What are your alternative wedding ceremony ideas?
February 7, 2009 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Help marry us. We need ideas for an alternative wedding ceremony!

My fiance and I are getting married in July and have most of the plans taken care of except for the ceremony itself. We don't have any ideas for the ceremony and haven't a clue who our officiant should be.

Neither of us are religious at all and would prefer to leave spirituality out of the ceremony. Also, we have no problem with going down to the courthouse and getting legally married prior the actual ceremony, so don't worry about making something legally official. Other than the ceremony itself, the rest of our wedding is pretty typical. (i.e. rings, big reception, dj, man and woman, etc)

What types of alternative ceremonies have you seen, or can you imagine? Who would officiate? What would they say?
posted by JuiceBoxHero to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Get a friend to officiate. Chances are, you already know someone who has been ordained (usually by filling out a form online). As long as they're registered with the proper local authority, they can do the deed legitimately.

As to the text, it can be whatever you want it to be - readings of passages exploring love/commitment/partnership that really speak to you. Your vows can be as long or short as you want, and they can be sentimental or funny, or serious. It can even just be each of you stating what you're committing to. If you're having the ceremony at a symbolic location, integrate references to it, as well.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 6:53 AM on February 7, 2009

We used this site to find someone who would marry us without any reference to any sort of God. I just picked one that sounded like her interests matched ours, they sent us some sample ceremonies that we customized, she showed up, collected her cash and did the deed. Something like this is probably simpler than having to do it twice. A quick search of "wedding officiants Columbus" yielded some promising looking results.

Most officiants will probably have sample ceremonies that you can adapt. Libraries typically have lots of books with wedding readings, ceremonies, quotes, etc, and you'll be able to find a ton online, of course. We have a friend who gave us a Unitarian booklet with lots of different options for different aspects of the ceremony - vows, opening and closing words, involving family/friends, etc. I probably still have it, though it is not in electronic form.

posted by laura_carter at 7:10 AM on February 7, 2009

Maybe taking a page from a traditional Quaker ceremony would be a way to go?

I've been to one Quaker wedding, and it ended up being incredibly powerful; the traditional Quaker worship service just involves sitting for an hour in quiet reflection. People can speak if they feel utterly compelled to do so, but other than that, people just sit in silence.

In the wedding, it was just a standard service -- we gathered in a spare room in a library, and the only decoration was a couple vases of flowers on a table at one end of the room. The wedding party filed in and took their seats, and we all sat quietly for a while. Then the bride and groom stood and recited their vows to each other -- there was no officiant, because the Quakers believe that the vows are between them and God, and who needs a middleman, basically -- and then a friend of the couple read the wedding contract, a document which repeated the vows. Then they sat down again, for more "quiet reflection". Only because we'd all just heard the vows and saw the obvious joy on the faces of the bride and groom, there were a lot of people feeling utterly compelled to speak -- someone quoted Shakespeare, a cousin to the groom gave a heartfelt apology for something in the family's past, other people were speaking up with brief and heartfelt expressions of good wishes and joy to the couple. The whole thing lasted only an hour, and at the end of that hour the bridal party first filed out, and the guests were all asked to sign the contract as witnesses.

It was simple and inexpensive, but SO powerful, becuase it stripped the ceremony down to its basic elements -- a couple standing up before everybody and promising that "I choose you and no other for the rest of my life, and I am very, very happy about that," and the rest of the community wishing them enduring joy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:14 AM on February 7, 2009 [20 favorites]

Best answer: JuiceBoxHero - I got married last July with an entirely secular wedding - as it was in California, our friend was deputized as a Marriage Commissioner for a Day. He did a little spiel and we had our attendants do readings. I still have the ceremony written out if you want me to send it to you - just send me an email.

I think the attendant readings were really personal and powerful.
posted by muddgirl at 7:53 AM on February 7, 2009

That sounds really lovely, Empress (!)

I've been to two "agnostic" weddings, and both were really touching, in part because they really made an effort for it to be about their friends and family. In the first case, the reception was a potluck afternoon at a local park, with all of the food made at home -- it was basically just an opportunity for friends to hang out and share the experience (I realize this is not what you're doing, but it was still pretty great -- in this case, the ceremony was entirely out of it, I think they just went to the courthouse)

The second case was a couple who had a "traditional" ceremony, which didn't have any reference to their own faiths (I think they were both agnostics) but instead incorporated aspects of all of the religions of all of their guests. The "vows" were pagan vows, preceded by an Indian blessing, a Hebrew prayer, a gospel reading. It sounds kind of kitschy (and was sort of ostensibly so) but wound up being really wonderful and inclusive. It worked, I think, because they also asked family / friends to participate directly --- either by singing hymns, or by doing the readings, or doing whatever "their part" of the service was -- which made it about the people, rather than about the respective faiths.
posted by puckish at 7:57 AM on February 7, 2009

Outdoor/nature weddings are fun. A judge is always available. There are plenty of domesticated and wild places to find, such as ponds and waterfalls, canyons, beaches, etc.
posted by Brian B. at 8:06 AM on February 7, 2009

My mom officiated our wedding (she's a notary, and so was permitted to officiate in Florida). If you have any close friends or family members who aren't otherwise involved in the wedding, I think it's really special to be married by someone you know (and love). For my mom's part, we wrote a very basic ceremony script, using online samples and a bit of creativity.

For the rest of the ceremony, we asked our brothers to prepare a contribution - we told them they had 5-10 minutes to do whatever they wanted. The only rule was that they couldn't tell us what they were going to do. Obviously, we trusted our brothers not to do anything inappropriate, but given how much planning went into the wedding (even for our very small, fairly casual wedding), we thought it would be fun to have an element of surprise in the ceremony. As it turned out, they both prepared (very funny and sweet) original remarks, paired with short readings, so it ended up being pretty traditional, but we would have been fine with anything. Our entire ceremony was less than 25 minutes - don't worry about filling up a lot of time, everyone really just wants to get to reception anyway.
posted by hovizette at 8:12 AM on February 7, 2009

My wedding was quite similar to hovizette's. My mother officiated, brother in law chose a reading... it was pretty quick.

We also worked in a Loving Cup bit (substituting water for wine as we don't drink). Everyone has commented on how nice it was every now and then for the past few years.
posted by speeb at 8:21 AM on February 7, 2009

As long as they're registered with the proper local authority...
Depending on the jurisdiction, this can be a huge hurdle. I'm registered in DC, and it was a pretty big pain. I've looked into doing ceremonies in Virginia, but, again, there's a high barrier for non-Virginia residents. If you do wish to have a friend do it, either do the official courthouse ceremony first (as you've indicated you're willing to do), or get the ball rolling now.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:56 AM on February 7, 2009

Symbols change or lose their meaning over time. No need to be uptight about things. In fact, cut loose.

In July it's usually nice and warm. Why not do a simple outdoor wedding? Does anyone you know have grounds or a garden you might use?
If you have any large-ish parks around, you might be able to hold a wedding there (might need a permit).

Set up some flowers, some chairs, a small area in front where the ceremony will be performed. Get a nondenominational officiant from a site like laura_carter mentioned (making sure their licenses are in order). And enjoy. Add in whatever little traditions you like and skip the ones you don't. Lots of places make you throw birdseed instead of rice now. Maybe make that the starting point of a nature theme.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:55 AM on February 7, 2009

We found a UU minister to do ours. He had his 'standard' ceremony, which was really beautiful, and only once vaguely mentioned a 'divine being' or something like that, and offered to change it however we wanted. The whole gist of the ceremony was "they're married because they say they are, not because I do or the state does". Plus, et was nice that we didn't have to write a ceremony ourselves. We did, however, choose a couple poems to be read, and had a string quartet play an interlude, and did it all out in the park.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:08 AM on February 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Mr. Adams and I had a regular bar/pub that we went to after our dates. It was small but specialized in Irish Coffee and similar coffee drinks. The place also had several of our favorite 1970s pop hits on its jukebox (something we discovered on our very first date - "Ohmigosh, haven't heard this tune in years - you like it, too?!" We decided it would be most appropriate to get married there. We found an officiant from the Yellow Pages, invited our witnesses, and everyone sat together in the largest booth (which curved like a horseshoe). The bar's owner had put the Wedding March on the jukebox just for us, even though we didn't walk down an aisle or anything traditional, and he also gave us champage and special coffee drinks, which we enjoyed after exchanging vows and then listening to "Long Tall Glasses," "Rubberband Man," and a host of other favorites.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:44 AM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

My husband and I had a friend do ours. He got ordained online and in Illinois that counts as official. We had the ceremony in the same place as the reception - a private room of a great restaurant. That turned out to be a stroke of brilliance as it rained 6 1/2 inches on our wedding day and it was nice that no one had to go back out to travel from one location to another.

For the ceremony, our friend interviewed us each separately to get a feel for what we saw our marriage to be (even though he knows us both well, it's not like you talk about that thing over beers much). He wrote a draft, went over it with us, and refined it based on our comments and his own ideas.

He started out the ceremony with a short excerpt from a book. He basically talked about what made me and my husband a team, and referenced a few little inside jokes to keep us laughing. We wrote our own vows, which we recited as we exchanged rings. Due to our unease at being "on stage" for too long, the entire thing was maybe 10 minutes. From what I understand, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

We borrowed liberally from various ceremonies and vows posted in the Indiebride vows forum. Check out the giant ceremony readings repository and the giant vows repository threads. If you're looking for non-traditional ceremony/walking down the aisle/etc. music, there's also a music thread.
posted by misskaz at 11:59 AM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and we walked ourselves down the aisle. We didn't have a wedding party so there was no need for a big processional. To be inclusive of both sets of both parents, we had a part of the ceremony where our friend asked both parents to stand, and asked them if they would support our union. I wasn't sure if they would care about that kind of thing or not, but the way that they almost shouted "Yes!" and "Absolutely!" it was clear it meant a lot to be able to show their support for our marriage. I'm so glad we did it.
posted by misskaz at 12:03 PM on February 7, 2009

Can't mathowie marry you on MeFi since he's the captain?
posted by buzzv at 12:35 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

In terms of who can officiate, it's probably more flexible than you realize. I've performed three weddings in the last two years owing to my status as an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. This is legal in my state (WA) and it looks like this would fly in OH, where your profile says you're located. Ordination is free so just find that right person.

Forceremony inspiration check out Offbeat Bride which is run by a MeFite, btw.
posted by donovan at 12:46 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ms scruss and I had a Quaker wedding. You may still need a nominal officiant in your jurisdiction (we did in Scotland), but ours just stood up, introduced us and himself, and said that the rest was up to us. It was pretty much as EmpressCallipygos described, complete with our huge wedding certificate, signed by all present.

You would probably need to be at least know at meeting to have local Friends officiate, and better known if you want to use the local Meeting House. You'd also need to give about 3-6 months' notice, as it need to be brought to business meeting, and likely a committee struck. Quakers can be great folks, but it can be quite a slow process.

As anyone can speak, there's a good chance that you won't have it entirely religion-free. But any that does crop up is likely to be heartfelt and low-key.
posted by scruss at 2:44 PM on February 7, 2009

Best answer: I officiated my best friends wedding, and I became ordained, like donovan, through the Universal Life Church. No mention of God whatsoever, on request from the Bride and Groom. It was extremely awesome for me, and they loved it, I got a bazillion compliments after the ceremony. It was unique and something they'll remember.

I got alot of advice here from people about what to put in the ceremony script. MeFiMail me if you'd like me to send you the script I came up with.
posted by miasma at 3:20 PM on February 7, 2009

Oh hey, if you're in Cincinnati and need someone that is licensed, let me know. I married my friends in their living room last summer by reciting the Song of Solomon in Hebrew and then taking the most awesome picture of them ever, just hugging and kissing. They just said, "I love you and I will love you forever" and that counted for me as vows. We signed some papers and then ate some chocolate chip cookies I made. It was awesome and completely chill.
posted by banannafish at 5:43 PM on February 7, 2009

You could get married at Voodoo Doughnut.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:52 PM on February 7, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all for the wonderful responses. My fiance and I really appreciate all the ideas and this definitely gives us some direction. Thanks!

(Additional contributions are appreciated too!)
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 9:38 AM on February 8, 2009

A friend of mine attended a handfasting last summer. I think traditionally you could decide how long/official you want to make the commitment, but it can also be used for marriage by incorporating the binding element into a civil ceremony.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:01 PM on February 8, 2009

I can tell you what Darlingbri and I did, by way of serving as an odd example.

We were legally married in Toronto, in order both to accommodate a specific family requirement we had, and because we liked the idea of getting hitched in a place where everyone else has the same right. The ceremony was performed by a secular humanist officiant in the back garden of this B&B with only six people present other than her and us.

Legalities served, we could do anything the hell we wanted for the 'wedding' bit in Edinburgh and could pick any venue we wanted. The "ceremony" part of that mashed up several unrelated items into something that would still feel like a wedding to everybody coming, including my far-from-alternative family in Scotland. Secular humanist man who later did the first legal wedding of that type officiated. My father-in-law did a reading of our choosing, which was an excerpt from this legal ruling from the Massachussetts Supreme Court. Her godfather, who like her stepfamily and lots of my family's friends in attendance, is Jewish, ended the wordy bits with a toast of sorts and has us step on a glass. As we left, the only bagpiper we could find who knew the tune played everyone out to Hava Nagila.

Instead of a wedding cake we got white-frosted cupcakes for everybody and put railway-miniature-sized wedding figures on each one. Some had two grooms, some had two brides, some were 'regular'.

It all had nothing at all in common with any wedding anybody had ever been to, but they all thought it was fantastic.

Basically, if you don't have any legal niceties to worry about? Go nuts.
posted by genghis at 10:20 AM on February 9, 2009

Response by poster: My wife and I were married last month using a ceremony we crafted based on suggestions from this post and other sources. If you'd like to see it, feel free to mefi mail me.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 12:01 PM on August 11, 2009

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