How to Write a Ceremony; for the First Time Officiant

The wedding industry has seen an increase in nontraditional weddings. We see more weddings moving outside of churches and places of worship, creating a desire for personalized ceremonies. These couples are choosing their loved ones to officiate their marriage.

Some couples choose to write their ceremony and vows, and some want nothing to do with the process. Either way, the task can seem daunting. Yet, with some homework and preparation, you can write your ceremony without a hitch.

These instructions are for the lucky and oh-so-honored officiant who doesn’t know where to start.

Do your research.

It’s critical that you research your state and city requirements for what they consider to be a valid wedding ceremony.

There are many sites online where you can register online to become ordained. You can find a list of such sites here

However, not all states and localities recognize ceremonies performed by online ordained officiants. For example, there are parts of New York that don’t recognize marriages performed by online “ministers”, and other thats do.

In other words, you can’t always ordain yourself via the universal life church and then officiate your friend’s ceremony. That could be bad. Bad, as in, the marriage isn’t valid, bad. It’s so important it’s worth repeating. Do your research.

What happens if your state doesn’t recognize online ordained ministers?

If you live in a locale with laws that would prohibit you from conducting the ceremony, you still have options. The couple can consider having two officiants — one to deal with the legal yuck, while the chosen officiant deals with the love. While you perform the symbolic portion of the ceremony, having a state-recognized officiant assures the marriage is legal.

Now, where do I start?

Start with the couple! Presumably, you were chosen because of your closeness to the affianced. That proximity is your treasure trove of intel on the couple. 

Couples who opt for a close friend or relative to be their officiant are doing so because they want a personalized ceremony. To fulfill that purpose, you have to dive deep into your treasure trove of stories you have about the couple. Consider including the how-they-met story or one of their first dates. This could be the story of the first time you met so-and-so’s soon to be bride or groom. Include the awkwardness in all it’s glory, those special moments and memories add depth to the ceremony, and add to your content.

To start you need to decide how you want the audience to feel during the ceremony. As well as what personal touches you will include, and how everything will connect. AKA; your tone, theme, and content.

When setting the tone, there are some essential questions to ask yourself about the couple.

What is the personality type of the couple? Are they hopeless-romantics? Do they have a great sense of humor? Are they silly? Or are they serious?

What is their vision for the wedding? An intimate family affair, or a glamorous event?

How does the couple relate to each other? Are they affectionate? Do they love a good prank?

The theme of the ceremony connects all the bits and pieces.​​​​​​​Connecting the stories you’ve gathered, and all the parts of the ceremony into one unified piece. The couple’s unique personalities will guide you on this.

What is the couple into? Perhaps they are avid readers. Then maybe the theme is books or writing. You could then incorporate phrases into the ceremony like; “starting this next chapter,” “writing their love story,” or “written into each other’s life stories.”

A theme doesn’t have to repeat into redundancy but instead apply it lightly to provide structure and fluidity.

You’ve gathered some great personal stories, you’ve set your tone and have picked a theme. Now it’s time to write.

The Ceremony Outline

Every ceremony follows an outline. Apply your tone, theme, and content to each section, and watch your ceremony come alive before your eyes.

The Opening

The opening is where you address the audience. You thank everyone for coming and remind the guests to sit down (if they’re still standing). Now is a great time to introduce yourself and your connection to the couple. Here is where you highlight the reason everyone is gathered together; to witness and share in the marriage ceremony.

“Welcome, friends, and loved ones. Please be seated.”

“We’re all here today to witness and share in the love story of…”

The opening is also where you can take a moment to reflect on those that couldn’t be there and to make a brief mention of any deceased loved ones. Ask the couple if they want any remembrances in their ceremony.

Here is an excerpt of a remembrance I wrote for my cousin’s ceremony recently:

“Today, we also miss dearly those that couldn’t be here with us. Including (name the deceased). It is important to remember that those that we love, never really go away as they are already forever written into our life story and we are grateful to them for forming the wonderful people that A and B are today.”

The Address

This is where you (you, big bad officiant, you) address the couple. The address is a prime place to include any of those special stories you’ve gathered. Here is where you can speak about marriage as it pertains to the couple. How will you envision their lives together to be? What traits do they share that ensure their bond is eternal lasting?

“L & Q still Netflix and chill to this day…”

“L loves foot rubs, and Q loves to give them.”

“They make each other laugh and never take each other too seriously.”

The Declaration of Intent

The declaration of intent is what legalizes the marriage. The most critical part of the ceremony. If not completed, the ceremony is invalid.

Traditionally this part goes something like this:

“I ________ take _________ to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife. To have and to hold, for as long as we both shall live.”

You can’t mess with this section too much, or you run the risk of officiating a sham marriage. To simplify, consider the declaration of intent as a sandwich. Well, you can’t have a sandwich without two pieces of bread.

The bread slices are “I _________ take ________ to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife” and “…for as long as we both shall live/forever/for eternity (anything that means quite literally until death do you part).”

The inside of the sandwich can be whatever you want. This is another part where you’ll consider the personality of the couple.

Here is an example I wrote for a couple

“Do you C take D to be your lawfully wedded husband, and promise to always make personal safety your number one priority when planning a prank, hijink, or scare, for as long as you both shall live?”

The Vows

These are the promises the couple makes to each other. In many ceremonies couples promise to love each other in sickness and in health and for richer or poorer.

This section is ripe for creativity. I suggest getting the couple in on the vow writing so that the promises can be ones they would want to make.

An easy template to follow is:

“I promise _________, to _________, and to __________”

“I promise to love you, to always be by your side, and to always make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I could give you one”

Exchanging of Rings & Ring Vows

As the title suggests, this is where the happy couple exchanges rings. You can call attention to the ring and what it symbolizes. I’ve read many ceremonies that mention the precious metals that formed the ring, or how the ring symbolizes an eternal commitment in the form of a circle. If there is anything special or unique about their ring, include it in your speech.

The couple will exchange rings, and you will direct them each to place it on the others left hand. Most ceremonies have the couple repeat “with this ring I thee wed” but feel free to zhuzh this line up too!

The Pronouncement & Closing Remarks

This is the part where you pronounce them legally married and offer up another brief insight into love or their relationship.

The Kiss

Everyone’s favorite part, remember to tell your couple to kiss!

Aside from the expression of intent, the entire ceremony is customizable. Any of the above can be reordered or even omitted to the heart’s content!

Add to the conversation; Tell me how your ceremony writing went and what tips or tricks you used. Or, if you’re stuck, ask a question!

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