Learn all the essentials of how to plan a secular wedding ceremony, from the location and officiant down to possible customizations.
Many couples find themselves wanting a wedding without any religious influence. While secular ceremonies provide the perfect solution to this concern, they bring a whole new set of worries. The deviance from any religious structure means that there aren't any tried and true methods to use.
Instead, couples pursuing secular weddings have the free reign to design the ceremony however they please. And while the freedom is exhilarating, it can be overwhelming for those who don't know where to start.
There's no need to worry, as we've compiled all the essentials for how to plan a secular wedding ceremony.
The Big Picture: Your Secular Wedding Ceremony
While there are several fine details to consider, there are some factors you can't go without ignoring. You'll still need a place to hold the ceremony and a person to marry you, no matter what other elements you choose to include.
Traditional marriages tend to take place in churches or other religious centers. Secular weddings, removed from the faith element, can be held virtually anywhere. Picking your location becomes a matter of preference and practicality.
Those who want an intimate affair with just family and close friends involved can have a simple backyard affair with no troubles. Other small venues can work wonders for secular weddings of this size. For those with a sizable guest list, renting a larger event hall or locale will be for the best, if only so everyone can fit.
Secular marriage is also a great reason to get married at a location that is meaningful to you as a couple. If you share a passion for acting, for example, you may be able to rent out a theater space to use for your ceremony. Don't be afraid to think outside the box to find a location that best fits you as a couple.
If you're aiming for a bare-bones ceremony, there's always getting married at the courthouse. This locale can also help eliminate some hassle if your non-religious ceremony is causing dissent with religious family members, as courthouse ceremonies can have restrictions on what sort of language is allowed.
Secular weddings are a great place to have someone close to you perform the marriage rites, such as a friend or family member. You'll want to find someone who can match your vision for the ceremony and help bring out what's important about marriage for you as a couple.
It's critical to make sure that, whoever you have officiate, they are legally ordained to officiate. While you can still have a ceremony and take care of necessary paperwork later to make the marriage legally binding, you'll likely find that you want your wedding to do the job for you. If you have a friend that you want to officiate, be sure they complete your state's ordainment requirements before the ceremony.
There are also plenty of other officiants who can conduct your ceremony if you'd rather trust a professional. Finding one may require some legwork on your part, as some officiates may not be comfortable performing non-religious ceremonies. Mayors are capable of officiating, so they can make good options.
Again, you want to make sure that, whoever the officiant may be, they can help bring out the wedding that you want to have. In interview or discussion, be open about the type of marriage you're having and any specifics you want. If you don't think the officiant will be able to follow through on your desires, find a more suitable candidate.
The Three Essentials For Your Secular Wedding Ceremony
After you've started to sort out the significant details, you can take time to break down just what you want to include in your actual ceremony. Already having your officiator picked out can help, as they can provide suggestions on what to add, but it's not a necessity. After all, there's a strong chance you already have some ideas about how you want your wedding to go.
Regardless of what you want to include, there are three core steps to your ceremony that you don't want to ignore:
Word of welcome
The officiator will perform this step. You want your guests to feel welcome, so thank them for their attendance. This is also the point where you'll want to acknowledge that you've gathered the celebrate your marriage.
Vows and ring exchange
There is a lot of flexibility in just how your vows go in a secular ceremony. Some couples relish the chance to write entirely original vows; others want a variation on more traditional vows to serve their specific needs. Your officiant can help with this process, and there are lots of great scripts available for use online.
Presentation as a married couple
The closing act to a wedding, the presentation is where your officiant declares you as spouses. This step is a simple line that is easy to adjust away from any religious context. It also leads to the kiss of the wedding, so keep that in mind when building your script.
A bare-bones ceremony won't require more than these three steps to get the job done. For those looking to conduct a quick marriage, you can hit these three points within a few minutes, so they're an excellent fit for low-hassle courthouse marriages.
Other Customizable Elements For Your Secular Wedding Ceremony
Since a secular wedding ceremony is a significant event in the life of any couple, there's a strong chance you want more than just the core elements to mark the occasion. Religious weddings tend to have all the details ironed out for you, down to the order of events, but a nontraditional marriage has a lot more flexibility.
When you're trying to figure out how to plan a secular wedding ceremony, there are plenty of elements to consider.
Expression of Intent
The expression of intent serves as your acknowledgment that you're willingly entering the union and that the commitment is mutual. You can have a question and response with your officiant, or you can mix it up and find a variation that works better for you.
Readings and Music
While it's in no way required, adding in meaningful readings and songs can enrich your wedding. In traditional ceremonies, these tend to be religious texts and hymns that bless the marriage. You're free to find readings that have meaning to you as a couple to integrate into with your ceremony. Poems on love can make for excellent reading material.
The reading performer or song leader can vary. You may have your officiant lead to process, or you may do so yourself. It's also an excellent option to let close friends and family have a part in the ceremony. Spreading out the placement of the readings and music can add a little variety to the ceremony as well, which keeps both a constant stream of vows or readings from boring the audience.
Prayers and Well-Wishes
It's common to allow the audience to pray for the new couple's happiness in traditional weddings. Since you're holding a secular ceremony, including prayers may not be the first stage that comes to mind.
Instead, consider opening a moment in your ceremony for audience members to convey their well-wishes. Having a moment for well-wishes can be a good compromise if you want to allow your religious relatives a chance to contribute in a way they find meaningful without ignoring your desires. Including it can be done either by volunteers speaking shortly or through silent reflection.
If you're planning on asking for volunteers to speak, it can be a good idea to ask a few attendees to prepare something to say in advance. This example can break the ice and encourage others to come forward. It also lets you set a precedent for how long you want this stage to take up in your ceremony.
Beyond marriage itself forming a union, unity rituals also provide an excellent way for you to symbolize the bond between you and your new spouse. There are traditional options, such as lighting a unity candle or jumping a broom. These don't carry a massive amount of religious significance, so they're easy to use in a secular wedding.
There are plenty of other unity rituals you may want to use:
- Pouring of sand: Each member of the couple pours together a glass of colored sand, representing the bond between them. This ritual can fit well with a beach wedding.
- Pouring of water: Same as above, just with colored water.
- Planting a tree: Planting a tree (or any other plant) symbolizes that the couple's life is growing together. You can combine this ritual with a variation of pouring of sand, where each spouse combines dirt that they then plant their tree in
- Time capsule: Before the wedding, each member of the couple writes letters for significant anniversaries. Mark each envelope with the date of exchange. Consider getting a decorative letterbox to store them in.
So long as the unity ritual represents a meaningful symbol to you and your partner, you can't go wrong with what you chose. You may even want to create a custom ritual together to personalize the occasion completely.
Putting it All Together For Your Secular Wedding Ceremony
Finally, after you select your desired elements, you are ready to start ordering and scripting your ceremony. Work with each other and your officiant to create the wedding that works for you and plan your secular wedding ceremony.