- Find the “right” officiant.
This may seem self-serving, but I really don’t mean it that way. I know that I can’t possibly be the right fit for every single couple I meet with! So, by the right officiant, I mean someone who really “gets” what type of ceremony you want, and can help you create that.
My main point about the ceremony is that it should fit your beliefs, values and sensibilities – not necessarily those of the officiant. So, when I meet with a couple, that’s the first thing I say to them. And it also relates to the first questions I ask them – which are about their beliefs and values.
So, it’s important that the officiant you’re interviewing about your wedding listens well – so that he or she truly understands you, and is clear on how you want your ceremony to feel.
One of the things that helps me “listen” to the couples who are exploring hiring me as their officiant is a questionnaire I’ve developed that guides couples through the questions they need to think about as they consider their ceremony. If you’d like a copy of this, just email me, and I’ll send it to you – whether or not you want to work with me. It’s simply a tool to help you get clear about the kind of ceremony that will feel really good to you, and I’m happy for you to have it.
- Consider writing your own vows.
I know – this can sound scary, but personal vows can also be one of the most moving and heartwarming portions of your ceremony. You are unique, and so is your betrothed, so there’s no-one better equipped to say what’s in your heart than you! And them…
You’re able to speak to exactly why you want to marry your partner in a way that someone else never can. And, this “custom” expression of how you feel will most likely be really emotional for your partner, and that depth of feeling will help keep them to be “present” to you and that important moment.
If you want a more traditional ceremony, but still want to include your own personal vows, that can work too. You can have both the traditional vows (whether “repeat after me” or “I do”) and your personal promises to each other.
The personal vows are also a place where you can include a little humor, if it feels right. The right amount of humor can lighten things up a bit, without detracting from the importance of the moment.
- Include music.
Music really is the language of the heart – it can stimulate emotions in ways that words simply cannot do. So, the right piece of music can help everyone there be more “in their hearts than their heads”, which is a good thing in that situation!
As an amateur musician, I admit I have a bias toward live music – even if it’s just a solo acoustic guitarist, for example. And, I understand that may not be in the budget for some.
If you’re hiring a DJ for the reception, they can usually supply a separate sound system for the ceremony, perhaps charging you a bit extra for that service. If you have more than 50 people at your wedding, and it’s outdoors, that sound system can work for the officiant also, so that he or she can be easily heard by everyone. So, it’s a good investment, overall…
- Consider including something that means a lot to you.
This could be a favorite poem, a bible verse, or a particular song or piece of music. For example, at my own wedding, I read a love sonnet by Pablo Neruda – one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets. The only problem was that I could hardly get through it!
- Perhaps include others in the ceremony.
This can be a way of honoring a close friend or family member who means a lot to you, and whom you’d like to be part of your special moment. It can also relate to the above point about including something meaningful to you. In a recent ceremony in which I officiated, the groom’s sister, and the bride’s brother each read something. And then the two mothers participated in a unity candle ceremony. It was lovely.
This can also “break up” the ceremony – in a good way. If others are participating, it’s not just the officiant speaking, and that can help maintain the interest and focus of those attending.
- Consider including some non-verbal elements.
Examples of this are the unity candle ceremony, sand ceremony, or celtic handfasting. These focus the attention of your guests in a way that’s different from the spoken word, and again, these can help break up the ceremony so that folks stay more “engaged” with it.
- Don’t make it too long.
These days, unfortunately, many of us have pretty short attention spans. We’re used to sound bites, and texts, and short communications in general. So, I find, if a ceremony goes much longer than about twenty minutes, people’s attention starts to wander. A sure sign is if guests start to surreptitiously check their phones!
So, in my experience, a ceremony length of fifteen to twenty minutes, or less, is ideal. But, you can say a lot in that length of time…