Ann asks:

Sarah, I’ve just had a quick look at your website. I noticed you usually stand to the side of your bride and groom, not behind them. It looks really good. I imagine when you first started you tried all spots to stand and this was the best? Any hints on this Sarah?

You’re absolutely right Ann, it took me a bit of trial and error and a lot of talking to other celebrants to figure out where I was most comfortable standing during the ceremony. Let me take you through how I worked it out! But first a reminder that this is the way it works for ME; I’m not saying it’s right or the only way, I’m not saying the other ways are wrong (even though I will tell you why they don’t work for me), I’m simply letting you know that this is how I prefer to operate. Want to know how Josh operates?

When I first started as a celebrant, during my training in particular, I thought all celebrants stood in what I call the “traditional priest position”: between and slightly behind the couple. That’s the way I was trained, it’s  what I assumed from the movies, and it’s where the celebrant who inspired me to become a celebrant stood. 

Traditional priest position. Please excuse my crappy drawings; hopefully you’ll get the idea!

Then I went along to my first wedding officiated by a “younger” celebrant; I had just been registered and Danielle Binaisse was being a huge help to me, and she let me come along to one of her ceremonies. She stood next to the couple, which at the time, quite frankly, I thought was a bit weird. I didn’t understand it, and it wasn’t in keeping with what I was used to. So I asked her why she did it that way. She said she liked the couple to spend some time facing their guests (while she was standing next to them, they were standing next to each other rather than facing each other) while she was telling their story etc, so they could enjoy the reactions of their favourite people. She also said from that position she found it easy to present both to the couple and to the guests. 

Next to the couple

I still thought it was a bit weird, but I tucked it away in my memory for further consideration.

By that time I’d started following other celebrants on social media, and attending some networking events put on by associations, and I started hearing about some celebrants who stood at the end of the wedding party. They felt they were then out of all of the photos of the couple and their attendants. Some of them also said they created a point of focus for the couple, their attendants, and their guests to watch, so that the couple didn’t feel all eyes were on them for the whole ceremony (some couples are very anxious about having everyone looking at them). Again, my personal feeling was that it was weird, but I tucked it away for further consideration. 

At the end of the wedding party

My first “big” wedding was in March 2014 (my first two weddings were essentially legals only ceremonies, so no need to stand anywhere), and as I’d been taught, I stood in the “traditional priest position”. Throughout the ceremony I was distracted by the groom blowing his beer breath in his bride’s face (he thought he was hilarious; she wasn’t quite as convinced), and by them talking and laughing to each other. But the wedding had been generally an unpleasant experience (that’s a story for another post) so I just chalked up my discomfort standing in that position to the general discomfort of the wedding.

The following week I had another wedding, and this time I had more to say as I was telling the couple’s story. Again I stood in the “traditional priest position.” And I hated it. I hated having the couple as a barrier between me and the guests; I didn’t feel I could present to or engage with the guests in any way while I was reciting these gorgeous words I’d spent so much time writing. All I could see was the couple standing in front of me, and I could see that for them facing each other for that length of time was becoming awkward; they pretty much looked anywhere except at each other’s faces. I vowed then and there that I would never stand in that spot again.

The next wedding I decided I was going to try the “next to the couple” arrangement I’d seen Danielle use. I encouraged the couple to face their guests for the opening of the ceremony and only face each other for the vows and rings. I stood next to them but not between them, and I felt so much more comfortable. I could present to and engage with both the guests and the couple; I wasn’t in the middle of all of their photos (there was space enough for the photographer to zoom in and just get pics of the couple); and I was still next to them if they needed anything (there were definitely some requests for tissues during that ceremony). I had found my spot!

I usually stood between the groom and the best man; I had seen some photos of the wonderful Andrew Redman standing between the groom and the best man, and because he was wearing a similar suit, he looked like a groomsman. Now it was highly unlikely that in my wardrobe of black dresses I would ever look like a bridesmaid, but I still wanted to avoid that, as well as avoid standing on the bride’s dress, so my preference was to stand between the groom and the best man.

Yes, my PA is in a very ugly spot here; the chapel at Bramleigh Receptions is tricky for PA placement!
Photo: Michael Briggs Photography
Standing between the groom and the groomsman.
Photo: Lucy Spartalis of She Takes Pictures He Makes Films

During the vows and the rings, I moved to stand behind the person speaking so I could hold the microphone for them, but I still didn’t stand between the couple; I would hide myself behind the appropriate person as much as possible (obviously I will never be able to completely hide myself behind a person, but it’s the thought that counts!).

Standing behind the person speaking to hold the microphone and feed her the ring ceremony wording, a few words at a time.
Photo: Yarra Valley Wedding Photography by Rick Liston
Standing behind the person speaking to hold the microphone while he reads from one of my handmade vow cards.
Photo: Michael Briggs Photography

I was still curious about the “end of the wedding party” choice. I wasn’t convinced about the “not being in any photos” thing; I felt that they couldn’t get married without me, and there would be hours of opportunities for them to have photos without me in them, so I wasn’t too fussed about being in some of their ceremony photos. I felt like I might be too far away from the couple if they needed anything; I see part of my job on the day is to look after the couple as much as it is to present their ceremony, and if I was at the end of the wedding party I wouldn’t be able to hear them if they needed to ask for a tissue or for a pause to collect themselves etc. But I was interested in the opportunity for a different presentation style, one where turning to face the couple wouldn’t mean turning so severely away from the guests. But I wasn’t entirely prepared to move away from my preferred option.

Until one day I had to. The groom had his twin brother as the best man, and just as the processional was about to start he whispered to me, “I really need to stand next to my brother for support, can you please swap with him?” Sure thing; I’m all about whatever the couple wants and needs. I decided that rather than standing one removed from the groom (who had six groomsmen) I would take myself down to the end of the line and see how it felt. And I hated it. I felt so removed from the couple, I didn’t feel like I could engage with them at all, and it didn’t feel any easier to present than my usual spot did. 

I wasn’t keen on standing in that position again, but a couple I worked with in 2017 asked me to. At the rehearsal I was showing everyone how we would stand, and I moved to the bride’s side this time because she had one less bridesmaid than the number of groomsmen (I like to balance things out wherever I can). The groom said they’d worked so hard to choose bridesmaid dresses that complemented the bride’s dress, and he didn’t like the look me in the middle of that. So I moved to the end. Again, I hated it. I couldn’t see the couple from where I was standing; there was limited space and if I’d moved forward out of the line of bridesmaids, I would have blocked the view of some of the guests. 

Standing at the end of the bridesmaids.
Photo: ATEIA Photography & Video 

So I’m back to my preferred position, between one party and their attendants. If there is only one attendant on each side I’ll often stand at the far end of them, because then there’s only one person between me and the couple and I still feel like I’m close enough to engage with and look after the couple. But any more than that, my preference is between one party and their attendants for the majority of the ceremony, behind the speaker to hold the microphone for vows and rings, and get the hell out of the way for the kiss 🙂 

When it comes down to it I actually move around quite a lot during the ceremony, and I think that it’s important for celebrants not to feel “stuck” in one position. It’s okay to move to where we’re needed at any given time. Our feet are not concreted to the ground! 

For all new and continuing celebrants out there, feel free to give different things a shot and see how they feel. A lot of the way I present my ceremonies has been decided through trial and error over the last almost five years, figuring out what feels comfortable for me and my couples. Of course if a couple has a specific preference, and they’re not convinced by my explanations for my preferences, I’ll go along with whatever they want. But all things being equal, I have a way I like to do things, and I’m sure you will all figure out your preferred way of doing things too.