Secular Traditions

March 18, 2019 Tom Hirsch Season 2019 Episode 2
Secular Traditions
Show Notes Transcript


Podcast Show Notes

Date: Monday, March 11, 2019

Episode:   002


Subtitle:      Secular Traditions

Length:            00:13:28

Final Show Link:

In episode #2 of Traditions we examine the “secular” or “humanist” side of wedding ceremonies and related traditions.

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  •  In this episode we discuss:
  • The distinction between “secular” and “civil”
  • Creating a secular wedding ceremony
  • Why a couple might desire a secular wedding
  • How to tell your family about your plans

 Bonus Section

Visit our web site for a full transcript of Episode002 that includes a synopsis of Marriage Law Requirements for Florida Marriage Licenses.

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 This episode’s question is:

Q.        What tradition did you observe that you’d consider to be secular? 

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Episode #:                                               002

Publication Date:                               March 18, 2019

Episode Length:                                  00:13:28

Host:                                                      Tom Hirsch


Show Transcript:                             

Your Comments:                              


……… welcome to the SECOND episode of Traditions where we’ll spend some time talking about the secular, or “humanist,” side of wedding ceremonies.

Maybe the first thing we ought to do is agree on what makes a “secular” ceremony different from other wedding traditions. Essentially the two vary in the level of religious content found within the service. “Secular” often suggests non-religious or “civil.”  And many civil ceremonies are performed within the confines of government facilities where you usually find a careful separation of church and state.

These distinctions start to break down slightly when the concept of “humanism” is introduced. Usually a civil officiant will be agreeable to completely customizing the marriage ceremony to meet the bridal couple’s wishes, including as much or as little religious content as desired. Some humanists might permit singing a hymn with mildly religious overtones, but you won’t typically hear any prayers or biblical references. Both will charge a fee for performing the service, where a religious minister affiliated with an organized church often asks for somewhat of a “free-will” offering to the church or a charity of their choice.

I once read a statement saying, “Even if your wedding won’t be in a place of worship, it can be pretty difficult to craft a secular wedding ceremony with meaningful rituals.” First off, the structure of that sentence seems counterintuitive! But, as a wedding officiant myself, I can’t agree with such a claim. The marriages I perform are always customized to the wishes of the couple, regardless of where the ceremony is held; and I don’t find it at all challenging to “craft a ceremony with meaningful rituals” –– be it secular or otherwise.

Many of the unity traditions we reviewed in Episode 001 of TRADITIONS are often referred to as “ceremonies,” for example –– the Sand Ceremony, Pouring Water Ceremony, Unity Candle Ceremony, the Wine Box or Love Letter Ceremony, yet there is, in truth, very little, if anything, ceremonially religious associated with these traditions.

It’s also quite simple to write secular wedding vows. You’ll find an extensive list of sample vows under the “Documents” menu on my web site: as well as a special section on my Pinterest page devoted specifically to wedding vows. The Pinterest page can be easily accessed from anywhere within the web site.

The same holds true for readings you might want to include in your ceremony. Under that same “Documents” menu is found another page packed full of possible ceremonial readings that are secular, as well as some including varying degrees of religious references.

The motivations for secular ceremonies are as varied as the sands of the seas. The personalized nature of secular weddings allows couples to create a ceremony that’s uniquely tailored to themselves and their beliefs. It also makes secular weddings ideal for families that may not fit the narrow traditions of many religions. Same sex partners, couples with children of any age, and couples from different ethnicities and cultures can create ceremonies that celebrate their distinctive qualities. Finally, vows renewal ceremonies, rapidly growing in popularity, often allow couples the opportunity to custom-craft a ceremony that may not have been an option when they married 25 to 50 years ago.

Now let’s get into the “sticky wicket” side of secular weddings. There are certain discussion topics most of us sooner or later face that are just plain uncomfortable. The first and most common is “the talk” faced with fear and trepidation by the parents of young adolescents everywhere. Another falls at the other end of the scale when we find it necessary to sit down with mom or dad and talk about driving an automobile. Sometimes this one doubles back on us when our own kids sit back at the dinner table and say, “Dad, we need to talk.”

Somewhere in that continuum we find the hurdle of having to help our families understand why we (you and your fiancé) want to forego the big, fancy church wedding Mom has always dreamed of choreographing, in favor of a far smaller, secular gathering on the beach, in the park or at a favorite hotel or country club. This one is often met with “shock and awe” generously seasoned with quantities of betrayal, indignation, denial, fear, frustration, awkwardness and rejection –– especially in highly religious families.

In some cases, your families already know you have differing views but hope you’ll put them aside temporarily “for the sake of the family attending the wedding.” In others, this news lands like a ton of bricks.

Let’s look at the 9 common elements of a wedding:

·         Opening and Welcome

·         Expression of Intent (“I do…”)

·         Readings, Hymns, Music, Prayers

·         An Address or a Sermon

·         Vows (“For better or for worse…”)

·         Exchange of Rings (“With this ring…”)

·         Pronouncement (“I now pronounce you…”)

·         The Kiss (to seal the deal…)

·         Introduction of the Newly-Married Couple

There are a whole bunch more to choose from, but only two of these are essential under the laws of most states:  The expression of voluntary intent and the pronouncement of marriage by an authorized officiant. All the rest are “up for grabs” and, in fact, each of those elements is available for a wealth of personalization rising to any level of spirituality comfortable for the couple.

A touching secular tradition often seen is the Friendship Circle where friends and family in attendance are invited to stand to share their thoughts and feelings with the couple. It’s usually best to let guests know in advance you’re going to do this so they can arrive prepared. These thoughts may be literal or symbolic, and about anything appropriate to the occasion—love, family, marriage, life. They may want to offer a blessing, or to share a story about the two of you individually or as a couple. This can be reserved for the reception if you’re not comfortable with it in church or during the wedding ceremony itself.

Two more traditions accentuating the bonds of marriage are the Hand Blessing and Hand Fasting. Roman Catholic weddings are steeped in traditions that are quite strictly observed. Episcopal (Anglican) weddings are more flexible –– and becoming more so all the time. A quite sacred ritual in Christian churches includes the bride and groom participating in the distribution of communion to the congregation much as a deacon would during a routine Sunday worship service.

Here are some suggestions that might help you defuse the secular situation.

Consider a small, private ceremony in City Hall with just your BFFs to witness. Then schedule the gala event that will make the family happy later. I’m doing a wedding for a couple later this year who have already been secretly married for quite some time. Yes! I have a certified copy of their properly recorded marriage license!

Choose a wedding venue that has extra special significance within the framework of your growing relationship. This will allow you to offer a compelling justification when friends and family seek an explanation for your decision to eschew a church wedding.

Engage a professional officiant who can “wed” the best of both worlds: the traditional and the secular in ways that will fulfill everybody’s needs.

Include parents, grandparents and siblings in a very special way. The former folks can be invited to step forward to offer a personal blessing uniquely including their beliefs. Siblings can often be called upon for musical interludes, poetry and readings.

When broaching the subject of your secular wedding plans, do so from a position of authority rather than supplication. Express your desires as a statement of who you are as a couple without reflecting in any negative manner upon the long-standing values of the family. Make sure the family knows that you want them involved and how they can contribute. But most of all, don’t make it seem like you are seeking approval. You’re not opening the floor for debate.

In the transcript of today’s episode, you’ll find an official list of legal requirements for obtaining a marriage license in the State of Florida.

In following episodes we’ll be looking at a treasure of wedding traditions from around the world –– many of which lend themselves beautifully to incorporation in today’s “secular” wedding ceremonies. Subscribe to TRADITIONS today, while you’re on the page, so you don’t miss a single episode. And share your thoughts and personal traditions at 

A complete transcript of today’s show can be found under the TRADITIONS menu tab of our web site: 

Florida Code Title XLIII Domestic Relations Chapter 741 Marriage

·        Marriage License Fee: $93.50

·        Marriage Law Requirements for Florida Marriage Licenses:

·        The legal age for marriage, with parent’s consent, is sixteen (16).

·        The legal age for marriage without parental consent is eighteen (18) years of age.

·        Same sex marriage is legal in the state of Florida.

·        No blood tests are required.

·        Couples wishing to be married in the state of Florida must apply for a marriage license.

·        A marriage license may be obtained from any county in the State of Florida (regardless of where you live or where you are getting married), and may be used to be married in any county within Florida.

·        Marriage license is valid for 60 days after issuance.

·        Photo ID (Driver’s License, Passport or State ID with picture)

·        Both parties must be prepared to give their Social Security number.

·        Both parties are to appear in the Clerk’s Office and sign the application.

·        The fee for a marriage license is $93.50 and there is a three (3) day waiting period for Florida residents; there is no waiting period for non-residents

·        Florida residents who have completed a premarital preparation course and can provide completion certificates will only be required to pay $61.00 and the three (3) day waiting period will be waived.

 Be sure to contact your local County Clerk’s Office well in advance of the wedding to find out on what days and during what hours the Clerk will be in the office. Some locales will require an appointment.