Our Ceremony: putting the ‘rad’ in traditional

Because we had our wedding in a church, and a church with lots of rules at that, much of our ceremony — order of service, traditional vows, prayers — was already set. I didn’t really mind this; I’ve always loved and found comfort in traditions. Where we could put ourselves in the mix was in the readings and especially in the music we chose for the service. As it happens, Jon and I are both writers and musicians, so these were the perfect ways for us to personalize the ceremony.

For the readings, we picked three scriptures and a poem to be read by our friends. I’ll be honest: it’s been a long time since I studied the Bible with regularity, so my stockpile of friends’ and family members’ wedding programs came in very handy when we were scouting for scripture! We ended up with Ruth 1:16-18, Romans 12:9-8 and Matthew 5:13-16. I particularly liked the gospel reading we picked — that’s the “you are the light of the world” one. Being lovers of literature, we wanted to include a poem as well. Jon’s best friend from high school read Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet 17, which she chose for the occasion.

{images by Our Labor of Love}

When it came to the music, Jon and I decided that we didn’t want to hear any of the usual suspects (Pachelbel, Handel, Purcell) on our wedding day, charming though they are. The organist at my church is one of most brilliant musicians I know, and we wanted to take advantage of that asset. Since I see him at least three times most weeks at various choir rehearsals we’ve become buddies, and we decided to work up a program of face-melting organ awesomeness that you don’t normally hear at a wedding. I even found a piece that he didn’t know yet (truly astonishing), which he learned for the prelude. It’s been months now and he’s still telling me how much fun he had playing our wedding!

I’m a singer by training, so there had to be some vocal music in the ceremony as well — these were among the highlights of the service for me. Choral music was my first love, so we included a congregational hymn, Come Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing. I’m afraid I might have blown out the mic that my videographer friend gave Jon with my lusty singing of the hymn! I definitely made the best man laugh a few times.

We also incorporated two solos, in a nod to my voice studies in college and our incredibly talented friends. One of my best friends is a wonderful tenor, and he performed a beautiful French art song as our mothers were seated. Later in the service, my voice teacher from Syracuse sang a setting of another poem, e. e. cummings’s i carry your heart with me. (I know, it’s not a very original text for a wedding, but it’s meaningful to us.) My dear friend and former music teacher, pictured below, accompanied her on the piano. The song’s inclusion in the service was a total coup for me as well — normally the church doesn’t allow non-sacred music so they can avoid folk tunes and pop schlock. Only serious music at this church!


If you’re planning a wedding in a house of worship with lots of rules and regulations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doomed to a boring, cookie-cutter ceremony. Seek out those areas where you can express yourselves and go for it!

Does your ceremony location have music restrictions? What readings did you choose for your ceremony?