Will We Pray?
Wedding ceremonies traditionally were celebrated in places of worship and with a liturgy. This means of celebrating relied on the assumption that the couple wanted a religious ceremony; we cannot know how many of these couples wanted prayer in their ceremony. In modern times, we recognize that love can be celebrated anywhere, and whether to offer prayer during the ceremony is entirely a decision for the couple to make.
In my tenure as a wedding officiant, I have had the honor of celebrating marriages in religious, spiritual but not religious, and secular ceremonies. I believe that each couple deserves to celebrate their marriage in the way that is most meaningful to them and I am happy to work with couples of all stripes. While the different styles of ceremonies have different flavors, the outcome is the same--a loving couple is united in marriage.
When celebrating a wedding in a religious tradition, the faith often provides a set of vocabulary that I can use in discussion with the couple. In the complimentary consultation that I offer each couple, I ask about religious backgrounds and whether the couple would like to incorporate aspects of faith into their ceremony. If the couple would like to do so, I then ask about what elements would be most meaningful to the couple. It is never my place to dictate what or how much religion is woven into the ceremony; I ask questions to help both members of the couple come to clarity on their wishes. For example, I might ask "What elements of your faith tradition are most important to you?" and "Do you have prayers or rituals that you practice regularly?". I have
Spiritual But Not Religious Ceremonies
When a couple would like to reflect a spiritual life that is not framed by a defined faith tradition, I return to fostering dialog through questions. In this case, I could ask "When are you most engaged spiritually?" and "Do you follow specific rituals or teachings?". If the couple would like, we can start to compile a list of elements to include in the ceremony. And if the couple's practices differ from those of their family and friends, I can craft a ceremony that explains the rituals, prayers, and blessings.
Some people may imagine a secular ceremony as being cold. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, I see one of my roles as an officiant as being responsible for helping the couple find ways to make their ceremony warm and shining reflections of their personalities. Again, through discussing the couple's wishes and vision, I suggest ceremony elements that might be of interest. Perhaps a loved one will read a meaningful passage during the ceremony. Or, maybe the couple would like to add a unity element, like mixing sand or lighting candles, to their ceremony to illustrate two lives becoming one.
Above all else, a wedding ceremony should be authentic to and a reflection of the couple. The decision to include religion in a wedding is a deeply personal one. And, that is a decision that I, as a wedding officiant, fully back. The couple never needs to justify their decision. A wedding is a special moment to celebrate love between two people--it is celebrated both by the couple as well as by the couple's community of family and friends--and the celebration can be just as grand whether in religious or secular fashion.
In planning a wedding there can be moments when the couple feels under pressure from loved ones to include--or exclude--certain ceremony elements. This can be the case when a couple's ideas about religious celebrations differ from the couple's parents' ideas. To adopt a particular style of ceremony to please others is a risky idea. You will want to have memories of a ceremony that is truly yours. Omitting a prayer that is very important to you simply to placate someone of a different faith tradition is not staying true to yourself. Likewise, including a liturgical element to appease a loved one is inauthentic.
I must address the intimacy of religious and spiritual practices: some people may have a faith practice that they do not share, perhaps outside the bounds of the couple. In such a case, the authentic course of action might just be to exclude it from the ceremony.
Here are a few questions to help you reach clarity about the role you would like for religion to play in your ceremony.
What are your faith traditions, if any?
What roles do these traditions play in the life you and your fiance/fiancee have built together?
Would a ceremony without a particular ritual or liturgical element feel like it was missing something?
And simply, do you want a religious ceremony?