How do you have a wedding ceremony without a Bible?

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Photo by Di Bezi
I'm in the extremely early stages of a wedding (pre-engagement early). I like to plan things ahead of time.

I've never been to a non-religious wedding. What is said for the wedding part? That is what I'm trying to figure out.

All I know is the Bible related stuff with a priest or preacher.

I've thought about potentially asking law/political science/sociology friends to officiate the wedding, but I'm afraid of them being in the same boat as me.

-Andy

Andy, kudos to you for doing your research with plenty of time to spare. The joy of a secular wedding ceremony is that pretty much anything goes! The pain of a secular wedding ceremony is that all that freedom can be overwhelming. Some couples who have traditional religious ceremonies decide to do so not because they're especially religious but because, well, following a ceremony template is way, WAY easier.

(To clarify, I'm ALL for couples having Bible-based ceremonies … if the folks getting married are practicing Christians. But I think it's disrespectful to smile and nod your way through a religious service you don't actually believe in, so I vote for secular couples going for secular ceremonies.)

That said, I've got lots of ideas for you.

First, take a look at my archive of guidance posts about ceremonies. You'll find everything from vows referencing zombies to how to build a ceremony for a shy couple, to ideas for great secular readings to include in your service. If you read only one post, make it this one: Wedding Ceremony 101: Crafting your own wedding ceremonies from scratch.

I've recently featured several modern ceremony components like unity candles, unity cocktails, sand ceremonies, and ring warmings. Between Offbeat Bride and the rest of the web, there are a bazillion secular ceremony ideas out there, and no shortage of books!

Perhaps the best advice, however, is to find a truly great officiant/celebrant who can help you with this process. I've featured several celebrants and officiant stories on Offbeat Bride, and you might get some inspiration there. A good officiant will be the perfect combo of thoughtful adviser, skilled writer, and excellent public speaker. Don't be afraid to ask around with your law/political science/sociology friends — you may be surprised to find that some of them are already internet ordained and have helped with other friends' weddings!

Also, be sure to check out our post on how to write your own ceremony: Wedding Ceremony 101

  1. This is my ceremony (completely non-religious):
    Processional: I Will by the Beatles for bridesmaids, I Wanna Grow Old With You by Adam Sandler for bride)

    Greeting: Officiant:
    Thank you for coming together to support Ginny and Adam as they move into the next step of their lives together. They come here together of their own free will, to make their marriage lawful and sincere.
    Ginny and Adam will exchange rings as a physical symbol of the vows they are making to one another.
    As the ceremony procedes, will the families of Ginny and Adam please warm these rings by passing them down the row. As you hold them in your hands, pause for a moment, and make your wishes for the couple and for their future together before you pass them on to the next person. These rings will not only be a gift from one to another but will be given with the love, support and wisdom of their family and friends.

    (Officiant pass the rings in the dish to Sylvia, then to Ashley, who will take them to 1st family member… have last family member know to bring the ring to groomsman, or have groomsman waiting at end of row to collect the ring)

    Officiant:
    We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us, but if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. It isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems – the ones that make you truly who you are – that you’re ready to find a life-long mate. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person – someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”
    Ginny and Adam, if you are certain that you have found the right wrong person, please speak your vows to one another.

    Adam:
    Ginny, I promise to be there when you need me. I promise to support you, comfort you, and encourage you. I promise to be patient with you and to put the spoons right-side-up in the dishwasher. I love you now, and promise to love you, forever and always.

    Ginny:
    Adam, I promise to be there when you need me. I promise to support you, comfort you, and encourage you. I promise to be patient with you and to make you coffee just the way you like it. I love you now, and promise to love you, forever and always.

    Officiant: To comply with the laws of the State of Alabama, will Ginny and Adam and their witnesses please step forward to sign the license of their marriage. (all sign)

    Adam, please take the ring and place it on Ginny’s finger as a symbol of your love and promises to her.
    Ginny, please take the ring and place it on Adam’s finger as a symbol of your love and promises to him.

    I now pronounce you husband and wife. Please, kiss each other! (After kiss) Please welcome, Mr and Mrs Velazquez!

    Recessional: A Pedir Su Mano by Juan Luis Guerra

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  2. I'm stressing out over this big time. My family is religious and my parents hit the roof when I mentioned that I was looking for an officiant. They actually take offense to us not wanting a minister. I've tried talking to them about it, explaining how I see it as being disrespectful to practicing Christians as well as starting our marriage under a lie. I really can't stand the thought of it. My fiance's family is "culturally Catholic," but not practicing. He understands where I'm coming from, but thinks I need to be more flexible about my parents' beliefs. It's not like I'm out to destroy them or anything, I'm just extremely uncomfortable getting married by a minister when neither one of us truly believes! I don't know what to do. I feel like it's a no-win situation. Either go with the flow, make my parents happy, and be uncomfortable with my own ceremony, or do what I want and alienate them.

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    • We also had concerns regarding how our Catholic / Christian families would view our secular ceremony. As my husband and I would describe ourselves as spritual, but not necessarily religious, we found a few ways to keep the "spririt" of a religious ceremony, while maintaining our own sensibilities.
      First of all, we asked my hunsband's very religious mother to give us a blessing, which was incorporated into the ceremony right before our vows. In that way, if God / Jesus was invoked it was clear that this was HER intent, and not ours, but it also allowed her to witness our marriage in a way that was meaningful to her.
      Second, a few days before the wedding, we had asked our wedding party to write well-wishes / words of wisdom / cherished memories on card stock we provided. During the ceremony, they placed these cards into a box we now have on our mantlepiece. We had the cardstock available at the wedding also, so that anyone could submit a card. Again, it gave deeply religious folk an outlet for their blessings (plus – they are SO much fun to read through time and time agin!).
      Lastly, we incorporated natural and traditional ancestral elements to the ceremony by, among other things, having a Celtic handfasting ceremony.
      The rest – the readings and music were purely our own choice and were read by two couples we admire and aspire to be in the future! Thinking about this makes me want to do it all over again!!

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  3. This article has helped me so much. I was raised in an Orthodox Roman Catholic Household but never agreed with being married in the church. I am agnostic and my fiance is Wiccan but we decided to leave organized religion out of it. I am no longer communicating with my parents and his parents have passed on so we want an intimate gathering and ceremony with our closest friends to show how much we love each other.

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  4. Depending on what state you live in, you don't actually need to include an officiant at all. This will work in any of the states in which common-law marriage is allowed: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. This worked out perfectly for my husband and me since we were philosophically not ok with someone else telling us we were married; we're kind of big on the whole sovereign entity thing. We had a simple variation on the Japanese sansankudo ceremony (an exchange of 3 sips each from 3 cups of sake), since we loved the math symbolism and Japanese culture. A close friend also folded 1,000 cranes for us that we hung on a tree in the clearing we held the ceremony in. We simple poured the sake for each other, and told everyone that that was it and we were married, explained quickly the symbolism of the ritual, and invited them up to share the sake and celebrate our bonds. No fancy entry, no vows, no celebrant, just a quick, meaningful ceremony, so we could get down to the business of feasting and listening to music.

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  5. I wish I had seen this post when we were planning our wedding (OBB and APW did give me the "support" I needed to make sure our wedding was the one that A and I wanted – this post would have just previded me with the words I needed for this situation). When we were looking for a venue my MIL asked us to get married in their church. A and I are both non-religious (A grew up going to church but I did not), and A was the first in his family to not have a religious ceremony so it was unfamiliar territory for his parents. I tried to politely decline by saying that I was not comfortable with getting married in a church because I did not go to church growing up (I was hoping that pulling the "bride being comfortable on her wedding day" card would get me out of this jam). Her response was that a church is "just" a place to get married. We left it at that (agree to disagree) and A and I found somewhere else to have the ceremony (an old train station that was converted into a community theatre – which worked out perfectly).

    I would not have been comfortable in a church because I don't want to disrespect the people that have those beliefs. My personal opinion is that I "think it's disrespectful to smile and nod [my] way through a religious service [I] don't actually believe in". (Note: Since religion/beliefs are very personal this only applies to me and I don't judge others for doing it.)

    Planning our civil ceremony was actually pretty easy. My friend recommended an awesome officiant (the woman who was officiating her ceremony and had officiated many of her friends' ceremonies also). The ceremony was personalized for us (we had say over every word in the ceremony – A and I sat down and "wrote" it over a weekend) and the goal was to make it so meaningful that people didn't realize it wasn't religious (I have sat through a few legal-to-the-point civil ceremonies and that's not what I wanted). We received tons of comments on how personal and how "us" the ceremony was so I'm pretty sure we achieved that goal – oh not to mention the number of people that commented on "our minister". I highly recommend finding a great officiant to help you with your ceremony.

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  6. I've been to loads of humanist weddings in England.

    They're non-religious, meaningful and totally personal. Wouldn't have mine any other way!

    You have to go to the register office to do the paperwork separately though as humanist weddings haven't (yet) got legal status in England & Wales – but they do in Scotland – but it's worth the inconvenience in my opinion if you want something that's really you and you're not religious.

    We found our celebrant on the British Humanist Association's website. https://humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/find-a-celebrant/

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