A Custom Religious Wedding

All weddings are unique. Some are more unique than others.


When I first sat down with Joel and Kelly we had already rejected the wedding ceremony that I had created and used three times previously. It's an excellent ceremony, but they wanted something religious, and that one really wasn't. I didn't know how the meeting would go, but I knew that I wanted to be open to exploring the possibility of something custom made and tailored just for them.

The Bible offers a plethora of stories. Humans think in stories, and we live stories. They contain more of a comprehensive framework for interpretation and interaction with the world than can ever be processed in a less symbolic way. I thought I might be able to use that.

I wasn't sure if I could turn any story in the Bible into a wedding ceremony, but I was willing to give it a go. I was curious to see if it would work. If it did, then we would have an awesome wedding. And, if it wasn't working, then we could just switch to a more traditional form.

I encouraged Joel and Kelly to tell me their favorite stories. Kelly knew hers right away, Esther. She was a little reluctant because she didn't know how I could possibly apply that. And, at that point neither did I. Joel was a little less certain, but eventually we were able to settle on the story of The Prodigal Son. I also had no idea how I was going to use that one.

It took me awhile to process the possibilities. I let the ideas roll around in the back of my mind. I made a few notes. And, I was able to get it.

We had a couple more meetings and exchanged various messages and comments back and forth online until we had it adjusted the way we wanted it.

A few small notes. When I do public speaking I don't write out my speeches, I don't usually use notes at all. But, for weddings I write the whole thing down. That's because it's best to try to get each word correct. It's also expected that the minister will hold a book of notes. There's no reason to do any different. And, a wedding ceremony is not a celebration of the minister. A speech should do the job that it's designed to do. A wedding speech should shine light upon the couple. (I learned that little but important lesson from some women at a Toastmasters meeting where a great speaker had a misguided plan to deliver a knockout speech at his son's wedding, before they corrected him of course.)

Here are my notes for the ceremony.

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1. Joel seating people.

2. Joel down aisle. (Different music for different sections of wedding.)
Best man down aisle. Stand at side.
Ring bearer down aisle. Seated in front row next to aisle.
Maid of honor down aisle. Stand at side.
Kelly down aisle with father.

3. Jeff: “Who gives this woman in marriage?”
Father: “I do.” Sits in front row, aisle seat, opposite ring bearer.

4. “Joel and Kelly, please step forward.” Joel offers Kelly hand to step forward. Both facing me.

5. “Good afternoon family and friends of Joel and Kelly. At this time I will say a few words to the couple before we will dive into the story of the union that we are here witnessing today.”

6. “Joel and Kelly, please face each other.”

7. “Why, are we here? We are gathered here today to witness a union. The bonding together of a nuclear family. The family unit that is the core of society and the foundation stone of civilization. The unit of strength upon which our humanity stands. In this union we open up our hearts to one another, and we open up our souls to a powerful bond. This requires confidence in one another, and confidence in God. But there will be times when that confidence waivers. And that’s when we must remember what confidence means. Confidence comes from the Latin con fidere, meaning with faith. Faith can exist in the light and the dark, in times of joy and times of sorrow. Faith can be lost, and found once again. It’s the commitment to finding that faith that bonds the family. A commitment not just to each other, not just in front of God, or the witnesses here today, but a commitment to the relationship. A commitment to the process of repeatedly finding that faith and building that confidence.

8. “There’s an ancient story of the great Persian King Xerxes. He was seeking a new wife, because the last one had broken one of his expectations. His kingdom was vast, 127 provinces. Young women came from throughout the empire, but they weren’t just paraded at a ball. No, it was much more than that. There was a year of preparation, 12 months of eating special food and using special oils. Each woman was presented singly to the king. One such woman was Esther, and she caught his special attention. So much so that he decided to marry her. You could easily think that that would be the end of the story, and a happy ending, but that is just the beginning. One of the king’s officials had been gaining more and more power under the king’s favor. However, there was a man that would not bow to this official. The official was upset, and learning that the man was a Jew, decided to have all of the Jews in the entire kingdom killed. The man that would not bow was Esther’s uncle. The king did not know this, he didn’t even know Esther was a Jew. It would seem obvious that she could just talk to the king and have the law changed, but that’s not the case. One, it was the type of law that couldn’t be changed once it was passed. There was a certain date set for the killing of the Jews and that was that. Two, even she had to be called before the king, and he had been busy for the past 30 days and had not seen her. It was possible to walk into the king’s court unannounced. But, it took a lot of courage. If the king did not approve of your entrance then the penalty was death. Esther made the decision to enter. She talked to the king and another decree encouraging the Jews to defend themselves on the set date was issued. Because of that decision her people and her uncle were saved.

Such actions take courage and a special kind of inner strength. It takes trust and a positive outlook on life. Trust in God and trust in family and friends. It takes persistence, and the ability to see that your decisions are leading you on a path to happiness, the path that you have chosen.

10. “There is another old story of a father with two sons. One son decides to stay home. But the other son takes what is his and goes to explore the world. After wandering for awhile he runs out of resources. While working in a field he realizes that he could be doing the same thing at home, and would be the better for it. So he returns, not expecting anything other than to be a regular worker. But instead he is greeted with a great celebration. Singing, and dancing, and feasting for all. The son who stayed home asks why such a celebration would be held, when nothing like that had ever been done for him. The celebration is an affirmation of restoring the union of the nuclear family. The relationship is a living entity in itself. One that can be lost and then found once again. One that can die, and then come back to life. And the story shows that there can be love despite someone’s actions.

11. “When Joel and Kelly met at Northern Michigan University neither knew the future. They only felt the pull of a natural bond that was bringing them together. For Joel it was Kelly’s curly hair. For Kelly, we still aren’t exactly sure what it was. But good things were happening. Colton was born. But sometimes confidence waivers. It is these times when we search within our hearts and within our souls, to find what it is that we truly value. Who do we want to put our faith in? What do we want to commit to? The story of Esther and the Prodigal Son are favorite bible stories of Kelly and Joel’s. These stories show us traits that are important in life and marriage. Strength, trust, and unconditional love. Such virtues led Joel and Kelly back together again. Such virtues are what is required in a strong marriage. And such virtues are what will carry them forward into the future. For what is broken can be remade, and what is dead can be resurrected. The culmination of that process is what we are witnessing here today.

12. “Joel and Kelly have prepared their own vows, which they will give at this time. (Jeff gives out vows.)
Joel will give his vows first.
Kelly will now give her vows.

13. “In the future there will be tests of your confidence, your commitment, and your faith. In those moments remember these vows so that they may bring you closer together.

14. “In Corinthians it states that: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

15. “Joel, do you take Kelly to be your lawful wedded wife?
Do you Joel promise, before family and friends, to commit to your love; to respect each other’s individuality; to be with one another through life’s changes; and to nurture and strengthen the love between you two and your family as long as you both shall live?

16. “Kelly, do you take Joel to be your lawful wedded husband?
Do you Kelly promise, before family and friends, to commit to your love; to respect each other’s individuality; to be with one another through life’s changes; and to nurture and strengthen the love between you two and your family as long as you both shall live?

17. “Colton, can you bring forth the rings? (Colton steps forward with box and presents rings, and then sits back in the same spot.)

18. “These rings are a symbol of the faith that you have placed in each other, in your relationship, and the family that you have created together.

19. “Joel, repeat after me.
I Joel, take you Kelly, to be my wife.
I promise to love and be faithful to you.
I will be kind to you even when we don’t see eye to eye.
I will ask God to help me be slow to anger and show patience to you.
I will forgive you.
I will encourage you to fulfill your goals and rejoice with you in your accomplishments.
I will let go of my pride and trust you.
I will guard you and your heart.
And, I promise to choose happiness with you all the days the Lord gives me.
(While placing the ring on her finger): This ring serves as a reminder to you of my love and commitment.

20. “Kelly, repeat after me.
I Kelly, take you Joel, to be my husband.
I promise to love and be faithful to you.
I will be kind to you even when we don’t see eye to eye.
I will ask God to help me be slow to anger and show patience to you.
I will forgive you.
I will encourage you to fulfill your goals and rejoice with you in your accomplishments.
I will let go of my pride and trust you.
I will guard you and your heart.
And, I promise to choose happiness with you all the days the Lord gives me.
(While placing the ring on his finger): This ring serves as a reminder to you of my love and commitment.

21. “We will now have a prayer to bless the couple. Please bow your heads. Dear heavenly father, please bless this couple and this family. Support them in there love for each other and protect them in their faith. As you have seen in your wisdom to bring them together, guide them so that they may enact your will. Amen.

22. “As a symbol of the two individuals coming together to create one, Joel and Kelly will complete their unity hourglass.”

23. “Within the hourglass container there is already white sand. This symbolizes the presence of Christ in Joel and Kelly’s lives even before they came together. As Joel and Kelly pour in their sand the two become combined and entwined and rest upon the foundation of Christ. Each year the hourglass is turned over and all three sands pour through, mixing and combining and becoming one, more and more each year.

24. “Will you please rise? A marriage needs the support of a community. I am going to ask you a question, and I’m hoping that at the end of the question each of you will respond, “I will.” Will you, as Joel and Kelly’s family and friends, promise to support them in their marriage, love them, and encourage their love for each other?

25. “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride. I would like to introduce the happy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Joel Jager.

26. Wedding walks down aisle, reverse order.

26. “The bride and groom will be dismissing people by row. As you are leaving your seats please grab some bubbles and begin to prepare the bubble tunnel that the couple will exit through.

- - - - - - -

With my four pages of notes, the two pages of vows, a little wind, a headset I had to turn on and off, and a microphone that I had to manage, I didn't end up with enough hands to hold everything. Luckily the best man was able to step in when I needed him to hold a few things.

Everything went exceedingly well, and I received several compliments from people who had noticed the unique content and quality of the ceremony and deemed it worthy of praise.

Trying something different is an adventure. The root of adventure, venture, means a risky journey. But, by taking that risk it's possible that we'll find new pathways that have not been tried before. And they may lead to new vistas of grand potential. From such a vantage point we may find, in the end, that the risk was worth it.

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To read more from Jeff go to JeffThinks.com or JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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