Recently I had a conversation with a couple who were planning their wedding for this autumn, and they told me they knew exactly what they wanted for their big day – they had picked the flowers, booked the photographer, tasted the cakes, selected their outfits, and had even begun designing the table centrepieces. But there was one thing they confessed to having no idea about – the ceremony. How long would it last, what would be included, what would they say to each other? These are all very common questions, and part of what makes celebrant-led ceremonies so great is that the answers to all of these questions can be decided by you, with lots of guidance and inspiration provided by the celebrant of course.
But this made me think about how easy it is, in this £10 billion wedding industry, for the ceremony itself to become lost. Most ceremonies last between 20 and 40 minutes – a very small proportion of the overall wedding day, which typically lasts around 10 hours. In particular, the vows the couple make to one another usually take no more than 5 minutes to recite, but those few minutes are the very reason they are there; the very reason the guests have travelled to celebrate with them, and the very reason the florist, photographer, cake, etc. have been booked in the first place.
I am by no means belittling the many details that go into making an overall wedding day so special – they are of course important, and combine to create a magical atmosphere in which to celebrate the union of two people in love. But in this blog I want to focus on what I believe to be the core of any wedding day – the vows.
What do we say? In a celebrant-led wedding, your vows are 100% your own, and you can say whatever you like to one another. Your vows can be long or short, traditional or modern, and as personal to your relationship as you like.
Many couples choose to write their own vows, but most like to have a little inspiration about the kinds of things they could promise one another. Reading a few traditional wedding vows can be a good place to start; for example, these traditional church wedding vows focus on the longevity of marriage, and the importance of staying true to one another through thick and thin:
I, (name), take you, (name)
to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law.
Another option is to find a poem with particular meaning for you, to use as it is or adapt however you wish. A lovely modern example is A Vow by Wendy Cope:
I cannot promise never to be angry; I cannot promise always to be kind. You know what you are taking on, my darling – It's only at the start that love is blind. And yet I'm still the one you want to be with And you're the one for me – of that I'm sure. You are my closest friend, my favourite person, The lover and the home I've waited for. I cannot promise that I will deserve you From this day on. I hope to pass that test. I love you and I want to make you happy. I promise I will do my very best.
As further food for thought, here are a few more succinct ideas adapted from real ceremonies, which could either be read aloud or repeated line by line after the celebrant:
(Name), you are my best friend, my pillar of strength, and my confidant. Thank you for bringing so much joy to my life. I promise to love, support and comfort you as your faithful partner, for the rest of our lives together.
I commit myself to stand by you and walk with you forever. I will help and encourage you and share in your laughter and tears. I will be your partner and your best friend throughout our future years, whatever they hold for us.
I (name), promise you (name), in the presence of our family and friends, that I will love and cherish you, comfort and encourage you, respect you and stay faithful to you, for as long as we both shall live. I commit myself to stand by you forever, as your partner and your best friend, sharing in your laughter and tears, throughout our future years together, whatever they hold for us. This is my solemn vow.
(Name), I have chosen you to be my husband/wife. I commit myself to you with no doubt or hesitation. I promise to always care and support you, to be honest and faithful to you, with God’s help as He watches over us.
You are my forever love. I will walk hand in hand with you through the sunshine and storms. I will laugh with you, cry with you, and share my hopes and dreams with you. I will be yours and only yours for the rest of our lives.
In addition to making your promises, you may like to incorporate your feelings for your partner into your vows. What do you love most about them? How do you feel when you are around them? What are you looking forward to about your future together? Imagine you are writing a Valentine’s Day or birthday card and you want to summarise how you feel about them – and then add your promises onto this.
Believe in your vows It may sound obvious, but it is so important that you mean what you say in your vows. The problem with the traditional vows, as lovely as they are, is that they are so well-known they can easily be rattled off with little thought about what we are actually promising to do. Remember that these are promises you intend to honour for the rest of your life, so make sure they are realistic and from the heart.
Also beware of falling into the trap of making your vows a performance; yes, you will be speaking them in front of a number of people, but those words are intended for one person only. You may be working very hard to please all your wedding guests with the venue location, table plan, catering choices, you name it... but when you are making your vows look into your partner’s eyes and remember that for that moment, it is about the two of you and no one else.
How do we say it? There are three choices when it comes to making your vows on the big day:
Read them aloud to each other from a card
Repeat them line-by-line after the celebrant
State “I do”, “I will” or “I promise” after each vow.
The choice is entirely yours, and it all depends on how comfortable you think you will feel speaking your heartfelt promises in front of your guests. You may find that you differ in your opinions about this, so you can choose for one person to read the vows aloud and the other to repeat after the celebrant. That is absolutely fine, as it’s so important that the ceremony feels right and comfortable for you both.
To share or not to share? It's totally up to you whether or not you show each other your vows before the big day. It may be important to you to know what your partner is going to say, or you may prefer the lovely surprise of hearing their heartfelt vows for the first time on your wedding day. One good compromise is to discuss the sentiments you would like to include in both sets of vows (e.g. love, respect and faithfulness), but then to write them separately.
Although you will have the chance to see and edit your ceremony script as many times as you like before the big day, your celebrant will be careful not to include any content that you wish to remain a surprise. The vows would of course be included in the presentation script you will be given as a keepsake of the ceremony.
Need more inspiration? The above examples are only scratching the surface; there are numerous other examples your celebrant can provide you with, and many other places you can search for inspiration if you need it. Why not watch some romantic wedding films together, borrow a poetry book from the library, or listen to a love song compilation?! Make it fun and don’t put pressure on yourself – just keep in mind throughout your wedding planning process that you are doing all of this because you want to pledge your commitment to the love of your life. Take a few moments to think about why you decided to marry them and what you hope for your future together, and hopefully the vows will flow from there!
Sophie Easton is a qualified, independent celebrant specialising in conducting bespoke weddings, vow renewals and naming ceremonies. She works mostly in London and Surrey, but is able to travel further afield if required.
She feels passionately that your ceremony should reflect your needs and personalities. Her role is to listen intently to your wishes, guide you and inspire you with ideas, and work closely with you at every stage to devise and deliver your perfect ceremony.
Sophie would be delighted to hear from you to discuss your big day plans and to answer any questions you may have: