How Weddings Work: The Charge

Many couples are confused when I mention The Charge. It stems from a traditional American ceremony. Historically, the wording goes, “Let me charge you both to remember that a happy marriage is found in mutual support…” and then goes on to mention several actions, emotions, and beliefs that aid in a long and happy relationship. Some couples choose not to have a formal Charge, instead opting for a short homily or Words of Wisdom, especially if you’ve just had a reading or prayer.

The focus of The Charge is to bring you both into NOW, giving you one last moment to decide if this major life step is right. More often, however, it brings your minds back to the present, to this significant moment in your lives – something you will not want to forget due to anxiety or emotion.

The Charge helps to define what Marriage is to you, and express that to your guests. It also makes a nice buffer between a prayer or reading, and what comes next – the start of the heart of the ceremony, the “I Do’s,” or Intent.

How Weddings Work: The I Do’s/Intent

Curious as to when that magical moment happens and you actually become married? That would be when you respond to the question, “Will you have this person to be your spouse?” In other words, the I Do’s, sometimes called The Intent. According to most state laws, responding positively to this question fulfills the legal requirement to sign a marriage license.

As my ministry name suggests, my goal is to take you BEYOND “I DO” so that all the other parts of your ceremony reflect who you are as a couple. Because honestly, you could walk down the aisle, respond “I Do” to the question, kiss, and walk out. Everything else said and done is totally up to you!

For the most part, the question you answer does have to fulfill legal requirements, but some minor changes can be made to the question, so I offer a couple of different wordings for you to choose from.

Remember, your response is the first time your guests will hear your voices in the ceremony, so say “I Do” or “I Will” loud and proud!

Let’s also address that dreaded, “If anyone knows a reason why this couple cannot be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.” Personally, I never ask this question. Why? You’re asking the negative, and your guests are doing their best not to shift in their seat, cough, sneeze, or make any sound at all. Instead, I like to ask your guests, “Will you support and defend this marriage?” To which they can all respond “We Will!” Asking the positive and encouraging a response is much more comfortable for your guests and makes them feel like a significant part of your ceremony and marriage.

If you consider the I Do’s to be the legal contract of marriage, the Vows are the covenant above the contract. Vows are what you promise beyond “Yes, I want to marry you.” Vows come next in the ceremony.

Note: Some couples choose a Handfasting instead of traditional I Do’s. I will explain in detail what that entails in a future blog.

How Weddings Work: Vows

The most romantic and anticipated part of a wedding ceremony are the Vows. If you think of the I Do’s as a contract, the Vows are the covenant above the contract. You’ve agreed to marry your partner, now what do you promise beyond that simple action? To love and cherish? To remain faithful through good times and bad? To wash the dishes if the other cooks?

Vows can be serious or humorous – it’s totally up to you and your partner. Or maybe a mixture of both. Whatever fits your personalities and relationship. Your guests especially want to hear the two of you speak, so choosing or writing your Vows should be carefully considered.

This is also a time to remind your partner – and guests – what you love about them. Telling a previously private story (that isn’t too raunchy!) will bring smiles and happy tears.

Another point to consider is whether you want to read your Vows off a paper/card, or repeat them after the officiant. For my couples, I nevertrust them to be memorized. Even if a couple says they will memorize their Vows, I have a copy nearby in case nerves take over. For more formal Vows (“For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health”), repeating them after the officiant might be the best way to go. You can continue to hold hands, and look into each other’s eyes. If you’ve written your own Vows, or want to make them unique to the two of you, reading them off a paper seems more authentic. Just be aware that you will have to hold the paper, and not your partner’s hands, and that you will lose eye contact while reading. Also, whichever you choose – repeat or read – do so LOUDLY. As mentioned, your guests are looking forward to this part of your wedding, and those in the back want to hear them as much as your soon-to-be spouse.

If you choose to write your own Vows, make sure your officiant has a copy of them a couple of weeks, at least, before your ceremony. A good officiant can let you know if one partner’s Vows are two pages long, while the other partner’s is two sentences. Without telling the other the specifics – as you might want them to be a surprise – the officiant can suggest editing down one set of Vows, while asking the other to elaborate more. They should be of approximately equal length and of similar tone (serious, funny, etc.).

At this point, you have legally agreed to marry, and have promised more personal vows. Next, it’s time to seal those vows with something physical – Rings.

How Weddings Work: Ring Exchange

The exchange of rings is the sealing of all the promises you’ve made up to this point of the ceremony. There are actually two parts to the Exchange of Rings – the Introduction or Blessing, and the physical placing of rings on each other.

Depending on your beliefs, you might want to have your rings blessed, or prayed over, before exchanging them. If you are going for a non-religious ceremony, something simple like explaining why you wear them would be appropriate. Perhaps they are to be a reminder to the wearer of your love. Or perhaps you like the idea of a circle, never ending, representing your Vows.

The second part is placing the Rings on each other’s fingers. Usually, a few words you repeat from the officiant makes this part less awkward. “I give you this ring/ as I give you myself/ with love and affection,” is short and sweet (the “/” is when the officiant stops to allow you to repeat what was just said). As with the I Do’s and Vows, remember to speak those words loudly so all your guests can hear.

Traditionally, in American/Christian ceremonies, the ring is placed and worn on the “ring” finger of the left hand. For a partner who has an engagement ring, it should be placed on the right hand before the ceremony, as the wedding band should be closest to your heart. After the ceremony, the engagement ring can be replaced on the outside of the band on the left hand. A good officiant will remind you to switch engagement ring hands before the ceremony. If you have a “jacket” style ring, the officiant can help you fix those together before the exchange.

In some religions, the ring is placed on the forefinger rather than the ring finger. Again, let your officiant know about your religious traditions and they can easily be incorporated.

Some couples get caught up in attempting to place a ring on their partner, as the largest knuckle can prevent a quick placement. A Ring Exchange is not a duel nor a wrestling match. Just slip the ring as far as it will easily go, and let your partner subtly push it the rest of the way on.

One final thought on Rings, because this comes up regularly – only ADULTS should control your actual, usually expensive, rings. A Ring Bearer is adorable during the Processional, but no guest will know if that young person has your real rings or just a pillow with fake rings. Your official rings should be given to the Best Man, the Maid/Matron of Honor, or the officiant.

We’re on the home stretch of a wedding ceremony! The rest of the ceremony is for celebration and reflection, including the next segment, the Closing Words.

How Weddings Work: Closing Words/Prayer

You’ve made it through the hardest parts of your wedding ceremony – the parts where you speak. Now it’s time to wrap things up. This would be an ideal time to have a closing prayer. The Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, Who art in Heaven…”) is very popular, because most of your guests will know it and pray it out loud with your officiant. However, any prayer is appropriate as a final blessing on your new marriage.

Another option is to remind your guests that you’re counting on them to support you during your marriage, as they have by attending your wedding. Admitting that all couples go through “rough patches” and might require some advice or support from friends and relatives makes your guests feel loved and important.

This prayer or closing statement doesn’t have to be long, because everyone wants to hear what comes next – The Pronouncement.