How is a secular ceremony organized? How to plan the order of events? Just like every secular ceremony should be built from scratch, there is no standard outline. That’s what makes it so beautiful and… complex. Depending on what you want to express and include, on the place given to the participations & the rituals, etc. Everything needs to be put together!
However, in every ceremony, the basic outline is broken down into main elements: the introduction and the welcome, the story of the newlyweds and the ending. Inside these key steps and throughout the outline, you can imagine anything.
Remember that a successful ceremony goes beyond a perfectly picked order, it’s mostly about the feelings that it creates. It all revolves around your story. And that’s why being coached by a secular wedding officiant is important.
An example of a secular ceremony outline
- The seating of the guests: Guests and the person officiating the ceremony take their assigned places.
- The arrival and seating of the best man and maid of honor: They are either already seated (usually close to where the couple is going to be) or they can arrive before or together with the newlyweds, in a festive or solemn way, given the tone of the ceremony.
- The entrance: Music starts and announces the beginning of the ceremony. Traditionally, the groom enters on the arm of his mother and then comes the bride on the arm of her father. However, the groom can already be in place waiting for the bride, or many other alternatives exist: a procession of kids/of the best man and maid of honor, the couple arrives together, the newlyweds, their best man and maid of honor and other family members arrive together… A secular ceremony gives you the freedom to do ANYTHING YOU WANT!
- The introduction: The person officiating the ceremony starts with a brief introduction explaining the theme of the ceremony and its outline.
- The story of the couple: The officiant talks about the newlyweds, the first time they met, their story.
- The participations: The officiant invites the chosen participants (best man, maid of honor, friends, family, etc.), to read their speeches and offer their best wishes to the couple. These participations are usually done in the form of reading texts, poems or even songs. The officiant can also read a text dedicated to the couple. It is important to time the participations well, so that they make sense with the content of the script. They should be included with much forethought.
- The rituals: Secular ceremony rituals have a strong symbolism which can complete or replace the ring exchange. You have as many possibilities as there are styles of ceremony. Personally, I find it much more interesting to come up with your own rituals rather than to copy existing ones. Rituals can also fit perfectly in another moment of the ceremony, for example during some readings, if those make sense with the ritual, or right after the vow exchange. It is also possible to have other people participate such as the best man, maid of honor, close family or any guest.
- The vows: Finally, the newlyweds are invited to pronounce their vows and to exchange their rings, if they wish.
- The recessional of the couple: After the newlyweds lock lips, the ceremony comes to an end and a closing music accompanies the couple as they walk back up the aisle, under a shower of bubbles, confetti or other accessories happily thrown by the guests.
Music plays a key role during the ceremony. It can be incorporated into every powerful moment such as the entrance, the rituals, the ring exchange, the exit, but it can also accompany the guests’ readings. It is also possible to play a song between the various moments of the ceremony, as an interlude or a moment of contemplation.
The outline of a secular ceremony in pictures
The video below shows you an extract of a secular ceremony that I had the great pleasure of celebrating last October. The bride was escorted on the arm of her brother. The best man and maid of honor, as well as the bride’s mother, gave beautiful speeches. The newlyweds tied their hands together, the best man and maid of honor tying ribbons around their wrists as promises. The rings were placed on a small pumpkin, in keeping with their fall theme. So much emotion in this ceremony! (And the tear I could not hold in makes that very plain ;-))