Maybe it’s the DIY-er in me (Kirkus Indie editor, self-published author, duct-tape aficionado), but as my wedding day approached this past July, I grew increasingly anxious about the marriage-industrial complex, that gaggle of artisanal mercenaries you need for the rings, tux, dress, cake, flowers, photos, music and more necessary to pull off this supposedly intimate, emotional merging of two souls.

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I’m no masochist, so it’s not like we were really going to do everything ourselves (and my fiancée handled the lion’s share of the arrangements, fueled by stacks of bridal magazines and regular doses of Say Yes to the Dress—at least it wasn’t Bridezillas). But I didn’t want to hand the ceremony itself—the holy of holies—over to a stranger.

I had already clashed with my in-laws over my groomsmen’s attire (I say what better time than a wedding to wear a tuxedo T-shirt?), so I was a little concerned about their reaction to our officiant being my brother, a minister ordained by the Universal Church of Life (re: got it on the Internet).

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But my fiancée and I aren’t regular churchgoers, so it’s not like we had a deep pool of familiar clergy from which to draw. And my brother is actually an assistant county attorney, which added a nice touch of gravitas and made it easier for my in-laws to take it in stride. So I was thrilled that such a nerve-wracking, life-defining moment would be attended to by my own flesh and blood.

Even with a bosom officiant locked in, there was still the matter of the ceremony’s content. My brother e-mailed a copy of the standard script he had used in previous ceremonies, encouraging my bride and I to adjust it as needed. The script was fine, but it didn’t quite capture our feelings regarding the auspicious occasion. But how do you go about writing your own wedding ceremony?

It’s a poorly kept secret about the book-reviewing biz that we’re all in it for the free books (just ask our owner, Herb Simon, who eagerly rifles through the shelves of our New York office whenever he’s in town). It can be a double-edged sword; I take home tons (probably literally) of great reading material, but with a personal library that has steadily swollen since college, exacerbated by a stint working at a used bookstore and the regular flow from my Kirkus gig, not to mention moving in with another avid reader, books now fill and spill from the bookshelves in our apartment, growing in piles on any flat surface like the whole place has been coated by the spores of some biblio-fungus.

But among this horde of books was exactly what I was looking for—Dayna Reid’s Sacred Ceremony, which had come through Kirkus Indie a few months prior and received a review calling it “a nuts-and-bolts primer on fashioning the architecture and words for your marriage” that was “sweet as the cake and smooth as the silk.”

Initially, I had grabbed the book out of an impulse to contribute to my bride-to-be’s general amassing of nuptial paraphernalia, but flipping through it, I found passages that really struck a chord, particularly Reid’s opening remark that “there are many elements to choose from when creating your ceremony, but there are only two elements that are legally required.” Hearing the bare minimum legal requirements for something is music to a DIY-er’s ears, especially when there’s a party full of friends and family and an open bar waiting on the other side of the task at hand.

We stripped my brother’s standard service to its fundamentals—no readings or lighting candles or songs, except the processional and recessional played on acoustic guitar by my other brother, who had been married by our mutual minister brother the summer before (we do it ourselves a lot in my family). So we barely tapped into what Reid’s book had to offer, just choosing an address that elegantly summarized our thoughts on marriage and a selection of “non-spiritual wishes” for the couple, to be delivered by the officiant on behalf of those assembled.

We wrote our own vows, as we’re both writers and performers and couldn’t imagine saying someone else’s words in such a personal moment. I edited some of the selections slightly, mostly out of compulsion (what’s the old adage? “Editors edit”—OK, maybe that’s a new adage). But Reid is clear upfront that her book is a guide, a jumping-off point, and readers should make the ceremony their own, tweaking and rearranging—unless they want to take text verbatim, which, of course, is also perfectly acceptable. Reid also adds the encouraging tip that “the original meaning of the word ‘minister’ is ‘servant,’ ” and therefore finding “an officiant who is eager to serve you” will ensure that “your wedding day will be a beautiful one for everyone.” And it was. 

At the reception, we received lots of compliments about the ceremony. When it was all said and done, we felt hoodwinked by our DJ (despite giving him a list of songs we wanted to hear, he insisted on playing a party mix that cleared the dance floor on multiple occasions) and the photographer (who is essentially holding our underwhelming photos hostage while she seeks their publication in wedding magazines and websites—if you think paying a photographer to take photos of an event that you paid to host means that you have any rights to the photos, you are sadly mistaken). But thanks to a game family and Reid’s helpful text, the ceremony was exactly how we wanted it.

Perry Crowe is the Indie Editor at Kirkus.