Step by Step Guide to a Humanist Wedding no. 9 – Wedding Vows

The vows are the heart of the wedding ceremony so it’s not putting it too strongly to say that the words you choose will be the basis on which you will live the rest of your life. There are two ways of doing them: either repeat after me, or I shut up for a bit and you do the talking. There’s no right way and they both have their strong points.

REPEAT AFTER ME – Whatever your vows, whether they are the traditional “I, full legal name, take you, full legal name, to be my lawful wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward etc, etc” or vows that you’ve written yourself, this works well because a) everyone will hear what’s being said at least once, because that’s my job and b) they will hear how you feel, which is what they’ve come for.

OVER TO YOU – This is your wedding and these are your promises: who better to speak them than the two of you, directly to one another? It doesn’t matter how quietly you say what you have to say, just the fact that you are making promises to one another in your own words and your own voice is incredibly moving, both for you and your family and friends. “But how do we remember what to say”, I hear you ask..?

If you do choose this route, what i suggest is that you print your vows in a large font on two or more pieces of card or paper, like these ones from Heather & Stephen’s wedding at Cambo House.

Then place your cards in separate envelopes and label them with your names. Give the envelopes to the groom or the best man so he can give it to your celebrant before the start of your ceremony.

That way she or he can hold them both up at shoulder height and you’ll be able to read them. Or of course you can hold them yourself – it’s up to you.

If you do decide to have the celebrant hold the cards, it’s worth taking a little time to practise it at home – what we’re aiming for is to see you talking to one another while looking into one another’s eyes. What we don’t want is seeing you reading to one another while not looking into one another’s eyes.

An easy way to do this is to paste them onto the wall next to the mirror over the sink in your bathroom, and try to read the note, then speak it directly to your reflection: notice when you are looking away before you’ve finished speaking, and try not to do that. Take your time. It’s the most important moment of the whole ceremony, so try not to let the pressure of the day make you rush it.

The trick is to practice a few times so you get over your nerves and giggles and know what you’re going to say on the day so that even though your head will feel like a strange combination of a Wurlitzer and a wind tunnel, you’ll be able to treat the prompt card as just that – a prompt.

Look at it, see what the next sentence is, and then look back at your partner and speak to them as you look into their eyes. Do that and you’ll both really feel the meaning of what you’re saying! And of course so will everyone else, and that’s the point.

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