Lauren and Tom were married at the English Manor in Ocean, NJ, on the Saturday of what had been an incredibly rainy and dreary week.  But, thankfully, the clouds stayed away, and we could have the ceremony in the beautiful gardens out back.

Lauren & Tom

Lauren and Tom have a really incredibly Love Story – they met in their English class, their freshman year of high school – and for Tom, it was love at first sight.  He has been in love with her from the moment he met her.  They were friends in high school, then lost touch after graduation.  When their ten year high school reunion rolled around – Tom had no intention of going.  But he decided to look up the one person he wished was still in his life – and found Lauren. How sweet is that!

It is so obvious to anyone who meets Lauren and Tom how freaking in love they are. In fact, that’s one of the requests Tom put in his homework – “If they remember one thing for the rest of their lives I want them to remember that at least once in their lives they saw two people who defined love.”

They wrote their own vows and we also incorporated a handfasting, where they repeated vows while bound together.

After the ceremony, Lauren told me that everyone was telling her it was a lovely ceremony, but she admitted she hadn’t heard a single word of it – she was just waiting for me to pronounce them husband and wife!

If that doesn’t say love… I don’t know what does.

So much LOVE and congratulations to you, Lauren and Tom! I have all the faith in the world that you’re going to spend the rest of your lives making each other incredibly happy.

Lauren & Tom

Lauren & Tom

Lauren & Tom

Lauren & Tom

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Before we met to discuss their ceremony, Sarah sent me a basic outline that included the elements and people that she and John knew they wanted to include in their ceremony. I melded this with my basic outline for structure, and so, going into our first meeting, I had a very good idea of what their ceremony was going to be like.

Here is the outline Sarah sent me:

Processional.

Circle of Love:

The bride & groom’s siblings and their family members will walk down the aisle, and place a flower along the edge of the circle, forming a Circle of Love that the couple will be married in.

Groom will enter with his parents.
Bride will enter with her parents.

Welcome Message.

Readings.
Three total.

Tree Planting Ceremony.

Handfasting.

Blessing & Exchange of Rings.

Closing Remarks, Declaration of Marriage, & Kiss!


And here’s the outline that I brought to our meeting:

Welcoming of Guests.

Circle of Love.

Processional.

Introduction.
Explanation of Circle of Love
Welcoming of the Couple
Thanking of Family & Friends.

Love Story.

Reading #1.

Tree Planting Ceremony.

Vows & Ring Ceremony.

Reading #2.

Handfasting.

Reading #3.

Closing Remarks.

Declaration of Marriage.

Recessional.

We talked through the outline, and made some decisions – who would be involved with what, how certain elements would work – and talked through some ideas, so we were on the same page, especially with rituals I had never done before.  I’m excited because they have many friends and family members involved in the ceremony – it’s much less about me standing up there and talking (not that there is anything wrong with that!), and much more about me leading the ceremony, guiding everyone through these steps and creating the ceremony together!

For the tree planting ceremony – I believe that instead of a seeds, they are now going to plant a seedling (a little more visual, PLUS more likely that it’ll be able to grow well!).

Their Circle of Love is my favorite! I think it’s a fabulous way to incorporate a larger group of people in a very intimate way. I suggested this to another one of my couples who had a beach wedding in early May – as each of their guests entered, they were presented with a shell by a groomsmen stationed at the start of the aisle. The guests came to the front, and placed the shell, created a circle of shells and of love that the couple was married in. It was really cool, beautiful, and very personal.

I broke up the readings, and will place them in the ceremony based on their specific context.  I don’t like to have all of the readings come one right after the other in my weddings… I think it helps to keep everything interactive and moving along to break them up and create a narrative flow with them, based on their context.  Sarah & John have asked three of their friends to choose the readings they will be sharing, and we’re keeping them a secret from the bride and groom till the big day!  So I can’t post about the readings until after the ceremony is over!

I also got to talk to Sarah and John a little bit, and tried to get a sense of their personality and their relationship. I love to hear stories straight from my couples, so I asked them how they met, and took a lot of notes!

I walked away with a very clear picture of their ceremonony, and I hope Sarah and John did too! We had both gone into the meeting a little more prepared and planned out than normal, but for such an unusual ceremony – I think it really helped us to figure out what they wanted!

Coming up next: creating their Love Story!

Follow Along Ceremony.
Part 1: Meet Sarah & John!

Over Memorial Day weekend, Donna and Ryan were married at Costa del Sol in Union, NJ.

Their wedding ceremony was so much fun! I knew from the moment we met that their ceremony was going to be really funny and very sweet. They both have a great sense of humor, and love to make each other laugh, and their ceremony really reflected that.

I loved the music they chose – the bridal party processed in to Iz’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (that’s the cool Hawaiian version), and the recessional was REM’s “End of the World”!

They have the sweetest proposal story, and I just have to share it with you!

Our couple went camping for the weekend of Father’s Day in 2007, and decided to hike up to the top of Sunrise Mountain. When they got to the top, Ryan sat down on a large rock, while Donna admired the view and took a few pictures. Eventually, Donna went and sat next to Ryan, and they enjoyed a few moments, just the two of them, alone at the top of the mountain, when Ryan interrupted with the ever loving sentiment of “I hate you” (part of their own personal couple witty banter). Donna gave her standard reply: “Well, you’re stuck with me forever!”

Ryan, of course, was expecting this, and pulled out a ring and said, “I was kind of hoping for that!”

Donna was astonished, and at a loss for words. It took her a few minutes (which felt like a MILLION HOURS to poor Ryan!) to finally say yes, through her tears. They say there for a moment, together, their first moment as an engaged couple, to catch their breathe, before carving their initials in the rock and heading back down to the camp. Donna couldn’t wait to call her friends and family, hoping she’d at least get in touch with a few of them before her cell phone died – she was on cloud nine!

But when they got to the bottom – she saw a car pulling up that looked a lot like Ryan’s brother’s car – and who should get out but Ryan’s dad and brother! Soon followed by Ryan’s mom and sister in law, Donna’s mom and stepdad, and Donna’s dad! Ryan had set up both families to come and meet them for a big dinner after the proposal, and his plan had gone off without a hitch! Donna says that it was the most amazing day of her life (so far!)

They also incorporated a handfasting, and they made a beautiful cord, in their wedding colors, with charms, bells, and celtic knots attached to it. Donna’s brothers were invited up to present the cord and wrap their hands.

Donna and Ryan, I had SO much fun with you! Congrats on your wedding!

For more photos, please check out their extended gallery.

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, explaining 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 – post them in the comments!  I’ll be sure to answer them there, so we can all share from each others 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!

Processional.
The entrance of the bridal party (that’s a whole other post!).

Introduction:

  • Presentation of the Couple.
  • Family Ritual
  • Thanking of Family & Friends.
  • Remembrances.

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 everyday.  I find at this point it doesn’t bring down the tone of the ceremony too much.

Reading.

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.

The Asking.
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.

Vows.
Either read by the bride and the groom to each other, or done “repeat after me” style with the officiant.

Reading.

Ring Ceremony.
Short ring vows are usually chosen to repeat as the bride and groom place the ring on each other’s fingers.

Unity Ritual.
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.

Reading.

Closing Remarks.
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.

Recessional.
I’ll talk about this with my processional post – but basically, the bride and groom exit, go out, and party!!

Meet Sarah and John.

<img src= by Cindy Patrick</a>Photo by Cindy Patrick

They’re getting married at the Chesterwood Estate & Museum in Stockbridge, MA, in July (take a moment to check out their venue – isn’t it cool?).

I always say that the coolest people find me and ask me to lead their wedding ceremonies – and Sarah and John are no exception.  In fact, I found Sarah – she’s a pretty awesome photographer, and I contacted her about photographing my wedding in October of 2010.

We met in January, and discussed weddings – both of ours (that’s the Celebrant in me, I guess, even when I’m supposed to be talking about my own wedding, I need to know about other bride’s ceremonies!).  She and her fiance had a lot of really cool ideas of different rituals, ceremonies, and traditions to incorporate into their wedding, and it sounded like their wedding was going to be a blast!

So, a few months later – my fiance and I had decided that Sarah is the one to photograph our wedding.  And then I get an email from her, asking me to officiate HER wedding!  I didn’t have to hesitate before absolutely saying yes!

sj2Photo by Cindy Patrick

Sarah and John came into the whole process with some great ideas about what they wanted to include in their wedding ceremony.  Some of the rituals and traditions I was familiar with and love (handfasting, readings), some I had heard of and am totally excited to do for the first time (seedling planting ceremony), and some that I had never even heard of before (Circle of Love with flowers, presentation of the ring by the moms, with a “blessing” by the parents).

They chose not to have a traditional wedding party, but are having their siblings and their significant others take part in the processional, and are each being walked down the aisle by their parents (in the vein of the Jewish tradition).  There are even some surprises in store – they’re having three readers and letting them each choose the readings they’d like to use… but we’re going to keep them a secret from the bride & groom until the wedding ceremony!

I’m so excited to begin putting their wedding ceremony together – I think it’s going to be something really amazing when it all comes together, something that really reflects Sarah & John’s commitment to each other, to their families, and to love 🙂  ‘Cause when it comes down to it.. isn’t it all about the love?

I’m going to be blogging my process on Sarah and John’s wedding, so you, my lovely blog readers, can follow along at home and see all of the fun research, prep, emails and planning that goes into creating and writing a wedding ceremony, and hopefully get some great ideas for your own ceremonies along the way.   So, we’ll start from the beginning – with their outline and our first meeting and end in Western Massachusetts in mid-July.  I can’t wait!

PS: Sarah recently did a wedding update on her blog, if you want to hear more about her current wedding plans! Loving the orange!

Photo by Cindy PatrickPhoto by Cindy Patrick

My fiance, Dan, comes with me to a lot of my weddings – he takes pictures, helps me trouble shoot my sound system, is an emergency witness, and provides excellent moral support (plus, I buy him dinner afterwards). So, over the past year, as my unofficial assistant, he’s witnessed more weddings than most people will go to their whole lives! Considering when I started out on this whole officiant thing, he was a self-proclaimed wedding hater who thought he would never actually get married (as Joey from Friends so eloquently put it – “a complex fellow unlikely to take a wife”) – his support and interest in my ceremonies means a lot to me.

Dan and I (at a wedding, of course!)

Dan and I (at a wedding, of course!)

So when I say the word “fiance” to my couples, they immediately get very excited for me, and the first question they ask: “Who is performing YOUR wedding?”  It’s a tough question!

Being on the other side of the officiant search? This is HARD! What a huge decision! What an immense amount of trust! This person is going to be standing up in front of ALL of my family and friends, talking about Dan and I and our relationship and our love on the biggest day of our lives. But you know – no pressure or anything.

So we’ve been meeting with wedding officiants, and I love seeing how Dan interacts with them, now that he is an unofficial wedding ceremony expert. We both have very strong ideas and feelings about specific things we want and don’t want in the ceremony, but could use some guidance on incorporating all of our ideas and plans in there. And that’s where the officiant comes in – taking our ideas, our stories, our plans, our random scraps of poetry I’ve been saving in my Google Notebook, and smushing it all together into a fabulous ceremony.

So – when you’re meeting with your officiant for the first time – or if you are planning on writing or working with someone to write your own ceremony and having a friend or family member officiate – there are two important questions to consider.

Number 1: What do you ABSOLUTELY want and not want in your ceremony?

Maybe you like some aspects of the more traditional vows, but you’d like to make them more personal. Are there any rituals, traditions, or readings that you’ve seen in other weddings and loved? Or is there a certain element that you both love that you’d like to incorporate into a ritual? What is kind of cool about weddings is that you can give meaning to ANYTHING. I’m doing a wedding on the beach next weekend where the couple will stand in a Circle of Love we’ve created in the sand – as their family and friends enter, they will place shells along the circle, to symbolize their love and support as they begin this new journey.

I found out that shells can symbolize the beginning of a new journey, and incorporated this as well. This entire ceremony was created just for them based on their request to incorporate the beach theme, with the shells, and their family and friends in a very physical and real way. I’m so excited to see it, I think it’s going to be just beautiful!

It’s just as important to tell your officiant what you DON’T want in your ceremony! Not only does this ensure that it won’t be in there, but it also helps to give them an idea of the kind of person you are, and what you are looking for in your ceremony. Tricky, right? We wedding officiants have all kinds of tricks like that up our sleeves.

Number 2: How do you imagine your wedding ceremony?

This is a tough one. Many people can imagine their entire weddings, down to the cocktail napkins, but often get a little stuck on the ceremony. Let me put it this way – close your eyes, and imagine you are standing up there. Do you hear laughter? Is there music? Are people crying (happy tears!). What is your officiant saying?

I know it sounds silly, but it can help you to get the picture in your head. Do you want your ceremony to be light hearted? Intimate? Romantic? When it’s over, what feeling would you like your family and friends to walk away with?

I asked my fiance these questions before our wedding officiant meetings, to prep him and make sure he was already thinking “wedding ceremony” thoughts. And I think it really helped!