Navigating Religion in Ceremonies
Many couples are unsure what role they want religion to play in their ceremony. This can be for a number of reasons: the couple may be interfaith; one or both of the members of the couple may be secular but have family members who want to see a religious ceremony; or the couple may have spiritual beliefs and traditions that fall outside the religions most commonly practiced in the United States; among many others. As an independent wedding officiant, I am uniquely situated to help couples develop a ceremony that has religious elements--if any--that are true to them.
The most important thing I can do as an officiant is to listen to the desires and concerns of the couples who have come to me. They have placed their trust in me to deliver a ceremony authentic to them, and I make it a priority to understand where they are coming from. When working with any couple I begin with a complimentary meeting (or call, whichever suits) so that we can get to know one another. In this meeting I ask about whether the couple has religious preferences and how they would like to see these reflected in the ceremony.
A few of the questions I ask include:
What faith traditions were you raised in, if any?
Do you practice any religious traditions today?
If you practice a religion, would you like to see it in your ceremony?
Are you experiencing any pressure to have religious elements in your ceremony?
Couples may be unsure of the role they want religion to play. It may be none at all, and that is perfectly fine. On the other hand, they may want something like several prayers offered, which can certainly be incorporated.
Some couples are interfaith, which gives me the opportunity to ask about what they find most meaningful in their respective traditions, so that those elements can be woven into the ceremony. Perhaps an Jewish and Christian interfaith couple want to be married beneath a chuppah while a crucifix is displayed. As long as the ceremony is respectful of both faiths, celebrating them both is a beautiful way to highlight the many ways that couples come together.
Some couples may have traditions that are not represented by the US's majority religions. A couple may have a rich prayer life or practice a pagan tradition. If they are important to the couple, it is incumbent upon me to find a way to honor these in the ceremony, as the couple wishes.
When couples are not religious but family members are, the couple may feel some tension with their family members. The couple may choose to elope for this reason; I am more than happy to perform an elopement for them. I can offer several solutions to the couple who wants a larger ceremony despite possible conflict with family. The first is to help the couple come to accept that some family may be disappointed if religion is absent from a ceremony. While this may seem heavy handed, the reality is that it is the couple's wedding, and it is very difficult to satisfy everyone, regardless of what is done. Another possible option is to allow for couple's guests a moment in the service where they may offer their own prayers--in silence. And finally, when I am working with couples to create a custom ceremony, I am happy to have a conference call with the aggrieved family--sometimes simply giving them an opportunity to say how they feel is enough to ease the tension.
An honor I have as an officiant lies in working with couples to craft a ceremony that is true to and meaningful to them. Once I have had a chance to learn what is important to the couple, I assemble elements that reflect that in an order of ceremony. Perhaps a secular couple wants a reading from "Marriage Joins Two People In the Circle of Its Love" (it's beautiful--if you haven't come across it before, take a moment to look it up), or a religious couple wants the iconic reading from First Corinthians. It falls to me, and it is my pleasure, to creatively put these into a ceremony.
Of course, I seek the couple's input as I go (although I have had a couple who wanted to be entirely surprised by the ceremony, and that works, too). We can pass the ceremony script back and forth, making edits (again, listening to the couple's wants is critical).
And finally, I deliver the ceremony. It is truly beautiful to see couples share one of the most important days of their lives with a moment that is true to them.