Planning Your Marriage Service

Guidance from the Rev. Dr.  Anthony P. Johnson

© Anthony P. Johnson


When two persons decide to commit themselves to each other for life, they are doing something both very old and very knew. What you are doing is very old. Century upon century, millions upon millions of men and women have made loving commitments to each other. What you are doing is very new. Each individual is unique and, therefore, each couple is a new and unique combination.

The choice for words and rituals in your marriage service should reflect your unique personalities and relationship. Your service may be traditional or it may be written entirely by the two of you. The important thing is that it is yours.

This approach requires more of you and of me than if I were to pencil your names into a standard ceremony. It requires that we meet at least once, preferably twice. First, we want to get to know each other -- and officiant and a couple should not be strangers -- and second, together we want to plan a service that reflects your values, beliefs, and personalities.

While there are no absolute requirements for the composition of a marriage service, here are the typical elements in typical order. (Following this section is a service following this outline.)

Opening Words/Statement of Purpose. This sets the tone of the service. Usually the officiant speaks first; however, the couple may wish to open the service by greeting their guests.

Parents' Blessing. This is optional and depends upon the age(s) of the couple and their relationship with their parents.

Reading(s). The couple chooses one or more readings that they find meaningful. These may be religious or secular and may be read by the officiant, the couple, friends or relatives.

Homily. This is the officiant's statement about what is important in marriage and may include thoughts the couple wish to have conveyed to those attending.

Vows. The bride and groom formally state their commitment to each other.

Giving of Ring(s). This is often preceded by a statement of the symbolism of the rings and may include a ring vow.

Pronouncement. This is the officiant's declaration that the couple is married.


Closing Meditation. This is usually given by the officiant

There are other possibilities. For instance, I am often called upon to officiate at interfaith marriages. In such cases the couples have the choice of strict neutrality or explicit affirmation of their two religious traditions. I include an example for a Jewish-Christian marriage -- a wine ceremony -- in the following service. The traditions of couples I have married have included Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Wicca, and secular humanism.

There are many books on planning marriage services. One that I recommend is For as Long as We Both Shall Live by Roger Fritts [William, Morrow & Co., 1993]. Wedding Readings, edited by Eleanor Munro [Viking Penguin, 1996] and African-American Wedding Readings, edited by Tamara Nikuradse  [Penguin, 1998], are two excellent collections of readings.

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As a Minister of Religion in Fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association, I am prepared to help you get your marriage off to a good start. Since my ordination in 1977, I have married nearly 500 opposite-sex and same-sex couples. I have served in parish and community ministries in California, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, and New York. I hold the degrees of A.B. (Boston University), M.Div. (Harvard University Divinity School); M.S. (Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy) and D.Min. (New York Theological Seminary). I currently have a ministry in the New York Metropolitan Area.

The Rev. Dr. Anthony P. Johnson


Planning Your Marriage Service

Guidance from the Rev. Dr.  Anthony P. Johnson