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Your Religion, My Religion, or No Religion - Make Sure Your Officiant Knows!

Published Wednesday, Nov. 21st, 2018

A bride speaks her marriage vows during a wedding ceremony, smiling towards the groom. Between them, the wedding officiant holds the script in her hands and smiles towards the bride. The photo is a close up on the three faces and torsos, taken with black and white film.
AMM Minister Claire officiating a wedding

Make sure your wedding ceremony matches your values and beliefs with this simple advice 


Some couples want a strictly nonreligious civil ceremony, others want something steeped in religious tradition and ritual... Talk about it!




The bride might have been smiling, but everyone knew that she was deeply uncomfortable with the language used by the wedding officiant.


As the ceremony went on, the audience felt her discomfort increase, and they, too, grew increasingly uncomfortable. Despite the fact that the wedding was being performed by her uncle, it was clear that his religious language was making her, an atheist, very unhappy.


With all of her friends in attendance, her big day had been turned into a religious ceremony. Her friends knew that behind her smile, she was disappointed. 





What went wrong? It turns out that the bride's well-meaning but uninformed uncle was not aware that his references to God were exactly what the couple had wanted to avoid when they'd asked a loved one to officiate. 




AMM Minister Mareshela performs a wedding outdoors in front of a decorative metal gate, holding her wedding script while the couple smiles in their wedding suit and dress

AMM Minister Mareshela officiating a wedding




How much, and what type of religious content will be used in the wedding ceremony is something that every couple should discuss with their officiant.



If you want your ceremony to express your values and beliefs, they need to be reflected in the amount and type of religious wording used in the ceremony.


It's an especially important topic to bring up if you're asking a friend or family member to perform the ceremony, because they're not a professional wedding officiant and they will require guidance on this delicate matter. But this is also one advantage of choosing a loved one to officiate -- you probably know someone who totally gets your outlook on life, and can help you communicate that during the ceremony.


Just make sure that’s really the case first with a short chat.



When there's a lack of communication between the officiant and the couple, that’s when things start to go wrong.



For example, if the loved one or professional officant performing the ceremony is particularly religious, and doesn't ask a couple about what they want, they might create a ceremony that's based on their level and/or type of religion. The ceremony might be beautiful to them, but awkward or even offensive to the couple and their guests (as it was in our example above). 


On the other end of the spectrum, a couple that is very religious might want to include specific scriptures or prayers to celebrate their commitment. But if their officiant is less religious or not religious at all, they might not feel comfortable reading or reciting the amount or type of religious material that the couple has chosen. This dynamic will make the ceremony feel forced, because the officiant won't be able to deliver a ceremony that feels authentic and reflects his or her voice and style.




photo of a royal religious wedding with crowns

If your wedding is going to look like this, make sure everyone is on the same page...




So how do you avoid misunderstandings when planning a religious or nonreligious ceremony?


Talk about it! 


Our recommendation is for everyone to sit down together -- the couple and their chosen officiant, whether a loved one or a professional -- and have a candid and thorough discussion about the religiosity of the ceremony. 


The chat should be focused on how the couple wants their ceremony to feel, including the level and type of religion they want in the ceremony (if any), and the elements, rituals, customs, and language that they want to include or avoid.


It's important to have this conversation very early on in the wedding planning process. If either party discovers during the discussion that they aren't a good match, the couple will still have plenty of time to reach out to someone else to deliver a ceremony that reflects their values and beliefs. And the officiant may even be able to recommend someone better suited to the ceremony style the couple wants.


And don't worry -- this doesn’t have to be awkward! On the contrary, everyone involved will respect the value of an honest conversation about the potential for conflict. 


Updated March 2021

Do you have additional questions about this important matter? Check out our Wedding Officiant Training and ceremony planning pages


And if you haven't yet, make sure to get ordained online today so that you can say “yes!” when your friend or family member asks you to officiate!



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