The following is an interview with Maggie Reyes,
published on her site, Modern Married.
Dear Modern Married Family,
One of the unexpected blessings of starting this blog has been getting to meet amazing, inspiring people (like you!) and today’s featured guest, Rev. Hannah Grace from GraceCeremonies.com
She has such a deeply heart-felt approach to helping couples celebrate their wedding, I thought she was the perfect guide to teach us what to do if we are writing marriage vows for a wedding, vow renewal or just want to recommit to each other with a sacred ceremony of two.
In this interview, she shares her approach to helping couples discover what their hearts want to say and how our wedding vows can establish the foundation for the choices we make as a couple for years to come.
MM: Tell us about yourself and Grace Ceremonies in 5 sentences.
REV. HANNAH: After 10 years working in retail (specifically handcrafts and fine jewelry) I experienced a very unexpected calling to become a minister. I listened to the call and decided to attend an Interfaith Seminary, even though I had no idea where this new path would lead! During my training it became clear that I wanted to minister (literally, to serve) people during major life transitions like birth, death and marriage. It’s an amazing honor to be with people during these times…every day I’m grateful I heeded the call to do such meaningful and fulfilling work.
MM: You perform wedding ceremonies all the time. What advice do you find yourself giving to couples over and over again?
REV. HANNAH: I’m consistently reminding couples to be themselves.
For instance, almost every couple I meet with starts by saying they have no idea what kind of wedding ceremony they want. But, without fail, within an hour of conversation we have the whole ceremony sketched out.
They thank me for figuring it out when all I’ve done is make space for them to tell me who they are…and from that place their desires and preferences, their visions and hopes become clear.
It comes up again and again and again, especially when it comes to writing their wedding vows. I remind couples, “This is your wedding. This is your life partner. Don’t worry about what other people think. What do you need to say?”
I feel like sometimes people just need permission; to be told that who they are is perfect.
MM: Why are ceremonies so powerful?
REV. HANNAH: We’re all here on the journey of a lifetime, passing through various milestones that change and shape our identities.
Ceremonies help define and sanctify the chapters of our life, providing an important opportunity to nurture our connection to each other, our families, communities and ourselves.
Sadly, many people think ceremonies only belong to religions, but that’s not true at all! I’m consistently amazed to see how ceremonies, even something as customary as a wedding ceremony, create a potent container within which the meaning of life passages can be experienced, witnessed and honored.
MM: Tell us about modern wedding vows. How are they different? The same? Are there some popular ones you use over and over again?
REV. HANNAH: As modern weddings have gotten more unique and personal, so have the vows.
Couples no longer feel like they “have” to do it a certain way, or that they must use the same vows.
Many of my couples don’t even share their vows with one another until the actual wedding. (And then there’s my husband, who spoke his from the heart, on the spot!!)
I’ve had a few couples that initially said they wanted to use traditional wedding vows (“For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”) but once I provide them with samples of alternative vows, they all have chosen to either write their own or personalize one of the samples.
I have yet to have two couples use the same vows.
One thing that’s stayed the same, I think, is that the vows are the most intimate part of the wedding. Looking into your partner’s eyes, pledging yourself to them for life…it doesn’t get much better than that!
MM: Most of our readers are already married and might want to renew their vows – what is your advice for them?
REV. HANNAH: If a couple had a traditional ceremony, they likely used standard wedding vows.
Renewing your vows is the perfect time to speak from the heart, from knowing each other so deeply, and from staying together through good times and bad. It’s easier to allow for honesty (Yeah, there were some hard times in there!) and for humor.
Sometimes couples can be challenged by how to encapsulate their feelings about their partner in wedding vows. I’ve found this simple, 5-minute exercise is a great way to help them get started:
For the first minute of the five, find a spot – preferably outside or somewhere you feel relaxed, undistracted and grounded – and simply breathe.
For the second minute, ask yourself, “What 10 things do I appreciate and admire most about this incredible human being I am about to marry/I am married to”?
Breathe some more.
For the third minute, write them down, smiling with a full heart.
For the fourth minute, look at that list and see if there’s anything else that comes to mind. Offer gratitude. You’re both so lucky!
For the fifth minute, let go of the list and surrender to the moment. Breathe.
Okay, you’re done!
MM: Why do you think the vows we declare are so important?
REV. HANNAH: The wedding vows are truly the heart of the ceremony. Sure, everyone the couple loves is there and I get to say important things about marriage and there are beautiful poems and music and great clothes and flowers and hair… But if you take all that away and leave only the vows, it’s still a wedding. Even with my formal blessing and their family and friends as witnesses, it’s really about the exchange between those two people.
I tell couples that when they take their wedding vows, they actually marry each other.
It’s where they take ownership of the marriage they will create together.
The vows are the foundation of the choices the couple will make, every day for the rest of their lives, to stay married.
Many couples I work with choose to write their own wedding vows, whether it's an all-out personal declaration or a variation of traditional themes they've made their own. Fellow Interfaith minister and wedding officiant Rev. Sarah Margaret recently shared this link with tips for writing your own wedding vows from the popular wedding website, The Knot.
Mostly I think these simple, step-by-step tips are really helpful for couples planning to write their own vows, but I couldn't resist adding my own advice below! Taken together, I hope they offer couples a useful template for writing their own wedding vows.
1- Get Clearance.
I do not need to review your words in advance! Your vows are yours and yours alone. However, I'm always happy to help couples refine their vows or make sure they're on the same page.
2- Start Early.
Though I started drafting ideas in the weeks prior to our wedding, I finished writing my own vows the morning of our ceremony. (My husband never wrote his down at all!) It's true that stress can squash your creative and emotional flow, so just make sure you have the time and space you need to write from the heart.
3- Look to Tradition.
Unless you're planning to write a love letter of sorts (as I did), looking at samples of wedding vows can be very helpful. I have a selection of traditional and non-traditional wedding vows I offer every couple.
4- Set the Tone.
My husband and I could not have been more different in our approach to writing our vows but we did agree on one thing: we would make a few promises. This might sound pretty basic but I know of one bride who vowed x, y, and z, while the groom wrote a poem. To me, their vows were perfect because they were a true reflection of each individual. But, if something like that would bother you, be sure to talk about it before you start writing!
5- Figure Out the Logistics.
You're likely to decide early in the process whether you want to write your vows alone or together, share them before or save them for the wedding day, etc. If you write them alone and keep it a surprise but want to make sure they feel similar, I'm happy to be the go-between. Mum's the word! (I also like to have a copy of each person's vows in case, heaven forbid, you forget to bring them to the ceremony.)
6- Make a Vow Date.
My goal in working with couples to create a custom wedding ceremony is for them to feel aware and connected with these questions throughout the planning process. It's all too easy, with all the hundreds of details and decisions, to lose touch with the reason you're choosing to marry - the essential ingredient you'll need to write your wedding vows.
7- Schedule Some Alone Time.
Our dear friend and wedding officiant gave us an easy, five-minute exercise to do on our own, in nature, helping us to clarify and simplify what we love about each other. In five simple steps, I was able to distill my deep emotions into a few words that became the basis of my wedding vows. It was so great I've started using it with my own couples!
8- Steal Ideas.
See tip 3.
9- Create an Outline.
You may have gotten the impression that my husband and I were pretty casual about our wedding vows. We weren't at all! To us they were the most important part of the wedding, but we didn't feel the need to create a lot of structure around them. That's an important distinction - you just have to know what's right for you.
10- Remember Your Audience.
This is one tip where I have to disagree. This is your ceremony. These are your vows. Though you're no doubt very grateful to have your friends and family in attendance, you are not responsible for making them feel included in this moment. You can include them in other parts of your ceremony. Your vows are simply to be witnessed.
11- Time It Right.
Another one I have to disagree with. Aim for one minute? Um, how much did your wedding cost? And how much time did it take to plan? And how far has everyone traveled to join in your celebration? And, and and... Take as much darn time as you want!!!
12- Practice Out Loud.
This last one is a useful tip, but not so you can be sure they sound good per se. Practicing saying your wedding vows out loud will help you get more comfortable with them, but it's also a way to make sure what you're saying truly resonates for you - that it just feels right. If you say it out loud but don't feel your heart behind it, you may want to do some more editing.
Poetry and Musings of an Interfaith Minister on the Journey of a Lifetime.