Gift Guide

Vows: The African-American Couples' Guide to Designing a Sacred Ceremony


In 1993 Harriette Cole wrote Jumping the Broom, the first wedding guide specifically for African-American couples, showing them how to create a wedding that honored their culture and heritage. In her new book, Vows, Cole turns her attention to the heart of the special day: the wedding ceremony.

With everything that is involved in planning a wedding, it is easy to get so caught up in all the details of the celebration that you lose sight of the significance of what you are ...

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In 1993 Harriette Cole wrote Jumping the Broom, the first wedding guide specifically for African-American couples, showing them how to create a wedding that honored their culture and heritage. In her new book, Vows, Cole turns her attention to the heart of the special day: the wedding ceremony.

With everything that is involved in planning a wedding, it is easy to get so caught up in all the details of the celebration that you lose sight of the significance of what you are actually doing — committing to make a life together. In this beautiful volume, Cole gives you the guidance and inspiration you need to focus your energy on the spiritual and sacred aspect of your wedding day. Chapters include:

Reflecting on Your Commitment: What does marriage mean to each of you? How can you honor and express to your community the life you intend to create and share?

Ceremonial Rituals from Around the World: A selection of wedding traditions to inspire you.

Writing Your Own Wedding Vows: Vows from many traditions and religions, as well as guidelines for transforming your feelings for each other into words.

Illuminated by anecdotes from couples remembering their own weddings, and illustrated with beautiful black-and-white photographs by George Chinsee, Vows is a book every African-American couple must have.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A companion volume to Cole's Jumping the Broom, which dealt with the material and physical details of a wedding, this planner encourages couples to focus on the spiritual aspects of their special day. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781422353806
  • Publisher: DIANE Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 7/28/2006
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Reflecting on Your Commitment

I've spent a lot of time talking with couples who are married as well as with those who are planning to marry. My great curiosity has been about what makes a marriage last. We know that statistics tell us to take heed: About 50 percent of all marriages in America end in divorce. How shall we consider this statistic? Some long-married couples and clerics take the high road. Looking at the glass as half full, they marvel that many couples remain steadfast in their pledges to one another in a culture that lives on fast-food thinking and lures people toward quick fixes and the ever present need for change.

My research shows that the couples who make it are the ones who decide from the start (and continue to make that choice) that they are in a partnership. There's a reason why many wedding vows speak of "through sickness and in health" and "for richer or poorer." Life doesn't follow the plan that we've had in our heads from childhood -- or even from last year. Yes, it's important to create a road map for our lives. And it's also vital to remember that the road may curve differently than we intended. When we travel that road with a partner, we must bear in mind that their companionship can be a great gift and a challenge along the way. I spoke to Wilbur Levin, county clerk, Kings County, Brooklyn, New York; he occasionally officiates at civil ceremonies. Married for sixty years, Levin speaks of marriage both eloquently and practically. He says, "You have to work hard to make a marriage a success. The dividends from a happy marriage far exceed the dividends from anything else you do in life. It behooves you to work hard at it." He continues, "People should know that not everything is going to go well. Life can deal some terrible blows to people. There are all kinds of trials and tribulations that come your way when you're married, and no one has a pat hand. You have to know that if you're going to get married, it's going to happen and you have to be prepared to cope with it together as a team. That's what you are pledging to do, and if you don't mean to do it, then you really shouldn't get married."

Getting married is a sacred and sober experience. The goal of marriage is to join two well-suited people together for life in a bond of love, trust, fidelity, and happiness. Perhaps the most important action you can take before getting married is to reflect on your commitment and honestly consider if you are ready for married life. Reverend Calvin O. Butts, of the world renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, says that many couples today don't have a clue as to what marriage means. Often they are so excited about the physical aspect of their relationship and about how much fun they are having that they don't stop to consider the emotional and moral maturity involved. Having pastored hundreds of married couples as well as being married more than thirty years himself, Butts knows of what he speaks.

Before sealing your union, look beyond the romantic and physical feelings to what it means to live together every day.

Do this through daily contemplation and journaling. Both of you can begin journals to be devoted solely to the exploration of your life together. From the moment that the two of you begin to discuss marriage, even if your discussion is as straightforward as, "Will you marry me?" followed by, "Yes," begin this exploration. Why? You want to make it your business to understand what yes means to each of you. So often people make the assumption that the way they believe is the way their partner believes. That simply isn't so. Each of us grows up with a particular value system, spiritual foundation, and way of looking at the world. Outline what you believe your way of understanding the world is, including your expectations of marriage -- your role, your partner's role, your duties and responsibilities, as well as your partner's. Be clear and precise as you make your list.

Premarital counseling is a good way to support your choice to marry. If you are planning to marry within the context of a spiritual tradition, your officiant likely will require that you engage in counseling with him or her. If you are having a secular wedding, reach out to a therapist, minister, or other trained person to discuss your life's goals and intentions. This is a vital part of establishing the foundation of your relationship. Many couples have found that they've been able to work through serious issues early on that have saved them agony later down the line. Others have decided not to marry based on the challenges they were unable to overcome during their counseling sessions.

To give you a sense of what to expect during spiritual premarital counseling, Reverend James Forbes of the Riverside Church in Harlem shares the substance of the process through which he takes couples. Reverend Forbes believes it's essential that you look honestly at your individual selves to discover who you are, what your values are, and how well you mesh before you decide to marry. He says, "Because couples are now basically navel-gazing at each other, they tend sometimes to forget about the larger context. You don't just marry couples, you marry the couple's families and friends." Topics and issues Forbes explores and discusses with the couple include the definition of love, personal and family backgrounds, communication, personality traits, family and friends, finances, and faith -- for example:

  • Describe your background up to this point. Listen to each other as you share your stories.
  • Share your family history. How many siblings do you have, and what are your relationships with them? Describe your relationship with your parents. What was it like growing up in your home? What values did you learn there?
  • How comfortable are you listening to your partner share his or her life history? Do you provide encouragement, or are you judgmental?
  • Do you genuinely love each other? How do you understand that love? How do you express it?
  • How do you define romantic love in general and specifically in your relationship? What do you like, and what troubles you in this area? What do you expect from each other as lovers?
  • Does your concept of love have any space for the acknowledgment of the dissatisfactions that come in life? Can you give examples of how you love during conflict?
  • In what way is your love rooted and grounded in your experience of God's love for you?
  • Do you love yourself? How would you describe self-love in your own life? Do you think it's important to love yourself as you prepare for marriage?
  • How do you communicate with one another? Is one of you talkative and the other quiet? How satisfied are you with the way your partner handles conflict?
  • How do you deal with intense pleasure or satisfaction? Do you share the high points? If so, how well do you do that? Do you celebrate with each other?
  • What are the defining characteristics of your style of communication? Is there anything you would like to change or that your partner would like for you to change?
  • Could you stand your partner if he or she never changed a thing? How much do you grant your partner freedom for his own friends or her own friends? What standards of intimacy do you have? What would be a violation of the freedom in relationships? Female friends? What about male friends? After work?
  • Do you know the point at which you have violated the expectations of the other?
  • Must your friendships overlap? Can they be separate? How about family?
  • Do you enjoy being with family? Can you handle the negativity that may come from different family members about your partner or your relationship -- among them, the notion of this man stealing their lonely little pearl!
  • Now it's time to talk about finances and your relationship with money. What are your expectations about how your expenses will be handled? Who is responsible for what? Will you share your resources?
  • Do you have shared or differing perspectives on material things? What about your differences in taste? What's your concept of waste? What kind of frugality are you hoping for from your mate?
  • Do you want to go first class just because you can, or do you want to go coach even if you could afford first class?
  • How many homes do you need? How many cars? Will you have the same bank account? Are you going to share? Is it all right for the woman to have some mad money? Is it all right for the man to have some mad money? Will you vacation together? How do you feel about separate vacations?
  • Regarding your faith, what is your religious background? What do you intend for it to be if you hope to be together? If you are of the same denomination, the same faith tradition, how will you protect the freedom of the other? How will you share in the richness of the other person's practices if you do not share a faith tradition? What about your children? What are the means by which you as a family will renew your spiritual resources?
  • Will you have prayer at home? Will you have a regular Bible reading? Will you go to church together? How do you plan to nourish the invisible dimension that probably has more to do than the visible one with how your love is going to be sustained? How do you work through that kind of thing?
  • Do you have any specific requests about the service for your wedding?
  • What vows would you like to say? If you intend to write your own vows, what message do you want to convey?

You can reflect on and answer these questions in advance of a counseling session. Discuss them with your prospective mate. You can write in your journal to explore your thoughts and feelings. Whether you participate in this exercise singly or together, give yourselves the gift of talking them out with an adviser as well. Someone trained in counseling couples as they contemplate marriage can be useful in helping you to unmask any lingering issues you may have and provide a clear-eyed view of what your life together may be like. By doing so you will be clarifying your conviction to marry and fortifying your commitment.

As your vision of your life together crystallizes, you also will begin to recognize what images and words best describe your relationship. Write them down as precisely as you can. Make the effort to paint a picture with your words that illustrates what's unique about your relationship. These words will come in handy if you choose to write your own vows. They may also find their way into your wedding program, favors, and other items that you include in your wedding.

Declaring Your Intentions

Once you are clear about your intentions, share them with your loved ones. Although it may seem difficult to wait after he pops the question (or however you two come to the understanding that you want to marry!), do yourselves a favor and hold onto a private block of time when you sit with it and observe each other. When you are ready, with clear focus and resolve, spread the good news. Be mindful that you intend to create a sacred ceremony to honor your union, which means that you won't want to invite everybody you know. For this reason, it's wise to be mindful also of whom you tell the news to. If you share it personally with everyone who somehow touches your world, but you know you don't plan to invite all of those people, later down the line you face a dilemma. Expectations and hurt feelings can be avoided if you are thoughtful about your announcement.

When you do tell others, share your joy and vision for your wedding with reserve. Remember, this is your big day. Until you have all of the plans in place, keep your deepest feelings and dreams to yourselves. That way, you avoid having too many people meddling in your business! Make every step toward your vows a commitment that strengthens the bond between the two of you.

Start with your family. Parents, grandparents, and siblings should receive the information first, preferably as a request for their blessing. Next, tell your closest friends, followed by people you intend to invite to your wedding. Leave your coworkers to as close to the wedding as possible, save for your office confidantes who should be discreet about your news.

Making the Announcement

The formal announcement of a couple's intention to marry is a way of informing the larger community. African tradition calls for family members, often females, to go through the village announcing to everyone that two of its residents are to become one. When two people come from different villages or cities, a public declaration would be made in each hometown.

In America, couples sometimes announce their engagement through the local newspaper and often have an engagement party or other announcement event. Many couples keep their news more private, telling only their loved ones.

In the Catholic church, it is required that the engagement be "posted," announced to the public three weeks prior to the wedding (this is called "posting the banns"). This is done to determine if anyone should see reason why the wedding should not take place.

Find out if your religion has requirements or restrictions regarding your announcement. If not, err on the side of discretion. Yes, you can post a public announcement in your newspaper with your photograph. It's best to do this close to the date of your wedding or after, as an acknowledgment that you married. In this way, all can share the joy.

Copyright © 2004 by profundities, inc.

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Table of Contents

A Note of Thanks

The Pledge of Partnership

Reflecting on Your Commitment

Embracing Your Heritage

The Value of Marriage

Elements of Your Sacred Ceremony

Ceremonial Rituals from Around the World

Selecting Your Officiant

Writing Your Own Wedding Vows

Your Wedding Party: Inspiring Others to Serve

Welcoming Children into the Ceremony

Renewing Your Vows

Starting Over

Joining Ceremonies

End Note

The Creative Team



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