Planning Your Wedding Ceremony

By Pastor Mike Cassara

Congratulations! You are engaged. Now the planning begins for your special day. A significant part of your wedding day is the ceremony itself. As you plan your wedding and all the details of this special day, keep in mind that it all begins with your ceremony. 

There are several important questions to answer in the early stages of planning the entire day.

Will your ceremony occur at a house of worship or the reception venue? 

Over the past twenty years, there has been a significant shift from ceremonies held at places of worship toward ceremonies held at the reception location. Most wedding venues now feature a beautiful and dedicated area to have a wedding ceremony, which is more convenient for guests, the bridal party, and the couple. Yet, many couples prefer to have the ceremony take place at their own house of worship. If you are actively involved in a church, synagogue, or mosque, look at both options as you plan your day. Does your house of worship allow wedding ceremonies to take place in their facility? If so, what are their requirements for having the ceremony at their location, and is your date open and available on their calendar? You should also look at the available ceremony area at your reception venue. While many venues have created dedicated areas for wedding ceremonies, other venues have yet to do so. They may have an area to offer for the ceremony but it may not be visibly adequate. Choose the ceremony location carefully and well in advance of your wedding day.

Who will officiate your ceremony?

Options range from inviting a professional wedding officiant to perform your ceremony to having a qualified government official perform the ceremony to even having a friend or family member conduct your ceremony. With a professional wedding officiant, you have someone who has years of experience in the wedding industry. You will work with your officiant to create a personalized and unique ceremony that you can be confident will be delivered in a timely and enthusiastic manner.  Most professional officiants have plenty of on-line reviews for you to examine. They can conduct both religious and non-religious ceremonies. 

Another option is to invite a government official to conduct the ceremony, such as a Justice of the Peace, a Judge, or a Notary Public. Generally, this option will be less expensive than hiring a professional wedding officiant but you will not have much input regarding the ceremony. They tend to be cookie-cutter, one size fits all ceremony.  

Your other option is to invite a friend or family member to officiate your ceremony. If you go this route, the person must be ordained as a minister. There are several online options to accomplish this but not all jurisdictions recognize ceremonies conducted by people who’ve been ordained online by a “church” that exists solely to ordain people to be ministers for a fee. You should also consider how the person’s lack of experience will affect the ceremony. How will the ceremony be created and will the delivery flow well? This option may seem like a good idea early on but it comes with significant risks. If you wouldn’t invite a friend to buy a camera and be your photographer, or purchase a sound speaker and be your DJ, why would you invite a person who has no experience officiating wedding ceremonies to conduct your ceremony?

Plan to book your officiant at least six months in advance.

Will your ceremony be more traditional in style or more laid back and contemporary? 

A professional wedding officiant can guide you through the process of setting the style and tone of your ceremony. They will ask questions to get a feel for the mood you hope to achieve. Most professional officiants will provide you a ceremony planning booklet from which you will select various items to include in your ceremony. I recommend ceremonies last somewhere between 12 and 22 minutes. The length of the ceremony will always depend on what the couple wants to include or exclude from their ceremony.

Who will coordinate your bridal party during the ceremony?

Most couples invite friends or family to serve as bridesmaids, groomsmen, Maid of Honor, or Best Man. Depending on the size of your bridal party, you may need someone to coordinate the processional (entry) and recessional (exit) of the party.  If you hire a Wedding Coordinator to oversee the whole day, that person or their assistant will coordinate your bridal party. If you do not hire a Wedding Coordinator, then you want to make sure someone is designated to instruct and assist the bridal party regarding timing and where to stand during the ceremony. Some officiants will provide this service for an additional fee. Often, the venue can offer someone to provide this service. Some DJ’s will also provide coordinating services. Be sure to select someone qualified to provide this vital service.

Will you have a rehearsal before the day of the ceremony? 

If you have a medium (3-4) or large (5+) bridal party per side, a rehearsal may be a good idea, especially if you have a ceremony that involves others besides the officiant and the couple. Generally, whoever will coordinate the bridal party on your wedding day will conduct and lead the rehearsal. You also want to inquire about additional fees for having a rehearsal. Your officiant, coordinator, or venue may charge you for the rehearsal time. Many couples do not have a rehearsal before the wedding day, especially if they have a small (2 or less per side) bridal party. Instead, the person coordinating the bridal party will meet with your bridal party about 30 minutes before the start of the ceremony to give them their instructions. This saves time and potentially money if it works for you. 

Your ceremony begins the public part of your wedding day. It’s the moment you express your love for one another and vow your life to each other. A well-planned and conducted ceremony sets the tone for the rest of the event. Be sure to give the ceremony the priority it deserves.