By popular demand, here it is – Basic Wedding Ceremony Structure 101.
This is the bare bones outline that I use when I’m working with couples to write their wedding ceremony. In our first meeting, I take it out, talk through it, explain the significance and meaning between the various rituals and traditions, answer lots of questions and ask some of my own. From the basic outline, we dive into the whole world of wedding ceremonies – but having that nice firm diving board in the ceremony structure really helps to prepare and better understand where we’re going. As I like to say – we can add anything in, we can take anything out. But I find that sticking to the basic structure helps your guests “follow along” a little more easily, and not get lost in a more unusual ceremony.
This is what works for me – definitely check with the state you are getting married in to make sure that you include any legal requirements for a wedding (in some states, at one point, the bride and groom need to verbally agree to be married (the I Do’s), and there may be specific wording that your officiant will have to use to declare you married). Take from it what you need, and leave the rest out – when it comes down to it – this is your wedding after all!
I don’t do a lot of weddings that include all of these – three full readings, three plus rituals – it’s much more of a guide than a list of things you need to include.
If anyone has any questions please post them in the comments! I’ll be sure to answer them there, so we can all share from each other’s ideas!
Wedding Ceremony Structure 101
Welcoming of the Guests
I enter, usually as the first person in the processional, or I am already standing at the front. I thank everyone for joining us, and ask them to turn off their cell phones!
The entrance of the bridal party (that’s a whole other post!).
In my intro, I welcome the bride and groom to their wedding celebration. I usually say a few words of special thanks to the person who escorted the couple down the aisle (a twist on the “giving away”). Using the bride and groom’s own words and information, I do a special thanks for the guests and family.
Any special rituals or traditions as a special thank you to family members would go here. A popular choice is the flower presentation to the mothers.
If my couple wants to include remembrances, this is where I include them – a brief moment of silence, lighting of a candle, a wine toast, or just me mentioning that they are in our hearts and lives, today and every day. I find at this point it doesn’t bring down the tone of the ceremony too much.
There are a few places for readings, either by your officiant or a reader, scattered throughout the ceremony. I often incorporate pieces of readings into the ceremony itself (the Love Story, Closing Remarks, and Introduction). Not everyone chooses to include readings in their ceremony. I like to break up the readings, not having guests come up one after the other to read – it provides a bit more interest and also helps to break up the ceremony so your officiant isn’t just gabbing the whole time! I think making ceremonies as “interactive” as possible is really important.
Love Story, or Address
For my couples, I write an original Love Story – the story of them, their relationship (how they met, how they fell in love, all of that fun stuff). I always end it with what they love about each other, and their hopes and dreams for the future. They’re always funny and touching, and incredibly personalized for each wedding I do.
Sometimes, the couple prefers not to have a Love Story, and I will do a reading here, one that has a tone that fits the wedding, and share some personal comments connecting the reading to the bride and groom’s relationship and marriage.
For a more traditional wedding, this is where the sermon or homily would go.
This is the “I do!” part of a wedding. I have the couple turn towards one another, take hands, and I ask them some very important questions about marriage. If they agree to them – they say some kind of positive affirmation (Yes! I do! Thumbs Up!). Sometimes, I have couples who will write these themselves, and combine them with the vows.
Wine Ceremony or Other Unity Ritual
This is the place for a unity ritual that symbolizes the life that the bride and groom will share together. Wine ceremonies, presentation of gifts or flowers to each other, tree planting – those are the kind of rituals that go at this point.
Either read by the bride and the groom to each other, or done “repeat after me” style with the officiant.
Short ring vows are usually chosen to repeat as the bride and groom place the ring on each other’s fingers.
Any unity ritual that symbolizes the bride and groom joining together or the merging and blending of two families would go here. Unity candles, sand ceremonies, hand fasting, garland exchanges, signing of a marriage license.
A final blessing could go here as well. I like to bring back important elements of the Love Story, or include a short poem or advice. In a Jewish-inspired wedding, I would include a version of the seven blessings here.
Declaration of Marriage
The bride and groom are declared husband and wife. And then they kiss!
Breaking of the Glass/Jumping the Broom
There are a few rituals that take place right after the declaration of marriage.
I’ll talk about this with my processional post – but basically, the bride and groom exit, go out, and party!!