Published: Wednesday, Dec. 2nd, 2020
A commitment ceremony can look and feel exactly like a traditional wedding ceremony, complete with ring exchange, vows, desserts, and dancing, but with one big difference: commitment ceremonies aren’t legally binding.
Some couples want to shout their lasting devotion and dedication from the rooftops without the legal complexities of marriage. Other couples have been married before and want something different this time around. Still others choose these ceremonies so that someone special can lead their ceremony remotely, over Zoom or Skype, in states where virtual weddings with remote officiants aren’t yet legal.
(Pro tip: Couples with a remote officiant will usually want to finalize the paperwork later, when everyone can meet in person, so having that special someone ordained ahead of time is wise. Read What Does it Take to Become an Ordained Minister?)
Whatever a couple’s reasons for choosing one, commitment ceremonies are endlessly customizable. They can have a spiritual tone or a rambunctious one, take place in town square or a remote woodland cottage, and can be written to incorporate any of the same vows or memorable unity rituals of a conventional wedding.
These ceremonies are all about devotion, love, and commitment!
Selecting the right person to perform a commitment ceremony is very important, even if the union isn’t legally binding.
A practiced officiant or well-prepared family member or friend is insurance toward a stress free day. They’ll help create a custom script, and delight guests with stories of the couple's love and mutual triumphs, while making sure they understand what each part of the ceremony means. And because officiants have seen it all, they know just what to do when things take an unexpected turn.
(Pro tip: Read about The Parts of a Wedding Ceremony and adapt them to your needs.)
Most importantly, a great officiant gives a couple permission to focus only on the happiest parts of the day, instead of getting overwhelmed by logistics and details.
Choosing a professional wedding officiant, or having a close friend or relative get ordained (it’s simple!), is a smart idea. Their ordination prepares them to sign any legal paperwork down the road if things change.
Like wedding ceremonies, commitment ceremonies can happen anywhere and include whatever things YOU want them to!
These are some of the most common ingredients found in these beautiful ceremonies. Add more things in, change the order a bit, or leave out the parts you don’t want.
The officiant welcomes guests, describes the meaning of the day, and asks for their help celebrating the love and dedication between the couple. They will also tell a little about their lives together, how they met, where they see themselves headed, or talk about their shared values and the meaning of commitment.
This is a time for the couple’s community to share in the love! Friends and family may share songs, dances, poems, letters, stories, or blessings with the couple. These can look any way the couple wants them to! Readings and personal touches like these can come before or after the vows, in whatever order feels best to the couple.
The officiant asks each partner if they promise to commit to the other, followed by agreement from each.
The couple shares their promises of commitment with one another, in front of their community (or out in nature, or in the privacy of their own home, wherever they choose to be). This is often combined with the exchange of rings or as part of a unity ceremony. Couples sometimes talk about what their unique commitment means, what the other person means to them, what they dream of in their future together, and pledge to share in the joys and sorrows of whatever life brings.
Rings can be offered during the vows, with a few words to describe their meaning, something like, “With this ring, I offer my commitment to you, my constant companionship and love.”
Other couples choose handfasting, thread tying, sand ceremonies, unity candles, or any other symbolic rituals of union.
Candle lighting is just one example of a beautiful, personal, and highly photographable unity ritual for your ceremony.
The officiant will pronounce the couple joined, using words like united, bound, or committed. After inviting them to kiss or embrace, the officiant will ask the guests to also join in the cheerful moment, with clapping, dancing, or shouts of joy.
The officiant lets guests know the ceremony is over and tells them what to expect next -- typically a reception, or other planned event.
Commitment ceremonies are, at their heart, honest celebrations of partnership and love. They give couples a chance to promise steadiness and loyalty to one another, and can be a meaningful way to exchange vows -- without the legal bond.
Updated June 14, 2021
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