…I’m going to the chapel and I’m gonna get married…
The role of marriage vows in the ceremony
By- Rev. Paul Shively, retired
Every wedding couple has a story to tell about their wedding day. Some good, some funny and some that would bring tears to your eyes.
Wedding days are special and should be memorable. Like those storybook weddings that girls from an early age have envisioned. Unfortunately, those visions are very narrow and fail to consider that final walk as single woman down the aisle. As for the guys, I think the reason they are positioned at the waiting at the end of that long walk is so they don’t feel like a “dead man walking.” Laugh if you will, but as a retired pastor, I have seen several guys faint at the pulpit, leaving their bride either laughing or with streams of tears flowing down her face. For many it may have been stage fright, for others, they were not prepared for the service itself.
So, let’s get started on the real preparation.
What to expect at the beginning
This blessed event requires much more than choosing a venue, the guest list, invitations, dresses, and gowns. The most overlooked part of the service is that long, slow walk down the aisle, and what’s going to happen when you reach the pulpit. What takes place there is the most important part of that day.
A wedding, as symbolic as it is, scares the heck out of people. I often ask myself if that’s why so many couples overlook the importance of their vows and would tell me to use whatever vows I have used in the past. Well, I feel selfish charging a fee to officiate the wedding and sending you off into life with a canned set of vows.
The bride and groom spend more time selecting a ring then they spend on their vows. Some may think that guys use the same movie script verse when asking the love of their life to marry them. Why should your vows be any different? Because this is your special day!
I’ll admit that there are only so many ways to ask someone to marry you. And hopefully you were sincere when you asked them, and even practiced how you were going to ask them. And since you already have that “yes” out of the way, this special day where you are bound together ‘til death do you part, is rapidly approaching.
Spend some time apart as you write your vows. What is the commitment you are making to one another? What do you have to offer as a bride or a groom? What are your goals together as a married couple? Keep in mind that these vows are not like New Year’s resolutions and should be more than filling in the blank spaces on a template. These vows recited in front of witnesses are held to a higher level of accountability.
Let your romantic feelings flow
Traditionally speaking, you might start off with something like, “With these vows I do wed….”
Toss doubt and fear of saying the wrong thing aside and remember that now is not the time to be embarrassed about reciting these vows in front of your poker pals. They may rib you about it later, but this is the day to let the romance within you flow freely. As for the fear of saying the wrong thing, the heart cannot lie. The message from the heart cannot be wrong. You might have to forget that there are people gathered around watching and speak to each other like you would when you are alone.
“I knew from the moment I met you that you and I were to one day become husband and wife. That day is up on us. I stand before you, your parents, and friends to dedicate my love and my life to….”
Okay, you get the point.
Be sincere — you’re not competing for an Emmy
I am sure that the bride probably has so many examples from Hallmark TV romances and ideas for vows that are earth shattering and momentous. Just remember that you are not trying win an Emmy for best TV performance or to impress your family and friends. You are making a personal dedication to the person you’re standing before “…to love honor and cherish forever and ever.” But in your own words.
Yet there are some that lavish in traditional vows and that is all they want. So be it. Take it a step further and hand write a special dedication in a blank card or even the family Bible. You are building a long-term relationship and being able to reminisce in times of sorrow or doubt can be relationship saviors.
To reminisce is to indulge in enjoyable recollections of past events and you can do that every day. Have someone write your vows in calligraphy on excellent-quality linen stationery and then frame them.
Your marriage license is a legal document. Your vows become a written and spoken contract, filled with love and devotion, between two incredibly special people.
So, let us run through the wedding checklist. You have reserved the venue, decided on a date and time, mailed out the invitations, chosen the centerpieces, sampled a half dozen cakes, hired a DJ or a wedding singer, and argued over the seating arrangements. That one annoying best friend you want nowhere near anyone he might offend is assigned a seat behind a post at the reception. Everything seems perfect until a soon-to-be mother-in-law decides to take charge of things. This is your wedding and in no way should it become the wedding that mom wanted for herself.
One of my most memorable mommy-takes-charge incidents occurred at the pulpit after the service began. I noticed her in the front row trying to get the bride’s attention. As I continued the service, while keeping a watchful eye on mommy, she rose from her seat and crept towards the pulpit, hunched over, like no one would see her. As I began the bride’s portion of the service, mommy came up and stood behind her. I paused as I made eye contact with the bride and she turned beet red as mommy placed her hands on the bride’s shoulders and said, “It’s OK, honey, mommy is here.”
Now, this was a new one for me. The groom’s eyes were locked on me, seeking guidance as the bride — overcome with embarrassment — had tears running down her face. I looked at the bride’s father and asked if anyone could claim this woman as I placed a hand on her shoulder. Those in attendance laughed as the bride’s father led Mommy Dearest away and the groom lovingly wiped away the bride’s tears with his finger.
Honestly, I do not think this is the memory any couple wants on their wedding day. And unfortunately, we cannot restrain overbearing mothers to the pews but assigning, specific tasks to mom to accomplish is a fantastic way to keep them involved. And in their defense, mom is just as excited as you are about this big day. Letting her have a specific role, even one after the other, keeps her focused and gives her a sense of accomplishment.
As your wedding day approaches, there will undoubtedly be other family members and friends that want to be involved. Assign tasks as they arise. And be sure, after the honeymoon, to send them each a small token of your appreciation.
A wedding is a dedication ceremony
Your wedding service is a dedication ceremony. A monumental event, history in the making and something that will either fill out your family tree or break the branches. Planning the service requires the involvement of the bride and the groom. Will it be simple because you are not sure of another way to conduct it?
Start a new tradition, beginning with your vows. Will they be traditional or something more eloquent?
Your vows are your commitment to one another, words that form a bond and should echo your feelings for each other. Not just a bunch of words shared or spoken for the sake of tradition or showmanship.
Writing vows that demonstrate a commitment to each other takes time. Once you have written them, the fun begins. Practice reciting your vows in front of a mirror. Can you recite them with sincerity?
Of course, the question many couples get asked is: Do you write the vows as a couple, or will each of you write your own? Imagine, if you will, a set of vows that intertwine and have an emotional syncing that will exemplify the commitment you are making on this wonderful occasion. There should be no surprises.
Picture smiles and tears of joy as you exchange vows, your hand poised for the placement of your ring and those memorable words, “With this ring, I thee wed” and you experience that immense joy, seeing that symbolic ring, now nestled on your finger.
The rap vows that portended disaster
In another memorable ceremony, the bride who had prepared her vows on her own, without the groom’s involvement, recited her vows with passion and conviction. When she finished, it was obvious that she anticipated the same passion from her soon-to-be husband. The groom however, thought it would be memorable to recite his vows with the passion of an up-and-coming rap artist. He failed to take into consideration that his bride did not support his dream of becoming a successful rapper. In fact, during the pre-marital counseling sessions, he had agreed that his employment at UPS afforded a stable income and benefits to the couple as she finished her last year of law school. So, as he began to recite his vows and began a freestyle dance with dips, the groomsmen followed suit with a choreographed routine. The anger and pain in her face said it all. Even with marriage counseling months later, the marriage failed.
Wedding rings symbolize a never-ending dedication to one another and represent your acceptance of the vows exchanged on your wedding day. A daily remembrance of that special day — or the horrors of a service gone wrong.
So, you can play it safe with traditional vows, or write your own. Words are like a double-edged sword, bringing joy or sorrow. Do not be afraid to seek assistance in preparing your vows. It is amazing how a good wordsmith can take a simple sentence and turn it into an eloquent, sweep-you-off-your-feet, priceless memory.
The most important part of any wedding is not the cake, the music, or the reception. It is the careful planning of what takes place at the service.
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