Dear Sophia: How to Craft a Mixed Spirituality Wedding?

Holding space for what you deeply value: your relationships with each other, your community, and the Divine

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Dear Sophia:

I am a person of faith, but my betrothed is not. We share common values and goals in life, yet have different spiritual backgrounds. Because of this, we are not getting married in a church, but at an event venue. How do we craft a meaningful wedding ceremony that incorporates spiritual elements authentic to us?

Sincerely,

Wedding Weary

Dear Wedding Weary:

First and foremost, congratulations on your upcoming wedding day and marriage! I am glad you are taking some time to consider what you and your betrothed want from this special celebration, especially because you have more freedom in shaping the service because it is not at a house of worship.

I have witnessed and officiated hundreds of weddings in my time and have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am sure you have seen your fair share, too. No matter if a wedding ceremony is in a church or in a wildflower meadow, it is an important ritual to mark a significant intention in the life of a couple. Your wedding day is not the first day of the rest of your life together, Wedding Weary. Instead, it is an affirmation of what you and your beloved have already created and hope to grow into in the future. 

Anthropologically, we are people that thrive on rituals to help harness the mystery of God. We want to connect to our Creator—the source of all things—to our beloved community, and, in the case of a wedding ceremony, to each other. These rituals become touchstones for us to remember the story of who we are and whom we are connected to— a God who loves us, and our community: past, present, and future. In my faith tradition, the communion of saints is real and the frameworks and words of our traditions are tried and true for a reason: they hold big, complex emotions and Divine mystery in a way that flows and creates a safe way through the experience, connecting us with those who have said the same words in the past and those who will say them in the future. 

All this being said, the first thing you and your betrothed need to figure out is this: What is important to us in gathering our community to mark this time in our relationship? If you wanted to have a party and get presents, you could throw one. If you wanted to elope, you could. But you, Wedding Weary, want to have a meaningful wedding ceremony with your friends and family gathered together—why?

We know why we want to do this, so now what?

Once you decide why this is important, the next step is to select your Officiant, as this will aid you in how you want to shape the ceremony. Here’s the thing: When you have to get surgery, you go to a surgeon. When your car is broken, you go to a mechanic. When you want someone to do wedding flowers, you go to a florist. I think you see where I am going with this, Wedding Weary. When you need something done properly with experience and care, you go to a professional. Your wedding ceremony requires a professional—not your friend who likes public speaking or someone who got their Officiant certificate online—because this is more than standing up there and reading words. This is holding space for what you deeply value: your relationships with each other, your community, and the Divine. The preparation and creation of your service take experience and time in addition to simply performing the service. Trust me. All sorts of things can go wrong even at the most meticulously planned wedding and you want a professional up there to deal with it, not sweet cousin Susie who may add to the mayhem.

You have a few choices of professionals, Wedding Weary. If you are a person of faith, then you may be connected to a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam who could officiate your ceremony. I would start here. If they are not willing or able to because it is being held at an event venue, then ask them if they have any colleagues who would. There usually are. After you secure a minister to officiate, please keep in mind that you need to give them an honorarium for their time and trouble, including mileage to the venue. They are professionals and should be treated as such.

If finding a faith-based Officiant does not work out, you could also get married by a Justice of the Peace or a judge and perhaps make the event venue your reception, doing a blessing with your minister later. Some Justices of the Peace will come to your venue, but it will cost you an extra fee. The court system has its own fee schedule that you would need to factor into your budget as well.

How do we plan the ceremony?

Once you have the Officiant (whom I know will be a professional), I encourage you to let them do their job in working with you to design the service. Every faith tradition has their own service framework. In my Episcopal tradition, we have a beautiful service in The Book of Common Prayer and we also have supplements with alternative language, but with the same framework or flow as the prayer book service. Since your betrothed is not a person of faith, I encourage you to talk about what language would be meaningful to them. Some people are fine with God language, but not Jesus. Others prefer to replace ‘God’ with ‘Divine’, ‘Love’, ‘Universe’, or some other form that makes sense in the context of the service and is meaningful to them. Ask your Officiant if a replacement would be possible and decide together what works.

Do I have to do Scripture readings?

Readings at a wedding are an important opportunity for you to share your hopes and beliefs about the Divine, romantic love, marriage, and your relationship. They also give you a way to invite your community to participate in the celebration by assigning readings to friends and family members. 

Since you are a person of faith, Wedding Weary, I suspect that you may have some Scriptures that are meaningful to you. Your Officiant will have some suggestions, as well. Luckily, Scriptures are not the only form of sacred writing. You and your beloved could find poetry, book excerpts, and even song lyrics that you could use. There are typically between one to four readings in a wedding service, so you could, for example, have one Scripture reading and two other readings that your betrothed is comfortable with which reflect your life together. Be creative, and remember that these reflect your beliefs and hopes about marriage as well as your personalities.

Do we have to say prayers?

From my Christian standpoint, the whole service is a prayer of blessing. I wonder, Wedding Weary, if it would be helpful to talk about the prayers scattered throughout the service as forms of blessing? Oftentimes there are specific prayers included after the vows led by the Officiant or one of your community members. These prayers are full of the hopes and dreams that marriage will bring you. In essence, these are blessings that everyone, not just the Officiant, gets to bless you with. There are many examples from various sources, such as the Jewish tradition of the Seven Blessings or an Irish blessing. You may wish to talk to your Officiant about adding your own. I haven’t mentioned music before, but I think it’s worth thinking about it in the context of blessing as well. Including a hymn or song that the entire gathering sings is a powerful way of bringing your community together to bless you through the medium of music. If you add music to the service, think of it in the same way you think of readings and prayers: a chance to share your beliefs, hopes, and dreams for your relationship with the people who mean the most to you.

One last thing…

OK, maybe two things. No matter how long you have been together, I urge you to do premarital counseling with a licensed professional. Your Officiant may require it, but even if they do not, you should do it because it is an investment in your marriage. There are typically two ways to do it: an all-day workshop or one-on-one counseling. Figure out what works best for your time and budget, and consider it preventative medicine. 

Finally, I know you may be tempted to write your own vows, Wedding Weary, but I am here to tell you DON’T. Or if you do, say them to each other as part of the toasts at the reception or on your wedding night. First of all, your Officiant will have those tried-and-true vows from the service of your faith tradition. Second, I have witnessed (and I am sure you have, too) people forget to write down their vows and ramble, and/or they break down into sobbing messes or laugh hysterically. It’s not pretty. Lastly, you have a lot of details to handle and wedding stress to deal with, so do you really need one more thing to do? 

Instead, rest in the knowledge that you have a professional Officiant with a stellar wedding service that you worked on together to make meaningful to you, connecting you with the saints of the past, present, and future, and binding you with joy to one another, your community, and the Divine. May you have many happy years together, dear Wedding Weary. I rejoice with you!

Faithfully, 

Sophia

Need more advice?
(Or wish to share a recurring feature in your congregation’s e-newsletters?)
Check out: Dear Sophia: Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?

  • Danáe Ashley

    The Rev. Danae M. Ashley, MDiv, MA, LMFT is an Episcopal priest and marriage and family therapist who has ministered with parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is currently a priest in Seattle and a therapist at Soul Spa Seattle, LLC (www.soulspaseattle.com). Danae uses art, music, drama, poetry, and movement in counseling, spiritual direction, and creation of ritual. Her interfaith Clergy Care Circles for therapeutic group spiritual direction directly supports diverse clergy in varied circumstances across the country. Danae's favorite past times include reading, gardening, traveling, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.

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