…not all wedding ceremonies need to be 35+ minutes long.
If you aren’t having a church wedding, you probably aren’t looking for an elaborate, wordy, or long ceremony.
I’m going to share with you simple, beautiful (and brief) wedding ceremony ideas that will still keep your ceremony under 15 minutes.
If you just want a full civil wedding script, scroll down to the bottom and feel free to steal any or all of the wording provided.
(Also check out 7 of the Most Beautiful Wedding Ceremony Scripts…Ever)
But if you want a little more detail and background, keep reading…
Anatomy of a Non-Religious Wedding Ceremony
First, let’s look at the parts that make up a wedding ceremony.
1. Prelude: This is one of my favorite parts of the wedding…the brief moments before the bride walks down the aisle. Like being at a concert as they darken the arena and open the curtain. Something big is about to happen.
Music can be played on a speaker or you can have a live musician during the prelude. The music sets the mood for the procession and the ceremony. You can be traditional or non-traditional. Cannon in D Major by Pachelbel is a classic.
2. Processional: The wedding party walks down the aisle to their places on the alter or wedding site in the order arranged. Usually there is music played specially for the procession. This is also where everyone of the guests watches intently to see if the mothers of the couple give each other dirty looks.
3. Presentation of the Bride: The minister or officiant asks the bride’s escort a question to the effect of “who gives this woman to wed this man?” The escort(s) will answer “I do” or “We do”. If the Father of Bride escorts his daughter, I always recommend he give the groom a rabbit punch. It’s entirely acceptable.
4. Welcome or Convocation: These are the words of welcome to the family and friends of the wedding couple. The welcome remarks can also recognize those people that were unable to attend the ceremony (deceased or ill or unavailable).
5. Invocation: In a religious ceremony, this includes asking God (or any “higher power”) to bear witness to the ceremony. In a non-religious ceremony, this can be an address to the guests to ask for their attention to bear witness to the union of the couple.
6. Readings: Reading selections can be from any source or on any subject matter that is meaningful to the couple. The idea is to convey the couple’s feelings and views on love and their relationship. Readings can be done by the officiant or any of the guests.
7. Address: Thoughts on Marriage. This is largely the domain of the officiant. It is the officiant’s opportunity to speak directly to the couple and guests about the importance of the wedding ceremony.
PRO TIP: If the officiant is the groom’s frat brother from college, you might want to read what he intends to say ahead of time….some of those guys never grow up.
8. Expression of Intent: Essentially a public declaration that you desire to enter into the marriage. Your officiant will ask each of you something like, “Do you Channing Tatum, take this woman to be your wedded wife?” and Channing will respond, “I do”.
9. Vows: The vows are promises. A promise from each to the other, for the the rest of your lives. Traditionally, spoken first by the officiant and then repeated by the bride and groom separately.
10. Ring Exchange: The exchange of wedding rings symbolizes your vows to each other and the bond you have entered into. In every wedding I’ve ever performed, rings have been exchanged. While exchanging the rings, you will repeat a few words recited by the officiant.
PRO TIP: There’s a good chance the rings won’t go on easy. You can either shove it on with all your strength or let your spouse push it on the rest of the way. Don’t lick your fingers to try to slide the ring on…it never looks good in pictures.
11. Unity Ceremonies: After the rings you can add another ceremony to symbolize your commitment. There is: The Rose Ceremony, The Binding Ceremony, Candle Ceremony, Sand Ceremony, Breaking of Bread Ceremony, etc.
12. Benediction: Another brief statement from your officiant on what has occurred. Maybe a final few words of advice. A brief poem or quote goes great here.
13. Pronouncement of Union: “By the power vested in me by the Grand Master of the Temple of the KungFu Panda, I know pronounce you husband and wife.”
14. The Kiss: The officiant will now request that the 2 of you kiss to seal the marriage.
15. The Presentation of the New Couple: “It is my honor to present to you for the first time as husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Channing and Angelina Tatum-Jolie.”
16. Recession: After the photographer takes a few photos and the cheering dies down, the couple will walk together down the aisle. Music is often played.
But I Want a Simple Wedding Ceremony
Having just written out all the parts it all seems so complicated.
But it really isn’t.
In reality the whole ceremony is over in a flash. I’ve listed all the technical parts of the ceremony…but you can add, subtract or change all or most of the parts.
For example, in today’s world, you can do with out “the kiss” or “the vows” if you really want to.
I, for one, tend to be a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to hitting all the important parts listed above. But the form they take can be completely unique and personal to you.
So, for example, if you want to do a “high-five” or “fist bump” instead of a kiss, I guess that’s cool with me.
I had a recent wedding where the couple smacked each other’s posteriors after kissing.
Most non-religious weddings, by definition, are unconventional. So no need to make the ceremony script conventional.
Here are some ideas for modifying your wedding ceremony to fit your wedding and the location of your wedding.
Instead of playing traditional music like the “Wedding March” or “Cannon in D”, go with something more festive. Incorporate some of the flavor of your culture or the local culture if you’re having a destination wedding.
And instead of a violin or classic guitar, go with an instrument indigenous to the location. Or if your friend plays an instrument. I had a recent wedding guest blow us all away playing the ukulele.
Here in the Caribbean, go with an upbeat island song played on steel pan.
Mexico or Puerto Rico? A folk song by a mariachi band.
Do a little research and find something unique and interesting.
When you’re on a beach, this is one of the few parts of the ceremony that I think should be omitted. I usually advise my couples to have the wedding party already standing at the “altar”. Or just have the guys standing and let the bridesmaids process by themselves.
Go with what works easiest for the wedding venue.
This is another great opportunity to incorporate the culture or legacy of the wedding location.
Add a reading using the words of a local poet or author. Be creative. Think of ways to connect your ceremony with the location you’ve chosen. For example, in the Virgin Islands, I’ve seen couples incorporate Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet song lyrics.
4. Unity Ceremonies
Sand ceremonies are one of the most popular unity ceremonies. If you’re unfamiliar, start searching Google. If your destination wedding is a beach location, this is a beautiful ceremony because you can actually use sand from the beach!
I’ve seen people do a rum shot unity ceremony, where they both toasted and did a shot together. Use the local drink/spirit/cocktail and make your own unity ceremony.
No matter where you live, your location will have some cultural or cultural significance…find out a local custom that could be included as a unity ceremony.
I will always advocate my couples to include their own vows or a statement. When writing your vows, think about the amazing journey of your relationship. Look through old love letters, pictures from when you first met.
Take a quiet walk alone during sunset and consider the incredible love you have for your partner.
6. Ring Exchange
Not every part of the ceremony needs to be personalized. The rings are a part of the ceremony that usually looks the same across all weddings.
You can come up with your own wording for the ring exchange. Or not.
Really these are the parting words of the minister/officiant. This is also my favorite part of the ceremony.
By now, everyone’s mind is starting to wander to the reception. Which means people are restless. They want to cheer the couple. They want champagne. They want to party.
So I always end with a poetic, emotional and exciting flourish. Go big or go home…as they say.
This is the part of the ceremony I totally and completely ad lib. I say something different every time. But one of my favorite sentiments to those getting married on the beach is that the little piece of sand where they’re standing is always going to be theirs. So something like this:
“And now Channing and Angelina, before I pronounce you as husband and wife, I’d like to share a few final thoughts. You have just endured the hot sun and one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve seen, and now you are standing here waiting for the moment when I’ll stop talking and the ceremony will all be over…
But this is just the beginning. This is the beginning of an amazing life together. The start of a magical journey. And it started right here. Right where you are standing right now. This little stretch of sand is where your now intertwined lives began. Please close your eyes. Feel the sand in your toes. Hear the sound of the waves. Now look around you at the beauty of this place. I want you to always remember how you feel right now….”
I was just writing the words as I said them…and I’m getting a little chocked up! 🙂
Anyhow, these are some ideas on how you can make your civil wedding ceremony unforgettable. And now I’ll share with you a wedding script I use as a jumping off point for my couples.
Feel free to steal it, share it, copy it, change it, etc.
Here’s Your Non-Religious Wedding Ceremony Script
You can download and/or print the ceremony by clicking here: non-religious-wedding-ceremony-script
(Play Some Music Here)
We are gathered here today to celebrate one of life’s greatest relationships – the union between man and woman and this union we call marriage. As you, ___________and __________, are joined together in this marriage, I ask you both to search your hearts for the wisdom of this covenant, which has from ancient times been expressed with those ideas that come from the heart.
Presentation of the Bride:
Who gives this woman to wed this man
Welcome everyone…(a little ad-libbing from the officiant is good here. Talk about people that had to travel far. Or talk about loved ones that couldn’t make it.).
Since the laws of this community governing marriages have been met, the joining of these two people shall now take place. Before the vows are taken, however, it is my responsibility to remind each of you of the significance and importance of the relationship you are on the threshold of entering.
The promises you are about to make to each other are ones of irrevocable love, fidelity, cooperation, and understanding through life and all of life’s difficult challenges. I urge each of you to live up to the commitments you are now making to one another.
Marriage is a commitment to life—to the best that two people can find and bring out in each other. It offers opportunities for sharing and growth no other relationship can equal, a physical and emotional joining that is promised for a lifetime.
Readings can really go anywhere you like in the ceremony. Here are some readings I’ve put together to inspire you:
Continuation of Address:
Within the circle of love, marriage encompasses all of life’s most important relationships. A wife and a husband are each other’s best friend, confidant, lover, teacher, listener, and counselor. Marriage deepens and enriches every facet of life. Happiness is fuller, memories are fresher, and commitment is stronger.
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.
In reminding you to observe your marital duties and obligations I have done my part. And now it is your turn…
Please join hands and look into each other’s eyes.
Declaration of Intent:
(You’ll first ask the groom to declare his intent and then follow with his vows. Then you’ll ask the bride to declare her intent and then follow with her vows.)
Do you Groom have this woman to be your wedded wife and will you be faithful to her as long as you shall live?
Groom: “I do.”
Then repeat after me:
I, Groom, take you, Bride, to be my wedded wife,/ 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,/ till death do us part.
Do you Bride have this man to be your wedded husband and will you be faithful to him as long as you shall live?
Bride: “I do.”
Then repeat after me:
I, Bride, take you, Groom, to be my wedded 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,/ till death do us part.
Exchange of Rings:
May I have the rings?
These rings are symbols of eternity and the unbroken circle of love. Love freely given has no beginning and no end. Today you have chosen to exchange rings, as a sign of your love for each other, and as a seal of the promises you make this day. We ask that God bless these rings and this union of souls.
Groom, place the ring on Bride’s finger and repeat after me:
With this ring/ I give you my heart/ I promise from this day forward/ You shall not walk alone/ May my heart be your shelter/ And my arms be your home.
Your two lives are now joined in one unbroken circle. Wherever you go, may you always return to one another in your togetherness. May you two find in each other the love for which all men and women long for. May you grow in understanding and compassion. And may these two rings symbolize the spirit of undying love in the hearts of both of you.
Before I pronounce you husband and wife, I want you to take a few seconds to look into each other’s eyes. Think about the happiness you’re feeling…at this moment. Let those feelings sink deep into your hearts.
I hope this moment and these feelings will stick with you all the days of your lives.
And with that, inasmuch as you, Groom, and you, Bride, have announced the truths that are already written in your hearts, by the power vested in me by _____________, I now pronounce you husband and wife.
Groom, you may kiss your Bride!
Congratulations, you’re hitched!
If you need any suggestions or advice on creating a beautiful and simple non-religious ceremony for your wedding, please give me a call or email!