A decade ago, many young couples went to great lengths to create wedding ceremonies that they could call their very own.
But over the years, a "new liturgy" has come to replace the old, and -- much to the dismay of many local ministers -- couples can now create modern-style wedding ceremonies wthout really thinking about what the ceremonies mean.
"Couples today plan their wedding ceremonies the way you'd select from a Chinese menu," said the Rev. Harry Green of All Souls Unitarian Church, who performs about 50 weddings a year.
When couples approach Green to be married, he said he pulls out a file of wedding liturgies to guide them in writing their own. But invariably, he said, they are content to choose passages from his samples, occasionally adding words of their own.
"The Wedding Song," "More" and "We've Only Just Begun" have taken their place alongside the traditional wedding marches by Wagner and Mendelssohn. The poetry of Shakespeare, Kahlil Gibran and T. S. Eliot is now regularly read along with the scriptures.
Anita Glick and Richard Bradshaw, whom Green will marry tomorrow, say they are pleased with the ceremony they put together from Green's "Chinese menu."
After sifting through sample ceremonies and poetry books for a month, Glick said she "plagiarized, edited," wrote her vows and "ended up with a ceremony so beautiful, my fiance stood there and cried when he read it."
Couples marrying in the Catholic or Jewish faith have more restrictions on what they can add or delete, but they also tend to stick with standard liturgies whenever possible, according to rabbis and priests.
"We lean on them to think about what it is they want to say, what makes them unique as a couple," said Georgetown University Catholic chaplain Jerome Hall. It's worrisome, Hall said, when couples come in filled with thoughts of bridesmaid's dresses and invitations, when they haven't given a thought to the ceremony.
Hail encourages couples to weave their strengths into the wedding ceremony," "so that later, when the marriage is falling apart they can lean on" the qualities they've already pinpointed.
Some ministers see the trend toward standard ceremonies not as laziness but a shift among the young toward the traditional in all aspects of life.
One minister, from what he calls a very traditional Episcopal church, said couples complain that liturgies aren't traditional enough, and that he usually has to force them to choose their own wedding vows.
The Revs. Theodore Eastman of St. Alban's and Jack Woodard of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal churches said that couples are simply satisfied with liturgies offered in the new Book of Common Prayer, and are happy to avoid writing their own ceremonies from scratch.
Over the past few years, the Book of Common Prayer and other standard liturgies have themselves become more modern, with brides no longer having to promise to obey their husbands and references to "man and wife" becoming "husband and wife."
The couples who do write their own ceremonies are frequently interfaith ones, who want to tiptoe around potentially explosive issues for their families. When Sheila and Allan Lichtman were married recently, they said they avoided hurting her Baptist minister father and his Jewish family by writing an "a-religious" liturgy. "And everyone was quite happy," Sheila said.