Ideas for a Humanist Wedding Ceremony?

From FAForumite kungfu:

I’m getting hitched in a few months. I come from a largely fundamentalist baptist background but I’ve been an atheist for a number of years. My bride-to-be was raised Lutheran and while she has some fundies on her side, her immediate family is pretty laid back. She still holds onto her religion, but is very liberal and caught between worlds (as in, she just wants to make people happy and believe in a transcendant meaning to things).

There was some friction early on, but all sides are accepting of the fact that there will be religious compromise. We’ve found a really cool looking Lutheran church for the ceremony, and apparently the fact that it’s Lutheran (albeit a different sect than their own) won me some brownie points.

I have a pastor friend I still meet with regularly to discuss theological issues who agreed to do the wedding. He was the most liberal pastor I knew, and the most apt to work with me to provide a dogma-free ceremony.

My question now is to ask for advice on the actual ceremony. Having lived in a very religious area, 99% of weddings I attend are littered with dogmatic preaching and benedictions, so I’m pretty ignorant about a more humanistic ceremony. I’m meeting with the pastor in a few weeks again and I want to bring some ideas to the table on how to make it as free of religion as possible. Does anyone have experience or ideas with different types of ceremonies, music, readings (poems?), or any other advice?

Your advice is appreciated.

In the meantime, in case anyone else is looking, you can find Humanist Celebrants here.

You can also get atheist wedding ideas here and here.

  • Ron in Houston

    It’s interesting. I don’t remember it all, but that part in Corinthians about love is actually pretty secular.

  • Siamang

    We had this poem in our ceremony, in the place of scripture

    On Marriage
    Kahlil Gibran
    You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
    You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
    Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
    But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
    And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

    Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
    Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
    Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
    Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
    Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
    Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

    Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
    For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
    And stand together yet not too near together:
    For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
    And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

  • http://www.beginningwithi.com/ Deirdré Straughan

    We didn’t have any particularly religious relations to contend with, but we wrote our own vows starting from a (Christian) wedding handbook we found at the library, just left out all the god stuff, and kept it short so the groom wouldn’t faint from stress. Having already been legally married by a Justice of the Peace, we did without any officiant and simply said our vows to each other, with a call-and-response piece for the audience, who vowed to support us in our life’s adventure or some such. A friend sang a song she had had composed for us, text based on the Song of Solomon – Biblical, yes, but it’s a love poem.

    Then we had the party!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03859405216390259275 Rose (aka Intergalactic Hussy)

    We had the same issue, but it was all my Dad’s way…which was fine. I’ve never been one of those girls with big wedding dreams anyway. We had a Rabbi perform the most liberal version of his ceremony. Oh yeah, and we did it in VEGAS!!!!! If I had done a big wedding, I would have wanted a comedian perform the ceremony, but it was so small I didn’t really care all that much.

    For poems, I’d suggest you write something short ‘n sweet yourself; it would be more meaningful. Perhaps that’s just because I can’t think of anything right now. :)

  • Xeonicus

    My best friend just had a secular wedding (both him and his wife are nonreligious). Another friend of mine (who is not religious either) married them. They ended up holding the ceremony at a university garden next to a beautiful pond. Aside from the heat, it was really nice.

    It was pretty laid back and carefree because they’d already officially married a month prior. The ceremony was just for friends and family to observe tradition. Anyway, they prepared what was to be read themselves. They drew from a few sources, a favorite author, a judge who popularized civil marriage (forgot her name), and some famous dead person. Man, my memory is bad tonight, lol, sorry.

    Our friend who married them basically read that, asked the small group of us in attendance if we promised to support them and whatnot, then they did their vows.

    Really, it was just like a normal wedding except it was a bit more brief, more relaxed, and they didn’t talk about God. It went surprisingly well considering the bride’s parents are Mormons and my friend’s parents are practicing xtians, but they were very nice and I never detected a hint of awkwardness from them. Very respectable.

    Sounds like you have a bit more of a religious slant to deal with in your case though.

  • snoozebar

    I’m getting married in a couple months too, and we’re also planning our ceremony. Both of us are atheist, and our parents are all atheist, apathiest, or supportive, so I consider myself lucky that we can have the exact ceremony we want. Yay!

    Since I live near San Francisco, it’s been easy to find secular officiants. Even the religious ministers are all open to doing secular ceremonies.

    In fact, the woman I hired specifically mentioned her template ceremony “did not mention God” which I thought was awesome. Plus she had a very sweet paragraph on her website about how she wanted to marry as many gay couples as possible before the election. Awww.

    We haven’t figured out the exact ceremony, but it’ll be simple. The celebrant has a nice template talking about love and support and commitment to each other, as well as letting each other be the person they want to be.

    We’ll say our vows, exchange rings, and that’ll be about it. I find poetry readings to be a bit twee, so there’ll be none of that.

    I’m a cellist, so music is important to me. There’s some Bach cantatas that, while religious, aren’t very famous and won’t carry religious overtones like Ave Maria or Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring would. I like both of them, but not for my wedding.

    I’m also really in love with the Dona Nobis Pacem by this group. “Give us peace” – can’t want for a better message that that!

    If the original writer wants more information, Hemant, feel free to pass along my email address. I’m happy to talk more about it privately.

  • Khristy

    My husband and I are both atheists had a secular wedding on a small yacht in San Francisco Bay. The wedding its self was done by the Captin and we advised her we didnt want any god, jebus, or ghost talk, and we wrote our own vows and cut and pasted the rest of the ceremony together. No problem, I would doubt any of our religious relatives even noticed we omitted religion from our wedding. It was simply for both our families and closest friends to get together and have a party, in our honor of course ;)
    But in all honesty I think making your wedding your own is the most important :)
    Here were our secular wedding vows:

    Love is patient and kind and envies no one.
    Love is never boastful, not conceited, nor rude.
    Love is never selfish, nor quick to take offence.
    There is nothing that love cannot face;
    There is no limit to its belief, its hope and its endurance.

    Love will never come to an end.

    Today, as you stand here, remember that your love, loyalty, friendship and trust are the foundations for your marriage. Your commitment will bring you increasing joy, satisfaction and tranquility. Hold fast to this vision throughout your lives. May you both strive to receive all your hearts desire. Always respect and be kind to one another. Make sure to communicate you feelings to each other and that will ensure you both a positive start to a healthy and long lasting marriage.

    Michael, do you take this woman, Khristy, to be your lawfully wedded wife? Do you promise to love her and comfort her, to honor her and to keep her, in sickness and in health, to love and respect, in prosperity and adversity, so long as you both shall live?

    Khristy, do you take this man, Michael, to be you lawfully wedded wife? Do you promise to love her and comfort her, to honor her and to keep her, in sickness and in health, to love and respect, in prosperity and adversity, so long as you both shall live?

    I, Michael, Promise to love and cherish you, Khristy, to give you my strength, to help you in good times and bad, to respect your individuality, to make our home one of love and understanding. I give you all of my trust, all of my tomorrows, all of my life.

    I, Khristy, Promise to love and cherish you, Michael, to give you my strength, to help you in good times and bad, to respect your individuality, to make your home one of love and understanding. I give you all of my trust, all of my tomorrows, all of my life.

    This ring I give you, in solemn token and pledge of my endless love.

    This ring I give you, in solemn token and pledge of my endless love.

    Now that you have joined yourselves in matrimony, may you strive always to meet this commitment with the same spirit you now exhibit. We all here bear witness to this ceremony you have performed and you may now call yourselves husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride.

  • http://www.let-me-be-frank.blogspot.com smellincoffee

    I would suggest a reading from Robert G. Ingersoll:
    =======================================
    “Love is the only bow on Life’s dark cloud. It is the morning and the evening star. It shines upon the babe, and sheds its radiance on the quiet tomb. It is the mother of art, inspirer of poet, patriot and philosopher. It is the air and light of every heart — builder of every home, kindler of every fire on every hearth. It was the first to dream of immortality. It fills the world with melody — for music is the voice of love. Love is the magician, the enchanter, that changes worthless things to Joy, and makes royal kings and queens of common clay. It is the perfume of that wondrous flower, the heart, and without that sacred passion, that divine swoon, we are less than beasts; but with it, earth is heaven, and we are gods.”

  • David

    Anyone who likes may use all or part of our ceremony.

  • kungfu

    Great comments guys, thanks for the help so far. It’s giving me some ideas that I’ll toy around with.

    snoozebar

    I’m a cellist, so music is important to me. There’s some Bach cantatas that, while religious, aren’t very famous and won’t carry religious overtones like Ave Maria or Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring would. I like both of them, but not for my wedding.

    We’re having a professional harpist play the wedding. That was one of my first requests! The chapel we found has great acoustics for that.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Khristy wrote:

    Here were our secular wedding vows:

    Love is patient and kind and envies no one.
    Love is never boastful, not conceited, nor rude.
    Love is never selfish, nor quick to take offence.
    There is nothing that love cannot face;
    There is no limit to its belief, its hope and its endurance.

    Love will never come to an end.

    I think this is adapted from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 4-7.

    I guess these are mostly secular wedding vows.

    :^)

  • Audrey

    I got married three weeks ago, and we had a non-religious ceremony. We didn’t have any singing and kept it relatively short. Our vows were just the traditional ones with gods and religious overtones edited out. We kind of just hoped none of my religious relatives would notice that we didn’t say anything about God…

    Our officiant had a bunch of suggestions about readings and things that we could do that would be secular, and we settled on “The Art of a Good Marriage.”

    I’m surprised at how many people on here suggest Corinthians 13, just because growing up in a Christian setting I really grew to dislike Paul in general. I think anything from the Bible at all is just tainted in my mind.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Do what the Japanese do- steal another cultures wedding ceremony because it looks neat.

    As for wedding vows… they are standardized so that guys don’t have to keep one uping to get the girl. Don’t start making the competition worse!

  • Ada

    Our wedding was under 15 minutes. No poems, no songs, and our vows were about four lines long. I say put your efforts on the reception instead. ;)

  • http://notreallyalice.blogspot.com/ Notreallyalice

    You know what might be fun is to take all the wedding traditions you can think of, make up a few, and just throw them all together. Jump over a broom, stomp on a glass, light a candle, pass out a drinking game to the witnesses (every time the pastor says love!)… And then this:

    Do you? –yes.
    Do you? –yes.

    Kiss her, you’re married.

  • http://chatiryworld.typepad.com Katherine

    We’re having a humanist wedding next year, here’s our celebrant’s blog, it’s got lots of ideas on it.

  • ladyvonkulp

    Our ceremony was also about 15 minutes long, complete with friend staring at his watch during the recessional because it was so short. Our music was Gershwin, and the building was a campus non-denominational chapel. We wrote our own vows, and the JoP was a family friend of mine from a loooong time ago.

    We did have a bread and wine ceremony, on a plate a friend had made for us featuring two converging rivers. Tom was a recovering Catholic/agnostic at the time, and I’ve always been an atheist, pretty much. His mom, a devout Catholic, gently suggested maybe we should have something to reflect that, but we smiled and nodded. No backlash from that, however.

    Next year will be ten years for us, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a honest screaming match, and our older son, now 6, actually asked me last week why we don’t fight. I really didn’t know what to tell him.

  • http://www.mundori.com Brascal

    Make it about you two. Get a speaker to describe how you two met, how you fell in love, the things that make the union right and happy.

    Throw in some music or poetry you both like. Toasts. Jokes. The traditional dance with only the bride and the groom on the floor.

    There are endless way to celebrate and make merry without ever coming close to mentioning deities.

    Oh, and congratulations!

  • http://mnatheists.org Bjorn Watland

    If you check out the different Humanist groups, like the British Humanists, Australian Humanists, and I think American Humanists, they all have books with sample ceremonies. We used mostly the Australian book to piece together a ceremony, and included readings from favorite books. It’s secular, and our families are religious, but it should be a welcome change from the standard ceremony. We won’t find out for 9 days whether it worked or not.

    Oh, and Camp Quest rocks, when you get kids who are old enough, totally send them there.

  • Brian

    My wife and I live in Pennsylvania. Since Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers we have a concept called a self uniting ceremony, or a a Quaker license/ceremony if you like. Colorado apparently is the other state that allows it. We went to the county office building asked for a Self uniting license. and then both our parents, the two friends who introduced us to each other and us met at a nice Bed and Breakfast with a full service restaurant. It was a mansion at one point. We had the library all to ourselves. We read vows that I found on the internet and tweaked to say what we wanted them to say, signed the marraige license, had dinner and my wife and i spent the night at the B&B.

    All I would say is that you should make hte day your day, and try not to put too much stress on yourselves. Simple is almost always best.

  • http://www.aperfectfool.com Perfect Fool

    Exactly how is it a compromise when the atheist consents to a religious wedding? Isn’t that like compromising on capital punishment by agreeing to be shot with a smaller caliber bullet?

  • Sarah T.

    I had a completely civil ceremony that was very meaningful to us and to our friends and family, even the religious ones. I’m uncomfortable posting the whole thing here, but the general plan was:

    Welcome and recognition of the role of parents
    Readings (5 in all, mostly short poems with one longer performance)
    Officiant Speechifies (he read a section of the Massachusettes ruling on civil marriages, which was a huge hit)
    Vows and ring exchange (we wrote our own)
    Kiss the bride!

    Please feel free to email me for a full copy of the ceremony and a list of readings, if you’d like. There are so many amazing poems out there that are suitable in place of Bible verses.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jodie.thompson.969 Jodie Thompson

      I would appreciate a copy of the ceremony and list of readings to aid in my wedding planning. Thanks

  • http://iswhatido.org Richard Blumberg

    There’s a poem by Shaneegh Pugh, a Welsh poet, that I admire much. She’s pretty much repudiated it, because it’s been so over-quoted (and misquoted), but it’s still fine; it’s called “Sometimes”:

    Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
    From bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
    Faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
    Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

    A people sometimes will step back from war;
    Elect an honest man; decide they care
    Enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
    Some men become what they are born for.

    Sometimes our best efforts do not go
    Amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
    The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
    That seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

    I think it would make a lovely wedding poem.

    With regard,

    Richard

  • kungfu

    Exactly how is it a compromise when the atheist consents to a religious wedding? Isn’t that like compromising on capital punishment by agreeing to be shot with a smaller caliber bullet?

    At first I fought pretty hard and we were going to have the ceremony outside, but settled on the church because of unpredictable weather, cost, and the number of people that are coming. We have no affiliation with this church and are choosing it just because it looks cool. The benefit is that it’s a Lutheran church, and so that seems to somehow make things more acceptable to her large family even though I make it clear that I’m nonreligious.

    The expectation from her family was always a strictly Lutheran wedding at their family’s home church, which often equates to a full service with message and sometimes cannibalism (communion). I would not be going down the path of conversion like others in that family had done.

    Yet at the same time, this wedding is about us, and not about me waving a flag to point out to everyone that “hey, I’m an atheist!” That’s where the compromise comes in. I don’t want to remember the day as a struggle between our beliefs or nonbeliefs. Hell, I put enough of that in every other day of the week.

    We’re trying to find a happy medium that we can both enjoy. She really wants to have some sort of religious song during the ceremony, and I can take that as long as it’s not too… y’know. We’ve talked to the pastor doing the wedding and I’ve made it clear that I want no reference to any gods during my vows, but she doesn’t mind saying them in hers. I’ve told him no sermon and no father/son/holy spirit talk, and that’s ok with my bride.

    I like the ideas I’m getting here because it will give me some fodder to go back and show them specifics about how a wedding doesn’t have to be religious. Religious weddings are really all they or I know, and it’s hard to think of what else is out there.

    Yes, it’s frustrating at times because I hate to feel like I’m giving the wrong impression of being religious. But this isn’t a day for me to trumpet to the world that I don’t believe in what you believe in. It’s a day of celebrating our commitment to each other. Not a day to proselytize, on either side of the fence.

  • Amber

    Our wedding was very secular, slightly irreverant, and seemed to not offend my husbands VERY Catholic family. Some excerpts include:

    Author Kathleen Norris said: “Intimacy is what makes a marriage. Not a ceremony, not a piece of paper from the state.” A marriage is more than a wedding. A wedding ceremony is only a symbol, a public announcement of that which is within: a union which an officiant makes legal, but which the law can neither create nor destroy.

    Marriage represents the ultimate intimacy between two people. It should be entered into with certainty, with mutual respect, and with a sense of reverence, but also with humor, happiness and joy. At its heart, a marriage is the promises made and kept by two individuals. No one can marry you but yourselves, XXXXX and XXXXX, and the promises that you are about to exchange serve as verbal representation of the love and commitment you pledge to each other.

    XXXXX: XXXXX, you are my best friend and everlasting companion. You have brought me the truest happiness I have ever known. Will you accept this ring and be my wife?

    Officiant: Philosopher Joseph Campbell said: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Today, by proclaiming their commitment to each other, and exchanging rings, XXXXX and XXXXX have taken the next step in the life that is waiting for them. May it be a life filled with happiness, laughter and joy.

    We also included a reading of the poem “I Like You” by Sandol Stoddard Warburg.

    In addition, instead of favors, we made a donation to the Carl Sagan Educational Foundation in memory of my late father-in-law (a scientist and athiest), and placed a note to that effect in our programs.

    All in all, our ceremony took a whopping 20 minutes, and we had lots of lovely comments about how “us” it was, even from my devout Catholic in-laws. I think my husbands elderly Italian aunt who goes to mass every day had the most effusive praise for it! Go figure.

  • http://kevinreed.net/ Kevin

    Some of the most pleasurable weddings I’ve been involved in (I’m a photographer) have been non-religious. They often maintain the basic elements: entrance, officiant says something nice, exchange the rings, kiss, exit. One of the things I’ve liked about it (other than the fact that there’s no god-talk), is that they’ve been quick, and more meaningful because it’s quick. That is, it’s not about all the drawn out traditional crap; it’s simply about two people getting married. Discard all the religious trappings, do the meaningful bits, keep it moving so the guests don’t fall asleep, and then get on with the eating and partying…which I think is just as meaningful as the ceremony, by the way. For American weddings, anyway, it’s all about everyone getting together and celebrating, eating, drinking and dancing to bad music.

  • Anne

    The problem with standard American weddings is that they are very short once you take out the god talk. I’ve been to one that clocked in at 8 minutes (I overheard a guest saying that it was “baby of all weddings”) and another clocked in at under 5. That’s great, but some of the more traditional guests can feel unsettled by it. Most people, especially older people, have certain cultural expectations of what a “wedding” is. There has to be a guy in a dark suit, a gal in a white dress, a person in front directing things, a series of vows and readings, some rings switching hands, and a cake. I don’t think any of those things are mandatory myself, but if you don’t go down the list and hit these points, they feel that something is strange, that somehow the magic marriage mojo wasn’t properly invoked. Even if the substance isn’t religious, hitting those notes will help the traditional folks feel at ease. I was happy with a courthouse, but my own marriage hit those notes to celebrate with our families. We even used some bible verses where appropriate – a good quote is a good quote. For someone who was strongly anti-marriage, Paul’s letter on love is quite nice. There are some great passages in Song of Solomon about waiting for your beloved. We even adjourned to the reception with “A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and be merry.” (Ecclesiastes 8: 15) There was no god talk, no dogma, lots of secular readings, but the inclusion of biblical quotes was appreciated. This couple is getting married in a church by a priest, and it would be a nice gesture to include some nicer, non-dogmatic bits of the faith of their host and families.

  • snoozebar

    That’s great, but some of the more traditional guests can feel unsettled by it. Most people, especially older people, have certain cultural expectations of what a “wedding” is.

    Frankly, my older relatives can suck it. We’re the first grandchildren getting married (on both sides), so they’ll take what they get and like it. It’s not them getting married anyways.

    They can go drown their disappointments in the free champagne we’re providing them. :p

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    Each write your own vows and don’t share them until the wedding, have music you and your wife like played by friends, have the pastor not mention god, keep it short, and get to the party. It worked for us anyway.

  • AnonyMouse

    For me, the most romantic wedding invocation would begin with “Five billion years ago, a star exploded…” It would go on to explain how the dust from that star flew through space until it came to our developing planet, where it landed (crashed?) and became a part of the earth. Over time, the life developing on Earth incorporated that stardust into itself, passing it on from generation to generation, until it reached the happy couple. Add a bit about uniting two pieces of stardust, and you have a winner.

    Of course, it would completely scandalize my young-earth Creationist parents… XD

    I would also like to perform a romantic duet with the man I’m marrying, either before the vows or in their place. The problem with weddings, in my opinion, is that there’s too much talking and not enough singing.


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