The women sitting behind my mother were horrified. They had just heard the wedding vows of a radiant young couple, vows that included no mention of God or any church. They began whispering and tsk-ing halfway through the vows, and didn’t let up.
Hearing this story made me think about my own vows.
I’m just beginning to plan my wedding and, as a writer, I feel obligated to write my own vows. But I haven’t decided, just yet, what or who might go in them, or what or who might not.
Once firmly in the realm of houses of worship, wedding ceremonies have moved outdoors, out of the box and out from under the robes of the church.
But not every couple married in a church is deeply religious. Not every couple married in a backyard is not. More and more, the actual ceremonies happen with the blessing of friends and family, and sometimes completely without the hopes of being sanctified by the church or by God.
My fiancé and I are not a couple that goes to church on Sundays. We’re not a couple that prays over meals or before bed. I worry that it would be somehow sacrilegious to ask God for His explicit support on one day, and not on any others.
Disbelief or reverence?
Ariel Stallings, of Seattle, has seen myriad brides depart from the traditional trappings of a wedding, including religion in vows. Stallings started the Offbeat Bride website after writing the book Offbeat Bride: Taffeta-Free Alternatives for Independent Brides. The online community is both support group and idea resource for brides and grooms who want a nontraditional wedding.
Offbeat Bride features weddings with everything from puppets and red wedding gowns to medieval themes and traditional church ceremonies.
But Stallings says the decision not to include God in vows doesn’t necessarily reflect disbelief but often comes from reverence for the church.
“I see nontraditional brides taking a very conscientious, intentional approach to how they include religion in their ceremonies. Gone are the days when brides include religion out of a sense of duty,” Stallings says. “Interestingly, when brides choose to not include religion in their ceremonies, they often do so out of a sense of profound respect for the church.”
In her book, she writes about a bride who chose not to have a Catholic ceremony because she felt the vows and their context should mean something. If she wasn’t already living under the edicts of the church, why should she vow to continue to do so? This bride went further, saying it would be sinful to not follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, but marry under them.
Wrote Stallings in her book, “In other words, don’t go invoking God and then inviting His/Her/Its wrath upon you. The religious components of your ceremony should mean something to you and your marriage. Maybe that meaning is a respect of your lineage and desire to reflect it. That’s cool, if you plan to respect and honor that lineage through your marriage. If it’s just for appearances? Well, you’ve got your conscience to deal with there. Plus an angry deity.”
Julia Hornung, of Milwaukee, chose to combine the secular and the religious in her wedding ceremony.
She was married last May in an art gallery. On her wedding day, neither her nor her husband’s vows included mention of God. But Hornung’s grandfather, a Baptist pastor, presided over the ceremony, and Hornung says he brought God to the ceremony with his words and with his blessing.
For Hornung, vows, and God’s place in them, are deeply personal decisions.
“I think God needs to be a part of the wedding if God is a part of the couple’s lives,” says Hornung. “Otherwise it seems fake. And if the couple does not believe in God, then they probably would not feel comfortable including Him in their wedding.”
Vows I intend to keep
Next June, my wedding won’t have bridesmaids or Pachelbel’s Canon. It won’t have a tiered wedding cake—though it will have cupcakes—or a garter or bouquet toss.
But we’re traditional people in many other ways. I’ll wear a long white gown and I’m working on convincing my fiancé to wear a tux. I’ll ask my father to walk me down the aisle, my mother will cry, and I plan to carry a bouquet of red and orange calla lilies.
And no doubt soon I’ll make the decision on what belongs in my vows. I know that day will be about those vows. And because those words are so important, I am taking my time picking them. I want to be sure I convey to my fiancé all the promises I intend to keep to him in our life together.
Our idea of what we want our spiritual life to look like after those vows has been evolving. In college, driven by distaste for the actions of the Boston Archdiocese during the scandals of his childhood, my fiancé dismissed church altogether.
But as we plan for the future, we envision raising children with the presence of a church in their lives, so I think we will have to find a church where we feel at home.
Personally, I’ve always felt most spiritual atop a mountain or deep in the woods. We will be getting married among both. And I’d like to think God is looking over this marriage. I’d like to think we’ll have His help in the coming years and that we’ll have His blessing on our wedding day.