Couples sometimes ask me how their ceremony will flow. They're asking which elements come when, and it's a good question as it allows for everyone to be on the same page. All ceremonies I craft are customized, so sometimes this order changes, and some couples choose to add or eliminate certain elements, but this is the typical order.
How it Starts
The ceremony begins with the processional. This is the name for the ordered and sequential entry of the officiant, special guests, wedding party, and the couple. I enter first and anchor the assembly of everyone else at the front of the ceremony space. Traditionally, following me, the wedding party, ring bearer and flower girl, and couple enter. In a bride-groom wedding the groom is at the front of the ceremony space when the bride enters; same-sex couples are changing this order up, sometimes coming in together.
Another tradition is for the bride’s father to give her away with the officiant asking “who gives this woman?”. Many couples are changing this to “who supports this couple in this marriage?”. To this question the families of both members of the couple reply “we do”. Any variation of this, or eliminating it entirely is completely appropriate. What's most important here is that it is authentic to the couple.
Following the procession it's my job to welcome the guests. In addition to literally saying “welcome” I thank them for joining us and ask them to take their seats. If the couple has asked me to, I will let the guests know that this is an “unplugged” ceremony, reassuring the guests that the photographer will take killer photos that the couple will share.
Getting Into It
Following the welcome I begin the invocation. This is made up of two components: the couple’s love story and a comment on the solemn nature of marriage. I like to remind the guests of how the couple met, how they grew together, fond memories, and perhaps include a humorous anecdote. I also frame the rest of the ceremony at this time, pointing out that a wedding is both a declaration to the public, as well as to each other off the couple’s commitment.
Readings provide a glimpse into the couple’s personality by reflecting what appeals to them. A reading also provides a bit of breathing room after talking about the seriousness of the pledge the couple is about to make. Whether the couple has a loved one do the reading or I read, and whether it's religious or not, I follow the reading with a few comments. I point out what the reading can teach us about love, commitment, and so on.
If the couple chooses to include a prayer, I usually place it before the vows and right after the readings. Again, sometimes offered by a loved one and sometimes I recite it. I always work closely with the couple to find a prayer that speaks to them and reflects their faith, of they choose to include one.
If the couple decided to include a unity element in their ceremony, it usually goes here. There are lots of variants of unity elements, from lighting candles to planting a tree (I love the symbolism of this one).
Then comes the vows. Some couples write their own, and I am always ready to assist them if they wish. The couple can make their vows in one of four ways. The couple can memorize them and recite from memory; I don’t recommend this as it's too easy, amid all the feels, to forget. The couple can read them from vow books. The couple can repeat after I prompt them. Or I can read the vows to each as a question, to which they reply, “I do”. Whatever the format the couple adopts for their vows, the vows are the meat and potatoes of the ceremony!
Rings follow vows. Rings are full of symbolism and are a public and visual reminder of the union. I walk the couple through sliding the rings on each other’s fingers.
The Wrap Up
After rings, I pronounce the couple married under the laws of the state where the wedding is located. This is my favorite part as everyone is glowing! I then tell the couple they may kiss for the first time as newlyweds. I always step to the side for the kiss so as to not photobomb this magical moment. Then the recessional comes when everyone leaves in the reverse order of the processional—off to the party!