How do you have a wedding ceremony without a Bible?

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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, 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

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Comments on How do you have a wedding ceremony without a Bible?

  1. My fiance comes from a Catholic family and I from a Jewish and Catholic family, but neither of us is particularly religious. We hired an officiant (for those of you in the NY area, Rev. Sheila Gay – she's fantastic!) who will be using some elements of each religion to pay respect to our parents and families (and because my mom HAD to have the glass breaking!) and will also be using some Buddhist readings (FI was a philosphy/religion major and we spent a year in Japan) to make it really personalized. We didn't want to do any rituals that didn't feel authentic – if we feel silly doing them, then what's the point? I'm excited to have a ceremony so tailored to us.

    • I know this comment is from a long time ago but we also hired Sheila for our wedding (in a few weeks). She’s pretty awesome. We met with her yesterday and both me and my uber shy fiance felt comfortable enough to step outside the box and do a few things we normally wouldn’t do. She put us at ease and and it’s totally worth finding someone who can help sculpt your ceremony into one you are comfortable with!!

  2. Ariel, this is a fabulous post – I often get questions when I meet people and explain what I do that are just like this – sometimes, when the only weddings you've seen are in a church, it's hard to figure out how to REMOVE religion from the wedding, and still have a very relevant, personal, emotional, and special ceremony. But we do exist, and we create ceremonies that are based on love, marriage, relationships, commitment, and all of the awesome things that go into a wedding and a marriage, with as much or as little God or religion as you see fit.

  3. I highly recommend "The Wedding Ceremony Planner: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Part of Your Wedding Day" by Judith Johnson. It has the ceremony structure laid out with passages to select for both religious and non-religious ceremonies. I am Wiccan and my fiance is Agnostic, so we are completely leaving religion out of the ceremony and putting more emphasis on family ties and love. I was able to put together the perfect ceremony for us, piece by piece. It's a great read, and you can find it at any bookstore or on Amazon.

    • I second this. The entire structure of our ceremony was pulled from this book and our officiant (my Mom, who is religious) was able to craft a very meaningful ceremony without the slightest hint of a higher power.

  4. We had a spiritual, nonsectarian ceremony (we are Christian and pagan, both with Buddhist leanings). We found a great celebrant who gave us sample ceremonies and let us change then however we wanted. The freedom can be daunting, but I got a lot of ideas here and on indiebride. We also incorporated a ring-warming, which was lovely. Have fun!

  5. We had our good friend, a physicist, officiate our wedding, and for his "sermon" (really his affirmation), he read text from the Massachusetts court case affirming that civil marriages were a civil right. It was actually really moving. The rest of the ceremony was readings and our vows (which we just wrote ourselves).

    Funny story: I hadn't written my vows before the rehearsal, so when we walked through the ceremony to measure how long it took, I just made something up off the top of my head. I think I said, "I vow to keep the whiskey warm and the beer cold…" After the ceremony, a bunch of people who had been at the rehearsal said they were disappointed that I didn't leave that part in my vows!

  6. Since the state of Alaska allows you to appoint anyone as your marriage commissioner for a day, we asked a close friend to perform our nonreligious ceremony. She and I scoured the internet for interesting and relevant pieces and parts and came up with something that highlighted our beliefs as a couple. We wrote our own vows and ended the ceremony with "The Art of Marriage" by Wilferd Arlan Peterson. It was short, sweet, and perfect for us. As long as it feels appropriate for you and your partner, run with it and make it your own. =)

  7. Some states will let you use *anyone* to officiate a wedding. They have to go to the county building, get a day pass deputization, and follow a general script for it to be official.

    We had a non-religious ceremony (agnostics/deists represent!) and our officiant felt awkward holding *nothing*, so instead of a bible he brought his ancient, well-worn copy of "Lord of The Rings". No one noticed except us!

  8. I'm agnostic and my fiancee is Catholic, but we decided we didn't want it to be a preachy ceremony. Since I am not Catholic, we obviously couldn't have a priest officiate (as is tradition for Catholics) and I did not want to convert just because of that, because I simply do not share those beliefs and felt I would be dishonoring his religion, him and myself were I to lie and pretend to be something I am not. Futhermore, I would have felt horribly uncomfortable having religion in my ceremony since I am not religious, so we decided on a great officiant who is a justic of the peace. It was nice that he had his own vows pre written too, because I found the task of writing my own a bit daunting with all the other things I am doing for the big day. It would have been just one more thing and would have overwhealmed me (even though I'm usually very creative). We're having a very basic ceremony, which focuses on the bond of love rather than the role of religion. It fits us perfectly and we're very pleased with it. I think you might want to look at Justice of the Peace's in your area as an alternative.
    Good luck on your big day! 🙂

  9. I highly recommend finding a certified celebrant. I'm getting married in May in a non-religious ceremony officiated by a celebrant. She is tailoring our wedding to our personalities, desires, and vision. It is nice to be able to hand over the responsibility while still feeling intimately connected to the content. If you're in or near Chicago check her out:

  10. We both work in the courts, so a friend who is a justice of the peace will be marrying us. She gave us lots of examples to work with, but just googling "Secular Wedding Ceremonies" went a long way too! For the record, I'm Christian, but don't believe that I need to be married in a church for my marriage to be accepted or recognized and my fiance is an atheist. It meant a lot more to him that we be married by someone secular than it meant to me to be married in a church. Compromise is everything!

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