Protestant Wedding Ceremony Rituals
Hollywood has given most people a glimpse of what goes on at a Protestant wedding -- Christian ceremonies are typically what you see on screen. But Protestant weddings vary depending on denomination: Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian to name a few. The Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer provides the model for Protestant weddings, yet each church (and officiant) has its own take on music, sermons, unity candles, and audience participation. What we can provide you are the basics.
Protestant weddings start with a traditional call to worship. For example, Episcopalian weddings begin, "We are gathered here today in the presence of God to join this man and this woman in holy marriage," which is almost identical to the Presbyterian opening, "We are gathered here today to witness the marriage of (bride's name) and (groom's name) in holy matrimony." After the welcoming, the officiant may read a few Bible passages followed by a short sermon of advice for the bride and groom.
If a "giving away" is part of the ceremony, the officiant will ask, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" The bride's father will step forward and state, "I do" or, "Her mother and I do." To make the phrase sound less possessive, the word gives is sometimes replaced with brings. In another variation, the officiant may ask both families if they support the marriage and give their blessing.
Here's the big moment: the vows. Traditional vows are, "I (groom's/bride's name), take you (bride's/groom's name), to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part." Wording choices may vary between denominations, and some officiants will even let you write your own vows.
Exchange of Rings
The ring exchange is only a recent introduction to Protestant weddings (in the past only the bride received a ring). The officiant will bless the rings before handing them to the bride and groom. As they place the bands on each others fingers, the couple may say, "This ring I give you in token and pledge of our constant faith and abiding love," or, "With this ring I thee wed," or, "With this ring I wed you, and pledge my faithful love."
After the vows and ring exchange, a unity candle may be lit by the bride and groom as a symbol of their marriage. Parents may also join in the fun (with fire) and light a candle to represent the combining of the couple's families. Not all congregations allow unity candles, so first check with your officiant.
The officiant will conclude the ceremony with prayers and closing blessings. "The Lord's Prayer" may be sung by the congregation. Finally, the officiant will say: "I now pronounce you husband and wife. What God has joined together let no man put asunder." At this point the newlyweds smooch and everyone heads to the party.
If you're Methodist or Presbyterian, you'll probably follow the guidelines of your church's ceremony service book. If you're Lutheran, you'll perform the marriage yourselves -- the pastor represents the church and state only to attest that you have fulfilled your religious and legal obligations. If you're Unitarian, you'll work with your minister to create your ceremony. There's no set liturgy, which means plenty of creative input. If you're Baptist, your church will set the rules regarding marriage specifics. No matter what your denomination, talk to your officiant for details and discussion of your ideas.