More and more couples today say they want a spiritual but not religious wedding ceremony. This mirrors the trend of Americans who self-identify with this label. The spiritual but not religious now account for approximately 37 percent of Americans and that number has doubled in the last decade.
What does it mean to be spiritual but not religious? When interviewing couples who use this term to describe themselves, I ask what this term means to them. Typically, they say things like “we consider ourselves to be good people, but we don’t follow any particular religion” or “we believe in some kind of creator or God but not the way God is defined in the major world religions” or “I’m not really sure — we believe there is something more to life than the physical, but don’t know what that is or how to talk about it.”
In the U.S., when you step outside the auspices of a religious doctrine, you are either one who self-identifies as an atheist (i.e. does not believe in “God”); an agnostic (i.e. has not found satisfactory proof of God’s existence); someone who isn’t particularly concerned about such matters; or you don’t have a specific label and are looking to find what is true for you. Generally, the spiritual but not religious fall into the last of these groups.
Unlike those who follow the doctrine of a particular religious tradition, when the spiritual but not religious are creating a wedding ceremony, they do not have a template to follow. In fact, as long as their ceremony complies with the laws of the state in which the marriage takes place, they can do whatever they want.
In 2005, when I published the first edition of my book, The Wedding Ceremony Planner: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Part of Your Wedding Day, I sought to provide a basic structure for the ritual of a self-designed wedding ceremony for the spiritual but not religious. It was also my intention to educate them about the hundreds of logistical considerations that might never occur to them otherwise. Just published in a second edition, this has become the bestselling book on the topic of wedding ceremony design.
Even with this book as a reference point, couples need to figure out what would or would not be appropriate for them as a unique couple. The key is what I call resonance — the intensified sense of truth an individual or couple experiences when considering a passage or ritual component — its “rightness” or “wrongness” for them, if you will. They might read one passage and respond “oh, yuck!” while another generates a response such as “oh, honey, that’s us!”
The freedom afforded a couple facing a blank sheet of paper as their starting point can be quite daunting. However, it can be wonderfully affirming as well if both partners participate in letting their resonance be their guide. Some realize that they have never had the occasion to share or articulate their deepest beliefs and values. Doing so is simultaneously a declaration and an intimate sharing of who they are. When a marriage ceremony is created from this place, it will ring true to the family and other guests as well — even when others do not share the couple’s point of view.
In addition to creating a ceremony that reflects their deepest values and beliefs, couples should also consider the impact their ceremony is likely to have on their guests. Being too in your face or not particularly tasteful can cause problems with family and friends. A good rule of thumb is to consider what you might think of your choices ten or twenty years later with a bit more maturity and perspective. Celebrate who you are as individuals, as a couple, and as members of the assembled community, but be sure to temper that by honoring and being respectful of essential differences as well.
If you have specific questions about how to design your wedding ceremony or as an officiant serving a specific couple, feel free to ask them under the comments section below or to email me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your comments and questions are always welcome.