Reader Dennis and his wife Holly got married in July. The ceremony was secular — and from what you’re about to see, everything about it was awesome
You want to see how a non-religious wedding works from start to finish? Keep reading.
First, Dennis explains their story:
A longtime friend of mine performed our ceremony while his wife was our maid of honor. The two of them helped to write and personalize our ceremony; one that we were very pleased with. Even the most religious people at the wedding commented that the ceremony was very appropriate and no one complained that it didn’t include god.
The story of how I met my wife involved one of our college text books, Linear Algebra, and so for his prop our officiant used that book while he conducted the ceremony. He explained why this book was important to us, his reason for using it, and even that wasn’t seen as a wedding faux pas.
My favorite part of the ceremony (aside from my beautiful bride) was that our wedding party was introduced using orchestral music from The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Those that recognized the music thought it was awesome and those that didn’t recognize it thought it was very nice instrumentals for a wedding.
There was only one hang up about our wedding. Getting it legalized was a nightmare. While I’ve been a militant atheist for years my wife typically described herself as agnostic. After seeing the discrimination that we faced in nearly every aspect of putting our wedding together she has become much more vocal about our atheism.
Finding a legal officiant was by far the hardest part. A self-uniting marriage was out; our county no longer does them and we didn’t have the money or time for any sort of legal action. There have also been several cases in our state of weddings performed by internet ordained priests being considered invalid. While we doubt this would have become a problem the cases where we did foresee it becoming a problem would have been horrendous (an insurance settlement after an untimely death or such). We considered just getting married at the courthouse the day before and would have settled for that option; but it just seemed unfair and we wanted to find a way to make our ceremony legal.
The most disheartening part of our search was when we turned to the local mayors. In our area mayors perform many wedding ceremonies and seemed like a nice secular option. The mayors we contacted were uncomfortable performing a non-religious ceremony. The pre-planned ceremonies that they typically used all included religion. We finally found a mayor who was willing to work with us, albeit uncomfortably, but he bailed on us 3 days before the ceremony!
In a display of real compassion my mothers pastor saved the day. He agreed to let my friend perform the ceremony an afterwords to do a secular pronouncement and sign our marriage certificate. He did read 1 Corinthians 13:1-7; but this particular verse doesn’t mention god or faith so we felt it was pretty fair.
I would offer this to anyone who is even considering having a secular or non-traditional wedding. Do it and stick to your guns. We faced an uphill battle to have our wedding; I almost came to blows with her dad. But in the end everyone (even her dad) agrees that we had a beautiful ceremony. Most importantly we can remember our wedding day with no regrets.
Second, Dennis was kind enough to provide the transcript of their entire ceremony. If you’re planning a wedding in the future, this would be a great template to use
Welcome friends, families, and honored guests. We are here to celebrate love. Love organizes our large and sometimes unpredictable world. It is that which enshrines and ennobles our human experience. It is the basis for the peace of family, and the peace of the peoples of the earth. The greatest gift bestowed upon humans is the gift of love freely given between two persons.
All of you are present today because you, in one way or another, have been part of Holly’s or Dennis’s life. On behalf of the bride and groom, a hearty welcome to all. Today we witness a marriage that began with a math book. Dennis asked Holly if he could borrow this book I am holding in my hands. Holly suggested that they meet and complete their math homework together. And from that beginning in a math classroom, their love has grown exponentially and reached toward the infinite. Innumerable factors have joined them together, adding to both of their lives to create something greater than that which existed before. And now, today Dennis and Holly become a set that is natural, sometimes complex, and occasionally irrational, but always real.
In marriage, two people turn to each other in search of a greater fulfillment than either can achieve alone. Marriage is a bold step, taken together, into an unknown future. It is risking who we are for the sake of who we can be. Only in giving of ourselves fully, and sharing our lives with another, can the mysterious process of growth take place. Only in loyalty and devotion bestowed upon another can that which is eternal in life emerge and be known. Two among us, who have stood apart, come together now, to declare their love and to be united in marriage.
The words we say today have no magic or prophetic powers. The power of the wedding vows is merely a reflection of a reality that already exists in the hearts and minds of these two people. Holly and Dennis, nothing I can say, or nothing you can say to each other, will ensure a long and happy, satisfying and committed marriage. Only your love for one another, and your integrity to make your commitment real, can do that. I humbly offer the words of author William A. Peterson in “The Art of Marriage,” who I believe has captured in words, the essence, of that commitment. I hope you will keep his words upon your heart, and refer to them again.
The little things are the big things.
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say, “I love you” at least once a day.
It is never going to sleep angry.
It is at no time taking the other for granted;
the courtship should not end with the honeymoon,
it should continue through all the years.
It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives.
It is standing together facing the world.
It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.
It is doing things for each other
not in the attitude of duty or sacrifice,
but in the spirit of joy.
It is speaking words of appreciation
and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is not expecting the husband to wear a halo
or the wife to have the wings of an angel.
It is not looking for perfection in each other.
It is cultivating flexibility, patience,
understanding, and a sense of humor.
It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere
in which each can grow.
It is not only marrying the right partner,
it is BEING the right partner.
This is “The Art of Marriage”.
Marriage is a Promise of Love
by Edmund O’Neill
Marriage is a commitment to live — to the best that two people can find and bring out in each other. It offers opportunities for sharing and growth no other human relationship can equal, a physical and emotional joining that is promised for a lifetime.
Within the circle of its love, marriage encompasses all of life’s most important relationships. A wife and husband are each other’s best friend, confidant, lover, teacher, listener, and critic. There may come times when one partner is heartbroken or ailing, and the love of the other may resemble the tender caring of a parent for a child.
Marriage deepens and enriches every facet of life. Happiness is fuller; memories are fresher; commitment is stronger; even anger is felt more strongly, and passes away more quickly. Marriage understands and forgives the mistakes life is unable to avoid. It encourages and nurtures new life, new experiences, and new ways of expressing love through the seasons of life. When two people pledge to love and care for each other in marriage, they create a spirit unique to themselves, which binds them closer than any spoken or written words. Marriage is a promise, a potential, made in the hearts of two people who love, which takes a lifetime to fulfill.
At this time, Dennis and Holly have chosen to read a poem to each other. This is “Love” by Roy Croft.
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.
I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.
I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.
I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.
I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good,
And more than any fate
To make me happy.
You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.
Parent and Community Blessing
People have been united in marriage in all lands and all cultures. In marriages everywhere, two individuals leave the families that raised them, to begin a new family. At this time, we ask the parents of the Bride and Groom to stand to bless this marriage.
Do you, [Parents of the Bride and Groom] who have lovingly raised and nurtured these two individuals, offer your blessing for their marriage, promising to support them, understand them, and encourage them in their solemn endeavor, in the years ahead? If you agree, please say, “We do.” [Parents respond.]
And to the witnesses and honored guests here today, I ask the same question. Do you offer your blessing for their marriage, promising to support them, understand them, and encourage them in their solemn endeavor, in the years ahead? If you agree, please say, “We do.” [Audience responds]
Now, Holly and Dennis will commemorate their marriage by lighting a Unity Candle. [Holly and Dennis walk over to candles.]
Light is the essence of our existence. Each one of us possesses an inner glow that represents our hopes, our dreams and our aspirations in life.
Holly and Dennis, the two distinct candle flames represent your lives before this day, individual, unique and special. Please take the candle symbolizing your life before today, and together light the center candle to symbolize the union of your individual lives. [Place the tapers back into their holders -- join hands and remain near the candles.] As this new flame burns undivided, so shall your lives now be one. From now on your plans will be mutual, your joys and sorrows both will be shared alike.
Although you are now entering into a marriage, you do not, however, lose your personal identity. Rather, you will use your special individuality to create and strengthen the relationship of marriage. Therefore, all three candles remain glowing. The individual candles represent all that makes each of you the wonderful and unique person the other admires and respects. The Unity candle in the center symbolizes the union of your lives, families, and friends, as well as your shining commitment to each other, and to a lasting and loving marriage. [Holly and Dennis return to positions in front of Ryan.]
By Robert Fulghum
You have known each other from the first glance of acquaintance to this point of commitment. At some point, you decided to marry. From that moment of yes to this moment of yes, indeed, you have been making promises and agreements in an informal way. All those conversations that were held riding in a car or over a meal or during long walks — all those sentences that began with “When we’re married” and continued with “I will and you will and we will” — those late night talks that included “someday” and “somehow” and “maybe” — and all those promises that are unspoken matters of the heart. All these common things, and more, are the real process of a wedding. The symbolic vows that you are about to make are a way of saying to one another, “You know all those things we’ve promised and hoped and dreamed — well I meant it all, every word.” Look at one another and remember this moment in time. Before this moment you have been many things to one another — acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, and even teacher, for you have learned much from one another in these last few years. Now you shall say a few words that take you across a threshold of life, and things will never quite be the same between you two. For after these vows, you shall say to the world, this — is my husband, this — is my wife.
[We each wrote our own vows secretly. Ironically enough our vows turned out to be very similar.]
Exchange of Rings
Do you Holly, accept this man, Dennis, as your husband — joining with him today in matrimony — offering your friendship and loving care — honoring his growth and freedom as well as your own — cherishing and respecting him, loving and embracing him in times of adversity and times of joy? If so, answer now, “I do.” (Holly responds, “I do.”)
Please repeat after me:
With this ring / I thee wed. / Take it as a sign / of my everlasting / and unconditional love / with all that I am / and all that I have / from this day forward / as your wife.
Do you Dennis, accept this woman, Holly, as your wife — joining with her today in matrimony — offering your friendship and loving care — honoring her growth and freedom as well as your own – cherishing and respecting her, loving and embracing her in times of adversity and times of joy? If so, answer now, “I do.” (Dennis responds, “I do.”)
Please repeat after me:
With this ring / I thee wed. / Take this as a sign / of my everlasting / and unconditional love / with all that I am / and all that I have / from this day forward / as your husband.
Love freely given has no giver and no receiver. You are each the giver and each the receiver. The wedding ring is a symbol, in visible form, of the unbroken circle of your love, so that wherever you go, you may always return to your shared life together. May these rings always call to mind the power of your love.
Holly and Dennis, in the presence of your family and friends who have joined you to share this moment of joy, you have declared your deep love and affection for each other. You have stated your wish to live together, always open to a deeper, richer friendship and partnership. You have formed your own union, based on respect and honor. Therefore, it is my joyful responsibility to officially acknowledge your union as “Husband and Wife.” You may now seal your marriage with a kiss.
Final Blessing for Your Marriage
May the glory which rests upon all who love you, bless you and keep you, fill you with happiness and a gracious spirit. Despite all changes of fortune and time, may that which is noble and lovely and true remain abundantly in your hearts, giving you strength for all that lies ahead.
Introduction of Bride and Groom
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to present to you for the very first time, Mr. and Mrs. Dennis and Holly _______!