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Bride throwing the bouquet at wedding

Personalizing Ceremonies

The most memorable ceremonies speak of a couple's personal and spiritual beliefs, hopes and dreams - ones that speak their hearts. The words of your ceremony proclaim and celebrate your emotional and spiritual bond as well as your legal commitment to each other.

Your ceremony may be civil, non-religion specific, contain and blend two differing traditions or religions, or be constructed about a common belief and have deep elements of love, romance, and spirituality. It can be filled with personal touches that relate to your lives as a couple.

Unique and personal additions to blend into a ceremony are: gifts of roses for family members, first gift as husband and wife, sharing ceremonies (wine, water, tea), children's ceremonies, candle lighting, handfastings, and so much more.


Marriage ceremonies can be as short or as long as you desire. The most basic ceremony contains only the requirements to meet the laws of the state. The requirements are simple:

  1. Some form of vows acknowledging commitment affirmed by each This can be a simple “I Do” or a statement from their hearts and minds that clearly promises to respect the love that has brought them to this day or both.
  2. The legal officiant declaring them to be “husband and wife”, “partners in marriage,” "permanent life's companions" or any other words indicating a conscious change in state of being.

Always necessary is the presence of an officiant empowered by State Law to legally bind couples in marriage. If that particular state requires witnesses (some don't), then the witnesses must also be present. When witnesses and officiants sign marriage licenses they are basically testifying that they heard the legal marriage agreement take place.

When a ceremony is to be conducted outside of a religious abode, possibly at a catering hall, park, boat or backyard, the ceremony can be whatever the couple believes is appropriate for them.

The structure of a ceremony is simple:

1.   Opening Statements

These need to include a welcome to all your guests and some thoughts on what marriage means to the bride and groom.

We generally suggest that any Remembrances be stated at this time. It is difficult to feel celebratory when pronounced husband and wife right after mentioning losses. When your family and friends are welcomed into the celebration of your love as part of the opening statements, it is appropriate to welcome beloved departed family members as well.

Example of an opening statement:

Dear family and friends, you have been asked to be here today to share in the celebration of Nancy's and Dick's love and to bear witness to their vows, as they join in the eternal bond of marriage.

2.   Vows

Vows may be traditional or contemporary, taken from books or written by the bride and groom. There are “I Do or I Will” vows and vows which are generally repeated after the officiant. You can choose to only have “I Do’s”, to only have “Exchange of Vows” or both. You do not have to have the same vows as each other. You do not have to have the same vows as each other. When choosing “Exchange of Vows” most couples repeat after the officiant. The majority of couples feel comfortable repeating just a few words at a time.


{I, Richard, take you, Nancy,} {to be my wedded wife,} {to have and to hold,} {for better or for worse,} {for richer or for poorer,} {in sickness and in health,} {to love and to cherish from this day forth.}

Example of a vow written by a couple and presented in "repeat after me" format:

I promise to give my love honestly. I will listen to you when you need a friend and give you my strength when you are faced with challenges. Together we will face the happiness and trials life may bring our way. I offer you all that I am and will share my love with you as long as we both shall live.

3.   Ring Exchange

Example of a ring vow:

“I give you this ring as the pledge of my love and as the symbol of our unity.”

Not everybody has a ring vow, some couples choose to place the rings on without a statement.

Ring Blessings

This can be done before and/or after the rings are placed on the fingers.


These rings are not tokens; they are symbols of the faith, trust and love you hold for each other. May these feelings you share for one another on this day be always held within the circle of the ring. May these halos on your fingers bring you peace, joy, and ever-growing love.

4.   Closing Declaration of Marriage

The officiant needs to declare the bride and groom are now married.


Nancy and Dick, your vows have been witnessed by those who love you and you have exchanged symbols of your everlasting commitment.

I, therefore, have the great joy and honor to declare that you are now, and forever, husband and wife.

What else can be said at a ceremony?

Woven through the ceremony can be readings, benedictions, songs, religious traditions, cultural traditions and other pieces created especially for you. Over the years we have written pieces to include children, grandparents, the engagement ring, blessings for the pregnant bride, wedding prayers reflecting the couples personal aspirations, prayers for the family pet and other pieces.

Inter-faith ceremonies can mean many things. If a couple who come from different faiths have decided to wed they may desire to honor their own traditions and each others. Some couples will decide to have a spiritual wedding with no reference to religion. Others may choose two officiants each representing a religion of one of the partners. Many couples choose an officiant willing to use elements of each religion.

Candle lighting, breaking of the glass, St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians and a Psalm from the Songs of Solomon are a common mixture of Judeo-Christian ceremonies. A reading from the Koran and a reading from the Book of Common Prayer for the Muslim-Christian ceremonies shows the universality of love, respect, and faith. Hindu elements such as the garland of flowers and the seven steps have been woven in with candle-lighting and Christian prayers. Native American blessings and Celtic prayers, Chinese Tea Ceremony for the family and a Sign of Peace, these are all possibilities. The beautiful thing is that there is a common denominator; they are all metaphors for honoring the love that is shared.

In Mexico the Arras, the exchange of 13 coins representing the care of the home.

Smudging the space and the couple with sage is Native American and Victorian

Rose petals sprinkled around the couple as in Victorian times and Renaissance.

In China, the bride and groom drink wine and honey from goblets tied together with red string : the red color signifying love and joy.

In Japan, the bride and groom take nine sips of sake (rice wine); tradition states that after the first sip they are officially husband and wife,

Among the Navaho, the traditional bride's dress includes four colors, each representing a direction of the compass: black for the north, blue for the south, orange for the west, and white for the east. During the ceremony the couple would face east, in the direction from which the sun rises, to represent their new beginning.

“Jumping Over the Broom” may be a beautiful way to honor someone's heritage. In her book "Jumping the Broom", author Harriette Cole explains the origin and significance of this ritual. "The broom itself held spiritual significance for many African peoples, representing the beginning of homemaking for a couple. For the Kgatla people of southern Africa, it was customary, for example, on the day after the wedding for the bride to help the other women in the family to sweep the courtyard clean, thereby symbolizing her willingness and obligation to assist in housework at her in-laws' residence until the couple moved to their own home.”

It is a Scottish tradition for the groom to symbolically welcome the bride into his family or clan by draping a shawl or sash in his clan's tartan, fastened with a silver pin of traditional Scottish design, over her shoulders just after they have exchanged vows.

Cultural and religious traditions may be common to many, for instance, Scottish drape a shawl over the bride’s shoulders and Mexican and other Spanish cultures drape a shawl over the bride and groom together.

How long is a ceremony?

Ceremonies held outside of religious institutions are generally between 15 and 25 minutes, depending on the couple's choices of readings, music and other special touches. A ceremony composed of Opening Statements, Thoughts on Marriage, Vows, A Reading, Ring Exchange, Ring Blessing, Candle-Lighting, A Reading, Closing Benediction, Pronouncement of Marriage is about 20 minutes in length. Add the processional and recessional and you have a 30-minute wedding ceremony. However long or short your ceremony will be, let it be filled with loving words that will resonate through the years.

We hope this information provides you with a greater understanding of how beautifully meaningful your ceremony can be.

 Helpful ideas

Social Security has a rule that the bride must file an SS-5 form (a new application form showing change of name and /or marital status) within the fiscal year for tax purposes, (The SS-5 form should be filed, even if you are keeping your own name) along with an original proof of marriage. Social Security may take a while if you rely on the mail, so we always suggest you have another proof on hand. Therefore you may want to request two proofs of marriage. Check with Social Security first, see if you walk it in, will they just look at it and return it to you. Don’t take a day off from work to go to the Motor Vehicle Bureau and any of the other place until you have an original marriage certificate in hand.

You may need copies of your Proof of Marriage for

Changing your name and address if applicable on the following:

  1. Driver’s License
  2. Car Registration
  3. Car Insurance
  4. Health Insurance
  5. Social Security Records
  6. Voter Registration
  7. Bank Accounts
  8. Credit Cards
  9. Will
  10. With Your Employer
  11. Professional Licenses
  12. Passport

Same Sex Marriages

One of the outstandingly happy couples Nancy has met through the years is Dennis and George. George liked to tell their story this way, "After several years of not being invited to Dennis's family gatherings, one Thanksgiving while most of the family was making fun of us or ignoring our absence, one of my sisters spoke up. "There is not one member of this group of married couples who have anywhere near as loving a relationship as Dennis and George." After a prolonged silence, heads started to nod in agreement. Credit is given to the family, for they all agreed, and Dennis and George were not only invited but fully embraced as another couple.

Here is a sample of some opening statement we have used.

Bob and Joseph, into your lives has entered a deep and nurturing love, and you have asked this body of friends and family, and me as a religious leader, to help you celebrate and affirm that love. As long as women and men have walked on the earth, there have been some humans beings who have shared their deepest expressions of love with a person of the same gender.

Bob and Joseph, you have honored us by inviting us to witness your commitment to each other. May your love grow sure and strong and true in the days and years of your shared life together.

We are gathered here today in the presence of God to witness the marriage of Susan and Mona. Susan and Mona have asked me to explain a little about this ceremony before we begin. Important to their ceremony is the idea that the sanctification of their marriage, or what makes it sacred, holy and official, is not anything that happens from the outside. No blessing or approval is needed here; no format or magic spell is being used to assure that their wedding is proper. What is happening here is simply that Susan and Mona are making a series of promises to each other. It is the nature of the promises that makes the occasion so special and important. And what makes the occasion sacred is the acceptance of, and the agreement to, the conditions of the promises.

These are the words we have used in many marriage ceremonies whether same sex or male and female.

Vows Renewals

While there are many milestones in our lives, vow renewals stand out as a wonderful celebration, reminder, and reinforcement for couples. What better way to acknowledge and reaffirm the life’s journey you are sharing.

When couples seek to renew their vows we seek to offer something that reflects their own reasons for renewal. The following is an example of the beginning of a renewal ceremony.

Renewal Ceremony - excerpt

We are gathered together to witness and celebrate the commitment of marriage that Herb and Elaine have chosen to renew. Actually, Herb has chosen this event as an opportunity to share with his bride of twenty-three years and the “Brady Bunch” family of theirs, how important the love they have together is to him. After talking with Herb I (Dick Weber) felt that Sophocles stated so clearly what is in Herb’s heart: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life. That word is love.”

It is with great honor that I join Herb and Elaine, their children (names here), their children’s mates, and their grandchildren (name’s here) in welcoming everyone to this ceremony of renewal.

Marriage is an act of faith and a personal commitment as well as a moral and physical union between you,. Marriage has been described as the best and most important relationship that can exist between two human beings. It is the construction of your love and trust into a single growing energy of spiritual life, it is a moral commitment that requires and deserves daily attention since no earthly happiness exceeds that of a reciprocal satisfaction in the marital state.

When marriage vows are renewed, it is an announcement to the world and to each other that the love which was brought to the wedding day twenty-three years ago has grown deeper through the years.

In this particular situation, it is also a recognition of the power love has. Herb has expressed to me how this is his way of letting you Elaine know, how much love and gratitude he feels for your love and devotion that has sustained all of you through the difficulties of Herb’s illnesses. The love you share now has grown deeper with the passing of each day and Herb is taking this opportunity to show you in all ways possible what this means to him.

The vows which you are about to make are as sacred as any that can be made, all the more now because after twenty-three years together you have a deeper understanding and appreciation of what I am about to ask.

Herb, do you of your own free will and consent continue to choose Elaine as your wife, to live within the state of matrimony? Will you continue to love her, comfort her, honor her, keep her in sickness and in health, and keep to her forsaking all others, so long as you both shall live?

Elaine, do you of your own free will and consent continue to choose HErb as your husband, to live within the state of matrimony? Will you continue to love him, comfort him, honor him, keep him in sickness and in health, and keep to him forsaking all others, so long as you both shall live?

Herb’s and Elaine’s ceremony included exchanging rings and acknowledging their wonderfully expanded family of children, stepchildren, children-in-law, and grandchildren.