In the last seven years of helping couples plan nontraditional ceremonies, I have always started with the basic traditional ceremony outline. We look at each component of the ceremony, tweak the ones we want to make nontraditional, hold fast to the traditions they love, and eliminate those parts that just don’t make sense to the couple or their relationship. It’s worked for the 19 ceremonies I’ve officiated and I want to share it with you!
The traditional ceremony outline goes similar to this: (Note: some customs, churches, organizations, etc outlines will differ from the one I reference here, this is just what I use)
- Greeting from Celebrant
- Opening Blessing (or prayer)
- Presenting of the Bride/Groom
- Question of Intent
- Pledge of Commitment
- Exchange of Vows
- Exchange of Rings
- Symbolic Unity Ceremony
- Pronouncement of Union
- Introduction of Couple
The Processional is typically the grand entrance of the wedding party. This can include all members of the wedding party including the brides and grooms, or just the bride/groom. Most couples use a song that is meaningful to them, or a fun party song that themselves and their friends enjoy. It just marks that the ceremony is about to start and let’s get this party started!
The Greeting from the Celebrant is where I welcome friends, family, and other guests to the ceremony. I might acknowledge family members who have passed on, or make announcements such as “put away your cell phones”. It’s really a call to begin the wedding celebration.
The Opening Blessing (Prayer) is when the Celebrant offers a blessing for the ceremony. Or in some cases a family member or friend will offer a religious prayer. In some weddings I’ve done, I’ve asked the couple to find a family member who is religious to offer the prayer. It gives that family member a part to play in the nontraditional ceremony and is inclusive of their beliefs without being intrusive to the wedding itself.
The Presenting of Bride/Groom is slowly losing its place in modern weddings as most couples are getting married after living together for some time, or parents are not part of their lives, etc. If you do have a father/mother/parental figure giving away a bride/groom, asking the those individuals to bless the union is very sweet. Whatever your familial situation, this part of the ceremony can be custom designed to suit.
The Question of Intent is where the couple is asked (by full name) if they wish to enter into this marriage with each other, giving them ample opportunity to change their mind if they wish to do so! (None have, of course)
The Pledge of Commitment is the “sickness and health, richer or poorer” question and can be custom designed or eliminated completely. For most couples who’ve already established a home and family, this is redundant and unnecessary. But you can always add your own spin on it and make it fun, like “do you promise to overlook partner’s cat coffee mug collection”.
The Exchange of Vows is where you make the promises or pledges to each other. I encourage couples to think of what kind of past, present, and future they want for their marriage to put into their vows. I recently read an article from Offbeat Bride where a marriage mission statement was used. You can read about it here…. Marriage Mission Statement I will be sharing this idea in future meetings with couples.
The Exchange of Rings is where you symbolically share rings to mark a visual sign of your commitment to one another. Some couples have gotten tattoos in place of rings so this would be the time to explain those symbolic gestures. But it’s a good way to explain what you want your partner to feel and think about when they look at that ring, tattoo, or visual symbol.
The Symbolic Unity Ceremony was traditionally a lighting of one candle and then snuffing out the single two. It has evolved into a sand mixing ceremony, tree planting, paint mixing, etc. It’s as diverse as the couple getting married, and rightly so! I’ve had couples do sand, candles, a wine box, hand-fasting or completely eliminate the ceremony itself.
The Pronouncement of Union is where I get to state that the couple are legally married! I love seeing the smiles, the tears, and the sighs of relief from my couples! Often couples will want me to offer a blessing on their union and it means a lot to me to do so. I try to combine their vows, promises, and snippets from their ceremony into that blessing, just to pull everything together. It’s also a great time to be silly if the couple is up for it!
The Introduction of Couple is of course, where I present the couple to their friends, family, and guests and introduce them with their chosen titles. I’ve done the traditional “Mr and Mrs” to “Team MJ”. It’s a great way to find your own unique way to introduce yourselves as a newly married couple!
The Recessional is the exodus of the couple and their wedding party to the reception. Songs are as different as a sweet love song to “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC as was my last wedding ceremony! Guests can whoop and cheer, light sparklers, or blow bubbles! It’s the start of the feasting celebration and everybody is excited for the newly married couple!
So there you have it, the outline I use to plan a nontraditional wedding. I also encourage couples to utilize Offbeat Bride to find great ideas for nontraditional weddings!
Just remember, your wedding is YOURS. Therefore, it should reflect your ideas, your goals, and your tastes. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, because if it represents you and your partner, then it needs to be included. When Grandma Gert sees how that outfit she called weird looks on you when you’re beaming at your partner, she will realize she was wrong. When traditional Uncle Frank tells your Celebrant that the wedding was beautiful, you’ll know that you were right to stay true to yourself and your partner.
Next week, I’ll showcase another wedding I’ve officiated and explain what was unique about their ceremony!
Feel free to leave comments below!
Until next time,