wedding ceremony readings

Photo: Bryan Sargent Photography

If you’re looking to have a wedding ceremony that’s super-personalized, readings are a great way to do it. Wedding ceremony readings also allow you to give loved ones (particularly those who may not be in the wedding party) a special role in your big day. Interested in including readings in your ceremony but stumped on where to begin?

Here are some tips to help you get started choosing the right wedding readings for your ceremony.

Talk with your officiant
If you’re already selected your wedding officiant, talk to him or her about including readings in your ceremony. Some religious ceremonies might not be conducive to additional readings, so it’s important to make sure that your officiant is onboard with the idea. If so, he or she can be a great resource to provide suggestions for readings that will enhance your ceremony, ones that will match your personality and style. Your officiant can also determine when the most appropriate time would be during the ceremony to include readings so they feel natural and seamless.

How many wedding ceremony readings do you need?
We usually recommend limiting the number of wedding ceremony readings to one or two. Too many readings may cause your ceremony to drag on, and your guests to get a bit bored (not ideal!). If you have a lot of loved ones who you’d like to be readers, remember that multiple loved ones can perform a single reading, each person reading a short portion.

Religious or secular?
You, your future spouse, and your officiant will need to discuss if a religious or secular reading would be best for your ceremony. If you choose a religious wedding ceremony reading, you’ll likely select a passage or verse from a sacred text, or a religious poem or blessing. A secular reading can be a poem, book excerpt, song lyrics, or even lines from a movie or television show.

Think about your readers
If you’re having trouble choosing wedding ceremony readings, it might help to think about the people who will be speaking at your ceremony. If you’ve selected a young child to speak, a passage from a children’s book would be appropriate. Or a friend who’s a Shakespeare buff might enjoy reading a passage from the Bard. Obviously it’s most important that the readings reflect you and your spouse, but tailoring the readings to your readers can help you sort through the options—and help your readers feel even more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd.

How long should a wedding ceremony reading be?
The readings portion of your ceremony should last no more than five minutes, and each individual reading should be one to three minutes each. Before selecting a wedding ceremony reading, time yourself reading it very slowly and clearly to see how long it will take to present at your ceremony. Any individual reading longer than three minutes should be edited down or you might want to consider an different passage.

Read carefully
Make sure you read the text of any potential wedding ceremony reading very closely—and ask others to read it as well. You want to make sure that the words are meaningful of course, but also that they feel appropriate for the occasion. Don’t include readings that contain unsavory language or would make your guests uncomfortable for any reason. Your readings should be uplifting and while they can be emotional and sentimental, have a generally positive message.

Pick a classic
There are many popular religious and secular readings that are frequently read at wedding ceremonies. These include 1 Corinthians 13 (which starts with “Love is patient, love is kind…”), “How Do I Love Thee” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, “On Marriage” from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and excerpts from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Obviously there are many more, but these are some tried and true examples.

Choose your favorites
An easy way to choose a wedding ceremony reading that reflects your personality is to select an excerpt from a poem, book, or song lyrics that you and your future spouse already enjoy. Think about your favorite writers, and passages that might be ideal for a wedding. Usually, wedding ceremony readings focus on love—but there’s a wide range of what’s appropriate. Readings can be emotional, sweet, romantic, or even funny—as long as they feel true to you and the style of your ceremony.

Think outside the box
Don’t be afraid to choose a nontraditional wedding ceremony reading, particularly if you’re having a more casual ceremony. Check out such readings as “Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali and “A Lovely Love Story” by Edward Monkton (this one includes dinosaurs!). Lyrics from favorite songs can make for unique ceremony readings, as can quotes from movies—you can even have several guests recite lines of dialogue.

Get personal
If you and your future spouse have a history of writing to one another, you can have your loved ones read your love letters aloud at your ceremony. Yes, we know this may enter the realm of “oversharing,” but it can be super-sweet and personal. Of course, you’ll have to make sure that the letters are wedding-appropriate (let’s not get too intimate here!), and that they are a reasonable length. We’ve even seen couples’ emails or Google chats used as readings to great effect!

Include the whole crew
You don’t have to choose just one or two readers—you can have all of your guests read together. Include a reading’s text in your program, and have your officiant ask all of your guests to stand and read it together at a particular point in the ceremony. This can unite all of your and your future spouse’s loved ones in a very symbolic way. You’ll truly feel surrounded by love.

Display wedding readings in other ways
If there are a lot of readings that you want to include in your ceremony but can’t for time purposes, there are other ways that you can share them with your guests. Print the reading in your ceremony programs, quote them on signage, or even include a passage from a reading in your thank-you speech at the reception.

Remember: Wedding readings are optional
If you’re really stumped on finding the right reading for your ceremony, it’s important to remember that wedding ceremony readings are completely optional. Don’t include a reading in your ceremony just for the heck of it—make sure that it’s something that fits the tone and style of your wedding day. Your guests will be thrilled to be present for your wedding ceremony, whether or not you include a reading.