Jeff, a Canadian celebrant, asks:
I’m wondering what sections you two include in your ceremonies? I have a very similar trajectory for each ceremony, and add or subtract (readings etc) based on what the couple are looking for, but was wondering how others on the other side of the world do it!
Sarah answered Jeff’s question already, so I thought I’d weigh in as my ceremony creation method is a little different to Sarah’s and Jeff’s.
My entire method is focused on personal vows being the peak of the ceremony, based on the premise that there’s nothing good I can say that is better than anything you could say in your ceremony. So my job is to create an atmosphere for you to exchange vows in, bring you to that moment, and bring you out of that moment.
Before the ceremony
I gather the crowd together, get them seated as well as I can and give them a preflight instruction:
- An encouragement to be with us in the ceremony, not just physically, but emotionally. If something good happens, clap, if something emotional happens, cry, just respond to the ceremony. Let us know that you care and that you’re here.
- An encouragement to put phones and cameras away because it’s really hard to be present and responding to the ceremony if you’re trying to take photos. Luckily for us we’ve got Lauren here to take photos, etc.
- An encouragement to make some noise as the couple enter the ceremony.
This is stage one in creating an atmosphere for vow exchange, one that feels natural, organic, warm, and friendly so the couple feel empowered to do something important.
This is also a side note that is important: I make changes to the ceremony location, seating, where we’re standing, etc, so that we’re not too close but more importantly, not too far away from the guests. There’s a sweet spot for feeling comfortable. Too far away and it feels like a stage performance that most people would feel awkward in, too close, and well, it feels too close.
Leading into the ceremony
People walk in, I encourage the crowd to make them feel welcome.
I treat the crowd like adults by not telling them when to stand and sit because this isn’t a church and I’m not their mum.
I ask the DJ or musician to leave the music playing at full volume until I start talking then they can start fading out. My voice is louder than their music overt the PA, but I won’t be forced into a ceremony by the DJ, I’ll decide when to start once the couple are comfortable.
And I’ll usually start on a line not dissimilar to “If you are here to celebrate Jack and Jill getting married, and if you think it’s good, then let’s begin with an earth-shattering round of applause” so that serves as a segue between the entry and the ceremony.
Beginning the ceremony
I have three things I want to achieve before we enter the middle of the ceremony.
- Let the crowd know why they are there
- Let the couple know that we are all supporting them
- Tell the couple what marriage is
So I’ll begin by talking about how marriages don’t exist in a vacuum, but they exist in community, and we have gathered our community together for this occasion, and that the fact that Jack and Jill are standing here today is their fault because they made them who they are. Depending on the crowd and the couple’s feeling towards them I’ll do something around asking them to be their cheer squad, or maybe something about the family, and a commitment around that. It’s a fun but meaningful positioning that communicates to the couple that this isn’t just any wedding, but an important wedding and a marriage that they are privileged to be invested in.
My goal here is to communicate how simple yet important their marriage is.
Simple because I desperately want for their marriage to be a blessing to them, emotionally and intellectually, something that empowers them and makes them better. Important for the same reasons.
In Australian marriage ceremonies here I’ll work in the monitum as well, as demonstrated here.
I’ll segue from the monitum into the middle of the ceremony by discussing how all of the rituals, traditions, bridal gowns and suits in the world don’t make you married, but your words do.
It’s around here that I’ll use that segue to invite a reading up if there is one. Often there is no reading.
From the reading I’ll give the couple to exchange vows, highlighting that this is just the beginning of their story and the secret to a good marriage is to continue speaking it into life as you are about to do right now.
The couple will exchange personal vows that I’ve helped them write, and then after the personal vows I’ll get them to exchange rings as they exchange the Australian legal vows.
Sometimes there’s a reading that is appropriate at the end of the ceremony, so we’ll do that now.
My final encouragement is to tell the couple that I, and their friends and family are really proud of them, and to pronounce them whatever they’re being pronounced, aka married.
Sometimes I’ll do the signing straight away before the couple leave the ceremony, sometimes I’ll do it 10/15 minutes later.
They walk down the aisle and the music plays.