Now that you’ve made it through part one… you’ve got your foundation. You’ve established what your expectations are for the marriage, and you’ve talked about the ways in which you want to show up and support each other throughout your lives.
You’re now ready to begin writing the actual ceremony, as well as your vows!
Step 1: Brainstorming
The first step is to think about ceremonies you’ve been to in the past. What about them did you like? Are there elements in ceremonies that you would like to avoid? For example – maybe you attended a ceremony where the guests were able to participate in a call and response (like a community blessing), and you loved it – great! Write that down. Maybe you can’t stand the thought of having one ‘given away’ at the altar – so write down that you might want to consider having two aisles (and walking in at the same time) or walking in together.
Lots of people have posted their ceremony scripts online – I’d recommend starting to read through them to get ideas for readings and other ceremonial elements. You don’t have to create a ceremony that’s completely original – it’s fine to see something that someone else has done, and to incorporate that into your own ceremony!
Step 2: Outline
Now that you have all your ideas for the ceremony, it’s time to put them in a logical order. Although there’s no rule that says you need to follow the same ceremony flow as everyone else, having some sort out outline is a nice place to start.
The officiant briefly welcomes the guests, and may also make a quick announcement (e.g. to turn off cellphones). This can be right before the processional starts, and can be a good way to get all the guests seated and ready for the ceremony to begin!
Your options are wide open. The two of you could walk in with the officiant, stand up front and start the ceremony. Or, you could have your grandparents, parents, wedding party and flower children all be a part of a lengthy processional. You can walk in with a parent, both parents, a sibling, by yourself, with your kids – anything goes. You can have one aisle and walk in separately, or you can set up two aisles and both walk in at the same time. What’s important is that the processional feels authentic and meaningful to the two of you.
This is the official opening to the ceremony – you may want to have a statement about the meaning of marriage, or perhaps the story of how you met and how you got to where you are today.
If you would like to take a moment to remember someone, this is a lovely time for a remembrance. You can have a moment of silence, or someone can get up to speak about the person or people you are remembering (I heard of one wedding where a bride read a letter she wrote to her father, who had passed away).
Maybe you have a poem, or a passage from a book you both really love – this is a perfect time to have someone (either the officiant or a friend or family member) to do a reading. If someone other than the officiant is doing a reading, it’s easiest if they come to the front and use the same microphone as the officiant. This is also a good time for a “how we met” story, if it didn’t happen earlier!
Expression of Intent: This is what has to be included in the ceremony.
The marriage isn’t legally recognized unless the ceremony has a “declaration of intent” (this is where the officiant asks you both some form of “do you…” and you both say “I do…”. The wording can change (you don’t have to say “I do” – maybe you say “yes!” or “you betcha!” or you both say “We do!” together) – the point is, you have to be asked specifically if you agree to marry each other, and then you both have to say yes.
These are optional – you don’t have to write your own vows. However, the work you did in part one probably has given you a pretty good idea of what your vows for each other might be. You can either read your vows to each other, the officiant can read them and you can repeat after them, or you can skip them all together!
Ring Ceremony & Ring Vows:
The officiant will often have a short preamble leading up to the ring vows. Oftentimes it’s about the symbolism of the rings, but you can write whatever feels meaningful.
After the introduction, you then will each give each other a ring and say your ring vows. Sometimes people have short vows memorized, other folks choose to repeat after the officiant.
Do you have to have rings? Nope! Some couples don’t like rings, and they skip this entirely or give each other some other symbolic object. It’s totally up to you!
Although benedictions are typically talked about in the Judeo-Christian context, they don’t need to be religious. Having a community blessing can be a lovely way to incorporate a blessing into a ceremony (for example – the officiant would read something like “May you have many long years to delight in each other’s company, and to love and be loved by the friends and family who have come here today to support you”, and then the guests would all say “May it be so!” or something along those lines. You can have as many blessings as you’d like!)
Pronouncement: Time to wrap this up! You’ve both said yes, and it’s time for you to be pronounced officially married.
Then…. You kiss! Huzzah! (And please remind the officiant to STEP TO THE SIDE while you kiss, so that your officiant’s head isn’t looming above you both in all the pictures!)
After you’ve both happily marched off to your recessional music, it’s nice for the officiant to make once final announcement, and welcome everyone to cocktail hour or whatever the next activity might be – guests appreciate knowing when it’s OK for them to stand up and go to the next stage of the wedding!
And after the ceremony, I’d recommend you and your partner sneak off to some private spot where you can eat some snacks, sit and drink some champagne…. just take 10 minutes to yourselves, alone, before rejoining in the festivities.
Including more people in the ceremony:
Although people are familiar with the idea of friends and family doing a reading, you can incorporate other people into the ceremony in many different ways. For example, you could have your sister read the benediction at the end, or your best friend read the story of how you met.
Step 3: Writing, editing, reading aloud…
Once you have a draft of the ceremony completed, read it aloud. You’ll be able to hear if there are any awkward transitions, or if there are areas that need a little work. The ceremony will likely be edited and re-worked a number of times before you having something that feels complete!
If you’re feeling stuck, you can reach out to officiants who offer consultation services and who can help you with the ceremony. One great option (and she’s based in Ithaca!) is Megan Barber (https://meganbarberceremonies.com/).
Step 4: The ceremony!
When you print the ceremony script, make sure it’s in a large enough font and well spaced, so it’s easy for the officiant to read. Single sided and in a binder is probably one of the best ways for the officiant to hold the ceremony script – and a binder has pockets, so you can also have your vows, as well as any readings, tucked in there.
Resources on ceremony writing: