There are many aspects of a wedding that are wrought with anxiety:
Securing the venue
Selecting the rings
Planning the flowers
Deciding on the catered menu
Of course, getting the perfect dress for the bride and her brides maids and the groomsmen’s suits
Deciding on the perfect ceremony
Budgeting and paying for all the aforementioned and
Of all these aspects, some you can visit back again and again, tweaking as you go, but the ceremony is the thing you only have one chance to pull off perfectly. That’s why we have a rehearsal.
For many of the couples we’ve served, this is their first time going down the aisle. All have a vision of how it will go, and the rehearsal is the time and place to work out all the logistics.
We have a procedure that we’ve developed to make it easier for everyone involved. We’ve also found that many times, maybe 95%, they never start on time! There’s typically someone who just can’t get there on time because they were busy taking care of last minute details. We've learned to take this in stride.
Once everyone has gathered and introductions have been made (it’s usually the first time we get to meet the wedding party aside from the bride and groom), we take a few minutes to thank everyone for being there and give them a rough idea what we’re going to accomplish. This seems to get most people to focus on the task at hand. In our earlier days, before we started this practice, rehearsals were kind of like herding cats!
After these initial pleasantries, I have the wedding party (all but the bride) line up at the alter (or wherever it is we’re going to end up). This is a good time for the bride to line everyone up how she wants them. Some have been “shortest to tallest”, some have been paired up groomsman/bridesmaid; how she wants them to come in and go out.
We get everyone lined up at angle and in a straight line. This is so the wedding party can witness the ceremony unobstructed. I’ll then have the bride and her escort (most times the father, sometimes a brother) come down the aisle and show them where to stop.
At this point, we’ll figure out how we’re going to proceed out after the ceremony; bride and groom first, of course. Then the best man and maid of honor, then the groomsmen paired with the bridesmaid.
Now that we know where we’re going to end up, we figure out how we’re going to proceed in. This is when we decide who is going to escort the parents of the groom and the mother of the bride in. Once that's decided, I enjoy escorting the groom in first. Once we’re at the altar, the wedding party comes in. We discuss the pace and when we pair come in. As the pairs (groomsmen escorting bridesmaids) come up to where we’re standing, I suggest the groom welcomes his groomsmen with a handshake. I take the bridesmaids by the hand and escort them in and they find their place in line.
Once everyone’s in place, the bride and the escort come in. I’ll give the Mother of the Bride a signal to stand up. At the real ceremony, everyone will stand after the Mother does.
Next comes the hand off. This can be awkward the first time out. After asking “who gives their blessings…”, I’ll have the groom go to the Father of the Bride, shake his hand and say something heartfelt. The bride then kisses her father’s cheek and the father takes her hand and puts it in the groom’s hand. The father sits down and the bride and groom come up together.
It’s not uncommon to go through this ritual a few times until everyone’s comfortable with it. It’s a pivotal part of the ceremony!
I, personally, prefer asking “who gives their blessings that this man and woman be married?” rather than the traditional “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” Why? I’ve yet to find a man who is 100% willing to give his daughter totally away! It’s quite a step in their relationship. After this moment, the father (and mother, but that’s another post!) will never have the same level of influence in his daughter’s life. So, I want to rehearse it a few times. Not just to make sure it goes off smoothly, but, more importantly, to drive home the point to all concerned. I’ve found that, by the time of the ceremony, the groom has gotten over any reservations about receiving his bride and has given and received the respect of his new Father-In-Law. It can be a very touching moment in the ceremony.
In our ceremonies, we offer to do either a wine ceremony, a sand ceremony or a unity candle ceremony. Walking through the chosen ceremony at the rehearsal lets everyone know what to expect and how we’re going to perform it.
If there are any poem or scripture readings during the ceremony, we have them read their parts out loud at the rehearsal to allow them to hear how it’s going to come out. When speaking outdoors, one needs to project a little more than when speaking indoors. If there’s a microphone, it gives them a chance to get used to hearing themselves through speakers as well.
The rehearsal is also the time to figure out who’s holding the rings and go over the cue for the rings to be blessed.
At the rehearsal, none of the words of the actual ceremony are spoken all the way through. This is just the rehearsal and not the real thing. This keeps it fresh for all involved, especially the bride and groom. Although, by this time, they have seen and read the final draft of the ceremony and know what is going to be said, the first time they hear the actual ceremony is at the wedding.
After this, we rehearse the, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So”, and then cue them when to start the recession. We then cue the wedding party for the recession, as well. This goes smoother the second time out.
I’ll then have everyone rehearse the processional in, run through the logistics of the ceremony again, and proceed out again.
We then decide where the marriage license will be signed and agree to how that’s going to happen.
Can you see why the rehearsal is so important? It clears up any uncertainty and everyone’s part as to what’s to be expected, when it’s going to happen and why. I’ve found that it works best to give an overview of why we do things in the ceremony and when. Not always, but whenever someone doesn’t seem to be getting it.
Now, if we’re performing an elopement where there’s no wedding party, or maybe just a best man and maid of honor, we’ll have a run-through of what’s going to happen and when so they know what to expect.
We have had situations where there was no time for a rehearsal, or it didn’t seem warranted. Those have been very few occasions and it REALLY makes a huge difference. This is a very big step in the relationship, fraught with anxiety. Going into the ceremony “cold” is similar to herding cats! It makes for an ungrounded space and is 10 times tougher than rehearsed ceremonies. In fact, we won’t perform a wedding without rehearsing now. Yes, it takes a lot longer than the actual ceremony, but even the couples who were on the tightest shoestring budget have been glad they spent the extra time and money on having a rehearsal.
We can't wait to see you at yours!