The Ethical Culture Wedding Ceremonyby Dr. Joseph Chuman -- Leader, Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County - Written in 1997
The wedding ceremony reflects the humanistic values of Ethical Culture, and the joy and significance of the occasion. The focus is on the couple -- their values, commitments and styles -- and on the ideals of Ethical Culture as they pertain to marriage.
A successful way of giving the ceremony this personal dimension is by inviting the couple to collaborate with the Leader in its creation. Among elements which couples may include in the ceremony are the following: An initial greeting to guest; brief talks by friends/relatives (no more than six is best); An instrumental or vocal piece as part of the ceremony; a ceremony within the ceremony such as lighting a single candle, drinking wine from a common goblet, etc.; composing and speaking vows which they have created; recommending concepts to be included by the Leader in his/her presentation.
Ethical Culture wedding ceremonies express a warm and simple dignity, with values and personalism that can be appreciated by all. But it must be emphasized that Ethical Culture wedding ceremonies are humanistic ceremonies. It is, therefore, outside the scope of Ethical Culture to include prayer or theistic references. Ethnic and cultural expressions expressing the backgrounds of the couple may be factored into the ceremony. The professional association of Ethical Culture Leaders is committed to the legalization of gay and lesbian marriage. We welcome same sex couples for "ceremonies of commitment" in the absence of legal sanctions.
Policies, Procedures and FeesMy policy is to meet with the couple at least once, and almost always twice. The first meeting provides an opportunity to discuss Ethical Culture, the ceremony, legal requirements, and to get to know each other. At this meeting I introduce the elements of the ceremony, as sketched above, and ask the couple to help plan the particular of the ceremonies. We meet a second time, usually within a week or two of the ceremony, to confirm details and resolve issues and problems that may have been raised in the initial meeting. Wedding ceremonies in New Jersey and New York require a marriage license and two witnesses to sign it, in addition to myself. New Jersey requires blood tests; New York State does not. The signing of the license and payment usually take place following the ceremony.
I have no established fee. I accept whatever falls within the economic capacity of the couple. Additional factors which govern consideration of the fee might include distance traveled and proportion to the overall cost of the wedding. In recent years I have generally received payment within the $175 -- $300 range. But it must be emphasized that no one is turned away because of financial limitations.
Outline of the CeremonyEthical Culture ceremonies have no required "liturgical" format. A plan such as the following is aesthetically appropriate:
Ceremonies are usually 20 - 30 minutes. The outline above provides suggestions only. Couples may choose to include all of them, none, or some as their wishes guide them. The spoken elements of the ceremony are the Leader's primary focus. Issues involving orchestration such as the processional, recessional, receiving lines, etc. are left exclusively to the couple. The Leader is prepared, however, to discuss all issues pertaining to the entire ceremony, as well as marriage.
How Is Ethical Culture Religious?Ethical Culture holds that all people have inherent worth, regardless of their background, station in life or contribution to society. This means, at a minimum, that we not violate others or ourselves. Non-violation is not enough, however. Ethical Culture teaches that we must act in a positive way to support others to realize their potentials, and in their ethical growth.
A sense of the religious emerges from more sensitively recognizing, appreciating, evoking and celebrating the humanity that resides in all people. Ethical Culture is also deeply committed to appreciating the natural world on which we depend.
The humanism of Ethical Culture is non-theistic. While it does not technically deny the existence of a Supreme Being, Ethical Culture does not concern itself with theological issues. Its focus is the human and natural realms, and on the improvement and celebration of the one life we are certain we possess. Ethical Culture is recognized by the government as a religious organization. Its Leaders are legally empowered to officiate at marriage ceremonies.
A Warm Welcome; ConsiderationsThe Ethical Culture Society welcomes those who are married under our auspices to take part in our activities and consider membership in our community. Our regular Sunday morning platform addresses take place at 11:00 am. In addition to our many educational , social, and activists activities, The Society has a rich and engaging Sunday School program for children up to 14, and a youth group for older children. Ethical Culture Leaders also conduct Welcoming Ceremonies for new-borns.
Please call for additional information.
Dr. Joseph Chuman
Leader, Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County
(h) (201) 487-1243
(o) (201) 836-5187
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