what to say for atheist wedding?
January 9, 2011 6:26 PM   Subscribe

wedding filter: we have our officiant, but what do we want him to say? the catch - we are the most non-religious people ever. halp!

here are the details-

wedding in june, the officiant is a former Buddhist monk who has been the teacher for the Buddhist center my mother attends, has been a close family friend for a long time and has essentially watched me grow up. he's also a very close friend of the Dalai Lama's, so that's awesome. sweetest guy ever.

my guy and i, however, are not religious. at all. so really, any mention of god/spirituality/holiness just wouldn't contribute to a meaningful ceremony for us, but i've only been to/know about weddings where the ceremony centers around these things.

we will be meeting with our officiant this week and want to bring ideas of what we'd like him to do/say/how to run the ceremony, since it's not really what he'd normally be doing....except we have no ideas.

what i already have down is that we are writing our own vows to read to each other, and that things like lighting and candle/pouring sand etc. really aren't very appealing.

ideas? i'm at a loss here.
posted by assasinatdbeauty to Human Relations (26 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
There was a passage from Anne Morrow Lindburg that was really meaningful to me:

"When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity - in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits - islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides. "

I believe she was Christian, but this embraces us all.

(We only read the first part.)
posted by littleflowers at 6:30 PM on January 9, 2011 [25 favorites]

Ask him what he has in mind to say. He sounds like a cool guy, and if he's ever officiated a wedding before, he may already have something in mind. Since know you so well, he has probably given some thought to what he thinks would make for a good ceremony for you. Why not call him on the phone to ask what he has in mind? It might spark some ideas for what you would like in your vows.
posted by abirae at 6:33 PM on January 9, 2011

One set of friends had the officiant read from a slightly modified version of "Oh the places you'll go".

Another collected all sorts of studies on why being married is better than being single-- e.g. life expectancy, happiness ratings, etc, and read a summary of it.

My sister and her husband chose readings for each of their immediately family to give from a variety of sources- a few different religious pieces from various backgrounds, and a few pieces with special meaning to the person who would be reading them.
posted by nat at 6:34 PM on January 9, 2011

Sorry...I have premature sending affliction.

I'd look at some traditional wedding ceremony ideas. You really only need to greet the guests, speak words that are meaningful to you, say your vows, and if you like, ask others to join with you in blessing.
Best of luck!
posted by littleflowers at 6:36 PM on January 9, 2011

we followed a traditional unitarian ceremony as far as the flow and order of things, but modified text to exclude all mentions of god, religion, prayer, etc. and then for the 'readings' we included passages from goodridge vs. dept. of public health, as well as favorite poems we found relevant. happy to look up the specifics (of which passages and how we modified things) if you're interested.

happy wedding!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:41 PM on January 9, 2011

forgot to mention, in case you haven't read the text before, goodridge includes a beautiful and simple description of *civil* marriage, homo or heterosexual, hence why i would suggest to anyone who finds it meaningful.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:44 PM on January 9, 2011

There are some good ideas here and a whole ceremony shared here (which includes a passage from Oh, the Places You'll Go!, no less).

This wedding ceremony includes a really wonderful passage from the writings of Robert G. Ingersoll, which I wish I had seen before my own wedding.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:46 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Think about why you're bothering to have a wedding in the first place - that is, what are the positive aspects of a wedding that you want to retain/embrace for yours? Maybe you want to emphasize the importance of your extended family in your lives. Maybe you want to celebrate the idea of love in general. Maybe you're planning to have kids and the idea of a marriage as a foundation for a nuclear family is part of the appeal for you. Maybe your friends are the really special thing to you, and you want to share a party with them where you emphasize how much they mean to you. etc.

Depending on your view of this -- you might also think about what your important people will be especially happy about. Do you have parents/siblings/friends who would be touched by playing a special role in the ceremony? Maybe you can think of roles for them - readers, singers, standing up with you, etc.

Do you have a special place or a special poem or novel or song or movie quote you want to include? Pets?

Is there a theme or recurring thing, etc, in your relationship - visiting a certain place, a type of activity where you met, a type of temperament you both share? Anything like that might give you a start toward what to emphasize in the ceremony. Humor, honesty, kindness/thoughtfulness, spurring each other on toward your dreams, building a home that is an respite from outside pressures, etc?
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:47 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

At all the weddings I've been to, religious and non-religious, the officiant has given some sort of speech/sermon/lesson/meditation that they wrote for the couple, but separate from them. I think if you figure out what readings you want to have people do, perhaps what songs will be performed if any, and chat with your officiant so he knows what the relationship is like between the two of you (and that you don't want religious references), he will be able to come up with something that fits well. Are you doing premarital counseling with him? My fiance and I are doing our counseling with the woman we chose as our officiant, in part so that she will know us well enough to say something meaningful and appropriately personal during that part of the ceremony.
posted by vytae at 6:54 PM on January 9, 2011

Another thing you may want to decide is, how long do you want the ceremony to be, and do you want the officiant to say a few words of his own?

You can do this sort of ceremony in 5 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on how long all the talking parts are:

Bride and groom walk in together
Officiant acknowledges them and they turn to face readers
Reader 1
Reader 2
Officiant says a few words about marriage
Groom's vows
Bride's vows
Ring exchange (with separate words if wanted)
Climatic pronunciation and kiss
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:54 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to anchor the Minimalist end of the spectrum:

If I understand where you are, a religious officiant only needs to know you've got a marriage license and then announce you're married. (PA, right?)

I officiated for my best friends (atheists with zero tolerance for public sentiment or symbolism), and their big concession to ceremony was they let me stand up and shush the non-witnesses at dinner when I asked the do-you's (required in our jurisdiction) and made the legally required declaration. I don't think I even toasted them.

You don't *have* to do anything. So pick out some readings you like and exchange your vows in front of witnesses and have a party if it pleases you. Or don't.
posted by gingerest at 6:57 PM on January 9, 2011

Our ceremony clocked in at under ten minutes. Hello, 2 readings, vows, kiss, goodbye. Trust me, your guests will thank you.
posted by little light-giver at 7:22 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our wedding was under three minutes and included about 3 sentences (by officiant) about why we were there, then vows (said by officiant; all we said was "I do"), then ring exchange (along with 2-3 sentences about rings by officiant). Then he said we were married. The end.

We had no mention whatsoever of any spirituality, but those very few carefully chosen sentences were meaningful to us. So basically, I am nthing everyone and saying you can do absolutely whatever you want. Congrats!
posted by hansbrough at 7:33 PM on January 9, 2011

I just played at a nonreligious wedding in which the reading was from the Velveteen Rabbit.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
posted by honeydew at 8:16 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

One of the loveliest weddings I went to involved the basic exchange of vows (via the celebrant) preceded by the groom (an actor/opera singer) singing to his bride and the bride (an art history academic) returning the favour with a poetry recitation (also dedicated to her grandfather). It was meaningful and beautiful and so very suited to them both.

As has been said ad nauseum, find what's meaningful for the two of you and go from there.

posted by prettypretty at 9:38 PM on January 9, 2011

My husband and I were in the same boat. We used the ceremony from this book. It goes like this:
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 commitments in an informal way. All of those conversations that were held in a car, or over a meal, or during long walks – all those conversations that began with, “When we’re married”, and continued with “I will” and “you will” and “we will” – all 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 that 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, even teacher, for you have learned much from one another these past few years. Shortly you shall say a few words that will take you across a threshold of life, and things between you will never quite be the same.

For after today you shall say to the world –
This is my husband. This is my wife
posted by bananafish at 9:51 PM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

My husband and I were in the same boat. We used the ceremony from this book. It goes like this:

We used that same reading in our ceremony. There was much kvelling from both sides of the aisle. We also used the "Blessing of the Hands" that appears here, which people seemed to enjoy.

We were married by a UU minister who has some Buddhist-y tendencies, and we met with him and he asked us the sorts of things we wanted to include in the ceremony. Like abirae suggested above, talk to your officiant and see what he suggests. We had a woo-free ceremony that didn't offend the Catholics or Jews, and that all the UUs told us was beautiful, so we considered it a win.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:49 AM on January 10, 2011

two years back, I asked this question from the officiant side of the equation. I took some piecemeal from each of the suggestions, worked with my best friends, and drafted up a script. mefiimail me, I'm happy to send along the results.

It was an awesome ceremony, we had tons of fun, and there were lots of kudos (and requests for officiating!) at the cocktail hour.
posted by miasma at 4:58 AM on January 10, 2011

I love pretty much everything that's been mentioned here, makes me wish (a little) that we could get married again, now that we're older and understand that the religious stuff doesn't matter to us.

I worked weddings for a number of years, my favorite reading was a recitation of the song "How Deep is the Ocean"

How can I tell you what is in my heart? How can I measure each and every part? How can I tell you how much I love you? How can I measure just how much I do?

How much do I love you? I'll tell you no lie, How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?

How many times a day do I think of you? How many roses are sprinkled with dew? How far would I travel, To be where you are? How far is the journey From here to a star?

And if I ever lost you How much would I cry? How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?
posted by dadici at 6:09 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to throw this out as a data point - perhaps the two most religious people I know were recently married, and they had their officiant's sermon based on Rocky II.

Never before had I heard, in a wedding ceremony, "You can take a punch", or "It's like chasing a chicken", but there it is. It was, all kidding aside, a well done, very sweet, and beautiful service.
posted by Seeba at 6:58 AM on January 10, 2011

Here's what my wife and I use.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:31 AM on January 10, 2011

I became far more pro-wedding upon witnessing my friends' town hall wedding. The officiant read from a town binder of vows, and talked about how this new partnership was a choice about love and promises to one another, of supporting and being supported by their loved-ones and community. It was a short ceremony, but meaningful and sweet (and made no mention of god).
posted by ldthomps at 8:46 AM on January 10, 2011

every ceremony i've been to, including my own, where religion was expressly removed was very short (we're talking like under 15 minutes, sometimes more like 5-10). not that it has to be, but it's never been considered weird.

ours was heavily focused on our vows--our vows were longer than normal. we did that, a couple readings, the whole gathered-to-celebrate sorta deal, and rings with our own wording. i've been to ceremonies where they had the guests also say they'd support the bond and all that.

i got some ideas for secular readings from indiebride's kvetch posts, askme, and possibly offbeatbride (can't remember for sure). a couple of the readings were REALLY unorthodox--i think most guests have no idea why the hell we chose komunyakaa's "unnatural state of the unicorn" and i'm ok with that.

the other thing was, to get the gist of the feeling behind us finally doing this thing, we had texts elsewhere--favors include bookmarks with quotes and passages we liked about lifelong union/engagement, and our invites included a poem we thought summed it up well. that's always a possibility too i suppose.

i doubt it'd apply because when you do things this way they wind up hyper personalized, but feel free to MeMail if you want snippets or whatever of what we wound up using and saying.
posted by ifjuly at 9:07 AM on January 10, 2011

Highlights of our entirely secular ceremony:

* My best man quieted people down by bonging on a singing bowl (which, on the program, was listed simply and clearly as "Bong.")
* Our officiant, a friend, didn't say much at all, mostly just provided a framework
* Four friends did readings that we chose
* Long, personal vows that we wrote ourselves
* Our officiant ended the ceremony with "By the power of Grayskull, I know pronounce you husband and wife!"

Years later, everyone's forgotten the readings and not many remember much about the vows, but they sure as hell remember Grayskull, and maybe Bong.
posted by gurple at 1:02 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

My fiance and I are working on this same type of question. I am probably going to write something fresh, and I will encourage you to do the same. Just have faith to go with whatever idiosyncratic things are special to you two, and even if they don't resonate for your guests your happiness will.
posted by dervish at 2:10 PM on January 10, 2011

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