An important starting point for getting your marriage ceremony right is to find a celebrant you’re comfortable with. Feel free to make a no-obligations appointment with me to talk about what you want, before deciding if I’m right for the job.

A good ceremony is specially designed for the couple, and as much as possible by the couple. It is my job to help you do that—to help you find the words which are just right for you.

I can take a lot of the stress out of it. This should be fun.

The following is written to help design a marriage. Remember, though, it is prepared as a starting point. Don’t feel bound to this pattern or any other. Near the bottom of this page there are links to a draft wedding ceremony and a more “alternative” ceremony. Again, these are intended to inspire you to come up with your own ideas, which I will put into practice.

Some good questions to ask as you decide on the words are:

  • Why are we getting married?
  • What is it that each of us most appreciates in the other?
  • What is the most special thing about our relationship?
  • What would we like to be able to say about our relationship as we look back on it, say in forty years time?

It is worth spending time on those questions, because they can help us shape the best possible ceremony for you.


1. Beginning

You will need to think about how the ceremony will begin.

The most usual pattern for a heterosexual marriage is for the groom and the best man (and any other supporters of the groom) to be standing at the front and slightly to the right, more or less facing the gathering. The bridal party arrives to suitable music, led by her bridesmaids and other supporters, with the bride escorted by her father. The bride’s father simply slips away and sits into a seat at the front, while the bride stands beside the groom.

Nobody actually needs to worry about any of this because as long as we’ve discussed what you want I can unobtrusively make sure everyone is in the right place. The bride and the groom and their supporters end up positioned more or less facing the gathering, but in a way that they can also look at each other.

There are many possible variations. These days the couple often arrive together, and in less formal ceremonies at a restaurant, in a garden or at home, the ceremony might begin with everyone including the couple mingling and chatting. When the time comes I will simply announce that proceedings are about to start and ask the couple and their supporters to stand together beside me. Sometimes when the group is small the whole gathering stands in a circle.

2. Introduction

When everyone is in place I generally say a few words of introduction, talking a little of what the ceremony means to you, and a little of the story of your relationship so far.

3. Readings & music

Then there may be a piece of music or one or two readings, which may reflect and explain to your friends and families something of your views about love and marriage, and might be read by people important to you.

4. I do

Then, very often, you get to say the traditional “I do”. That’s a preliminary statement that you intend to go ahead with a binding commitment.

5. Support from

a. The gathering

Traditionally after that the “banns” were read at a marriage—the priest asked if anyone objected to it. A modern alternative is to ask the gathering to show their support for your relationship.

b. Any children

Then it can be good to include any children in the ceremony, indicating their acceptance of your partnership. Sometimes there is an exchange of public declarations about the kind of relationship sought between step-parent and stepchild.

6. The vows

The core of the ceremony is the vows, and they are often in the form of repeating phrase by phrase after me, which makes sure everyone hears them, and gives them a special solemnity. The wording must be right for you, and not necessarily the same for each of you, although there is a legal requirement that the vows include the exchange of declarations such as “I, John Citizen, take you, Mary Peoples, to be my legal wife.”

7. The rings

After the vows, rings are usually exchanged.

8. Signing of the documents

Then we usually sign the documents (Particulars of Marriage). You will want to think of some music to be played during this phase. There are two copies of this document to be signed—by the two people getting married, two witnesses (who also add their addresses), and by me.

9. A ceremony of completion

And then there may be some ritual of connection and completion, sometimes taken from your own cultural backgrounds. This might involve trying your wrists together with a cord, or your lighting a candle together, or drinking a toast to each other, or breaking a glass.

10. Declaration of the marriage

After the signing and any ceremony of completion, you and your supporters gather together again in front, facing the gathering, and I as celebrant declare you married.

11. Kiss

If the couple do not kiss spontaneously, at this point I will give the couple permission to do so.

12. Ending

In more formal ceremonies the couple will depart together followed by their supporters, accompanied by appropriate music. In less formal situations I will often simply say: “There will now be a chance for you to congratulate the couple.” And everyone mingles.

The essential things in all this are only (i.) a brief exchange of vows, (ii.) the signing of the documents, (iii.) identifying the celebrant as licensed, and (iv.) the declaration of the marriage.