The Sign of Peace: A Simple Wedding Ritual to Bring Families Together

There's plenty of reasons why people get married. A wedding ceremony can go many different directions to highlight purpose and make the moment memorable.

As we see it, almost everything that happens within a wedding ceremony falls within three major themes of purpose. One of these is creating connections to community, especially the immediate community that shows up for each partner. The Sign of Peace is an easy way to create fertile ground for these connections within a wedding.

A Wedding Ceremony is an Opportunity

We create “connection” at a wedding to bring families and friends together. Depending on the context, “coming together” could mean fairly different things.

You might be eagerly anticipating the moment your grandpa meets your new father-in-law. Or you might be anxious about what will result from having two very different and highly confrontational cousins interact in such close quarters. In the case of interfaith weddings, there may be even more nuanced and interesting implications of this convergence.

Whether you're trying to smooth over potentially rocky confrontations or want to emphasize your excitement at having your guests spend a day of celebration together, the wedding ceremony provides a brief moment of sacred space to intentionally address the people that are there for you.

You can create a special moment in your wedding ceremony just by stopping to have everybody on each side acknowledge each other. This is what the Sign of Peace is all about.

What is the Sign of Peace?

The Sign of Peace is a simple ritual; at the right time, the officiant invites everyone present to stand up and shake hands with guests from the other side.

Shaking hands is an obvious gesture of union. At the same time, centering guests in this way communicates that they are not just passive observers; they are importantly involved in the new life of the couple.

Though we're not sure of the exact origins of this ritual, it might be seen as coming from a similar ritual in Christian, Catholic, Quaker, and non-denominational services where the congregation begins or ends their gathering by standing up and shaking hands with those around them.

How to Include the Sign of Peace in a Ceremony

In what is often the default seating arrangement for ceremonies, the guests and family of each marrying partner are seated on different sides, separated by a center aisle. A Sign of Peace handshake can be striking in this scenario, as it visually indicates the idea of two halves coming together as one.

However, it can get chaotic when people move out of their seats so much. Some options include:

  • Leave the Sign of Peace until the end of the ceremony and keep people standing for the Pronouncement
  • Have a mixed seating arrangement that puts people from both sides next to each other
  • Embrace the messiness of it all and allow people to find new seats other than their assigned seat after they get up

In any case, this is a ritual you want to leave until the last stage of the ceremony, at least until after the Vows and Declaration of Intent, when it is more appropriate to have attention shift away from the couple. The Sign of Peace could work well in conjunction with another unity ritual, serving as an introduction or conclusion for it.

Should You Have a Sign of Peace in Your Ceremony?

The wedding is not only about the lives of two people sailing into the future together; it is a milestone for the couple’s loved ones as well. From two disparate families, a new community forms around the couple. The Sign of Peace could be a great ritual to visually signify this larger union, particularly in the case of interfaith, interracial, and intercultural marriages.

No matter the context, every family is a different tribe. It can be a truly moving scene when groups from different backgrounds meet. This is part of the beauty that is a wedding, and we think this ritual captures it wonderfully.

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Addressing the Expectations of a Mixed-Faith Wedding Ceremony

Interfaith marriages have been on the rise for decades. Recent data indicates that more than 30% of couples married in the last decade are of different faith backgrounds. That's nearly a 2x increase from the approximately 16% of couples in mixed faith marriages before 1972.
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