Weddings 101: How to Perform the Ceremony
“What does a pastor say when marrying a couple?” That’s one of the first questions new officiants ask as they get ready to solemnize a wedding. Performing a nuptial ceremony is a distinct honor, and you’ll want to deliver a polished performance on the big day. But officiating a wedding is no walk in the park, and many officiants need help figuring out what to say at a wedding, how to write a wedding speech, and what level of preparation is required. With all this in mind, we constructed an in-depth guide to walk you through the process. Read on to learn how to create a personalized, meaningful ceremony that will impress the couple and their guests alike.
Legal Requirements to Solemnize Weddings
Before you perform the ceremony, it’s essential to ensure that you are in compliance with all legal requirements in your area. Some states, such as Ohio, require ministers to register at the state level. In many other states (like Michigan, for example) this process is handled by individual counties. While marriage laws vary from place to place, these are the basic steps you’ll need to follow to solemnize marriages:
- Become an ordained minister through the Universal Life Church
- Order copies of your legal ministerial credentials
- Present your minister license to local officials
To learn more about the requirements in your area, check out the interactive map on our State Wedding Laws page. Remember that once the ceremony is completed, the marriage license must be signed by both the couple and the officiant.
With these basic legal details covered, let’s talk about the wedding ceremony itself.
How to Write a Wedding Speech
As a ULC officiant, your role isn’t limited to saying the typical wedding priest lines – part of your job will be to work with the couple to create a customized wedding script that features all the elements they want included. If you’re struggling to find the right words for your speech, don’t forget to utilize our handy wedding ceremony script generator.
To help you understand the general structure of a wedding ceremony, we’ve compiled a sample script to show how a typical ceremony might proceed. Bear in mind that although the majority of your script can be heavily customized, the legal elements of the ceremony – the Declaration of Intent and the Pronouncement – must be included.
Sample Script For Wedding Ceremony
These introductory remarks will serve to welcome the assembled guests and speak to the purpose of the ceremony. Typically, this segment concentrates on the couple’s love and commitment, and their choice to spend their lives together.
Welcome, everyone. We are gathered here today to celebrate the bond shared by _______ and _______ and to witness them enter into the sacred bond of matrimony. This extraordinary couple stands before us ready to take this important next step in their relationship. Let us acknowledge the significance of this event as they prepare to form a union and begin a lifelong journey together.
Affirmation of Support and/or Marriage Blessing
In the past it was customary for the officiant to ask, “Who gives this man/woman to be wed?” However, it’s now common to either skip this section completely, or include a more contemporary version involving an affirmation of support from the audience.
Officiant: "Who supports this union?"
Audience: "We All do."
Opening Prayer or Reading
This reading can take whatever form the couple chooses, though it typically includes a focus on relationships, love, and companionship. If the couple is not religious, poems are a great secular option to feature in this space.
Religious: As the Bible reminds us in Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 4:9: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?"
Secular: What is love? Sooner or later we begin to understand that love is more than verses on valentines and romance in the movies. We begin to know that love is here and now, real and true, the most important thing in our lives. For love is the creator of our favorite memories and the foundation of our fondest dreams. Love is a promise that is always kept, a fortune that can never be spent, a seed that can flourish in even the most unlikely of places. And this radiance that never fades, this mysterious and magical joy, is the greatest treasure of all – one known only by those who love. – Unknown
Thoughts on Marriage
This segment of the ceremony can be a transitional element between the opening reading and the exchange of vows. If you’re following any specific religious traditions, you can use this as an opportunity to delve deeper into those faith elements. Whether you select a prewritten text or pen your own words, make sure this section reflects the ceremony’s intended tone.
“From Beginning to End” by Robert Fulghum
You have known each other from the first glance of acquaintance to this point of commitment. At some point, you decided to marry. From that moment of yes to this moment of yes, indeed, you have been making promises and agreements in an informal way. All those conversations that were held riding in a car or over a meal or during long walks—all those sentences that began with "When we're married" and continued with "I will and you will and we will"—those late night talks that included "someday" and "somehow" and "maybe"—and all those promises that are unspoken matters of the heart. All these common things, and more, are the real process of a wedding.
The symbolic vows that you are about to make are a way of saying to one another, "You know all those things we've promised and hoped and dreamed—well, I meant it all, every word." Look at one another and remember this moment in time. Before this moment you have been many things to one another—acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, and even teacher, for you have learned much from one another in these last few years. Now you shall say a few words that take you across a threshold of life, and things will never quite be the same between you. For after these vows, you shall be married.
Exchange of Vows
The couple will exchange either vows that they’ve written, or vows they’ve adapted from another source. Alternatively, the officiant can lead the couple in a scripted recitation.
Bride/Groom: I, _______, take you, _______, to be my (wife/husband), in sickness and in health, in poverty or wealth, from this day forward, until death do us part.
Bride/Groom: I, _______, take you, _______, to be my (wife/husband) and my lifelong partner. I vow to offer you unconditional love and support, regardless of what challenges life throws our way. I will remain ever yours, through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty or in wealth. I vow that your positive influence will never be taken for granted, and I promise to work each day to grow our relationship even stronger than it already is.
Declaration of Intent
The Declaration of Intent requires each person to affirm their intent to enter into a union. This part of the ceremony must be included for legal reasons.
Officiant: “(Bride/Groom), do you take (Bride/Groom), to be your lawfully wedded (wife/husband)?
Bride/Groom: "I do."
Exchanging of Rings
The officiant may choose to say a few words before the exchange or simply proceed right away. As always, this section can be structured however the couple prefers.
Bride/Groom: I, _______, give you, _______, this ring as a sign of my dedication and love.
A well-recognized element of the marriage ceremony in which the officiant declares that they’ve been granted legal authority to perform weddings before pronouncing the couple officially wed.
Officiant: “By the power vested in me by the state of ________, I now pronounce you legally wed. Groom/bride, you may now kiss the groom/bride.”
Presenting the Newlyweds
Your final wedding lines should present the newlywed pair to the assembled guests.
Officiant: “Honored guests, it is now my distinct pleasure to present, for the very first time, (name) and (name).”
Completing the Marriage Process
Following the ceremony, you’ll need to oversee a few final steps to make the marriage official. First, double check the marriage license for any errors and then sign it along with the couple and their witnesses. During this time, many officiants choose to gift the newlyweds a custom marriage certificate to remember the special day. Though not required, it’s a nice touch that couples always appreciate.
The last thing will be to return the marriage license to the office where it was issued (related: make sure you know the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate). With all the paperwork completed and properly returned, the marriage will be official!
Vows of Marriage Renewal
Marriage renewal ceremonies are a great way for couples to strengthen their vows and reflect on the time they’ve spent together. A vow renewal generally has a format similar to a standard marriage ceremony, just with slightly different content. If you’d like more information, our wedding ceremony script generator also includes a vow renewal option – this can provide a helpful outline to work with.
If you do happen to preside over a vow renewal ceremony, we always encourage officiants to present the couple with a commemorative renewal of marriage certificate to mark the occasion and make the event extra meaningful.