Writing a wedding ceremony; telling their story and laying the foundation for their way forward as a couple. This is by far the most important and most rewarding part of your job as a minister and wedding officiant. So where to start? What to consider?
How did you meet? What is your story?
Why do you two “work”?
How do you envision your life together? Goals, dreams, passions?
What makes your partner amazing? Think big, little, serious, silly, it’s all on the table?
What is your biggest relationship fear?
What are your biggest relationship challenges?
How does your partner’s family fit into your marriage?
Do you and your partner have plans for a family and if so, what would be the optimum size/makeup of your family? (pets included)
Style: Do you want this to be traditional? Are we incorporating either of your faiths?
1. Get In Their Heads
The very first thing you should do is have each half of the couple answer some basic and very insightful questions for you. If you are officiating for a friend or family member you may have your own insights into the couple, they asked you to officiate for a reason…you have been a part of their journey. If you are officiating for a couple you have just met this part of the process will be essential to getting the ceremony right.
So what are you trying to uncover?
Several things, their story, their values, and their dreams. A well written ceremony should capture all of these things. Remember, the couples questions should be answered separately by each person. This will give you their individual perspectives that you can weave together in the ceremony and keeps a bit of mystery and surprise for their big day. [Full Couples Questionnaire]
2. Finding A Theme
All this homework will help you uncover a theme, an idea or thread you can pull through the entire ceremony. Some easy to use themes could be; life is a journey, the mountains, the ocean, nature, or growth. Typically, their story, how they met, and their hobbies will be a great place to start to identify potential themes. You can call on spirituality, literature, and poetry as well.
Where does your theme belong in the ceremony? How do you use the theme? The theme can be referenced or be the foundation of the following sections:
Words of Welcome
Exchange of Vows
Blessing of the Rings/Ring Exchange
Blessing of The Marriage/Closing Words and Wishes
3. Ceremony Parts, Creating The Frame
Wedding ceremonies can take on many forms, however, there is a basic format that most follow:
Giving away the bride or groom. This is an opportunity to honor the parents. It can be a traditional father moment or can include both mother and father. This section can also include the parents of both couples. Traditionally this takes the form a question asked to the father of the bride but can be posed to anyone that holds a place of honor in the family.
Words of Welcome. This is your chance to set the tone for the day and introduce the significance of the day and this moment.
Charge to The Couple. The purpose of the charge is to remind the couple of their duties and roles in marriage and prepare them for the vows they are about to take.
The Story. This section is optional, but can be an amazing opportunity to become a storyteller and bring all the guests with you on the couple's journey and how they got to this day. Not everyone has had a front row seat to their lives, this is a privilege you can share.
Exchange of Vows. These are the promises that the couple makes to each other. It is common for the couple to write these themselves.
Exchange of the Rings. The declaration of consent (these are your "I dos") and the exchange of rings can be presented separately or combined.
Declaration/Blessing of Marriage/Closing Remarks. This is the conclusion of the ceremony. Wish them well and offer any advice that will be relevant and inspirational.
Pronouncement of Marriage. "......on this day.....I now pronounce you..."
The Kiss. "You may now kiss the........"
Introduction of Couple. For the first time ever, the new couple is introduced to the world.
There are many other ceremony parts that can be woven in such as; unity ceremonies, readings, prayers, ring warming, and many more. If you start with above you can work in additions later.
4. You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel
If you are reading this, it is likely the first time you have penned a wedding ceremony. It is also very likely that you have no idea where to start, to this I say, not to worry, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe
There is no shame in leveraging existing pieces and parts of ceremony scripts as long as they speak to the couple’s journey, vision, and intent. You should absolutely read and utilize other ceremonies for inspiration, customize them and add your secret sauce.
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to ensure fit and authenticity for you and the happy couple:
Are the words in this script ones that you would actually use in real life when speaking aloud?
Does this fit the couple’s preferences on spiritual and religious beliefs?
Is it the right level of formality or informality that the couple prefers?
5. Reading Aloud & Timing
Once you have your first draft written, you should read it aloud for feel, flow, and confirm word choice. You should also time yourself to see if you are in the right ballpark for desired length.
6. Like or Not Like
Now is a great time to run your first draft by the couple for directional input. Some couples may want the ceremony to be a surprise, in that case you could run the script by the best man or maid/matron of honor. Once you have some feedback, refine and put on the final touches.
7. Practice Makes Perfect
It is never too early to start rehearsing. The more you commit the ceremony to memory, the less nervous you will be. The more comfortable you are with what you have written the more likely you will become their guide and storyteller. As you read your script do the following:
Pauses. Look for natural pauses and breaks in the ceremony. Make those physical line breaks in your script or even type in the word “pause” if that will help.
Font Size. Choose a font that is easy to read at a glance, a font size 14 works great.
Ceremony Holder/Props. What will you use to reference and hold the ceremony? An iPad, journal, book, bible, pad folio? Whatever you choose make sure it is comfortable in your hands and easy to hold.
Page Breaks. Now that you have the content finalized, you should format for page breaks that reflect the distinct ceremony parts. It is best not to break a ceremony section across two pages. Remember, you will be glancing down during the ceremony to keep you on track. Set it up so it is easy at-a-glance and you will never lose your way.
8. The Gift
It is likely that the happy couple will hear or retain very little of the ceremony, remember they will be overwhelmed by love, nerves and emotion. The biggest gift you can give them is a copy of the ceremony for them to read, reflect on, and commemorate their wedding day. Reformat the ceremony for this purpose and print it on some beautiful paper and send it to them.
Creating the ceremony can seem daunting, but if written from your heart it is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding parts of officiating a wedding. Take your time and be thoughtful, it will show on the big day.
They have chosen you for a reason, likely the role you have played in their lives, your strength of character, and your sense of self. So create with curiosity, joy, and wisdom. Leverage those around you and those that inspire you.
Luck favors the prepared, you have got this.
All you need to do now is get started.