity – very observant Anglican grandmother, oddly Catholic but bohemian step-mother, atheist Dad who joked that he would leave if the ceremony ran more than five minutes (it did – he didn’t). My husband and I are both secular humanists, and I am painfully stubborn about not being forced to express a faith that I don’t have (the product of going to a Sacred Heart school for my elementary education), while still wanting to honor family preferences. It was a lot of people to keep happy. I loved our ceremony, thanks largely to our officiant. I can’t emphasize how important it is to find the right celebrant (and I’m happy to provide his name if anyone in New York is looking) . Our officiant met with us twice before hand, and helped a lot with the ceremony structure. He also really GOT us, our sense of humor and understood what we’re about. He has a Masters in Divinity but respected our choice to have a completely secular ceremony. So here it is:

    Processional: A Chloris, by Reynaldo Hahn (This was sung by an opera singer friend. It was so lovely)
    Habitation – Margaret Atwood
    Excerpts from An Epithalamion – Tony Kushner (interpreted to have two voices by a married couple who we really admire. She’s an actor, he’s a shy artist. They killed it.)
    Marriage Address
    Exchange of Vows
    Exchange of Rings
    Community Vow – we were married in an art space with a layout that was essentially like theatre in the round. Our officiant walked into the middle of the room to do our community vow. It was unexpected and incredibly moving.
    Recessional – I’m the Man Who Loves You – Wilco

  • I have a lot of thoughts about putting together the wedding ceremony itself, but perhaps sharing this experience of how we found our officiant will be most helpful: We went back and forth a lot about who should officiate our wedding–we really wanted someone who knew us and could make the whole wedding feel personal, but we didn’t really like the whole get-your-friend-to-sign-up-as-an-officiant-online-with-the-Universal-Life-Church phenomenon (both because the “Church” part didn’t sit so well with me and because it just didn’t feel like us). And although we have a friend who’s a minister at a liberal church, my family is Jewish, and I just wasn’t comfortable with having a minister as an officiant. And my husband wasn’t totally comfortable with having a rabbi either (and there were no rabbis around these parts who we knew and loved anyway). So, that led me to some internet searching about who was legally certified to marry people in the state of Wisconsin. I found this page: http://www.countyofdane.com/clerk/civil_wedding.aspx (there are probably ones like it in most sates). It had this long list of judges and court commissioners and other folks “who were willing to perform ceremonies” and I just thought, “where do I begin?!” So then I just called the main number listed on that clerk’s office website, figuring that receptionists have a pretty good inside scoop. A nice woman answered the phone. I explained my situation and asked her “If you could have a cup of tea with any of these folks, which ones would you pick?” She gave me a couple of names, telling me about how kind they were, how they always stop to chat, how they bring in baked things on their birthdays to share with everyone in the office. These sounded just like my kinds of people. I then googled both names she gave me, and found that one of them (bonus: the woman!) was Jewish, played flute in a community orchestra, had three children, and was a lawyer involved in social justice work. All around, pretty cool.
    So, then I called her office we set up a meeting with her, and although we had never met before, because she came so highly recommended and because I’d done this preliminary research, my husband and I hit it off with her right away. Since we wanted to write the ceremony ourselves anyway, she just offered some ideas about what has worked well in the past and told us the legal stuff she had to include. Otherwise, it was all on us!
    She turned out to be a perfect officiant–kind, willing to do what we wanted, and very much on top of things. Despite one small cringe-worthy moment (she referred to two colors in our wedding–yellow and green–as “Packers colors”), she was everything we’d hoped for. She even teared up a little during the ceremony and said, “This is the most moving ceremony I’ve ever been a part of, and though I’ve only known Anna and Justin a short while, if the thoughtfulness and emotion they’ve put into this ceremony is any indication, I’m sure they’ll have long and happy lives together.”

    • LeahIsMyName

      I wish I’d read this before we’d found our officiant. I was kind of flailing around in the deep end, since I’m not religious, I don’t live in the city where I’m getting married, and it’s also Oklahoma, which is pretty conservative. (Okay, it’s REALLY conservative!)

      I just hope that she works out all right.

      Here’s something strange that she told me, though. According to her, the court dockets are so full (in the Tulsa area at least) that judges aren’t even performing marriages anymore, unless you happen to know one personally. So weddings almost have to be performed by either ministers/rabbis/priests, or people like her (independent non-denominational types).

      Anybody find this weird?

  • Katelyn

    Can we talk about fun music? Because I found this group the other day, called Vitamin String Quartet. Vitamin String Quartet takes pop/rock/punk music and translates it to strings. Coming from a really traditional family, but wanting to have a little fun when I do get married, I think they’re the perfect way to combine the two.

    Here are some examples of songs I might want at my (not in the near future) ceremony:

    “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks
    “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard
    “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey
    “Today” by Smashing Pumpkins

    They do Lady Gaga, Madonna, Blue October, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Offspring…. they have about a million albums (under both “Vitamin String Quartet” and “Vitamin Records Presents”).

    Since most of the discussion has been about readings, and music is equally if not more important in a ceremony to me, I thought I’d pitch in!

    • Heather

      I just recently discovered them to via my fiances pandora page! I would love to talk offbeat types of music for weddings…lets get more ideas…or is this a different post lol :)

  • Sarah

    We loved Ms. Cherry Pie’s handwritten ceremony script that she posted on weddingbee. We used it as a starting point. First we edited it to reflect us. Then our officiant edited it to reflect her style. It was fab.

    • I remember reading that one when I was doing research on this. I liked the idea of the communal commitment that we did that too. :)

  • FM

    My friends had a completely secular and non-traditional-feeling ceremony. Their vows were little performances they did for each other that they kept secret from each other. The groom performed an amazing song (not original, even though this guy does write original songs) and opened it saying that he was going to perform a song that describes his feelings better than anything he could ever write himself. And then all the groom’s musician friends who’d been hiding from the bride with their instruments came down the aisle to join them (and the bride gasped “you hid drums!”). The bride called her best friend (also actress) up to read their email exchanges from just before and after the bride and groom’s first date, which the bride had never deleted from her emails. Which were hilarious. And then she turned to the groom and told him off the cuff how the feelings described in the email exchange are still with her and have grown. And I swear I cried more during her performance than I’ve ever cried at any other wedding – so honest, and raw. Just thought some folks especially who are performer types might be inspired by these choices. Never would have worked for me, but was amazing for them.

  • Sarah

    Oh… and for music, we asked my amazing singer/songwriter friend to play the banjo for the processional and recessional and to sing an original song in the middle. The day before the wedding she and another good friend of mine who plays the guitar were having an impromptu jam session and she just told him that he’s be accompanying her. I didn’t even know they had decided on that until I was walking down the aisle! It was pretty great, actually.

    And for the reading, we had my grandmother, who is a poet, write a poem for the occasion and read it. It was really beautiful… super mondo tears. She also, behind our back, wrote a the lyrics for a song and had our singer/songwriter friend put it to music. She sang it at the reception and it was sort of out of this world awesome.

  • jen

    Yes! I love this post. I wish i had it when I was planning my wedding. (I barely escaped from an officiant who offered to sing while our guests entered)

    The “The Wedding Ceremony Planner” mentioned above really helped me, as it explained how the standard framework works and how to adjust it to be your own. After reading the book I was ready to try and write our own ceremony, but my husband was still uncomfortable with the idea. I didn’t feel like doing it myself, so we ended up hiring an officiant/celebrant to help us write our ceremony. We also used google with several tablespoons of salt.

    We used google docs to share the ceremony between us, my cousin who officiated, and the woman who helped us write it.

    fwiw, http://www.celebrantinstitute.org/ is a collection of non religious officiants, some more out there than others. The woman we used was our kind of crazy, so that worked out.

    We used Vitamin String Quartet versions of some of our favorite songs for the music. You can listen to snippets of songs on amazon, some sound better than others when played by a string quartet.

    My husband’s very catholic grandmother apparently leaned over and asked his mother if what we were doing was legal, but everyone else seemed to enjoy the ceremony. :)

    my favorite part of the ceremony was at the end
    To Jen:
    “and You may kiss the groom.”

    • Katelyn

      “some sound better than others when played by a string quartet.”

      Yeah… although, Lady Gaga translates surprisingly well to strings.

  • ka

    I only just skimmed the comments right now, and I can already tell this post is going to be a godsend when we get down to the creation of our secular ceremony. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I have a question, and it may be a teensy bit off-topic, but it’s starting to *really* stress me out and this post seems as good a time as any to throw it out there. So,
    Has anybody had/is having massive ceremony stage fright? As in, I read what is often said here about weddings being about community, and including them in your ceremony, and taking your vows in front of them and asking their support of your new marriage…and I get really, really anxious. We’re choosing between a small (20 guest) destination wedding and a larger (50+) hometown wedding. And as much as I want friends and family around me to celebrate our marriage, the thought of saying the intense and personal things I’d like to have in a ceremony in front of the extended group–bosses, distant relatives, less-close friends, etc. sounds just awful. I mean, I don’t want to cry (and I’m so going to cry) in front of those people! But I don’t think that means they shouldn’t be included at all… But I’m afraid if there are people there I’m not 100% comfortable around, then I’m going to hold back in experiencing the ceremony, and even take it less then seriously in an attempt to keep my sh*t together.

    So, thoughts? Maybe someone is going to come back and tell me that this chosen community doesn’t have to be a certain number of people? And almost definitely someone is going to say if certain things make me anxious I shouldn’t read them, but I also think this is an issue I need to confront sooner rather than later…

    • Katelyn

      I think this is totally on-topic! Having a ceremony that is thoughtful and tailored also includes your comfort level of being in a crowd. I’m not going to be super-helpful in that “I’ve been there” way, because, well, I’ve spent WAY too much time on a theater stage to ever dream of being nervous in front of a crowd. But my now-sister-in-law is exactly like you. So. Here’s are my suggestions:

      1. Medication. If this anxiety is pervasive and all-encompassing and is related to lots of things, not just the ceremony, a prescription might help. I took Zoloft during a really stressful time in my life – and it really, really, really helped. Not in a personality-changing way. But more like- in situations when I use to feel that weird, “squeezing” nervous feeling, I didn’t. Of course, if meds totally turn you off, I understand that too. Which brings me to:

      2. Thinking VERY carefully about positioning/wording during the ceremony. What exactly makes you nervous? Standing in front of a crowd in general? Or just when you’re facing the crowd? Walking down the aisle? Speaking aloud? If it’s just looking at all the people that makes you nervous, maybe try seating people in a circle instead of a group. Or if it’s speaking- you don’t have to read or recite anything, except for maybe a couple “I will”s or “I do”s.

      3. Really small ceremony, big(ger) reception. Don’t feel like everyone you want to celebrate your wedding with has to be at the ceremony. Lots and lots of people have a much smaller ceremony, and then everyone at the reception. Consider having video taken or more photos than usual of the ceremony to share with people who weren’t there.

      4. Finally- it’s ok to cry, and “ugly cry”, at your ceremony. I think it’s kind of beautiful that such an emotional response is triggered. But if it would really bug you to cry, there are lots of techniques you can practice in advance, like breathing, relaxation, and if necessary, subtle tear-wiping :)

    • LeahIsMyName

      Completely valid! I’m a very shy person, so the thought of saying all this emotional stuff in front of everybody TERRIFIES me.

      So here’s now I solved it. I wrote our vows so that the officiant asks us a series of questions. For example “will you always work at making your relationship stronger?” (or something like that). We will respond together: “We will.”

      Basically I just turned statements into questions. This way, we’re answering together, and we don’t have to speak a whole lot. I wrote a one sentence ring vow, though, that we’ll each say individually as we ring each other. (Can’t remember right now, but hopefully I will at the time!!)

    • Sept Bride

      For what it’s worth, I worried A LOT about stage fright before the ceremony, especially because we were putting so much of ourselves out there. But you know what? On the actual day, at the actual time, all I was focused on was my husband’s smile and the way his hands felt in mine. The rest of the people just disappeared.

      • FM

        Totally agree. I was terribly nervous right before (I kind of freaked out a little and there are pictures of me hanging on my husband’s neck before the ceremony that look very sweet but are really mostly that my insides were turning to mush and he calms me down). But when we were up there, we turned toward each other, and we grabbed each others’ hands and looked almost exclusively at each other, and other than feeling the love of the people up there on stage with us (which was a surprise to me, as a person who didn’t initially want the stress of a wedding party, to palpably feel that support and love up there) I didn’t notice much of anything except our happiness and my husband’s presence and the words of the ceremony. We didn’t say a lot during our ceremony, which helped. You can do it! And I agree that if speaking makes you nervous, don’t feel bad limiting it.

        • meg

          Can I just say, y’all, as someone who has spent a lot of time on stage – you’re not on stage when you get married. Where you are standing isn’t a stage, getting married isn’t a performance. It’s a ritual, and you’re experiencing it in community with the people who you asked there to be your witnesses. They are not watching, either (ideally), they are participating by witnessing and supporting.

          Now, I don’t expect that to take away your stage fright. But maybe you can start thinking of it as “ritual fright.” That might put it in a better context for you. Because UM YEAH! Being scared of a life-changing ritual is totally normal. But that way you’re not thinking of it as a public-speaking kind of thing.

          I mean, I love public-speaking. I’d do it every day if I could. But getting married is nothing like public speaking. And I’m very glad I didn’t go to my public-speaking-performance-headspace for it, where I’m on and I’m funny and I’m there to give you a good show. I went to this very internalized, very present, feel-it-as-it-comes place. Which is very different (and very intense) and part of the reason I don’t ever want to do it again. I was there, I showed up, I experienced it, it was intense, I know what it felt like, and that was exactly enough.

    • ka

      thanks guys, this helped, especially the ‘it will all disappear when you get up there’ parts. i think my fear is less about getting up in front of a group and speaking, etc. and more about presenting something incredibly personal that we will undoubtedly slave over in front of an audience. like, if we were doing a religious ceremony that was only picking some readings and repeating the standard vows i wouldn’t be nervous. i also wouldn’t be doing what i wanted, haha.

      i also don’t want a traditional wedding party, but fm’s mention of moral support might just make me reconsider, that or sept bride’s multi-officiant approach, which i love…

      i think the small ceremony/bigger reception might wind up being the solution…either that or sucking it up and hoping i don’t notice the audience on the day! this said by the woman who, as a 3-yr flower girl, bailed halfway down the aisle when she saw all those eyes on her, running crying down a pew to her mom. i’m not so sure i’ve gotten over this, as i haven’t had a shot at a redo…

      • meg

        Lady, as discussed last week, doing a religious service can be SUPER personal and feel super naked. It wouldn’t to you, because it wouldn’t be you. But when it IS you, OH MY GOD it’s intense and soul baring. To me, easy and not-personal would have been a secular service that we wrote ourselves. I would have felt like, “ehhh, what’s the big deal? Just a bunch of words” But that’s because it wouldn’t have had much to do with me. That’s why it’s important for people to feel empowered to select a service that works for them.

        BUT, but. When you’re doing something really personal to you, traditional or not, your guests Get It, and they immediately know that they are there as witnesses and support. They become part of the moment, part of the ritual that is happening. They are experiencing it with you, not watching you experience it. And that is part of what’s amazing and liberating and enveloping.

        • ka

          I just “Exactly”-ed this (though I dunno if you were intending to disagree with me), because what you said was exactly my point: I (speaking for myself only) could easily go through the motions of a religious service, because it would be just that, going through the motions! And of course it would feel the opposite or something altogether different for someone else. Essentially what you’ve now said much more eloquently.

          But yes, I want us to have a ritual that is intense and soul baring and amazing and liberating and enveloping and all those excellent adjectives, I just don’t feel comfortable sharing those feelings with a large group of witnesses. And I’m having trouble getting past feeling like I *should* be OK with that, because that’s just how weddings are, you’re supposed to invite everyone you love, etc.

          • meg

            You should be sharing those feelings with the people that you feel right sharing them with. Focus less on the number, and more on who should be there (and then realize there will always be some hangers on, and that’s ok, because they end up participating in this intense ritual with you, which makes them feel like family for a few moments and it’s fine). Don’t cut out people that matter to you because XX number is too many, and don’t add on people you don’t want there because you feel like you SHOULD want more people.

            And remember, they are not going to be watching you do anything, they are going to be experancing something with you. Have who you need to have there (and the people that those closest to you need to have there). I swear, if you make decisions that way, it will work itself out on the day of.

          • p.

            KA – I felt like just as you describe. I wanted to celebrate with family and friends, but I didn’t feel like I needed to declare my love or my commitment in front of a big group of friends and family (although I love reading about how meaningful that is for many of the people here on APW). We handled this by having two ceremonies: we went to City Hall with our immediate family and had a very moving, emotional exchange of vows two days before our wedding. We then had a ceremony at our wedding with friends and family. Because we checked off the legal stuff at City Hall, we got to create a personal ceremony that didn’t need to meet any requirements (for example – our dads officiated but weren’t deputized). We still had readings and an exchange of rings and promised to be loving and equal partners, but we didn’t have formal vows or ‘do you take this person to be…?’.

            Even though California only recognizes our City Hall ceremony, both ceremonies are totally valid to us. City Hall was special because it was private and intimate, and our wedding ceremony was special to us because it felt very us, and because all our friends and family were there with us.

            Another option is what my coworker’s daughter did at her wedding: she and her husband said their vows in front of everyone at their wedding, but not loud enough for everyone to hear.

            Just want you to know all the different options out there and that you are certainly not alone.

          • ka

            Thanks P and Meg, that really helps, you have no idea. I especially like the city hall idea, which is something we were leaning towards so we could have more flexibility with officiants, etc. (and so I could wear a short dress and gallivant on the subway), but what a wonderful way to imbue it with much more meaning and take some of the pressure of the big(ger) ceremony.

        • From someone who IS writing a personal, non-religious ceremony, I agree with this wholeheartedly. A religious ceremony filled with traditional words I hear all the time but don’t necessarily take to heart would not mean nearly the same thing as it does to be spending time collecting readings and writing and editing our ceremony so that it talks about who we were, who we are, and who we want to be as a family.

          To me, a religious ceremony would be meh, just a bunch of words. But words carefully chosen and agreed upon by us — those mean something.

          • meg

            Sarah, please be careful. You’re coming close to making light of really awesome things that other people do because they are right for them. Religious words might to mean something TO YOU, and that’s great. Religious words did mean something to me, where as non-traditional words would just be “a bunch of words” to me. That’s why we each are making decisions that are right for us.

    • Marina

      I just wanted to address what you said about people being there who you weren’t 100% comfortable around. For me, there’s a difference between people I’m actively uncomfortable around (and they should not be at your wedding) and people I just don’t really know very well or aren’t particularly close to. There were several of the latter at my wedding, and I was really truly surprised at how valuable I felt it was having members of my extended community there as well as the people I knew and loved best. It was very powerful feeling how much my community loved and supported me and my husband, that even the people we didn’t know well were there to wish us well.

      You don’t have to say private things in public. You can say some things to your husband, before or after the wedding, and say completely different, equally meaningful, and more public things during the wedding. You don’t have to go for a gut-punch to make your ceremony meaningful.

  • Molly

    We let our guests create most of our secular, non-traditional ceremony on the spot, in a Quaker-style self-uniting ceremony. Background for those of you who are unfamiliar with Quaker practice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Society_of_Friends. Quaker weddings do not have officiants, and they are mostly unplanned. The people getting married sit in a room or meetinghouse with their guests, and if any of the guests are moved to speak, they stand up and speak. At the end, the couple declares themselves married, signs a marriage certificate that all of the guests also sign, and that’s it.

    I had been to a wedding like this last year, and thought it was the most personal, moving ceremony I’d ever witnessed. I grew up in a Jewish atheist household (lots of tradition, not so much God), but I also grew up going to Quaker schools, and both sets of practice are meaningful to me. My husband grew up Protestant but is an atheist, and we agreed to leave God out of our wedding. We also agreed to leave out every single thing that didn’t feel meaningful to us. This meant not only did we not have the whole giving away thing, we didn’t have a procession at all. We just walked in and took our seats in the front of the room. We did keep the things that did feel meaningful, even if they had religious roots. Since I was little, I have always wanted to stomp on the glass at the end of my wedding. So I did. We each had a glass, actually, because we both wanted that cathartic stomping moment.

    Here’s the order of operations we used for the wedding (names removed). Everyone with an assigned role in the ceremony had a copy of the order of operations in their pocket, since there was no one person in charge we figured everyone needed to know when their turn was. It worked great.

    Brother #1 kicks us off, welcoming everyone, explaining about Quaker weddings and what we’ll be doing here today. If he wants to say some other stuff, he can do that, too (he did, he talked about the Quaker commitment to social justice and equality, and it was beautiful). Introduce Brother #2.
    Brother #2 reads excerpt from the Mass. Supreme Court ruling on the privileges and responsibilities of marriage
    Brother #2 invites silence and speaking
    Silence + speaking (approx 30 minutes)
    Brothers #1 and #2 stand up and shake hands; Brother #1 says “Molly and P. will now say their vows.”
    Molly reads her vow (we wrote our vows together, and we each said the same thing)
    Molly gives P. his ring
    P. reads his vow
    P. gives Molly her ring
    Reading of the marriage certificate by Best Friend
    Molly and P. sign the certificate
    Stomp on glass
    Mazel Tov!
    Klezmer music (yes, really), lots of hugging
    Sneak out the back door for some alone time before the party, while everyone else signs the certificate

    There was something a little scary about handing over responsibility for our ceremony to our guests. We had to be sure we were comfortable with the possibility that we would just sit in silence with our loved ones for awhile. But in the end, there was almost no silence. So many people stood up and said beautiful things, from both sides of our family and both sets of friends. People who never speak in public spoke. My grandmother gave us her copy of The Gift of the Magi, my uncle recited a poem, people spoke spontaneously from their hearts. It was so powerful, and personal, and a perfect reflection of the importance of community in our marriage. Seriously, I can’t recommend this style of ceremony enough. Even my more religious relatives, who I felt certain would object to the lack of rabbi (and Jewish mate, frankly), came up to me to say how meaningful and beautiful our ceremony was. It had the added bonus of requiring less advance planning. Tres practical.

    Notes on logistics: Because of its Quaker heritage, Pennsylvania offers a special “self-uniting” marriage license, available to anyone who wants to use one. Instead of being signed by an officiant, it requires two witnesses. This was the license we had. It meant we didn’t need an officiant at all. Even though most states do require an officiant, if there aren’t requirements for what needs to be said when, you can still structure your wedding this way and get an officiant who will be willing to sign off on it. Also, we informed our guests ahead of time, through our website and word of mouth, about the ceremony, so that people who wanted a chance to plan their speaking beforehand could do so. We had one of my brothers time the silence and speaking portion, and he gave me a wink when a half hour had passed. When there was a pause in speakers, I winked back, and he and my other brother ended that part of the ceremony. If you don’t choose to cut it off, be forewarned that Quaker ceremonies are notorious among Philly wedding professionals for lasting hours and hours. Also, we arranged the seating in a semi-circle, to make it feel more intimate and easier for everyone to hear everyone else. This picture captures the set-up pretty well: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mollyali/4963565603/

    Yikes, this is long. Sorry. If anyone has questions about how to make a ceremony like this work I’d be happy to share more details. Just ask.

    • Hannah NJ

      Just want to second how awesome Quaker weddings are. And good job for you to front load the informing guests – my partner and I have talked a lot about this as that is one of his concerns (esp ‘how will people know that this not a time for toasting but more a time for reflection?’) — and making sure the information is there for people to learn is crucial.

      YAY Quaker weddings!

    • Liz

      This is waaaaaaaaaay later but THANK YOU for this. Our friends are having a highly unstructured, Quaker-based ceremony and asked my P to MC. Having an idea and putting it into practice are two very different things. You saved me from getting bitter and feeling overly burdened.

  • peanut

    We got married a few weeks ago (yay!) with a completely secular ceremony; to be honest, we kind of winged it. We had my husband’s uncle say a speech about love and marriage and family, my brother handed us our rings, we said our (short) own vows to each other, then everyone clapped, we kissed, and were married. No officiant, no rehearsal, no “pronouncement”. There were some raw patches and an awkward pause, but it felt real versus a play or performance we were putting on, which is exactly what we wanted. As I’ve said before, when we were planning our ceremony part of us wished we were part of a religious tradition and could adapt it for ourselves; making up our ceremony from scratch was overwhelming but meaningful in the end. There is really no wrong way to get married as long as love is involved.

  • ddayporter

    I’m so excited for this secular wedding resource we’ve got going here! some of these ideas make me wish we could go back in time and re-do our ceremony. having the guests sing?? yes please.

    One thing our officiant did that I didn’t mention in the post, was have us email her separately and tell her the biggest thing about the other person that is most endearing, or most compelling in terms of wanting to spend our lives together – and then she read our answers out during the ceremony, without either of us knowing what the other had said (she promised that if one of our answers maybe needed a little work she would let us know). She also spoke to our families right before the ceremony, and worked some of what she learned into her.. what do you call it when it’s not a sermon.. speech. Really helped make it a bit more personal.

    I’ve shared some of this in past comments, but for the sake of having it all in one place, here are our readings:
    – the “love is a temporary madness” excerpt from Captain Correlli’s Mandolin (de Bernieres, such a good book)
    – “union” by robert fulghum (didn’t take out the “lovers” part!)
    – “i carry your heart with me” by e. e. cummings (this was the one our officiant picked out herself without knowing it’s one of my favorites)

    for music, we went with some known and some obscure:
    – prelude: “embraceable you” by charlie parker (for when the groomsmen and officiant come in, and grandma was escorted in
    – processional: “town life in piano” by kLutz (an actually really beautiful piano piece, adapted from the video game Chrono Trigger – geek alert!)
    – recessional: “a higher power” by Jonathan Richman (ok so this is the one place in our ceremony where we allowed a reference to a higher power – because, hello. go listen to this song!)
    I was a little concerned that having a DJ do our ceremony would be, I don’t know, tacky. but it was great, I don’t think anyone noticed our DJ in the room (well I didn’t anyway), and it was great to have exactly the music we loved without paying a live quartet to interpret the songs.

    and speaking of songs, this is a little (way) off-topic, but was anyone else caught off-guard when the DJ asked for a “cake cutting song” at the reception?? we were really thrown by that, I had no idea people actually picked a song to cut the cake to (had never even noticed music playing during the cake cutting). but it was an option so we picked “Sweet Disposition” by the temper trap. pretty sure not a single person in the room even noticed the song was playing but now I cry every time I hear it because it brings me back to the wedding almost more than any of the other songs.

    • The only reason I wasn’t caught off-guard by the appearance of “cake cutting song” on the DJ’s list was that I’d already spent much time agog at the number of Special Reception Events Needing Special Songs that appeared on various lists around the internet. I’d certainly never noticed it before – but grabbed the opportunity to use the song that I would have chosen for a father-daughter dance if we’d had a father-daughter dance (we skipped parent dances entirely, none of our parents had any interest in being on the dance floor at all*), which was a silly novelty song my dad used to sing to us on walks when I was a little girl. I figured sentimental silliness went well with cake!

    • Yeah, I was totally unaware of the cake cutting song requirement until my husband got [adorably] excited about using Average White Band’s “Cut the Cake.” I couldn’t tell you how *he* knew this was common practice, but it did give the boy an excuse to combine three of his favorite things: funk music, wiggling to funk music, and dessert.

  • Note to self – reading Pablo Neruda at work is a bad idea, because I will cry.

    • Erin

      I love Pablo. He’s so heart-breakingly intimate. Ahhh….

    • ddayporter

      yesssssssss ahhh.

  • Kristen

    Thank you all so much! This is just the post I had been hoping for recently. After reading about traditions it is offensive to borrow, I got terrified of borrowing any. So I thought that maybe we would hire an officiant who would know how to create a meaningful ceremony. But my fiance really wants to use his friend’s mom who is ordained, but hasn’t done any ceremonies yet. While I’ve been busily working on reception stuff I’ve had a niggling worry about having the important part be the lamest part.

    Thank you one and all!

  • rosie

    yay, perfectly-timed post! how does that always seem to happen for all of us? it just doesn’t make sense. or maybe i’m just the lucky one who checks APW and finds a post about something exactly as it’s been on my mind that day/week/whatever…?

    anyway – i found this to be super helpful for me as i’m beginning to craft a ceremony – and mine will be fairly “religious,” even though this post is primarily directed at secular ceremonies. so, yay! thanks everyone for the wisdom.

    a question: any wedding graduates out there who went with the small ceremony/big reception approach? i’m leaning towards it, but worry a bit about logistics and categorizing people. i’d love insight from experience if you’ve got it!

    • ka

      it’s not just you–it seems to happen to me at least once a week! i’d like to second the request to hear from anyone who went with the small ceremony/big reception approach!

  • Loz

    This is the first time I’ve posted on APW, although I’ve been reading for a while.

    Coming from Australia, where over 60% of weddings are civil (secular), it never occured to me how difficult it is for a lot of you to find officiants you feel comfortable with or that will perform a truly secular ceremony. I now feel very blessed for something I had, until now, taken for granted.

    My husband-to-be and I are also not religious, in the I ‘firmly believe there is no god’ way. Our celebrant helped us write a beautiful secular ceremony.

    I used these resources to find a few of our readings:


    Our ceremony goes as follows:
    Reading (by celebrant)
    Short story about how we met and got together, and our relationship since (we have been together 8 years, so a lot of our wedding guests didn’t even know us then).
    Reading (by my brother)
    Reading (by celebrant)
    Signing of the Register
    Announced husband and wife

  • Oh what perfect timing this post has been Meg. We are getting married a month TODAY and I have been putting off and putting off emailing our notes on our ceremony to our celebrant, or confirming our readings.
    Reading this, and the links some of these wonderful ladies have provided has now shown me why. I think tomorrow lunchtime at work is going to be lots of reading, and note taking and our celebrant (who is wonderful) is going to get a fantastic email on the weekend.
    Finally :)

    And also finally – a post that really speaks to me at just the right time. What perfection! :)

  • Susan

    Rachel and Meg, thank you so much for this post! My husband and I wrote our own secular ceremony for our wedding earlier this year, and I’m sure this will be hugely helpful to lots of couples.

  • Chantelle

    Ummm, hnads down one of the funniest wedding pictures ever!!!

  • Peps

    Thank you everyone for posting, all of these comments have been hugely helpful!

    My partner is Australian and from a strongly atheist family; I’m American and from a deeply Protestant family. As you can probably imagine, there have been some intense opinions coming from all sides as to the religious nature of the ceremony.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and tips! I’m really looking forward to building a meaningful ceremony and feel armed with heaps of resources now!

    This is a long shot, but does anyone have experience with a Native American ceremony? My grandpa had a strong connection to the Ojibwe community and I’d like to honour that in some respect if I can, even with just a reading… I’m wary, though, of it being possibly offensive to take bits of that ceremony/culture, since I’m not Ojibwe in any way. (He’s deceased so I can’t ask him and my grandma / parents don’t know.) Cheers

    • ddayporter

      not that I really know, but I would say it’s totally appropriate to make some kind of gesture in honor of your grandfather. I’m not sure exactly what your grandfather’s strong connection is, if there’s anything that was his that is connected to the Ojibwe community, you could carry it/incorporate it somewhere? If he was just a friend to the community, and it is not something you are a part of in any way, I’m not sure it would make sense to incorporate actual ceremonial rites or readings – might be better to focus on something more to do with your grandfather specifically.

  • mariko

    I’m so glad we’re putting this together!

    Chiming in a little late, but here are the readings we used:

    1. Goodridge vs. Dept of Public Health

    2. A poem, “Love,” by Shuntaro Tanikawa – read in Japanese by my mother, with an English translation printed in the programs (Translation below)
    Love: easy to say out loud
    Love: not hard to spell, either
    Love: everybody knows how it feels
    Love: to care for somebody so much it hurts
    Love: to always want to be by their side
    Love: to want them to live forever
    Love: it’s not just the word, “love”
    Love: it’s not just a feeling
    Love: to always remember the distant past
    Love: to believe in an invisible future
    Love: to think, over and over again
    Love: to live life to the fullest.

    3. from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams
    They looked at each other for a moment.
    The moment became a longer moment, and suddenly it was a very long moment, so long one could hardly tell where all the time was coming from.
    For Arthur, who could usually contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone for long enough with a Swiss Cheese plant, the moment was one of sustained revelation. He felt on the sudden like a cramped and zoo-born animal who awakes one morning to find the door to his cage hanging quietly open and the savannah stretching grey and pink to the distant rising sun, while all around new sounds are waking.
    He wondered what the new sounds were as he gazed at her openly wondering face and her eyes that smiled with a shared surprise.
    He hadn’t realized that life speaks with a voice to you, a voice that brings you answers to the questions you continually ask of it, had never consciously detected it or recognized its tones till it now said something it had never said to him before, which was “Yes.

    and 4. From The Little Prince, by Antoine de St. Exupery
    Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world.”
    The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
    “You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
    And the roses were very much embarrassed.
    “You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you – the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.”
    And he went back to meet the fox.
    “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important,” said the fox.
    “It is the time I have wasted for my rose – ” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
    “Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose…”
    “I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

    We had some other non-traditional elements as well (like the lack of a procession, since I didn’t really want everybody staring at me / us while we walked…), but we did incorporate some traditions (my husband stepped on a glass at the end of the ceremony).

    • Heather

      Can you tell me how you did the ceremony without hte processional. I really don’t want one but I’m trying to think of how it will go without being akward.

  • My new husband and I thought about our ceremony a lot – well, actually I thought about it a lot and he felt reassured when the things that were important to him were placed in it, he wrote his vows, and he wrote all the music.

    We aren’t traditional religious (I have no religious feelings, he is mostly Buddhist) but our families are Catholic and Protestant, and though we didn’t want any mention of God in our ceremony, we wanted it to have the weight of what it was – a sacred event. With that said, having our personality was integral.

    My twin brother married us – I highly suggest having someone you know (if that is your religious leader, the person that introduced you, your grandmom, whatever) because it makes it easier to tell them what you want and you feel more at ease. My brother got ordained online, and in the state we were married in, that worked for the officiant. Check in the county/city clerks office, and they will tell you who can marry you – most people can be “ordained” on the internet, or get a special licence for the day.

    I used internet guides for the basic structure, and used bloggers that I liked – including APW and http://www.2000wedding.com‘s transcripts of ceremonies – to pick and choose for inspired content. We had poems we liked (and one we discovered just for the occasion by looking up poetry online – it somehow had about 10 different references to our personalities and lives in it) I wouldn’t hesistate to have a reading be from a favorite song, either – we thought about that. Whatever is important enough to you to be there, is important enough to give a loved one the task of reading it aloud.

    Our ceremony went as follows:
    Processional (composed by husband)

    Gathering Words – officiant – basic welcome and whatever else he wanted

    Awknowledgement of Guests – officiant – asks audience to support the union, they answer
    (also acknowledges those family members who could not be with us, my late uncle, his grandparents)

    Marriage definition – in place of having the officiant do a “marriage is” speech, we wanted to acknowledge our belief in the civil right of marriage for everyone, so we had a quote by Robert Senghas and then part of the decision legalizing same sex marriage in MA. Might have been a little much for our conservative guests, but I could not have gotten married without acknowledging people who can’t yet.

    Reading – “Oh, Tell Me the Truth About Love” W.H. Auden

    Marriage Statement of Intent – our pledging (by answering “we do”) after a series of questions, all of which taken from a buddhist-like list of pledges like radiating love outwards as well as to our partners and remembering our attachment to all beings

    Reading – “Having a Coke With You” Frank O’Hara

    Vows – we wrote them ourselves, and while they were deep and heartily felt, and had the whole audience in tears, they also included “I vow to give you the last of a bag of chips” from me and “If we are ever on the Amazing Race, I will eat the bugs” from him.

    Song – we had friends sing “From This Day On” from Brigadoon – which was sung at my husband’s parents wedding. We married on my grandparents anniversary, so having those personal connections was really important to me, and another way to make the ceremony meaningful. I would think that using a part of family’s ceremonies would be a great way to have tradition if not religion.

    Exchanging of Rings – we used “I give you this ring as a sign that I choose you to be my partner to the end of my days. Wear it, think of me, and know that I love you”

    Pronouncement – officiant – my brother had something funny to say, of course. But no “Mr and Mrs.____ because we kept our names.

    Recessional – to, yes, the West Wing Theme song played by our band. Awesome.

    Though I thought that we would be relatively untraditional because of the lack of religion in our ceremony, that wasn’t the case. The order of events was very similar to any church wedding. A ceremony is a ceremony for a reason, and my brother (who has done a few weddings for friends) said that everyone thinks that theirs is going to be different, and really the structure exists because it has existed for years.

    If putting in hand fasting, or quilt wrapping, pouring sand, or jumping a broom is important to you, then by all means… but we didn’t do any of that because it wasn’t “us” and we didn’t want to do anything just to rebel against the tradional ceremony. (I did however, want him to break a glass because I thought it was cool, but was turned down since we aren’t Jewish).

    I wouldn’t have changed a thing about ours.

  • We created our ceremony by doing a lot of Internet searches. I ended up with the exact same structure as Rachel. Using a vaguely Christan wedding outline made it easier to plan, and kept the ceremony somewhat familiar for my Catholic family.

    I found lists of readings by Googling “nontraditional wedding readings” and “nonreligious wedding readings” and digging deep into the search results.

    In the end, I used an excerpt from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, i carry your heart by ee cummings (doubling as a memoriam for my grandpa who’d died earlier in the year), and to end the ceremony right before our pronouncement, what ended up being my favorite reading since it led us right into the party, from What Looks Like Crazy by Pearl Clege:

    “He leaned over and kissed her like they were alone in that room, and right then, right there, she didn’t care what came next. Whatever it was, she knew it would be all right, or it wouldn’t be all right, but it would be part of the same unbroken line they were all walking in, which is, of course, the real lesson, and about as much perfection as she could stand without crying right there in front of everybody, which is, of course, what she did. Then it was done, official, and the party could begin in earnest. And it did. And they danced too wild, and they sang too long, and they hugged too hard, and kissed too sweet, and threw their heads back and howled just as loud as they wanted to howl, because by now they were all old enough to know that what looks like crazy on an ordinary day looks a lot like love if you catch it in the moonlight.”

    I considered a church ceremony for my family, but decided against it for the exact reasons Meg and others mention – it wouldn’t have meant anything TO ME. I love the idea of saying words spoken by generations before you and sharing in that, but it just wasn’t right for me, and a ceremony crafted by us with readings that shared my practical and fun view of love was better.

    • Alexandra

      Love, love, love Pearl Cleage, particularly that book. Hurrah!

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  • Colleen

    http://www.offbeatbride.com has been the number one best resource for me.

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  • You are awesome :)
    thank you for this! Getting married next week and this will help!

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  • Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the images on this blog loading?

    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  • I stumbled on this blog when looking for secular wedding ceremonies and really liked the example.

  • megan

    thank you for this! i hadn’t tried googling this kind of thing yet, but i’m so glad i found this post. it has helped me compose a basic structure for our secular and non-traditional wedding. now i am tasked with finding an officiant that i feel comfortable with and a poem that my fiance and i both agree on (it will be the only reading in our ceremony). i think the structure i am (hopefully) going with is as follows:

    Prelude/Processional – we do not have a wedding party so it will just be the bride and groom, probably together
    Welcome and Officiant’s remarks on love/marriage
    Reading of love poem by officiant
    Recitation of vows
    Ring exchange
    Pronouncement of marriage

    again, thank you for being a great resource!

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