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Asking the clergy: What are the most touching wedding vows you’ve heard?

Rabbi Michael Stanger of Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation

Rabbi Michael Stanger of Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation in Old Westbury. Credit: Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation

Whether you’re married in June or a less matrimonially busy time of year, a religious wedding becomes unique when the bride and groom incorporate their own experiences into the traditional ceremony. Many rabbis, priests and ministers who marry dozens of couples each year encourage these more personal statements of love and commitment. This week’s clergy discuss the most memorable examples of wedding day creativity.

Rabbi Michael Stanger

The Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation

In Jewish tradition there is no requirement that the bride or groom recite personal vows under the chuppah (marriage canopy). However, that doesn’t mean the bride and groom can’t share personal vows. I have done several dozen weddings in my 15-year career. I always ask the bride and groom to write personal letters to one another in the weeks prior to the ceremony, which they then share with me. With their permission I may share some of those sentiments under the chuppah. And what has moved me the most is not standard phrases like, “you make me a better person,” or, “I love loving you,” but the personal anecdotes about what makes their lives so meaningful together and why they want to commit themselves to one another for the rest of their lives. The stories about the fiancé surprising his soon-to-be wife by doing all the dishes after she cooked him dinner and she knew he wanted to sit on the couch and watch football. Or the bride driving to the hospital in another state during her final exam period, so she could help support her boyfriend as he sat vigil by his dying grandmother’s bedside. Those stories stick with you. You hear them, and you realize why this young couple is truly in love and wants to get married, and you feel honored they are entrusting this most pivotal ceremony and life-altering moment to you. I love that two people are not just starting a new chapter of their lives together but creating a whole new world with one another.

The Rev. Enid Kessler

Interfaith Community of Long Island, Brookville

As an ordained interfaith minister for close to 20 years, I have married many couples. I predominantly work with people of different religions. The majority of the weddings I perform are Christian (Roman Catholic or Protestant) and Jewish, but I’ve also performed weddings for couples who are Muslim and Catholic, and other combinations of faiths. For many of these weddings, I ask the couple to write something personal for the marriage ceremony. About a year ago, I performed a wedding for a couple who wrote their own vows. I don’t know if I would call them the most touching, but I think they were really the most fun. Their vows were unique because they didn’t involve one speaking and finishing, then the other speaking. It was interlaced; the bride spoke a line, and then the groom spoke a line. There were humorous sentiments as well as traditional sentiments. They began by saying, in unison, “I promise,” and then they alternated lines, saying exactly what they were promising each other. It went from things that were quite serious to things that were hysterically funny. For instance, the groom promised to teach the bride about auto mechanics, so she could fix her own car if it broke down. And they both ended with, “I promise to love you from this day forward.” Those are the most unique vows that anyone has come up with within my experience. They put a lot of thought into it and developed something that was unique for them and represented them as individuals.

The Rev. Bill Britton

Clergy on Call Ministries, Lynbrook

Years ago my wife and I went to the “Spanish-included version” of West Side Story. I’m from the Midwest, and her family came from Puerto Rico. My quite unrelated thought at the time was, “I could use some of this material in my wedding ceremonies.” I started suggesting that to my couples, and eventually a very musical bride and groom from Manhattan decided to use it in their Central Park wedding. We stood together in the Central Park Ladies Pavilion, with curious New Yorkers and tourists looking on, and he sang, “Make of our hands one hand/Make of our hearts one heart/Make of our vows one last vow: Only death will part us now.” Then she sang, “Make of our lives one life,” etc. And then they sang together. It was the couple’s own “West Side Story,” and it was a very special, even sacred moment for everyone involved. Last week another couple stood under a makeshift arch on a beach on Peconic Bay and riffed on Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s words as they promised life together without possessing, demanding or controlling — with realistic expectations, and embracing the unknown. They and their two children tied a sailor’s knot to symbolize their commitment to each other — a beautiful act exquisitely framed by the beauty of the bay.

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