Did you know that there are only two requirements to get married in Florida: that each spouse declares their intent to enter into the legal arrangement of marriage and that a qualified celebrant/officiant, after witnessing the declaration, signs your marriage license? But how do you get started creating your wedding ceremony outline? Tee Rogers, the Humanist Celebrant, helps to guide you by sharing the ceremony building blocks in the article below.
Other than the two legal requirements, you have full creative license to compose and design a wedding ceremony outline that is unique to you. There is no specified order for things to occur, and anyone can lead any section of the ceremony. For some, declaring your intent and the signing of the marriage license may be the whole ceremony. For others, the couple may want to take care of the legal portion of their marriage before heading away to a destination wedding or they may simply want a private elopement.
However, you want things to flow well. Your celebrant can write your ceremony for you or with you or review a ceremony you write and make helpful suggestions.
“Ceremony Building Blocks” are the many elements that you can incorporate into your wedding ceremony outline. Here are some ideas, including traditional ways of doing things as well as some unique and modern approaches.
This may include the formal seating of parents or grandparents, wedding party entrance, or spouse entrance (individually or together). There may be someone scattering flower petals preceding the bride or spouse(s) down the aisle or ring bearer(s).
Spousal entrances in modern weddings are often creative. The traditional “father walks the bride down the aisle” doesn’t work for all couples, and there are many variations to consider. For example:
- Both spouses may walk down the aisle with their parents, individually or all together
- The spouses may walk down the aisle alone together
- One spouse may stand with the celebrant at the front and the other spouse makes an entrance. For traditional, binary-gender couples it is most often the bride who walks down the aisle.
- Both spouses (and the wedding party) may simply take a position with the celebrant as the guests are being seated. This can mean skipping the processional altogether or having the processional be the formal seating of important family members.
Music, like the traditional “here comes the bride” or other music meaningful to the couple, often plays during the processional.
The celebrant’s welcome officially begins the ceremony. It is simply a few words or a sentence or two, thanking everyone for being there to share in this special day for the couple. These may begin with “Welcome, family and friends…”; “We are gathered here….”; or “Thank you for celebrating with us today as…”.
Recognition of Special Guests
One of the reasons to have a wedding ceremony outline is to make sure you consider asking your celebrant or wedding officiant to recognize members of the audience, such as parents, grandparents, or great grandparents as part of the welcome. Or, you may ask them to recognize family or friends who couldn’t attend the ceremony or celebrate the memory of those who have passed away.
An invocation can be a wonderful way of honoring RSSI (Religious, Secular, and Spiritual Identity) diversity at your wedding. For example, at a religious ceremony, you may invite a Humanist Celebrant or congregational leader from another religious tradition to deliver an invocation. Another example is the wedding of an Atheist and a Humanistic Jew who wanted a non-religious ceremony, but one religious parent was invited to deliver an invocation meaningful for their religious friends and family.
Your Love Story
Either at the beginning of the ceremony – or woven throughout the ceremony – many couples incorporate the story of their journey together. Sharing moments of your journey together such as how you met, the years you worked together before your first date, or a funny or touching moment you have shared can add a personal touch and perhaps a bit of humor to your ceremony.
Audience Participation and Inclusion Ritual(s)
There are many ways to include your guests in the wedding ceremony. For example, a ring warming is a pause before the ring exchange where the rings are passed among the guests before they are exchanged.
You might ask the guests to stand and surround the couple in a circle for the conclusion and pronouncement portion of the ceremony or have select guests surround them during the vows.
One couple asked everyone to take a small, polished stone as they entered the venue. After the exchange of rings, the guests filed to the front to present their stone (collected in a glass vase they had on a table there) to offer their blessing or wish for the couple before the pronouncement. Another had the celebrant ask everyone to think of one word to describe the couple and to remember it as they would be asked to share it at the reception.
Your celebrant can give you many great ideas for including your friends and family in the ceremony.
You may wish to have a friend or family member come to the front to give a reading at some point during the ceremony – or your celebrant can incorporate this into the ceremony.
There are many poems and readings your celebrant can suggest, but something meaningful to you as a couple is what is most important. A speech from a movie you both love, the lyrics of a song read as a poem, or a child guest reading a book such as “That’s Me Loving You” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Or a love poem one of you wrote to the other early in your relationship?
Readings are also another way to honor family and friends whose RSSI is not represented in your ceremony. For example, you may share a reading of a Hindu poem by Rumi or someone may share the Jewish seven blessings for marriage (Sheva Brachot).
Declaration of Intent (required)
Each spouse must declare in the presence of someone qualified to sign the marriage license that they willingly and knowingly enter into the legal obligations of marriage. This is where each says “I Do” in response to the celebrant’s prompt and can be part of the vows or included before or after personal vows.
The declaration does not have to be part of the ceremony; it can be done when the couple sits with the celebrant to sign their marriage license (must be witnessed before signing the license).
Intentionally choose your pledges to one another, as they give voice to your commitment. You may select pre-written vows your celebrant can provide to you, search for examples, or write your own. You can choose one spouse to make their pledge first, or go back and forth in a dialogue. You can recite them or have your celebrant lead them “call and repeat” style.
If you’re keeping vows secret from one another, assign your celebrant and/or a close friend or relative to review them to ensure they are similar in length and tone, if that is meaningful to you.
There are other types of vows you may wish to incorporate, such as family, child, or pet vows. Another way to include your guests would be audience vows, such as “Do you, friends and family, pledge to support this couple in their lives together?” (Audience responds, “We do!”).
Exchange of rings or gifts
If you are exchanging gifts, the most traditional option is wedding rings. However, you can choose not to do this or to exchange something different – like tattooed rings (or other tattoos) that can be revealed at the gifting, other types of jewelry, wine that you can share on your first anniversary, or other gifts.
The gifting ceremony, if included, may have words like “This ring is my gift to you, reminding you of my love which surrounds you. With this ring, I thee wed.” or “This tree sapling is my gift to you. My love for you will grow as trees grow, strong and resilient in all types of weather.”
Unity Ceremony Ideas
There are as many unity rituals as there are couples! Some do these at the reception, others incorporate them into their wedding ceremony.
To find a meaningful unity ritual for you, think about your own culture, ethnic background, or family traditions. Your celebrant or wedding officiant will have examples and help you with choosing one and incorporating it into your ceremony.
Unity rituals usually entail the blending of something (flame, sand, wine, etc.). They can also be something like each doing a shot from a rare and special liquor only available in a specific region of a country where your family is from. A Wiccan couple might choose a handfasting ritual; a black couple may jump the broom; a Jewish couple may break glass.
Make sure to research the ritual you choose to avoid cultural appropriating and understand the history and significance of the ritual you choose. Your celebrant can assist you with this process.
Guest Speakers, Readings, or Performances
This is a wonderful way to include your guests, honor diverse perspectives, or give an important role to someone who isn’t in the wedding party. Whether you choose a reading or ask them to write something original – or perform a song – this can be a beautiful addition to your ceremony.
Remember if your guests take part in the ceremony – such as giving a reading, singing, standing to provide their words of guidance to the couple, etc., let them know ahead of time and give clear instructions (and boundaries).
Song(s) / Music
We most often think of processional and recessional pieces, but there are many ways to include music in your wedding ceremony outline. For example, soft acoustic guitar music might accompany lyrical vows or a talented family member may perform a love song after the exchange of gifts.
Words of Advice
At some point during the ceremony (often before the pronouncement), the celebrant may ask specific guests to stand and give their “wedding advice”. The celebrant may ask everyone to stop at the “advice table” (where pre-printed paper and instructions will be provided). Will some of them be read aloud at the reception? Will they be shared on a social media album, or on the wedding website? Will it be a time capsule-style that the couple will open on their first anniversary?
Or the couple can ask their parents or another significant person in their lives for words of wisdom and have the celebrant incorporate those words into the ceremony.
One of the key wedding ceremony outline steps is the closing remarks. This section is similar to the welcome, where the celebrant thanks guests for sharing in this special moment and shares words about marriage, a poem or reading, or an invocation for a life of joy and love and reminding them of the pledges they have made to one another.
This is last because once said, everyone will start clapping & cheering. The celebrant declares: “I now pronounce you (husband and husband, husband and wife, legally married, wife and husband, wife and wife, etc.)”.
And of course, many couples have the celebrant queue them to share a kiss to seal their union. Some may choose to do an indigenous butterfly release at this moment or have the audience blow a kiss to them when they are done, queued by the celebrant.
This will often mirror the processional, but it doesn’t need to. What is most important is that the celebrant lets the guests know what to do next.
A few recessional ideas you might include for your wedding ceremony outline are: You may have the celebrant call the guests to come to the front and welcome the couple, or the couple may simply walk out into the guests. The couple may walk down the aisle to the back and receive the guests as they exit, or the guests may exit first to cheer the couple as they exit the venue. This can be an important photo moment, so make sure the wedding party (or ask the celebrant if there is no wedding party) will straighten clothing/veils, hand back flowers, etc. before it begins.
Create Your Own Wedding Ceremony Outline
This wedding ceremony outline is just a guide to start the conversation. The goal is to design a wedding ceremony that feels like you, the couple.
This is your wedding – a memory that you will have forever. What do you want to remember about this special day? What do you want your guests to remember about your union?
Thank you so much to Tee Rogers, the Humanist Celebrant Orlando for sharing your knowledge and expertise for our couples to learn so many ways to make their celebration personal to them!
Learn more about the Humanist Celebrant Orlando:
Tee Rogers is A Humanist Celebrant since 2016 and owner of Humanist Celebrant Orlando. Tee (she/her) enjoys working with couples to compose unique, personal ceremonies that honor and reflect their journey and traditions meaningful to them. Her background includes founding a Humanist non-profit, teaching diversity workshops on RSSI (religious, secular, and spiritual identities), and serving as Humanist Chaplain at the University of Central Florida.