Yes, I’m giving away trade secrets here. I believe that everyone has the right to take control of their wedding and have their ceremony reflect their values, their personalities, and the uniqueness of their love. Sure, there’s the typical ways to accomplish this feat—color schemes, decorations, props, food, cake, and music—but there’s a way that involves the most important aspect of your wedding. Of course, I’m referring to the words themselves.
Step 1: Choose a theme
A theme can be anything from a shared interest (for example, zombies, Star Trek, bungee jumping, or skydiving) to a definition of who you are as a couple (for example, faith centered, political activism, adventure seeking, or family oriented). Then choose how subtle you would want that theme to be.
One of my clients chose a political activist theme. They wanted to make sure their ceremony (though between a man and a woman) welcomed same sex marriage. To accomplish this desire, we included a reading on a Massachusetts court case that legalized gay marriage, constantly prefaced any definition of marriage used in the ceremony as “for this couple,” and we took out all linguistic markers of gender.
I’d love one day to do a subtle Doctor Who themed ceremony for someone. For that theme, I’d scour Doctor Who episodes for quotes on love, adventure, and even marriage. Then I’d arrange the ceremony around those quotes so that people who don’t know about Doctor Who would just think the wording was beautiful but people who are fans of Doctor Who would be giggling with excitement in their seats.
Step 2: Decide who has the authority to give you a marriage
Who do you think has the authority to grant a marriage? God? A religious official? A community? The government? A dinosaur? Whoever you think has the authority to grant marriage will determine who you should have perform your ceremony as well as some of the wording in your ceremony.
The couples I’ve perfomed weddings for all believed the community could grant a marriage. For them, having a community member (me) perform the ceremony made sense. If you believe God is the only one who can grant a marriage, then you need to ask yourself who you believe is a representative of God. If you believe a dinosaur grants marriage, then, I’m sorry, but the closest you’ll get is a paleontologist.
The wording at the end of the ceremony will also depend on who you believe grants a marriage. At the end of a wedding ceremony, the officiant says, “I, with the power invested in me by _______, now pronounce you husband and wife.” The blank will be filled in by who you believe gives the officiant the right to perform the wedding. For one wedding, we completely redid the entire phrase. To emphasize the community’s power, I had the entire audience repeat after me and say:(The Bride & Groom’s Names) by the power of your love and commitment we all now pronounce you, husband and wife! So say we all.
Step 3: Define your ideas of love and marriage
Most wedding ceremonies spend most of their time defining love and marriage. Once you define love and marriage, center the wording of your ceremony on those definitions. Choose readings about love and marriage that relate to your definitions and speak to you. Integrate your definitions into the wording of the ceremony as well.
Also choose traditions that exemplify your definitions. For instance, if you see marriage as taking two individuals and making them integrated individuals, then a sand ceremony is for you. If you see marriage as the unification of two individuals in faith, then a unity candle ceremony is for you.
Step 4: Clarify your ideas on gender roles
Once you have clarified your ideas of gender roles within a marriage, there are ways to integrate those ideas into the ceremony. You can see last week’s blog which focused on the wording of a ceremony in regards to gender roles, but there are a few more tricks to consider.
The processional is the most important non-linguistic consideration for gender roles in a wedding ceremony. Having a father hand a daughter to her new husband symbolizes the transfer of property. Instead, consider having the groom process with both his parents right before the bride processes with both her parents. I see it as a compromise: the bride still makes the grand entrance everyone expects, but no more than the groom does. Also, both parents should walk down the isle because a father has no more right to escort his child down the isle than a mother does.
These four steps will help to personalize your ceremony around your personalities, your interests, and, most importantly, your values. There are quite a bit more steps that go into a customization process, but I can’t give away all my trade secrets.