As a professional wedding officiant, I work with many couples who come from a religious background but are no longer active members of a religious institution. They want to honor their families’ religious traditions, but they want a secular, or non-religious, ceremony. Nearly every couple I talk to are getting married outside of a church or chapel. In some cases, they are not religious at all, but they want to acknowledge and respect their parents or grandparents, who are still members of a church. I even had one bride tell me that in exchange for not getting married in a church, she need to add a religious element into her wedding to appease her mother.
As a notary public, I conduct only secular ceremonies. I do not mention God or talk about any specific religious tradition. I feel it would be disingenuous of me to talk about God in a ceremony, since I am not an ordained clergy member. I deeply respect my officiant colleagues who have studied religion and who have devoted their lives to their faith, so, I’m very careful not to present myself as a minister or priest.
Even though I’m a spiritual but not religious officiant, I have ideas of how to incorporate religious traditions into your secular ceremony.
Ideas for Incorporating Religion into your Secular Wedding
Have a family member or parent share a reading from your religious text. Pick a meaningful passage, or let them pick the passage, and invite them to read it during your ceremony.
Have your guests sing a hymn or chant during the ceremony. Provide the music and lyrics in your wedding program so they can all sign along.
If your officiant welcomes it, ask your family’s religious figure (minister, priest, rabbi, imam, etc.) to read an opening prayer or a closing prayer.
Ask a family member to conduct a faith-based ritual during the ceremony. For example, in the ceremony of a Filipino couple, I once saw the family members conduct the coin ceremony, the veil ceremony and the cord ceremony.
Carry a bible or religious text with special meaning to you rather than a bouquet or in addition to your bouquet.
Incorporate a passage from your faith's text into your vows.
Allow for a moment of silence during the ceremony and welcome your guests to use the time to pray, if that feels comfortable.
Use a non-religious "prayer." I have one that is introduced by saying "Let us bow our heads and reflect on the power of love that has brought us together today."
Update a tradition by incorporating the symbolism without the overt religious meaning. For example, in my wedding, we wanted to incorporate the Jewish wine ceremony, but we used language that made it a secular ritual.
In any of these cases, you have to make sure your secular officiant is comfortable incorporating these elements. This is a great question to ask your officiant in the initial meeting. And, if they aren’t comfortable, rest assured that there are many wonderful religious and faith-based Maine wedding officiants and you’re sure to find one you connect with.