When it comes to your non-traditional wedding, there are absolutely no rules! We’ve talked about incorporating unique wedding ceremony traditions, but if you’re looking to personalize your wedding ceremony even more, take some serious notes! Today, real Washington DC area bride, Stephanie, shares her tips on how to write your own ceremony…from scratch! When we accepted Stephanie’s real wedding in Maryland for featuring on the blog (Stay tuned for that in a few weeks!) she told us about how much she and her now-husband, Keith, learned about writing their own wedding ceremony. She told us how the ceremony was one of her favorite parts of her wedding day, but that it was really difficult to write on their own. So, naturally, we asked her how she and Keith did it!

Building your own wedding ceremony format may seem like a daunting task, but if you’re up for the challenge, we have you covered! Stephanie is sharing their plan and some advice for writing your own ceremony. Then, a little later this morning, we’ll share her full, real wedding ceremony script. On that note, take it away Stephanie…

Wedding Ceremony Writing Advice Meredith Hanafi Photography

Photo Credit: Meredith Hanafi Photography

There are so many kinds of wedding ceremonies—and a million different traditions! How do you wade through that to create something meaningful to the two of you as a couple?

I think the difficulty in having a “secular,” or non-religious, ceremony lies in the lack of tradition. In the church, there is so much structure and meaning in a marriage service—it strikes a chord with all who believe because there is a direct message: two people joined in God. It’s a beautiful sentiment, but we decided that this message would be hollow for us. Even before we were engaged, Keith and I knew we were on the same page about our wedding ceremony: we are not religious, and while our families are, we felt like a church ceremony wouldn’t be true to who we are. We also found ourselves in the camp of those who didn’t want to hire an officiant—it would be someone neither of us knew or shared any history with.

I know a professional officiant can be important (i.e. taking care of all the legalities of the certificate and filing) but at the same time, when you want something more personal, or someone who is important to be involved in that super intimate moment, you are left without a ceremony outline.

So, you’re doing it: writing your ceremony!

Local Wedding Officiant Requirements

Here are some of the Washington DC area officiant rules that I found:

  • Virginia: First, find out if you can have a non-minister legally marry you in your location. If you are in Virginia, you can’t legally be married by someone who does not have an “active ministry” in most counties (check with yours!).  If you still choose to go the DIY route here, you may have to be legally married somewhere else and then have your ceremony when and where you choose.
  • Maryland: We filed and were legally married in Maryland, where anyone recognized by an organization can marry you (i.e. ordained online).
  • Washington DC: Your officiant may apply for a temporary officiant license to marry.  There is a small fee, and be sure to do all of that paperwork ahead of time.

Create a Ceremony Outline

Here is a little bit of “been there, done that” advice for you. I’ll share our process using our ceremony outline, so you have a jumping point to find something that resonates with you and your future spouse. Putting the pieces together is more like scheduling: organize the ceremony pieces into a timeline. What happens first? The middle is where you will likely have more trouble, so the list above is in a vague order that you can choose to follow. Here’s my list of some typical ceremony pieces that you may use:

  • Processional
  • Welcome
  • Officiant Statement or Address
  • Presentation of the Couple
  • Readings
  • Poems
  • Songs
  • Binding Traditions
  • The Declaration of Intent*
  • Exchange of Vows
  • Ceremony of Rings
  • Exchange of rings or tokens
  • Pronouncement
  • Action Move
  • The Kiss
  • Recessional

*There is only one part of a ceremony that is a formal requirement: The Declaration of Intent. This is where each party gives their assent to be married. You know, the whole “I Do” part?  In the DC area, this is not a legal requirement, in some states, it is.

Wedding Ceremony Script Advice Meredith Hanafi Photography

Photo Credit: Meredith Hanafi Photography

Figure Out Your Message

To create something truly meaningful, I think you need to have a talk between the two of you and figure out what your message is.  Who are you together? Our first step was to sit down and figure out what getting married meant to us. It’s a conversation you two should definitely have. Ask each other, “What does marriage mean to you?” Sure it’s just a question, but this is your life together, not just an event that you are planning for. Talk it out. Even if you are nervous about having a deep conversation like this—I promise you—this is important and rewarding, just come to the table with an understanding.

Our message was essentially:  We are two people, becoming one family—our two separate roots have grown into one tree. This brings all that we are together into one unit. We didn’t use this as a statement anywhere, but with this thought in mind we chose pieces together that worked for both of us.

Practice Makes Perfect

Now you are in the home stretch! We advise reading your ceremony out loud to each other. You will hear the words and phrases that don’t sound right to you, and move them around. We spent a lot of time splitting hairs on the transitions between pieces, only to realize that we wanted a recognizable difference between each part of the ceremony, so guests could go, “Oh, they’re doing the rings now.” instead of, “Wait, was that a vow?” So we had our Officiant essentially announce the beginning of each piece of the ceremony.

Be Patient and Have Fun

Writing your own ceremony is definitely a lot of work, but doesn’t it make sense to spend as much time on the “getting married” part, as you spend searching Pinterest for centerpieces, or trying to decide where everyone should sit?  Have fun with the process and use it as a time to get to know your partner. Have heavy discussions, joke a lot, and get excited about the fact that you are writing the script for one of the most incredible moments of your relationship!


Such fantastic ideas! Thank you for all the great advice, Stephanie! Be sure to come back later this morning to see Stephanie’s full ceremony script.

To find more Washington DC area wedding advice, check out our tips section with everything from flowers to budgets to venue searches. Don’t forget to look through our amazing DC area wedding vendor guide for all the vendors you’ll need to make it happen!

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