Thoughts from an Island minister
Where to start: Many couples planning on getting married want to have a unique and personal wedding ceremony but haven’t a clue where to begin. Often a bride and groom tell me they are not religious but are very spiritual, and they want a ceremony that reflects this. Or a couple from differing religious traditions will say they want something that honors both. Or conversely, they might ask for a ceremony that uses no religious language whatsoever. Some couples tell me that they are deeply connected to nature and want their wedding to reflect that particular sensibility.
Waterside ceremonies: The time of year and location, whether inside (church or country club) or outside (beach or hilltop), are all factors in crafting a wedding. Beach weddings are popular here and couples often integrate rituals or readings connected to the sea. One such ritual is a Sand Ceremony, where the bride and groom each pour sand, sometimes differently colored, into a common vessel – this symbolizes both their individuality and their commitment to an inseparable union. Another way is to mark the processional path with shells and beach stones, as one couple did using beach treasures they had gathered during their courtship. For a beach-themed wedding ceremony, I often select a reading from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book Gift from the Sea (Pantheon, 1955). In one memorable seaside wedding, we simply stood for a few moments in silence and listened to the sounds of the wind and the waves, and then I invoked the blessings and riches of the planetary elements of wind, air, water, and fire upon the couple entering marriage.
Writing vows: Many couples want to write their own marriage vows. Here again, the variations and opportunities are infinite. One tip for creating your own vows is to write love letters to each other or each make a list of those traits and quirks that you cherish in the other. From that, you both can create statements that honor your individuality now – but allow room to grow and change in the future. One couple I worked with last year, Mary Hatch and Kevin Stange, spoke of friendship as well as their love. They each cherished the ability to make the other laugh, and above all they valued the honesty and trust that was the foundation of their relationship and what had sustained them during times of stress. Here’s the result:
Mary, you are my best friend. You support me and encourage me, and you give me strength even when I’m too stubborn to realize I need it. Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of our relationship and will be the building blocks of our future. As your husband, I promise to be kind and gentle with you and to always give you the respect you deserve. I promise to see the humor in life, particularly when things are difficult. I will work with you and grow with you, and I will always put our relationship first. Most importantly, I promise to never ever give up on us. I trust you and love you with all my heart. These are the things I promise to you, today and always.
Kevin, you are my best friend. You support me, encourage me, and give me strength. I value the honesty and trust we have between us. As your wife, I promise to be your strength, even when you don’t realize you need it. I promise to be kind and gentle with you and to always give you the respect you deserve. I promise to see the humor in life, particularly when things are difficult. I will work with you and grow with you, and I will always put our relationship first. Most importantly, I promise to never ever give up on us. These are the things I promise to you, today and always.
Consider this: Whoever and however you marry, your wedding ceremony will be a turning point in your life and a reflection of all that you both are and hope to be. Give it the time and thought you both deserve.
A passage to consider from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea
When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.
The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.
A ceremony with children
With more people marrying later in life, many want to include their children in the ceremony and even write vows to those children as part of the service. Here is one example of vows the bride and the groom wrote for their school-age children.
You have just promised your love and devotion to each other as husband and wife, but there is another blessing you bring to this marriage and that is your children. And on this special day, you have chosen to make promises to them as you all begin a new life together.
To the bride and groom:
Will you love and honor [names of the children] as individuals? (We will.)
Will you talk to them and listen to them and stand by them when they ask the tough questions in a world that holds no promises? (We will.)
Will you guide them and help them make their own decisions, even if you don’t always agree with their choices? (We will.)
Will you always give them the gift of your honesty as well as your love? (We will.)
To the children:
You have heard [names of bride and groom] promise to love and to guide you with love and honesty as they grow together as husband and wife. Do you accept those promises made to you today? (We do.)
Will you also promise to honor that love and respect with your own love and respect? (We will.)
May you all be blessed with love and understanding in the days and years to come.
[Originally published in the 2010 issue of Martha's Vineyard Magazine's Island Weddings; reviewed for updates in 2012.]