A Secular Wedding Ceremony April 3, 2011

A Secular Wedding Ceremony

It’s always nice to hear secular wedding vows — a way for a couple to show their love for each other without bringing a god into the mix.

Reader Chris recently performed a wedding between an atheist and a “spiritual Buddhist.” He adapted the text for it from a Buddhist ceremony (courtesy of John Karuna Cayton) and wanted to share it with all of you in case you’re looking for some inspiration for your own service.

(For what it’s worth, it would also work for gay/lesbian weddings.)

Welcome, family and friends, and thank you for coming here today to this beautiful garden to help me celebrate the love between these two, ________ and ________. On the journey of life, we as individuals evolve, transform, and change, developing our potential, and finding out more than we ever thought we could know about ourselves. As we travel down this path, we meet many people, some good, some bad, some for only a little while, and some whose path converges with ours for the rest of our lives. The impact those people have on our lives and the impact we have on theirs is profound and creates a bond, steadfast and lasting, that shapes our path together, and even has an impact on those around us. Now ________ and ________ paths have found them together and have converged, and they are happy today, not only because of their unity and the unity of their path, but also because they can share that unity with us here assembled, and those people lucky enough to be in their lives.

________ and ________, do you pledge to help each other to develop your hearts and minds, cultivating compassion, generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom as you age and undergo the various ups and downs of life and to transform them into the path of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity?

We Do

Do you pledge to help each other develop loving kindness, allowing your love to be your example of the love we should share with everyone around us, and move each other to have more love and patience for all in the world?

We Do

Do you pledge to help each other be mindful of your thoughts and emotions, and to support and guide each other on your path, even when your path is rocky and unsteady, and especially when the path is obscured from your sight and you aren’t sure where to go?

We Do

Do you pledge to help each other when your thoughts and emotions may turn to negativity, and help each other see the opportunity for emotional growth in challenging times and help each other take full advantage of that emotional growth so your hearts can be fully open to each other?

We Do

Do you pledge to preserve and enrich the love between you, and to share it with all those around you, generating compassion and empathy for all living beings and striving to never turn a deaf ear to each others suffering or the suffering ever present in the world?

We Do

When it comes time to part, due to the impermanence of this world, do you pledge to look back on your time with joy, a joy you have built and shared together, and shared with the world around you, and remember your happiness and the kindness you showed the world and the kindness you were showed in return?

We Do

Do you pledge to remember the pain caused by ignorance and anger, and to apply an antidote whenever these are present, and to help each other avoid this pain and work toward the welfare of others with all you wisdom, compassion, and skill?

We Do

Do you pledge to continually develop the patience in yourselves that you may better understand each other, knowing that lasting change is slow and requires work and understanding, and to continually seek inspiration from those around you and in your everyday lives?

We Do

Understanding that as we are a mystery to ourselves, we are also a mystery to each other. Do you pledge to continually seek understanding of yourselves, each other, and all living beings, to continually examine your own minds, and regard all the mysteries of life with curiosity and a joy that comes with being able to share those mysteries with the one you love?

We Do

And do you pledge to dedicate yourselves to each other in this life, with body, spirit, and mind, in health or sickness, wealth or poverty, happiness or difficulty, so long as you both shall live?

We Do

[Exchanging of the rings]

The wedding ring is an outward symbol of the emotional and spiritual commitment that ________ and ________ are making which unites two loyal hearts in partnership

Ladies and gentlemen, by the power vested in me by the wishes of ________ and ________, and the witness of family and friends, I now pronounce you [Husband] and [Wife]!

It is said that, while on a path, it is better to travel well than arrive, so please join me in wishing, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. ________ a long, fruitful, and happy journey along their path together!

And if that doesn’t work, you can always use a line from one of these cards.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

    Seriously, wow. Great work, guys.

  • I’m in the market for some secular vows. These will definitely be in the running, thanks!

  • JonathanL

    Secular vows are hard to come by. Even my courthouse wedding dropped the G-word over and over again.

  • El Bastardo

    Though these are fine they fall into a TL:DR area.

    I got married at a registry office, no religion, vows were basic and the whole thing took about 10 minutes, much to our guests delight.

    That’s my 2c

  • Miko

    All those “we do”‘s made me think of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSpOjj4YD8c

  • Keith

    My favorite part is the “power vested in me by the wishes of…” That’s just exactly as it should be.

  • Ex Patriot

    Beutiful, nothing more need be said

  • Tiffany

    I’ve been looking for some nice secular vows. My fiance and I are both atheists from quite religious families. We’re actually getting married at a church, but not inside. It’s pretty and it’s cheap. But, they’re pretty lenient about who they allow to perform the ceremony so we’re looking for a judge or maybe even a someone from a U.U. church. These vows are nice. We’re hoping to write our own, but these could be incorporated as well.

  • Cheryl

    I’ve never been a fan of all the formality of a wedding ceremony. Although I’ve never been married, I did write my vows many years ago.

    “Do you?”
    “Do you?”
    “I pronounce you married. Kiss and let’s tap the keg!”

    But if I had to go through something a bit more traditional, I like these with a little alteration and lot shorter.

  • JD

    I think that’s a bit long, though it’s easy to axe lines.

  • Way too long, way too serious. Every pretentious, self-congratulatory paragraph raises the odds of divorce by 5%. I’ll be in the bar.

  • If you’re looking to kill the wedding party and guests with boredom, you’ve stumbled upon a sure way to do it. It’s like signing a stack of mortgage papers, talking to my Uncle Walter or clothes shopping with my wife.
    There’s no way I could ever get through that without gouging my eyes out of their sockets.

  • tegan

    Mr. and Mrs.? Come on! What if no one changes their last name?

  • @tegan — Then change the vows.

  • We had a relatively short (25-30 minutes) wedding ceremony, performed by a UU officiant I knew personally. We had readings from Plato and Kahlil Gibran, and the officiant had his own spiel about marriage and weddings which was very good.

    We found our vows on a Kvetch forum and adapted them a bit to suit ourselves:

    I choose you to be no other than yourself, loving what I know of you and trusting that which I do not yet know. I do and will respect you as an individual, a partner, and an equal.
    I promise to learn from you, to communicate openly, to honor our differences, and to never become a stranger to you.
    I want us to make a home together, grow old together, and during this life make a difference in our world, living consciously and deliberately, surrounded by those we love.
    You are my best friend, my lover, my teacher, my reminder of the beauty in life.
    In all that life brings us, my love and friendship are yours.

    I really like the part about making a difference in the world together.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    I thought that the usual bog-standard vow of “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part” was pretty secular already.

  • Tom Coward

    Hi Hemant! I have officiated at a number of non-religious weddings, and I am so stealing these vows for the file of suggestions I provide to the people I marry.

    If there is anyone looking for an officiant in Maine, be sure to let me know!

  • John McCready

    A bit too wordy. And how come NO “vows” ever include taking the other person, “without ANY mental reservation”? THAT would make a lot of people pause, and reconsider this whole “marriage” thing. Then again, it might result in a decrease in divorces!

  • Michelle Boatright

    If anyone is interested, my husband and I wrote our ceremony. At the time I was agnostic (and slowly coming around to full atheist), and he is a Christian. – I know its weird, but it works with us, we are very respectful of each other, and actually have some good debates from time to time –
    ANYWAY, if anyone would be interested I could post them or email them to someone. We kept it fairly short and sweet, added a traditional Scottish handfast (not exactly the same as a pagan one), and we got a LOT of compliments from my Atheist family, and his catholic/baptist family of how nice the ceremony was. It was one of the trickiest things I had to plan…
    I also had no desire to mention either one of us ‘obeying’ or whatever. Kept it very individualistic.

  • saltyestelle

    Thanks for posting this! My husband and I used similar vows derived from a buddhist tradition, with the ‘We do” spoken in unison… ours was a bit less wordy, but I love the intention and answering the vow together, side by side, rather than facing off. We also added a bell-ringing ceremony at the end, in place of candle-lighting.

  • Oldguyatheist

    This contains so much more substance than the typical religious variants rife with symbolism and metaphors. As a former evangelical minister I would like to read comparable presentations appropriate to secular funeral services. I find that setting to be much more challenging…trying to be sensitive and comforting but also rational and honest.

  • These are awesome. My fiance and I are solemnizing our own marriage and will be using a variation of these!

  • Kmancini09

    Hello, I know this was posted a while ago, but I am trying to plan our ceremony. My family is Catholic, his is Lutheran, and we are both atheist. Any help would be greatly appreciated! My e-mail address is kmancini09@gmail.com

  • Nlink222

    Hi Michelle Boatright and Kmancini09,

    My fiancee and I are atheist and trying to come up with vows for our wedding in the very near future (June 1). Is there any way possible that you could provide me with your renditions?

    Thanks so much, Nathan Link, nlink222@gmail.com

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