This wasn’t my usual wedding.

MJ contacted me a few weeks ago – she and her fiance wanted a simple, quick, and personal wedding, but weren’t sure of the location or the date yet.  When we met up, she told me her idea, and it was awesome: have the wedding, with just a few friends as witnesses, at a tattoo parlor on a Saturday afternoon… and follow it up by getting each other’s initials tattooed on their ring fingers.

I didn’t hesitate before saying yes!

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MJ and Steve wrote personal vows, that were funny and touching.  They had two readings – one of which was the lyrics to “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascall Flatts, and the atmosphere couldn’t have been cooler.  We did the ceremony right in front of this crazy altar they had set up in the parlor (Jinx Proof Tattoo in Montclair, NJ).

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They each chose personal ring vows, and didn’t share them before hand (most of my couples choose to use the same ring vows).  And MJ’s were hysterical:

I give you this ring, not as the proverbial symbol of my love, rather a blatant BACK OFF BITCHES, HE’S TAKEN.  It is a gesture to mark my territory and stake my claim.  Take it off, lose the finger.  THE END

It was definetly one of the most unique wedding ceremonies I’ve ever done, and I couldn’t have been happier to be a part of it!  It was true proof that your wedding ceremony can and should reflect who you are – from the traditional to the not-so-traditional and everything in between.

Not to get all mushy or cheesy, but it made me really think about why I got into this whole marrying people officiant business – so I can help everyone have their perfect wedding.  So people have big poofy white dresses, and some people get married in killer silver heels and a bright blue cocktail dress in a tattoo parlor – but everyone gets the perfect wedding for them!  And I just love that I can be a part of it.

MJ & Steve – whenever you want to renew your vows, give me a call!  Thanks so much for letting me be part of your crazy nutso tattooed wedding.  You guys rock!

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As I made my way to the Lake Mohawk Country Club in Sparta, NJ, for Meg & David’s wedding, it started to pour, and I was very concerned about the ceremony – which was to take place outside, overlooking the lake.  Thankfully, the rain COMPLETELY cleared up, the sun came out, and we had beautiful weather for their ceremony.  Thank goodness!

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Meg and David had a handfasting, group vows (in the form of a declaration of support), and had the groom’s cousin read the Apache Wedding Blessing, a sweet reading that is very popular in weddings right now:

Now you will feel no rain,
For each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold,
For each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness,
For each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two bodies,
But there is one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place,
To enter into the days of your togetherness.
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

(PS: Did you know that the Apache Wedding Blessing was actually written for the 1950 Western film Broken Arrow?)

Their ceremony was fun and light-hearted, with a touch of seriousness.  There was definitely a lot of laughter, and the flower girl wore fairy wings!  Meg & David are off to Germany for their honeymoon – congrats, again!

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We all have such wonderful people in our lives – but when we get married, not everyone wants to have a bridal party – or maybe you only want to have a small bridal party, but would like to help some other family members or friends involved with the ceremony as well.

I’ve had some very clever and smart brides lately with some great ideas to get MORE people involved in your wedding ceremony!  Here are some of my favorites:

Readers. This is more on the traditional side, but can be a great way to include a special friend or family member who is not part of the bridal party.  Why not let them choose the reading they’d like to use?  There are a ton of fabulous places to find fun and personal readings to include in your ceremony – you could even choose a few, and just give your reader an option.

Guest Vows. This is one of my favorite rituals.  Immediately after the couple does their “I do’s” or their vows, I’ll address everyone gathered directly, and ask them to pledge their own love and support for the bride and groom in their marriage.  The wording is usually slightly different than the traditional vows:

Today, you have come here not simply to witness our couple”s union, but to take part in it.  Each of you represents not only yourself, but all of the people who have and will touch the lives of our bride and groom. Your support has helped their relationship to flourish, and the joy that you all bring into the couple’s lives keeps them going.  Our bride and groom have asked all present to take vows as well, to pledge your support and love for them as they embark upon this new path together.  After I have spoken these vows, please answer with “We will.”

Everyone gathered here today, before you stand two people who love you very much. Do you promise to encourage and inspire their dreams? To accept them not only as individuals, but as a couple? To be their friends and their support, today and everyday to follow?

And then they all answer with a resounding “WE WILL!”

Wishing Stones. When the guests arrived, they are greeted with a groomsmen or usher holding a small basket of pebbles or stones (an alternative would be to have the basket near the programs, with a small sign of explanation).  Each guests takes a stone, and holds it during the wedding ceremony.  Towards the end of the ceremony, I ask the guests to imbue the stones with all of their love, well wishes, and blessings for the couple, as they embark on their new life together.  At the end, the stones are collected, and presented to the bride and groom.

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Many of my couples who choose to use this ceremony go on to use the stones in their yards of their first homes, or simply place them in a bowl in a special place in their house.  A wonderful reminder of the love of your friends and family on your wedding day!

In a beach vow renewal I am doing this summer, we are going to throw the stones in the water, immediately following the ceremony – a sweet way for everyone to make a wish for the couple.

Ring Warming. I’m often hesitant to mention this, because passing wedding rings around a large group of people stresses me out – but there are ways to include this ritual that let you have a bit more control. This ritual involves passing the rings around to all of your guests, so they can “warm” them between their palms, and bless them with their love and well wishes.

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Stephanie & Gordon's rings, before the ceremony

My suggestion is to designate a bridal party member as the “ring person” at the beginning – they can stand at the end of the aisle, as your guests enter, and ask them to take a moment to hold the ring and imbue it with happy love thoughts (and keep a close eye on them!).  You could also just pass the ring along your bridal party, or the front row of your parents (tie them both together with a bit of ribbon, so they’re more substantial and less likely to get dropped!)

Include Them In Rituals. Are you including a wine ceremony, handfasting, sand ceremony, or another unity ritual?  Why not invite a special friend or family member up to pour and present the wine, wrap the cord, or read the introduction to the sand ceremony?

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For Jess & Kenny's wedding, Jess' childhood best friend and Kenny's cousin presented their rings.

If you don’t have a six year old boy to spare, consider asking a close friend who is not in the bridal party to present your wedding rings – they don’t have to be part of the processional, but they get invited up, you can give them a big hug, and they’ll present the rings to you during the ring ceremony.

Jess & Kenny

Jess and Kenny were SO much fun.  They had a “summer love” at the Jersey Shore, so getting married on the beach was a top priority for them!  We created a very cool ceremony – a Shell Circle of Love – to incorporate their family and friends.  [All photos courtesy of CLB Photography – thanks!]

They were married at Seven President’s Beach, in Long Branch, NJ, with their reception at McLoone’s Pier House.

Jess & Kenny

When their guests entered, they were presented with a shell by a groomsmen, standing at the front of the aisle.  The guests then came to the front, and placed the shell in the sand, creating a circle of shells surrounded the beautiful bamboo trellis that Jess and Kenny would be married in.  As their bridal party entered, I presented them each with a shell, which they placed in the circle, to complete it, before taking their spot, standing at the front.

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

I explained the meaning of the Circle during the introduction of the ceremony:

As all of you entered, you placed a shell in the sand, forming a Circle of Love that now surrounds our bride and groom.  Shells often symbolize the place from which one starts an important journey.

These shells not only represent this new beginning for our bride and groom, marking this spot and this moment in their lives – but also the love of each person who placed it.  The shells that form this circle were placed as a pledge of support – support for our bride and groom as they become husband and wife, and as they begin this new, amazing, and wonderful journey together, as partners in life.  Jess and Kenny are surrounded by these shells, this Circle of Love, just as they are surrounded by their cherished friend’s and family’s love today – and everyday!

I must give credit to another of my couples for the inspiration for this ceremony – the incredibly awesome Sarah and John are not having a bridal party, but plan to have each of their siblings and their significant others enter in the processional, and place a flower at the front, to form their own Circle of Love.  They told me that it is a Hawaiian tradition – I think it’s an awesome idea and a great way to literally surround yourself with love on your wedding day!

Jess & Kenny

But, back to Jess & Kenny.  They were married within this circle of shells, on the beach, on a windy (but sunny!) May evening, remember?

Their Love Story was sweet, funny, and totally them.  I talked about their first meeting at a bar, when Jess smiled at Kenny – and Kenny just walked by, completely oblivious.  I overheard some friends talking after the ceremony, and they said that was totally Kenny!

They also wrote their own vows – a very sweet touch, and though they did share them before the ceremony, they were both very emotional and happy to hear them read.  The bride was all smiles, and though she was afraid she was going to be nervous, once she got up there – other than some giggles! – she did just fine. 🙂

Their entire wedding ceremony had some beautiful details – flip flops and tissues for guests to use during the ceremony, a steel drum band that played them down the aisle, and a beautiful sand ceremony, incorporating sand from the beach itself.  All in all, it was a beautiful day and a beautiful ceremony!

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess & Kenny

Jess and Kenny, congrats again!!  Thank you SO much for letting me be a part of your beach wedding!

Jess & Kenny

For even more photos, check out their extended gallery!

Lauren and Tom were married at the English Manor in Ocean, NJ, on the Saturday of what had been an incredibly rainy and dreary week.  But, thankfully, the clouds stayed away, and we could have the ceremony in the beautiful gardens out back.

Lauren & Tom

Lauren and Tom have a really incredibly Love Story – they met in their English class, their freshman year of high school – and for Tom, it was love at first sight.  He has been in love with her from the moment he met her.  They were friends in high school, then lost touch after graduation.  When their ten year high school reunion rolled around – Tom had no intention of going.  But he decided to look up the one person he wished was still in his life – and found Lauren. How sweet is that!

It is so obvious to anyone who meets Lauren and Tom how freaking in love they are. In fact, that’s one of the requests Tom put in his homework – “If they remember one thing for the rest of their lives I want them to remember that at least once in their lives they saw two people who defined love.”

They wrote their own vows and we also incorporated a handfasting, where they repeated vows while bound together.

After the ceremony, Lauren told me that everyone was telling her it was a lovely ceremony, but she admitted she hadn’t heard a single word of it – she was just waiting for me to pronounce them husband and wife!

If that doesn’t say love… I don’t know what does.

So much LOVE and congratulations to you, Lauren and Tom! I have all the faith in the world that you’re going to spend the rest of your lives making each other incredibly happy.

Lauren & Tom

Lauren & Tom

Lauren & Tom

Lauren & Tom

By popular demand – here it is – Basic Wedding Ceremony Structure 101.

This is the bare bones outline that I use when I’m working with couples to write their wedding ceremony.  In our first meeting, I take it out, talk through it, explaining significance and meaning between the various rituals 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 in the ceremony structure really helps to prepare and better understand where we’re going.  As I like to say – we can add anything in, we can take anything out.  But I find that sticking to the basic structure helps your guests “follow along” a little more easily, and not get lost in a more unusual ceremony.

This is what works for me – definitely check with the state you are getting married in to make sure that you include any legal requirements for a wedding (in some states, at one point, the bride and groom need to verbally agree to be married [The I Do’s], and there may be specific wording that your officiant will have to use to declare you married).  Take from it what you need, and leave the rest out – when it comes down to it – this is your wedding after all!

I don’t do a lot of weddings that include ALL of these – three full readings, three plus rituals – it’s much more of a guide than a list of things you need to include.

If anyone has any questions – post them in the comments!  I’ll be sure to answer them there, so we can all share from each others ideas!

Wedding Ceremony Structure 101

Welcoming of the Guests.
I enter, usually as the first person in the processional, or I am already standing at the front.  I thank everyone for joining us, and ask them to turn off their cell phones!

Processional.
The entrance of the bridal party (that’s a whole other post!).

Introduction:

  • Presentation of the Couple.
  • Family Ritual
  • Thanking of Family & Friends.
  • Remembrances.

In my intro, I welcome the bride and groom to their wedding celebration.  I usually say a few words of special thanks to the person who escorted the couple down the aisle (a twist on the “giving away”).  Using the bride and groom’s own words and information, I do a special thanks for the guests and family.

Any special rituals or traditions as a special thank you to family members would go here.  A popular choice is the flower presentation to the mothers.

If my couple wants to include remembrances, this is where I include them – a brief moment of silence, lighting of a candle, a wine toast, or just me mentioning that they are in our hearts and lives, today and everyday.  I find at this point it doesn’t bring down the tone of the ceremony too much.

Reading.

There are a few places for readings, either by your officiant or a reader, scattered throughout the ceremony.  I often incorporate pieces of readings into the ceremony itself (the Love Story, Closing Remarks, and Introduction).  Not everyone chooses to include readings in their ceremony.  I like to break up the readings, not having guests come up one after the other to read – it provides a bit more interest and also helps to break up the ceremony so your officiant isn’t just gabbing the whole time!  I think making ceremonies as “interactive” as possible is really important.

Love Story, or Address.
For my couples, I write an original Love Story – the story of them, their relationship (how they met, how they fell in love, all of that fun stuff).  I always end it with what they love about each other, and their hopes and dreams for the future.  They’re always funny and touching, and incredibly personalized for each wedding I do.

Sometimes, the couple prefers not to have a Love Story, and I will do a reading here, one that has a tone that fits the wedding, and share some personal comments connecting the reading to the bride and groom’s relationship and marriage.

For a more traditional wedding, this is where the sermon or homily would go.

The Asking.
This is the “I do!” part of a wedding.  I have the couple turn towards one another, take hands, and I ask them some very important questions about marriage.  If they agree to them – they say some kind of positive affirmation (Yes! I do! Thumbs Up!).  Sometimes, I have couples who will write these themselves, and combine them with the vows.

Wine Ceremony or Other Unity Ritual.

This is the place for a unity ritual that symbolizes the life that the bride and groom will share together.  Wine ceremonies, presentation of gifts or flowers to each other, tree planting – those are the kind of rituals that go at this point.

Vows.
Either read by the bride and the groom to each other, or done “repeat after me” style with the officiant.

Reading.

Ring Ceremony.
Short ring vows are usually chosen to repeat as the bride and groom place the ring on each other’s fingers.

Unity Ritual.
Any unity ritual that symbolizes the bride and groom joining together or the merging and blending of two families would go here.  Unity candles, sand ceremonies, hand fasting, garland exchanges, signing of a marriage license.

Reading.

Closing Remarks.
A final blessing could go here as well.  I like to bring back important elements of the Love Story, or include a short poem or advice.  In a Jewish inspired wedding, I would include a version of the seven blessings here.

Declaration of Marriage.

The bride and groom are declared husband and wife.  AND THEN THEY KISS!

Breaking of the Glass / Jumping the Broom.
There are a few rituals that take place right AFTER the declaration of marriage.

Recessional.
I’ll talk about this with my processional post – but basically, the bride and groom exit, go out, and party!!

Meet Sarah and John.

<img src= by Cindy Patrick</a>Photo by Cindy Patrick

They’re getting married at the Chesterwood Estate & Museum in Stockbridge, MA, in July (take a moment to check out their venue – isn’t it cool?).

I always say that the coolest people find me and ask me to lead their wedding ceremonies – and Sarah and John are no exception.  In fact, I found Sarah – she’s a pretty awesome photographer, and I contacted her about photographing my wedding in October of 2010.

We met in January, and discussed weddings – both of ours (that’s the Celebrant in me, I guess, even when I’m supposed to be talking about my own wedding, I need to know about other bride’s ceremonies!).  She and her fiance had a lot of really cool ideas of different rituals, ceremonies, and traditions to incorporate into their wedding, and it sounded like their wedding was going to be a blast!

So, a few months later – my fiance and I had decided that Sarah is the one to photograph our wedding.  And then I get an email from her, asking me to officiate HER wedding!  I didn’t have to hesitate before absolutely saying yes!

sj2Photo by Cindy Patrick

Sarah and John came into the whole process with some great ideas about what they wanted to include in their wedding ceremony.  Some of the rituals and traditions I was familiar with and love (handfasting, readings), some I had heard of and am totally excited to do for the first time (seedling planting ceremony), and some that I had never even heard of before (Circle of Love with flowers, presentation of the ring by the moms, with a “blessing” by the parents).

They chose not to have a traditional wedding party, but are having their siblings and their significant others take part in the processional, and are each being walked down the aisle by their parents (in the vein of the Jewish tradition).  There are even some surprises in store – they’re having three readers and letting them each choose the readings they’d like to use… but we’re going to keep them a secret from the bride & groom until the wedding ceremony!

I’m so excited to begin putting their wedding ceremony together – I think it’s going to be something really amazing when it all comes together, something that really reflects Sarah & John’s commitment to each other, to their families, and to love 🙂  ‘Cause when it comes down to it.. isn’t it all about the love?

I’m going to be blogging my process on Sarah and John’s wedding, so you, my lovely blog readers, can follow along at home and see all of the fun research, prep, emails and planning that goes into creating and writing a wedding ceremony, and hopefully get some great ideas for your own ceremonies along the way.   So, we’ll start from the beginning – with their outline and our first meeting and end in Western Massachusetts in mid-July.  I can’t wait!

PS: Sarah recently did a wedding update on her blog, if you want to hear more about her current wedding plans! Loving the orange!

Photo by Cindy PatrickPhoto by Cindy Patrick