Scores of brides and grooms are content to let their wedding officiant choose their vows, often based on the question: "Is your ceremony going to be traditional or modern?" There are standard variations for each, of course, which have been handed down from generation to generation.
For some couples, though, marriage vows don't neatly fit into "traditional" or "modern." These are the brides and grooms who contemplate writing their own vows. Here are some guidelines for creating vows that will forever be your own.
Find the right officiant
Working with someone who understands what you want for your ceremony is key. Ask friends and family for referrals. If you have a church, consider one of its ministers. Search on-line and in the phone book. Then set up interviews, looking for the best fit.
"Remember to call early in your planning and meet as soon as possible, especially since May and June get so swamped," advises Joyce Wagner, a Klamath Falls lay minister who has married dozens of couples throughout Southern Oregon.
Once you've found a good match, start sharing information so the officiant is able to customize the ceremony as much as possible.
Determine the level of desired involvement
There are lots of possibilities when contemplating the role you want to play in the language of the ceremony.
Talk to your officiant to find out what he or she may already have available for an introduction, prayers, vows and other verbiage. Work with him or her to modify the various parts into something that reflects your style and vision — adding or subtracting, injecting your own voices, moving the order around.
Let your personality show
The beauty of self-written ceremonies and vows is they allow for your true expression of love and commitment, binding together everyone present.
"In many ways, the vows are the essence, the heart of the ceremony and self-created vows make that moment in the union even more profound; a deepening of the relationship and whole wedding experience," says Ashland minister, counselor and hypnotherapist Nancy Bloom, M.A., CHT. "It can be wonderful for each person to tune into what speaks to them in their heart."
If faith is important, include appropriate words or rituals; the same goes for nature-lovers. Sentimental types may relish sharing the story of how they met; humor-loving brides and grooms may weave jokes into their vows; couples who are blending families may want to invite their children to participate.
How to write vows
The thing to remember here is there are no rules.
"Couples can design their vows together, other times they write them separately and it's a surprise when they read them," says Bloom. "Other times they may simply exchange letters before the ceremony and the officiant might express that the vows were exchanged earlier. It's really whatever you want."
If you're blocked, look for inspiration: Research wedding vows on-line and in books. If you've witnessed some great vows, ask the bride or groom if you could borrow and customize them. Gather songs, poems, prayers, sayings, book excerpts and other written materials that you may use as part or even all of your vows.
"There's no requirement whatsoever," reiterates Bloom. "You can pick a friend to sing a song that says it all. Or play a song on a CD right before the I Dos. The minister can introduce it, saying that it really talks about their commitment to one another, so we invite you to listen to it with heart."
If public speaking is nerve wracking, vows can be said quietly between the couple and the officiant. "It's about the unity between you and your beloved and the people are there to support it," says Bloom. "You can print a section of the vows — a phrase or two — on the program so people know what's happening."
Ultimately, what seems to work best is to put pen to paper and ask yourself what you truly feel in your heart about your soon-to-be-spouse "¦ and to do it with wisdom and brevity.
"Nobody, especially the groom, wants to stand there for 10 minutes of vows," counsels Wagner. "That means that reciting every definition of 'what love is' is a little much."
Give yourself plenty of time for writing and then resist rehearsing your vows before the ceremony, say Bloom and Wagner.
When expressed with sincerity and spontaneity, your own vows will live forever in the hearts of all who witnessed them.