The Dos and Don’ts of Your “I Do”

, The Dos and Don’ts of Your “I Do”

By Mary Barneby, Ordained Officiant, Universal Life Ministry

I have to be completely honest, after two marriages and also having attended scores of weddings, it never truly occurred to me until I became an ordained officiant how really critical it is for every couple to be actively engaged in the vows they will make and the type of ceremony they will have on their wedding day. It is a mistake to wait until you are at the altar or wherever your vows will be exchanged and hear the words, “Repeat after me”, only to find out what you are being told to repeat really does not fit the vision and values of you as individuals or as a couple.

When I married the first time at a big church wedding with a large number of guests, I kind of left the work of the vows and the ceremony to a clergyman at my parents’ church. He really didn’t know me or my first husband very well and when it came time for me to repeat the then very traditional words, “honor and obey”, I nearly turned on my satin heels and bolted for the door. To “honor” my husband was fine…but what self-respecting human these days would even consider agreeing to “obey” their spouse?

Planning a wedding- be it large or more intimate- can be a very hectic process with many moving parts. Determining a budget, finding a venue, recruiting attendants, talking with the caterer and florist, dealing with parents, choosing a band or a DJ, a photographer, etc., etc., can be daunting, to say the least. However, in my experience as an officiant, it is often surprising to me that more couples don’t take the time to engage in a meaningful planning process with the person who will pronounce them as a married couple and make it possible to seal their sacred union legally.

So, as you allocate precious time and resources to planning your special day, here are a few tips that I hope will help you as you consider what to do— and not to do— when looking for just the right person to serve as your officiant:

DO realize that the vows you will make with your partner are for real and should reflect what matters to both of you. I like to think your vows are maybe one of the most important conversations you and your partner will ever have. And these words will form the basis of a lifetime partnership.

Even if a chapel in Las Vegas is your idea of a dream wedding, make sure that the words and the ceremony are a sincere reflection of your love and respect for each other.

DO have a sense as to the type of ceremony that “feels right” for you. Will it be traditional, more modern, very religious, sort of religious, spiritual, or not religious at all? Should it be short and sweet? Do you want to involve friends and family in the ceremony? Your officiant can share examples of different types of ceremonies and vows to give you a sense of how your own customized program can be shaped.

DO let your officiant know a little bit about you and why your love story is special and unique. Why do you work well as a couple? What makes each of you special to one another?

DO think about your guests and what might be meaningful to them as they witness your big moment. How can you work with your officiant to engage them and their emotions in the joy and magic of this day?

DO think about whether you each want to write and recite your own vows to one another. Alternatively, you can ask your officiant (after he or she gets to know you a bit) to draft vows and a ceremony well in advance of the big day, so you can review them and make sure they reflect your vision and expectations. Your officiant is there to make your experience beautiful and memorable.

DO pick music that means something to you and your fiancé. Whether in the processional leading up to the ceremony, or the recessional after the pronouncement, make the music playing be something that reflects the essence and nature of your love.

And I leave you with just one big Don’t:

DON’T leave it up to chance and assume that the person officiating at your wedding is going to get it right. The last thing you want is a “prescriptive” ceremony with the “same old/same old” empty words and phrases that don’t relate or might even be in opposition to your values.

Interview potential officiants and find one (or two if you are an interfaith couple) who “get” you as a couple and want to work with you to create a very personal and special ceremony and vows.

This day is all about you and your enduring love for each other. So, while you may have the most fabulous reception party to celebrate, don’t neglect the most important part of the day when you affirm your love with an “I DO” and commitment before your family and friends, and most importantly, one another.


Contact Mary at Vows to Cherish

She is available for weddings throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region.