Your Wedding Your Way
with Rev. Rebecca Armstrong!
Finding your theme for the ceremony lends a sense of cohesion and aesthetic focus to the proceedings. Allowing your own values, background, talents and passions to be the core around which the theme develops is the best way to create a satisfying ceremony.
Many of the couples I work with come from different faith backgrounds or have left religious traditions behind, but still want to incorporate some ideas that honor their history or ethnicity. Below are a few of the many ideas I've woven into ceremonies. Call me to discuss your particular situation and we'll find an elegant solution for your wedding!
IDEAS FOR YOUR CEREMONY
Honoring Different Traditions
One of the very great joys and privileges of being a wedding minister in the 21st century is the frequency with which I am asked to perform ceremonies between people of different faiths. This is such a powerful and profound statement of our country’s ideals – that love and shared common values should overcome any barrier of creed! I have created ceremonies for all types of interfaith marriages and unions:
In America, the wedding ceremony is perhaps the one event in life when we are actually encouraged to act as if the world revolved around our needs and desires - certainly this is true for the bride, and for a growing number of grooms. The opportunity for exploring what it is that we prefer can be a life changing experience if we use the time and resources allotted for the express purpose of clarifying the deep desires of the heart and mind.
A large, formal wedding is the norm for many societies because it signifies the coming-of-age of two members of a wider community who will now take their place in the community and be accorded the rank and respect they deserve. These two are now bread-winners, householders, prospective-parents, leaders, and future elders of the tribe. It is expected, therefore, that they demonstrate their right to hold these privileged positions by a generous show of affection and feasting. In return, the community provides them with all the necessities for setting up home as one among them.
The ceremonies of venerable religious traditions show many of these focal points, as well as reminding everyone present of their shared values and beliefs. Thus, weddings help secure the familial bonds that hold the fabric of society together. In a society where many religions coexist, the opportunity for shaping ceremonies that lift up the common threads of concern and understanding between different faith communities is a critically important part of the democratization of our country. When we see that there is more that unites us than divides us, we take a step forward toward a more harmonious future. Love, as always, leads the way.
One of the very great joys and privileges of being a wedding minister in the 21st century is the frequency with which I am asked to perform ceremonies between people of different faiths. This is such a powerful and profound statement of our country’s ideals – that love and shared common values should overcome any barrier of creed! I have created ceremonies for all types of interfaith marriages and unions: Jewish/Christian, Christian/Hindu, Hindu/Humanist, Humanist/Buddhist. Buddhist/Muslim, Muslim/Christian, Christian/Pagan, Pagan/Jewish…..
There are so many ways to honor different traditions within the same ceremony and yet maintain an overall feeling of unity and coherence. Ask about some examples of interfaith ceremonies I’ve done. Bring your ideas with you and I’ll be happy to create a perfect interfaith wedding for you! I hope you will find inspiration in the following readings and ideas for your own interfaith wedding. Here is a ceremony for a couple in which one of Jewish and the other Catholic.
The Jewish/Christian Wedding
A ceremony incorporating both Christian and Jewish wedding traditions can be not only beautiful, but can lay the groundwork for the respectful blending of two belief systems for the duration of the marriage.
Arising from the same cultural and historical matrix, Judaism and Christianity rituals have many elements in common. For a wedding ceremony, both include a welcoming of the guests, the exchange of vows and rings, a blessing of you as a couple, the pronouncement of your marriage, and a closing benediction. Some of the unique elements of a Jewish ceremony include the presence of a chuppah (the wedding canopy), prayers in Hebrew, the sharing and blessing of wine, the seven wedding blessings, the breaking of the glass, special dances following the nuptials. A Christian ceremony includes Old and New Testament readings, the lighting of a unity candle, the reading of the Lord's Prayer, and a declaration of intent.
For some couples, it may be necessary to have two, separate ceremonies in order to honor the integrity of the ritual as a whole, or to obtain the services of a rabbi or priest, who are sometimes bound by their religious orders to perform weddings only inside a temple or church of their own tradition. However, there are many liberal ministers and rabbis who are happy to officiate or co-officiate a ceremony that blends elements from both religions.
A wise rabbi once noted that in all streams of Jewish tradition there are two parts to any ritual, the "keva" and the "kavanna." The keva is the structure of the ritual, its actual components and words, and the kavanna is the intention and focus that makes it sacred. Thus, even if the “keva” is altered, it is possible to bring the “kevanna” that makes the ceremony a sacred one in the hearts and minds of those participating.
Pre-Ceremony: If a Ketubah (the Jewish wedding covenant) has been made, it is traditionally signed by the couple before the wedding, but may be included during the ceremony itself.
Processional: Joyful music alerts the guests that the wedding is about to begin. Under a wedding canopy, the minister awaits the arrival of the bride and groom, who appear, each walking between their parents down a different aisle. They arrive at the front of the room and are embraced by their parents, who are then seated. Then, traditionally, the bride circles the groom seven times. Alternatively, each circles the other three times and the final circle is made by the couple together. The music stops, the couple comes under the canopy and move forward to stand with the minister.
Opening Reading: From Songs of Songs
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come,
the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
Set this as a seal upon your hearts,
for love is stronger than death,
Set these words as a seal upon your hearts
Celebrating the Differences:
Coming from two distinct traditions, _____ and ____ have come together to learn the best of what each has to offer, to celebrate their differences, and build a firm foundation on the common ground of love and respect. This ceremony has been created by the bride and groom to express to you their understandings of love and marriage and to incorporate those aspects of their respective traditions that each loves the most. We are standing under a chuppah, the Jewish symbol of the new home and family, and we will later light the unity candle, a Christian symbol of two people igniting the mystery of the third in the marriage. We ask you to receive this ceremony as a gift in the spirit in which it is offered.
Sharing of the Wine
(Bride and Groom pour wine from the two carafes into a single cup and share the wine as minister speaks – alternatively, the wine and cup can be brought up by parents or friends or members of the wedding party.)
Minister: ___ and ___, into this cup has been poured both sweet and bitter wine. The sweet is said to be the joy of life, the bitter is said to be the sorrow of life. As these two wines have been mixed in this cup, so will joy and sorrow be mixed in your life. As you drink from this cup, remember that as you share your lives you will also share the joys and sorrows that come to one or to both of you, each in their turn. As together you partake of this cup of wine, remember that your union in meant to strengthen you in the sorrowful times, that from one another you may draw contentment, comfort and joy from the cup of life. Thereby may you find life's joy doubly gladdened, its bitterness sweetened and all things allowed by true companionship and love.
Rosh Hodesh Blessing
Give us long life,
A life of peace,
A life of goodness,
A life of blessing,
A life of nourishment and sustenance.
May it be a life of bodily health,
A life in which is found
Awe and wonder for the sacred,
A life of happiness and honor,
A life of integrity and discernment,
Intelligence and knowledge,
A life in which our heart's longings
Are met with gladness.
(Bride and Groom take the two tapers and as minister speaks, they light the unity candle together and replace the tapers in their holders. Alternately, the mothers can come forward and light tapers, from which the bride and groom light their own tapers and then proceed to light Unity Candle)
Minister: Even as the flame of your individual lives continues to burn brightly, we celebrate the mystery of the third thing - that invisible presence which is your love made manifest in each other's lives and in the world. This third flame is fed by your love and will, in turn, feed you with greater brightness and warmth than you can even imagine now, at the tender beginnings of your life journey together. In lighting this third candle, we bear witness to the awesome power of love's groundedness in the substance of earthly life. As this flame draws its nurturance from the candle beneath, so does our human love thrive in the substance of our daily giving and forgiving; the seasons of our planting and of our harvest; the rootedness of our beginnings and the blossoming of our aspirations. May this flame grow ever brighter as the wisdom of your love adds substance to its glow.
Vows (a combination of traditional Ketubah vows and Catholic vows)
I, (bride/groom) take you, (bride/groom) to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better for worse, for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish, from this day forward.
I will honor you, uphold and sustain you in all truth and sincerity,
in times of joy as well as hardship.
Let our home be built on truth and loving-kindness,
rich in wisdom and reverence.
May we always keep these words in our hearts
as a symbol of our eternal commitment to each other:
I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.
This is my solemn vow.
Exchange of Rings
These rings in their unbroken wholeness are tokens of the continuity of your love. May their shining substance be a symbol of the enduring trust and affection that you bring to one another.
__________, I give you this ring as a sign of my love,
and with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you,
and take you for my husband/wife.
Vows of the Guests
Minister - As these family members gather round to offer a circle of blessing to ___ and ___, we invite you to join hands with the persons next to you and feel yourself to be fully alive in the circle of life and love. May the love which brought us here today be a sustaining light and warmth in the days and years to come. May its power bless and protect ___ and ___ as they embark on their great adventure of marriage. Knowing that marriage as a time honored institution requires not only the love freely received and freely given by these two, but also the respect and honor of their community, we ask each one of you now, to join in offering this blessing to ___ and ___. Please repeat after me:
We respect your union/We honor its purpose/
We wish you joy/and we send you peace/Blessed Be
Pronouncement & Benediction
May God bless you and keep you.
May God's countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May God look upon you with favor and grant you peace.
As you _________ and _________ have chosen one another from among all the men and women of the earth; have declared your love for one another before this company; have pledged to live together under this sacred covenant by the saying of vows and exchange of rings, now, by the authority vested in me by the church and by the state, I pronounce you husband and wife.
Breaking of the Glass (Jewish tradition)
Rebecca takes the glass that was used in the Wine ceremony and holds it aloft and says,
May this glass from which you have drunk together be for you and for you alone. Respecting the fragility of love and promising your mutual fidelity and trust, I invite you to enter now the kingdom of marriage!
Minister hands glass to bride who wraps it in napkin and hands it to groom. He raises his foot and stomps the glass underfoot. Everyone calls out, Mazeltov! The bride and groom kiss and make their exit while music plays.
Recessional: Immediately after the ceremony, the couple enters a private space for “yichud” – a few moments of togetherness. There they celebrate their new status as a married couple so that when they reenter the party they can devote their time to their guests having first attended to each other!
* * * *
Good without God
What is a Humanist Wedding?
All weddings are humanistic in the deepest sense ~ that is they are reflections of two human beings who are striving to live into a great covenant based on mutual love and respect. A Humanist wedding, in contrast to a religious wedding, is based on this purely human sense of integrity and does not call upon a supreme being to condone the "blessedness" of the marriage. For many people, especially that growing population who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious," this is an important distinction!
If you are one of those contemporary couples who want to define your relationship outside of the old traditions of God-ordained unions, then seeking a humanist or humanistic basis for your ceremony is a wise step. This does not mean that your ceremony will be lacking in a sense of reverence, elegance or wonder. It means that what is being "worshipped" - that is what is being given worth (the actual definition of that word) - is the Love that has brought two people together in a profound sense of joy and mutual aspiration.
When saying vows it is a beautiful opportunity to be clear that the foundation of your love is grounded in shared human values, the power of choice, mutual respect, etc.
I, ______, pledge to you, _____,
to continue the ways that brought us together,
to continue to grow with you,
to continue to learn from our differences,
to continue to be your soulmate in life,
to have faith in what brought us here,
and to be true and good to each other for eternity;
with these vows I have just said,
I promise my love to you.
*** *** ***
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my soulmate and best friend for life.
To love you always - both through our likenesses
and through our differences.
To grow in admiration and respect,
as we begin the story of our life together.
*** *** ***
I, _______, take you _________,
to be no other than yourself.
Loving what I know of you, trusting what I don't yet know;
With respect for your integrity and faith in your abiding love for me;
In all that life may bring us,
I pledge my love.
* * * *
All Love Matters
How is a Gay Wedding different?
It isn't! A wedding is a wedding is a wedding, just as love is love! Love knows no boundaries of race, class, age or gender and it is a joy to be a wedding officiant at such a momentous time in our nation's evolution. There were many years when I did not think I would live to see that happy day when there would be no form of love "which dare not speak its name". Encouraged by the Unitarian church, I was officiating same-sex unions way back in the early 1990's and creating keepsake scrolls for my couples, in the hope that they might someday be used to validate their marriage. It was thrilling to be able to finally pronounce the marriage bans "by the power vested in me by church and by state."
The ritual of a Wedding fulfills both the deeply private need to feel more closely bonded with the beloved, and also satisfies the desire to share your joy with friends and family - to declare your love in a public forum and receive the embrace and support of your community. Becoming fully participatory and conscious of the inner meanings of the specific rituals you choose to use or discard at this important event can set the tone for years to come. Creating new forms for the universal desire to share one's life with another expands the minds and hearts of all who witness it, and ultimately overturns old prejudices and makes more room for the many faces of Love.
All the wedding examples on this site can be used for Gay Weddings, but if you are looking for some readings that may hold special significance for gay couples, please get in touch and I'll share some of my favorites. Here is one to get you started:
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
"Touched by an Angel" by Maya Angelou
* * * *
Because the Planet Matters
GREEN or Eco-Friendly Weddings
It's washing over the American consciousness like the light of a rosy-fingered dawn - only by treating Mother Nature kindly will we see many more tomorrows! Being true to your political and spiritual allegiance should not be neglected when designing your own wedding. In fact, it's the perfect place to make your statement. Here at the start of your new life together you can lay the foundations for making "green" the keynote of your new lifestyle.
There are many books and articles around that speak about ways to keep your wedding green - from recycled paper for invitations, to seed packets as party favors , to upcycled wedding dresses and sustainably-mined diamonds - and I have a blog post devoted to that topic - so ask me about some of my favorite readings for a Green ceremony.
As a part of the opening of closing of the ceremony, you may wish to include the ancient Greek tradition of offering a LIBATION to the earth in the form of a pitcher of water poured on to the ground, or a beaker of wine poured into the sand or waves. A flower from the bride's bouquet could be tossed into a fountain or the ocean with a thank you to the earth.
Here are some readings that show your respect for Nature and the role of ecology in guiding human values and relationships:
Our life reminds me
Of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
And in that opening a house,
An orchard and garden,
Comfortable shades, and flowers ...
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
To be made anew day after day, the dark
Richer than the light and more blessed,
Provided we stay brave
Enough to keep going in.
Like the water of a deep stream, love is always too much.
We did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.
from The Country of Marriage by Wendell Berry
Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face,
I in my mind had waited for this long.
Seeing the false and searching the true,
Then I found you as a traveller finds a place
Of welcome suddenly amid the wrong
Valleys and rocks and twisting roads.
But you, what shall I call you?
A fountain in a waste.
A well of water in a country dry.
Or anything that's honest and good, an eye
That makes the whole world bright.
Your open heart, simple with giving, gives the primal deed,
The first good world, the blossom, the blowing seed,
The hearth, the steadfast land, the wandering sea.
Not beautiful or rare in every part
But like yourself, as they were meant to be.
The Confirmationby Edwin Muir
Words for Vows & Rings
New & Traditional
Words for Rings & VOWS
Rings are an ancient symbol, blessed and simple - a Circle, for love that never ends, a circle for arms that embrace; round like the sun, like the eyes. These rings made from the metals drawn deep from the earth will remind you that your love is drawn from deep in your heart and remind you of the necessity of grounding your love in passion and compassion and the daily giving and forgiving that makes a marriage These rings, beautifully crafted, will remind you that your marriage must be carefully crafted, as a work of art. May the bright gold/silver of these rings remind you that your love, like the sun, is meant to illumine; that your love, like the eye, must see clearly, that your love, like arms that embrace, is a grace upon this world.
*** *** ***
Minister: May these rings that you exchange be a token of your love and a symbol of your pledge made here today.
*** *** ***
Minister: As the circle of the wedding ring embraces the finger of the beloved, so are we all held in the circle of love. Let us pause and rejoice in the beauty and the majesty of this love and give thanks.
Here are the traditional vows from the Book of Common Prayer - a good standby if you want to evoke the power of the familiar words!
I_________ take you_________to be my wedded wife/husband
to have and to hold,
for better or for worse,
in richer and in poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish you from this day forward, 'til death do us part.
*** *** ***
But if you want to go in a different direction, here are some ideas to get you started:
______, I choose now to stay this path with you,
wherever it leads, whatever the outcome;
To travel with you through the adventures of life,
loving you at my side; in all that we will find,
I pledge my friendship, my faith and my love.
*** *** ***
In the company of our dear family and friends
and with their love and support,
I, ___, take you, ___, to be my husband.
To love you and cherish you; to nurture and support you.
To stand by your side as we share life's joys and sorrows,
laughter and pain.
To respect the unique person that you are
and help you to become who you will be.
Throughout our lives and to the end that
our souls shall grow into harmony with the divine.
Thus do I covenant with you and with God. (or leave that bit out if you are not religious.)
*** *** ***
I, ______, take you, ______,
in all that I have learned of you
and all that I hope to know.
It is my desire to be by your side
through all of our days ahead,
as we continue our journey together.
In all that life brings us
may we always be friends.
If you want to try your hand at writing your own vows, please request my free, 20-page ebook on HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN VOWS.