Wedding Ceremony 101: Crafting your own wedding ceremonies from scratch

October 17 | Guest post by Jessie Blum
Jessie BlumThey ♥ OBB; we ♥ them is a New Jersey celebrant who specializes in crafting wedding ceremonies for nontraditional couples. She's also full of tips for those of you crafting your own wedding ceremonies from scratch. Here is some of her super duper helpful advice.

Jessie Blum getting her ceremony conducting on.
In my first meeting with a couple, I take out this outline, talk through it, and explain the significance and meaning behind the various elements and traditions, answer lots of questions, and ask some of my own. From the basic outline, we dive into the whole world of wedding ceremonies — but having that nice firm diving board of the ceremony structure really helps to prepare and better understand where we are going.

As I like to say, we can add anything in, we can take anything out. But I do find that sticking with this basic structure helps your guests "follow along" a little more easily during the ceremony, and not get lost in a non-traditional setting.

When you are writing your own wedding ceremony, you need to check with your local government to see if there are any legal requirements that must be included in the ceremony itself. But, other than that, the ceremony is up to you. Take what you need, leave the rest out, this is your wedding, after all.

I don't do a lot of weddings that include all of these elements — three rituals, multiple readings — but I wanted to be sure to include all of them here, so you can see where they go.

The elements of this ceremony are ordered based on ritual theory. Basically, a wedding is a rite of passage, an event that marks a person's transition from one life status (single) to another (married).

Rites of passages have three stages: separation, transition, and incorporation. We can see these stages reflected as we approach the life event (for example, your engagement period is one of transition, and your wedding celebration is a moment of incorporation), but can also look at what each element in the ceremony represents, and use the corresponding stage to help us order the ceremony.

For Example: The processional can be seen as separation — moving away from one point of life into another. The vows are transitional — standing upon the threshold. And the declaration of marriage is incorporation — taking the new status into the everyday.

By looking at each element, and deciding which stage of the rite of passage it represents, we can easily order the events within the ceremony itself.

OK, enough ritual theory for now. Let's get to the outline!

Welcoming of the guests
The officiant enters, usually as the first person in the processional, or sneaks in from the side. This is a nice point for the officiant to introduce themselves, as well as make any announcements (Turn off cell phones? Unplugged wedding?)

Processional
The entrance of the wedding party — which is a whole other post!

Gathering Words

  • Presentation of the couple
  • Family ritual
  • Thanking of family and friends
  • Remembrances

In my intro, I welcome the couple to their wedding celebration, and like to add a few words of thanks to the person who escorted the bride or groom down the aisle — a twist on the traditional "giving away." Using the couple's own words and information, I do a special thanks for the family and friends who have joined us. This helps to create an intimate air, right from the beginning.

Any special rituals or traditions that honor family would go here, such as a flower presentation for parents. If the guests are being asked to do anything during the ceremony, such as with a ring warming or a wishing stone ritual, this is also the place to introduce it, and get it started.

If the couple would like to include any remembrances, this is a good place to include them. A brief moment of silence, lighting of a memorial candle, a wine toast, or just a mention of those that are no longer with us are all lovely ways to acknowledge lost loved ones. I find at this point in the ceremony, it doesn't bring down the tone very much.

Marriage address
When I officiate a wedding, I call this section "The Love Story." I write an original narrative for my couples that talks about who they are — how they met, how they fell in love, and all of the lovely adventures that brought them to their wedding day. I end with what they love about each other, and their hopes and dreams for the future. It's funny, touching, personal, and very different with every wedding.

This is a great place to include a reading, too, to have as the "center" of your ceremony. It works especially well if you can find a piece that really speaks to you and your partner. Adding some personal comments, about what the piece means to you, is a nice way to really personalize it, without having to write a lot. You could also sit down with your partner, and think about what marriage and your relationship means to you, and have your officiant share that as your marriage address.

In a more traditional ceremony, this is where the sermon or homily would go.

The Declaration of intent
This is the "I Do!" part of a wedding. The couple faces one another, takes hands, and answers some very important questions about marriage. If you are planning on writing your own vows, it is nice to include more traditional vows here, or you can even write your own "I Do's!"

Wine ceremony or other unity ritual.
The unity rituals that represent the life that the couple will share together go here — thoroughly in transition, not yet incorporation (remember our mini-ritual theory lesson?). Wine ceremonies, presentation of gifts or flower to each other, tree plantings — there are the rituals that go at this point.

Vows
Either read by the couple to each other, or done "repeat after me" style with the officiant.

Ring vows
Short ring vows are usually done "repeat after me" as the couple places the rings on each other's fingers.

Note: Vows can be combined! Do you not want to talk? Just do "I Do's!" Really want the personal vows, but no repeat after me? Exchange your rings after the personal vows. This is your ceremony, and you can do whatever you want with it.

Unity ritual
Any unity ritual that symbolizes the couple joining their lives together goes here, towards the end. Unity candles, sand ceremonies, signing of a marriage license, to name a few.

Closing remarks
A final blessing or benediction could go here as well. I like to bring back important elements or themes from the rest of the ceremony, or end with a short poem or piece of advice for the couple.

If you have bubbles or rose petals or something you want guests to shower you with or do as you walk out, this is also a good place to have your officiant make a little announcement about it.

Declaration of marriage
The couple is pronounced MARRIED and then they kiss!

Post-declaration ritual
There are a few rituals that take place just after the marriage is made official — the breaking of the glass and the jumping of the broom. For ease of use, I recommend including the explanation for these rituals in the closing remarks.

Recessional
It's time to party!

A note on readings

There are a few places for readings, either done by your officiant or a reader, scattered throughout the ceremony. It is important to find the best place that a reading fits, so look at its theme, and decide which stage it fits best and then incorporate it into that section of the ceremony.

I often incorporate pieces of readings, such as quotes or selections, into the ceremony itself (I find the Gathering Words and the Closing Remarks are especially good locations). I recommend breaking up the readings, and not having guests come up, one right after another, to do a reading, and not stacking them, one right after the other, in the ceremony. Doing this provides a bit more interest, and also helps to break up the ceremony itself, so your officiant isn't just gabbing the whole time. Making ceremonies as "interactive" as possible for your guests is really important.

Offbeat Bride has a great selection of readings right here.

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  1. This is so great! The man-person and I have been tossing around ideas for our ceremony lately and have realized that we were more than a little overwhelmed. Totally sharing with my officiant/BFF!

    8 agree
  2. This is so helpful! I have been wanting to find a layout like this online, that explains everything really clearly, but have had no luck. This is perfect! Thanks!!

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  3. OMG I'm like EXCITED and SUPER HAPPY that you have posted this! I wrote and email not too long ago begging that this site could include something about couples who put the ceremony together from scratch, including readings! After my personal experience writing up my own entire ceremony, this information on here is exactly what is needed to put in a ceremony! (Though I had to look through a MILLION websites and my grandfather/minister's for reference.) Thank you THANK YOU for posting something that helps non-traditional couples know they don't have to have pre-set words on a paper for their ceremony, that they can make it their own. Thank you so much again for putting this up!

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  4. As a photographer who has worked with Jessie Blum, I can honestly say it was the most amazing ceremony I had ever heard in my career. I asked her after the ceremony to forward me the whole transcript. She is the real deal.

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      • Hi Jessie, I LOVE everything about this and appreciate the step by step ways to make a ceremony. We are getting married in Septemeber and one of our best friends is officiating our ceremony (his first time). He has the best personality and is super excited to do it…is there any way that you would be able to email me a sample transcript that you may have used?

        1 agrees
  5. More ritual theory talk! No, no, it's not enough for now!

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    • yes, please! And thank you so much for posting this – it's just what I've been looking for!

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      • Gosh, no one has ever said to me, "More ritual theory!" (and I TEACH Fundamentals of Celebrancy to new Celebrants!)

        I don't know if I will be exploring ritual theory any more in future blog posts, but if you are interested, I suggest reading Joseph Campbell (dense but worth it), Robert Fulghum's From Beginning to End, and Ronald Grimes (Deeply Into the Bone, though he has a few).

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        • I'll check those books out. I find ritual theory (I didn't know what that is called) fascinating. Thanks. (And I would love more posts about ritual theory.)

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  6. Thanks for this post! We're out in the woods and wilds of ceremony writing on our own, with no religion in our lives, and having only attended a few weddings and not being really into romance novels. I'm glad we have this to navigate our ceremony even if our officiant wants us to do stuff on our own.

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  7. Thank you for the useful post! Ritual theory is VERY interesting to me… I too would also like to more posts about it!

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  8. Thanks so much for writing this- I think many couples are at a loss for where to begin planning a ceremony. I have so many questions, especially regarding incorporating two religions into one ceremony. And RITUAL THEORY!!! I love theory. More posts, please!!

    1 agrees
    • Geeze, who knew there were all of these ritual theory nerds out there! (from one ritual-theory-nerd to another)

      5 agree
  9. I'd like to add my voice to the chorus of excitement about this post and ritual theory! Thank you!

    3 agree
  10. This is the clearest guide I've seen yet – I like how you've really given a template AND shown how it can be adjusted and personalized.

    10 agree
    • Thanks, Miss Happ. I think that is where a lot of people get lost when writing their ceremony – with the reconciliation that you can write your own ceremony BUT still follow a traditional outline. And that everything has its own place.

      2 agree
  11. BEST post – thank you so much for this. I've been struggling with our ceremony – there are so many ideas – and this helps to steer us in a less general direction.

    1 agrees
  12. Great post, we will be creating our own ceremony and this has really given us a great starting point. As a former social anthropology student I would also love to know more about ritual theory, I'll see if I can get hold of one of those books. Nerds unite!

    3 agree
  13. Oh I wish this post had been written before I got married. Writing the ceremony was the HARDEST part. We had some very non traditional parts (no processional) but then wanted to include the parents, and were doing traditional vows so finding a balance was extremely hard. Plus we found one absolutely perfect reading right away and then… nothing for months. Luckily we hammered it out at the last minute. It turned out awesome; most of our friends are from a theatre background and since I can never take anything seriously we managed to have everyone laughing the entire time. I guess that makes it special?

    2 agree
  14. This is why I love Offbeat Bride: finding amazing resources such as this post to really let wedding folks take charge of their own day. Thank you for the wonderful help!

    2 agree
  15. Thank you so much for bringing on an issue that I have been struggling with. I grew up in a strict Roman Catholic household with the concept that you get married in the church.
    I am now a spiritual agnostic and have been wondering how me and my fiance have a wedding ceremony that isn't based on tradition and religion.

    1 agrees
    • If you don't plan on writing your own ceremony, look to see if there are any Celebrants in your area – we basically create and officiate at ceremonies for people of all backgrounds, traditions, and cultures. Many of my couples come from a very religious culture or background, and are the first of their family to not be married in a church. You can absolutely have an awesome ceremony without a lot of religious elements, if that is the direction that you want to go in. Best of luck with everything!

      4 agree
  16. Oh I absolutely agree. Unfortunately we live in the 'Bible Belt' and finding an officiant who can cater to our needs are in short supply. I will probably end up writing my own, because I don't have the resources to pay for an officiant from up North just yet.

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  17. I am so glad that I found this! My fiancee and I are going to be working on our own ceremony and I was lost and stressing out over it. Thank you so much for providing this outline. This will make things much easier! Jessie, I wish you were in my state to officiate though! <3

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    • Sorry for the insane delay in this reply (I wasn't receiving notifications for some reason!), but thanks! So glad this was helpful.

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  18. Jessie, NJ is SSOOO lucky to have you!! If you are thinking about coming to Boston for your Columbus Day Weekend "Vacation" next year, let me know :D

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    • Aww, thanks, Mary. Up until last year, I actually wouldn't charge travel charges for Boston or the North Shore bc I had a friend who lived up there, but they're moving back down to NJ. Best of luck with your wedding!!

      Sorry for the insane delay in this reply (I wasn't receiving notifications for some reason!).

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  19. THIS. IS. SO. HELPFUL. Thanks so much! My husband and I got ordained (yay, interwebs!) last year and have been honored to preside over the weddings of a couple of friends so far. I was able to piece something together that had a format similar to this, but I appreciate the details and specifics you offer. Thanks!!

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  20. Thanks for this post! I have been stressing about building a secular Armenian/Sri Lankan wedding with a friend officiating from scratch but this gave me an outline to start with. Now to pick readings and decide on which traditions to use.

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  21. So, is there a link to this mysterious "other post" regarding processionals? I'm not worried about the music so much, but I wanted to know if there was another post referring to how it could be done? LOVED this post, I just outlined my ceremony with it, w00t!

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  22. This is everything I needed! We are crafting a secular ceremony with a friend as an officiant,so this will really be helpful!

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  23. Great post! Thank you so much! My very dear cousin just got engaged, and I'm helping her plan her backyard ceremony in 7 weeks so this post is perfect.

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  24. Currently trying to fathom our from-scratch ceremony, so this is very helpful! I want to keep it short and sweet, but not rushed. Processional, intros, poems, vows, rings, kisses, but not sure how much time to allow for these things without having all the words chosen already. I don't plan on having any particular rituals unless I can think of something that feels right to me (ring warming speaks the most to me, but I don't know). Candle lighting and sand don't really click for me so much, plus no open flames allowed in my venue.

    So how much time are people leaving for ceremonies? I have to put this on the invites (the reception is in a different space and we want to specify start times for both).

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  25. Great information!! Getting married July 26th and working on the ceremony now. We each have boys from precious marriages, have you ever incorporated them into the ceremony? Thanks in advance!!

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  26. Thank you for this incredibly helpful information!

    0 agree

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