Some time ago I was part of a Twitter conversation about marriage ceremonies that reflect biblical egalitarian values. Since my husband is a licensed minister and works on a college campus, we have had a LOT of experience with weddings, and I promised to share some ways we’ve seen egalitarian values incorporated.
As I was going through the notes from different ceremonies we’ve been a part of, I realized that there is more to this than just scripting the vows. If a couple wants their wedding to reflect egalitarian convictions, they must thoughtfully “dissect” each part of the ceremony and prepare some of the “stakeholders” involved.
Let’s start with stakeholders – those who may have an opinion or two about the ceremony.
This should go without saying, but if an egalitarian ceremony is important to you, make sure your future spouse is on the same page. Talk about what it might look like early on in the planning and be in agreement before you bring others into the picture.
You can easily script your vows to reflect your beliefs; it’s the unscripted parts of the ceremony that can get things off track. Since the minister will be in control of the ceremony, make sure he or she is on board. (Actually, if it’s a “she” you’re probably in good shape!) If the pastor has more traditional views, you may want to ask for an outline of remarks ahead of time.
If you plan to be married in a church, ask about restrictions BEFORE you book. Some churches and denominations have strict policies about the wording of ceremonies and restrictions on who can perform a wedding in their building.
Parents may have a sentimental attachment to some wedding traditions, and deserve some consideration, especially if they are footing the bill. I’m more responsive to things when my children don’t dump them on me at all at once, so bring one thing up at a time. If they really object to something see if you can strike a compromise, or at least explain why this is important to you.
THE WEDDING COORDINATOR
I once attended a rehearsal where the wedding coordinator balked at the idea of both parents walking the bride down the aisle. But the more likely scenario is that this person can be an ally in making sure things go according to plan. Don’t leave this player out of the loop until right before the ceremony.
Now that we have that out of the way, what might a wedding ceremony that reflects an egalitarian perspective look like?
Here are the basic “bones” of a typical ceremony to consider:
MARCH DOWN THE AISLE
Some questions to consider: How will the bride and groom enter the room? Who will accompany the bride down the aisle? Will it be both parents, one parent, no parent? Also think about the wording that will be used after the minister welcomes the guests. Because “who presents?” or “who gives this woman…?” are throwbacks to an earlier age when the daughter was considered the property of the father, some couples opt for “who comes to bless this marriage?” and have all the parents respond with “We do.”
OPENING REMARKS AND HOMILY
If you’re not sure your minister is fully on board with your values, consider scripting the opening remarks, or have someone else give them. The same can be done with the homily (brief sermon) if you choose to include that. By law, the minister only has to administer the vows.
DECLARATION OF INTENT/VOWS/RINGS
The easiest thing here is to avoid liturgies that use different wording for the husband and wife. For example, some traditional vows call for the husband to “protect” and the wife to “obey”. There are several scripts like this available on wedding sites like “The Knot”.
Look over the scripture passages that will be read, and check the translation rather than just the reference so you’re not surprised by an overabundance of male pronouns you weren’t expecting. Even better, print out the passages from the translation you prefer and have copies available.
ACTS OF UNITY (CANDLE LIGHTING, COMMUNION, ETC.)
I haven’t seen these as very problematic thankfully. After all, the very nature of such rituals is to emphasize mutuality and oneness!
PRONOUNCEMENT AND INTRODUCTION
“I now pronounce you husband and wife” is fairly standard these days, as opposed to the traditional “man and wife”, but you might want to check with the minister.
For the introduction some couples use both first names: “I now introduce for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. (Groom’s first name) and (Bride’s first name) Last Name. If you are keeping your own last names you could go with a simple “Please joining me in congratulating the newlyweds!”
Most weddings we attend end with the traditional “(Groom’s Name) you may kiss your bride”, which I see as fairly benign. An alternative might be something like “[Groom’s First Name] and [Bride’s First Name] you may take your first kiss as a married couple”.
No matter how carefully you plan, the reality is that weddings are rarely “perfect”.
With so many people involved and emotions running high it is likely that some part of the day is not going to go as you envisioned it.
In the end, the most important thing is your commitment to each other as full and equal partners, and that is not going to be impacted by anything that might not go according to plan in the ceremony.
YOUR TURN: How would you design an egalitarian marriage ceremony? If you’ve been to an egalitarian wedding, what exactly made it egalitarian?
Download our free PDF of an egalitarian wedding ceremony here.