Writing your wedding vows: where to begin and how to get it done

Your ceremony is yours for the writing. But how do you put pen to paper? We meet the celebrants with all the answers

Photo: Gary Bonar Photography

Inspiration struck, as it often does, in the shower. I was ‘thinking’ (read: ‘obsessing’) about our wedding for the millionth time that day and had circled back to why we were doing it in the first place – my go-to coping mechanism – when it hit me. What I would say in my vows. What my husband-to-be really, truly meant to me.

I dived out, grabbed the nearest towel and, soapy hair splattering everywhere, hunted for a notebook. A bemused Mr. Patrick was less than impressed by the trail of suds in my wake, but I was on a mission and wasn’t about to stop. Once I’d sat myself on the edge of the bed, the words came tumbling out of me. Twenty minutes later, I had my vows.

Isn’t it amazing that we have the freedom to shape our own ceremony? That the most pivotal part of the day needn’t be dictated by anyone but ourselves? The blank page is scary and intimidating (I write for a living – believe me, you’re not alone with that fear), but it’s ours. It’s not every day you have the chance to celebrate love, in your own way.

So, whether you’re penning your thoughts with shampoo running down your face, or filling in blanks strategically left by a wise celebrant, crafting the script is your most important task. Here’s to getting personal.

If you’re sitting there, silently screaming, ‘eh… hello? I’ve never gotten married before – I don’t have a clue what I’m doing’ at me, don’t worry. I know it’s tricky. That’s why we’re going to take it step by step. Your first move? Finding a celebrant who’ll guide you through the whole thing.

Photo: Ashley-liv Jamieson Photography

“My advice would be to speak to a few celebrants and, if possible, meet them,” says ordained celebrant Angela Maughan. “Never pick someone simply based on how much they charge. It’s so important to find an individual that you as a couple click with. Is this a person you can trust and get along with? Is this someone you can work with? Do you feel at ease with them? Do they reflect your own values? Remember, the celebrant will appear in your photographs and in your film, if you’re having one, so it’s vital you have a positive memory of working with them.”

Craig Flowers at Independent Humanist Ceremonies (IHC) recommends taking the time and space you need to track down the right celebrant for you. There’s no rush. “We encourage couples to get in touch as soon as the date and venue are finalised,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter if this is several years ahead of the wedding. If you’re keen on a specific celebrant and they are available, they will arrange to meet you. If not, we would find someone close to you or the venue and put them in touch with you. There’s no pressure to commit with a deposit until after you have met your celebrant and you’re sure they’re right for you.”

Photo: Simon’s Studio

Next step: the meeting. It could be a coffee date, a chat over Skype, or a cuppa at the kitchen table, but regardless of the format, it’s crucial you come face to face with the person who’ll play such a huge role in your big day. “The first consultation is a chance to interview them, really,” Angela says.

“Ask questions about what type of ceremonies they can offer. Did you know there are various types of celebrants, able to put a different slant on the ceremony? I am ordained, which means I can offer a secular service or I can include aspects of your beliefs and values, give a nod to religion and mention God. Consider what you would like in your ceremony. If you don’t know, outlining what you don’t want can be just as helpful.”

Hopefully, the meeting will either fill you with confidence about the officiant sitting opposite you, or it will give you a clearer picture of what you are looking for. “The celebrant can break the ice with ideas and try to gauge the style/tone/content that you are after,” notes Craig. “Before the close of the meeting, our IHC celebrants will take some notes, allowing them to start a first draft of the ceremony, if you decide to book.”

Found the one – the celebrant, that is? Give yourselves a pat on the back. Now, the work can get underway, although the process differs from celebrant to celebrant. At this stage, Angela, for instance, will hold a second session in person.

“It’s about getting to know the couple better, their personalities as individuals and as a collective,” she explains. “Their likes and dislikes. Their background and their relationship history (well, what they’d like to share!). We speak about their hopes and dreams for the future.”

TOP TIP: “Be true to yourself when writing your vows,” says Craig Flowers of Independent Humanist Ceremonies. “Don’t write them in a manner that you’d be uncomfortable reciting aloud.”

Meanwhile, at Independent Humanist Ceremonies, the celebrant will get straight to it, producing a rough script based on that initial meeting. “We aim to have a first draft to you around a month, or two at the latest, after you’ve booked,” Craig says.

“Additions can be made and details can be changed once you’ve had a chance to read it and think it over. Your script will be unique to you. There are, of course, elements that are common to all scripts, like the vows, the general welcome and the concluding statements, so there will be similarities with other people’s ceremonies, but everything can be changed and tweaked to suit you and your circumstances.”

With Angela, it’s more fluid. “The writing only comes after I’ve had numerous conversations with the couple, so it’s very much a case of ‘how long is a piece of string’,” she smiles. “As the relationship between us develops, the information becomes deeper and more personal. I normally start by reading my notes and looking for the core themes of the couple. Then, I jot down the headings for each part of the service – it’s always useful to have a structure in place.

“Once I have that, I can fill in the gaps using the information gleaned from the couple. Then, on the day, just before the wedding ceremony begins, I will typically address the guests about the ‘housekeeping’ – the ‘rules’ for the day, such as the couple’s wishes regarding photographs and posting on social media. This allows those gathered to relax and be present without fretting if it is okay to take snaps and so on. ”

Photo: Eilidh Sutherland Photography

From these bare bones, together with the celebrant, you’ll be able to flesh out your script. Ask yourself: will you write your own vows? How will your story be told? Do you have any readings in mind? What about customs – would you like to include any traditional Scottish or pagan rituals?

“The options are endless,” Craig nods. “Handfasting, drinking from the quaich, and jumping the broom are very popular. Factor them into the first draft if you feel any are something you might like. I always think you’ll have a better understanding of whether you’d like something to be included after reading it. And to my mind you’re better to try many different ideas and not go for any of them, rather than not try anything at all and then regret it.”

Don’t forget, your celebrant is a source of much knowledge and experience, so use them. “Once you’ve booked with me, I’ll send you lots of files with examples of vows, readings and rituals, and give you a steer on how and where to look for readings,” promises Angela. “As a celebrant I am very adaptable. If couples know what they want, that’s great. But if they need more hand-holding and guidance, I can support them with that too.”

Despite this world of possibilities, don’t feel you have to weave everything into your script. It doesn’t need to be an all-singing, all-dancing cabaret, if that’s not your style. “Some people want something very straightforward, while others request all the bells and whistles,” Craig says. “Whichever you prefer, we do the hard work and aim to make this as chilled as we can for you.”

Angela, too, has seen both ends of the spectrum: “Some of my ceremonies are very simple – it’s just an exchange of rings and vows. Mostly, though, I incorporate hand-fasting, and I have two or three different ways it can be done.

“For drinking from the quaich, again, I offer a selection of wording to accompany it. There are also sand ceremonies and candle ceremonies (lighting a votive and saying a few words if certain family members are unable to be there). I wouldn’t really encourage more than two rituals, as guests can lose concentration.”

It’s a good point: how do you express yourself fully, especially with your personal vows, without your nearest and dearest nodding off? “Be yourself and use the language you would normally use,” Angela stresses.

“If you are a man or woman of few words, make your vows short and sweet. Equally, if you’re more vocal, let your vows reflect that, but don’t make them too long. Let them be heartfelt and meaningful.”

Photos: Aboyne Photographics; Solen Photography

Before you go wild with your scriptwriting, bear in mind that certain statements must be in place to make your marriage legal. “The law states that there is a declaration by the parties, in the presence of each other, the celebrant and their two witnesses, that they accept each other in marriage,” clarifies Angela.

“The officiant must also declare that the parties are married. The wording used can be individualised to a degree, as long as both of those declarations are announced.”

Regarding readings, she suggests having two or three at the most, if you are having any at all (there’s no rule that you must have readings). “These can be quotes from favourite films, books, song lyrics, poems…” she lists. “Sometimes family members write poems for the couple, and I have even known children to write their wishes for their parents’ union or their hopes for the blended family they’re part of.”

Overall, how do you want your service to come across to your loved ones? Are you picturing peals of laughter? Not a dry eye in the house? Knowing smiles?

“The kind of atmosphere you want to create is different for everyone, and it’s a big part of what we are trying to judge at that first meeting,” Craig emphasises. “But once brides and grooms have their script in their hands, it can be tweaked until it is absolutely spot on in terms of content and tone. It’s your script. It’s 100% up for personalisation.”

“The mood of the ceremony needs to mirror your personalities, as well as being respectful,” Angela adds. “That said, it’s always effective to have a little humour thrown in, as this can help alleviate any stress or anxiety you’re feeling on the day. My best advice is always to be true to yourself.”

And if that means penning your vows in a towel as you perch on the edge of your bed, so be it.