Our Hybrid, Secular Ceremony

So, somehow I managed to make it this far into blogging without really mentioning our ceremony—you know, the most important part of the whole day. The truth is, we have spent a lot of time thinking about the ceremony, but it’s taken us a while to get everything figured out. Things are slowly falling into place now, so I figured it’s time to share our plans with you all!

Mr. Hammer and I are very much not religious. We understand, obviously, that religion is very important to a lot of people, including some of our guests, but frankly, it’s not for us. Thus, since our ceremony is at its core about us and our relationship, we’d be uncomfortable with a non-secular ceremony. In fact, I personally didn’t even want any prayers involved, or really any mention of God at all.

This, of course, impacted our ceremony plans from the very bare-bones framework down to the smallest details. Let’s start with the basics: Instead of getting married in a church or temple, we’re getting married here (assuming the weather cooperates).

Wychmere_Summer_Cape_Cod_Wedding_22Photo by the super-talented Zev Fisher

As for the person marrying us, we’re having the Reverend of my family’s church as our officiant. Now, at first blush, that might not seem all that secular. But my family goes to a Unitarian Universalist church, and the UU religion is very flexible and accepting of almost any religious beliefs, including no religion at all. Consequently, there are absolutely no required components to a UU wedding (other than, you know, being legally binding), so Mr. Hammer and I had full rein when it came to planning our ceremony. In addition, our officiant has known me since I was in tenth grade and he started at our church—and he’s known Mr. Hammer since I asked him to help out with our baccalaureate service when we graduated from high school. More than anything, it was important to me that our officiant know both of us, so that’s a home run in my book!

Our officiant’s flexibility has worked out especially well, since, like many couples, we’re personalizing a few things in the ceremony. We’re writing our own vows (which, for me, means I’ve been jotting things down for months, and for Mr. Hammer, means he’ll pull something beautiful and meaningful together a couple weeks before ceremony and have it perfectly memorized by the time W-Day rolls around), and I’m adapting the ever-popular handfasting ceremony a bit. Mr. Hammer thought it was a bit much as-is, so I changed some of the wording and removed the “fasting” part of it to make it into more of a hand-blessing.


 Image via the lovely Mrs. Cherry Pie / Photo by Piknik Studios

The other thing that was important to us about the ceremony was to include our family and friends as much as possible. The first way we’re doing this is through a group declaration of support, which is actually something our officiant suggested the first time we met with him. We immediately loved the idea and the opportunity it would give us to turn to our guests and really appreciate their presence. I’m not sure on the wording yet, but I’d imagine it’ll go something like Mrs. Cherry Pie’s (I swear we did not just lift her entire ceremony):

Now, I ask that these friends and family stand,

And that you turn and acknowledge them, as they acknowledge you

[Audience stands]

As family and friends,

You form a community of support

That surrounds Mr. and Miss Hammer.

Each of you, by your presence here today

Is being called upon

To uphold them in loving each other

Always stand beside them, never between them

Offer them your love and your support

Not your judgment

Encourage them when encouragement is needed

And listen to them when they ask for advice

In these ways, you can honor this marriage

Into which they have come to be joined today

Do you offer your love and support

To strengthen their marriage

And bless this family created by their union?

Please answer by saying : WE DO

[Guests: WE DO]

Thank you, you may be seated.

[Audience sits]

The second way we’re doing this is the tried-and-true mechanism of having close family and friends do some readings for us. Choosing non-religious readings that weren’t too cheesy or too stiff proved to be a bit of a challenge. I kept a running Google Doc starting shortly after we got engaged where I copied and pasted anything I came across that remotely sounded like it would work for us. When we got closer to meeting with our officiant in the spring, I had Mr. Hammer read through them all and pick the ones he liked the best. (Of course, he totally could’ve added his own readings to the mix, too, but this is our usual decision-making MO—I research, he narrows.)

The first reading he picked was a poem by A. A. Milne.* My parents used to read me Winnie the Pooh all the time when I was growing up, and they cried every. single. time Christopher Robin grew up at the end, so I’m fully expecting waterworks from them on this one. (In fact, I did another A. A. Milne reading at that very same baccalaureate service, so we’re coming full-circle!) At the same time, it’s a relatively light-hearted reading, so I’m hoping it’ll keep things just a little bit silly, just like we are.

Us Two

“Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,

There’s always Pooh and Me.

Whatever I do, he wants to do,

‘Where are you going today?’ says Pooh:

‘Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too.

Let’s go together,’ says Pooh, says he.

‘Let’s go together,’ says Pooh…

‘Let’s look for dragons,’ I said to Pooh.

‘Yes, let’s,’ said Pooh to Me.

We crossed the river and found a few-

‘Yes, those are dragons all right,’ said Pooh.

‘As soon as I saw their beaks I knew.

That’s what they are,’ said Pooh, said he.

‘That’s what they are,’ said Pooh.

‘Let’s frighten the dragons,’ I said to Pooh.

‘That’s right,’ said Pooh to Me.

‘I’m not afraid,’ I said to Pooh,

And I held his paw and I shouted ‘Shoo!

Silly old dragons!’ – and off they flew.

‘I wasn’t afraid,’ said Pooh, said he,

‘I’m never afraid with you.’

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,

There’s always Pooh and Me.

‘What would I do?’ I said to Pooh,

‘If it wasn’t for you,’ and Pooh said: ‘True,

It isn’t much fun for One, but Two,

Can stick together,’ says Pooh, says he. ‘That’s how it is,’ says Pooh.”

Our second reading is “Blessing for a Marriage,” by James Dillet Freeman. Not the most unique reading ever, but it’s a classic for a reason, right? Our officiant said he usually gives a blessing at the end of the ceremony, but that this would take the place of that pretty nicely. We like the idea of the ceremony being closed by one of our family members, and we’re psyched to include that in our ceremony.

May your marriage bring you all the exquisite excitements a marriage should bring, and may life grant you also patience, tolerance, and understanding. May you always need one another—not so much to fill your emptiness as to help you to know your fullness. A mountain needs a valley to be complete. The valley does not make the mountain less, but more. And the valley is more a valley because it has a mountain towering over it. So let it be with you and you. May you need one another, but not out of weakness. May you want one another, but not out of lack. May you entice one another, but not compel one another. May you embrace one another, but not out encircle one another. May you succeed in all-important ways with one another, and not fail in the little graces. May you look for things to praise, often say, “I love you!” and take no notice of small faults. If you have quarrels that push you apart, may both of you hope to have good sense enough to take the first step back. May you enter into the mystery that is the awareness of one another’s presence—no more physical than spiritual, warm and near when you are side by side, and warm and near when you are in separate rooms or even distant cities. May you have happiness, and may you find it making one another happy. May you have love, and may you find it loving one another.

Our third and final “reading” is actually the hand fasting/blessing ceremony. Again, while we love our officiant and feel pretty close to him, we thought it’d be especially meaningful to have it done by someone who’s known one of us since we were born. So, Mr. Hammer’s lovely godmother has agreed to read this for us. Yay!

The last way we’re planning on bringing our families into the ceremony is to tie in a couple of (non-God-centered) traditions from other religions. (We’re going to include explanations of those traditions in our programs so they don’t seem completely random to our guests.) Let me break it down for you:

My side of the family is half-Jewish, and I grew up celebrating all of the Jewish holidays. In Jewish weddings, the bride and groom are both walked down the aisle by both parents.


 Photo by Kate McElwee Photography

So, Hammer and I will both be walked down the aisle by our parents.

Mr. Hammer’s side of the family is Catholic. In the Catholic tradition, all masses—including wedding masses—set aside a few moments for the Sign of Peace. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Sign of Peace, during those few minutes, everyone turns to their neighbor and wishes them, “Peace be with you.” So, in our ceremony, we’re including a brief Sign of Peace (and, like I said, the programs will explain what a Sign of Peace is to all of our non-Catholic guests). (Also, when I Googled for photos of the sign of peace, all that came up was the peace symbol. Sooo no illustration on this one.)

For us, including these traditions is more symbolic of two families with two different backgrounds becoming one than it is about the religions themselves. Plus, I really like the more modern “secondary” meaning of both those traditions. Being walked down the aisle by both sets of parents allows us to acknowledge that all of our parents played an important role in making us the people we are today. Giving our guests a chance to turn to each other and wish each other peace will, I hope, allow them to form bonds, albeit brief, and become one big net of love and well wishes. So, while they won’t stop us from offending anyone who was predisposed to be offended by a secular ceremony (if such people happen to be at our wedding), it means a lot to us to have them in there.

Hoo boy, that feels like a lot to cram into a 30-minute ceremony now that I’ve typed it all out. However, each of those components takes one, mayyybe two minutes, and our officiant says the whole thing should take 25 minutes or so, so I think it’ll all work out well!

Did you guys struggle with putting together your secular ceremony, or tying together two different religions? How did you go about it? How did you incorporate your family into the ceremony while still making it true to you as a couple?

*There was a semi-heartbroken moment in this process when I read somewhere that A. A. Milne didn’t actually write this poem, despite it being attributed to him in many different places. However, after a little bit of digging (because of course this mattered to me more than it probably should’ve-gotta know your source materials!), I found that he did, in fact, write this and included it in his Now We Are Six.


Mrs. Hammerhead

Tractor Wedding Instagram Drive-By
Gallery of the Day: May 19, 2015
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  1. puffer Bee
    Mrs. Puffer 144 posts, Blushing bee @ 6:59 am

    This post was incredibly helpful. We’re also having a secular wedding, but we’re adding in blessings and a few mentions of God in a non-specific way to appeal to our Christian and Jewish families. (More so for my family than his, as my parents are very religious and hate that we’re not getting married in a church.) Mostly we’re focusing on love, family, and friends versus any particular religious beliefs. It’s been a challenge!

    I love that you’re including your guests. We’re doing something very similar, asking them to agree to honor and support our marriage. I love the wording for yours.

  2. msnarwhalbee Bee
    Mrs. Narwhal 87 posts, Worker bee @ 7:49 am

    Sounds like we’re having super similar ceremonies. We too are not religious, and are doing the ever-popular hand-fasting ceremony (for us, in lieu of a ring ceremony). The only difference is you seem to have planned yours much more than we have at this point! We’re at the hand-written vows, hand-fasting, incorporate guests, maybe a reading or two stage of planning.

    How you can have so many conversations yet nothing planned, is quite unproductive, but to us, it’s also the most important part of the day, even though it’s not that long.

  3. Member
    taramay_ 2428 posts, Buzzing bee @ 8:12 am

    Our ceremony was not religious either, and instead we leaned heavily on the theme of “community.” That included a ring warming and a group vow too! That is one of my favorite parts of the whole day. One of our dogs even howled when it was time for everyone to say “we do!”

  4. tractor Bee
    Mrs. Tractor 32 posts, Newbee @ 9:57 am

    Though we had a pretty traditional Jewish ceremony, we also wanted to minimize the “God talk” and make sure that the traditions felt accessible to all of our guests, not just those familiar with Jewish weddings. One aspect I really enjoyed (suggested by our rabbi) was that the as the ceremony ended, we were left under the chuppah with our parents, so we were pronounced, Mr. T stepped on the glass, we kissed, then we hugged all the parents, then we kissed again (I think! It was a blur!), then we recessed up the aisle alone. Also, the aspect of the ceremony that we got the most comments on, which is completely nondenominational (though maybe not for everyone), was sharing our own vows. It was kind of scary and hard to be so personal, but so gratifying for both of us. Eee! I can’t wait to get our pics back to tell you more!

  5. tractor Bee
    Mrs. Tractor 32 posts, Newbee @ 9:58 am

    Oh also, do you realize that last photo is from our venue?! So exciting!

  6. mssquid Bee
    Mrs. Squid 49 posts, Newbee @ 6:34 am

    I love how you’re making the ceremony so personal to you both but still giving a nod to your families’ religions. It’s really sounds like a well balanced program that reflects everyone involved!

  7. hammerhead Bee
    Mrs. Hammerhead 0 posts, Wannabee @ 6:06 pm

    @puffer, I’m glad I could help out! It’s so tricky navigating religion with your own family, much less the one you’re marrying into. Good luck!

    @msnarwhalbee, you’ve totally still got time! We’ve just had to work around when we could go home to meet with our officiant, so we got everything done ahead of time.

    @TaraMay_, I LOVE the ring-warming ceremony! I was tempted to do it in ours, too, but I think we have too many guests for it to be feasible and/or for me not to worry about the rings getting dropped somewhere along the way! 😉

    @tractor, that’s such a sweet way to include your parents! And I knew that photographer was local, but I had no idea that was your venue! What a funny coincidence!

    @mssquid, thank you! That’s what we were aiming for, so I’m glad that’s how it comes across, too 🙂

  8. Member
    jelly3 1234 posts, Bumble bee @ 1:40 pm

    I’m having a completely secular wedding as well. I also feel like prayers or any mention of god would feel really inauthentic to my FI and I as a couple as we are completely atheist/agnostic. I’m still a-ways from my March wedding, but so far the biggest challenge for crafting the ceremony is to make it meaningful while still secular. My step father got ordained and will be our officiant which we’re super excited about, so we hope that will make the ceremony personal and fun. We’re not really into symbology so we’re going to keep the ceremony pretty short but will have each of our mothers do a reading. I don’t have any Jewish heritage but I do think it would be nice to have both parents walk the bride/groom down the aisle!

  9. Member
    kit10 175 posts, Blushing bee @ 7:04 am

    I had never before considered including the Sign of Peace in a secular ceremony, but I LOVE it. That’s an amazing idea, and I’m sure it will be beautiful for you guys. Our planning isn’t remotely in the ceremony agenda stage yet, but it really gives me pause for thought. I was raised mostly-Catholic, and I remain fond of the Sign of Peace even after leaving the church, rather messily. My mom (and, if invited, her family) would want Catholic elements (though she’s fortunately accepted that I’d never, ever do a Mass), and I’ve never thought of any that I could stand. Until now! I don’t know it will end up incorporated, but it would make her very happy. Thanks!

  10. hammerhead Bee
    Mrs. Hammerhead 0 posts, Wannabee @ 7:23 pm

    @jelly3, that’s so special that your stepfather will be your officiant! Totally awesome. And yeah, the both-parents-escorting thing is definitely more of a “thing” now. It’s not solely a Jewish tradition anymore!

    @kit10, oh, yay! I’m so glad to have helped! I hope it makes you and your mom happy 🙂

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