People tend to associate religious weddings with houses of worship and civil weddings with a trip to the courthouse. They assume if a member of the clergy presides over the ceremony it is likely to be religious while a secular officiant such as a notary or clerk of court presides over civil ceremonies. While these may be common expectations, they are not entirely accurate. Especially since so many weddings are now held at venues that are not houses of worship or courthouses. I have officiated weddings for many couples on the deck of the Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront, for example, and would estimate that about half are religious and half secular.
The content of the ceremony determines whether or not the wedding is considered religious or civil (secular). Religious ceremonies reflect the faith or faiths of the couple and typically include prayer, scripture and rites specific to the particular faith community. Civil ceremonies are every bit as lovely and meaningful, but simply use secular language and rituals rather than religious. Many couples today opt for a middle ground and choose a “spiritual” ceremony in which a religious feeling is evoked, sacramental language such as “sacred covenant” or “holy matrimony” is used, but no specific religious doctrines concerning marriage are referenced.
When seeking the services of an independent officiant, the couple should first decide what type of ceremony they feel is most appropriate. Knowing this in advance will help narrow down the field of suitable officiants. Some members of the clergy are perfectly happy to preside over civil ceremonies and some civil officiants are entirely comfortable performing religious ceremonies. But some are not, so this is a question that should be asked when hiring an independent officiant. The couple's expectations for their wedding absolutely must come first, so an officiant not willing to accommodate their preferences should be ruled out immediately.
Whether the ceremony includes a passage of scripture or a secular poem, "Ave Maria" or "All You Need is Love," a Christian Unity Candle or a secular Sand Ceremony, ends with the Breaking of the Glass or Jumping the Broom; the focus of the wedding should be on the couple - their unique personalities, love for one another, and decision to create a life together.
Photo Attribute: Lisa Marshall Photography