What to do when wedding participants aren’t prepared
Many couples choose ceremony elements that include their guests, like the wine box, letter box, unity candle, guest readings, etc. and often times those guests aren’t prepared. Most of the time it’s because the couple forgot to tell them, so I’m always sure to introduce myself to anyone who’s participating before the ceremony begins. Roughly 1/3 of the time, moms aren’t told that they’re coming up to light candles or family hasn’t been asked to write letters for the couple’s letter box.
Two weeks in a row I’ve had couples use the letter box or wine box as their imagery, where I invite family members up to deposit letters they’ve written to the couple and exchange hugs. Family members usually get immediately stressed and freak out because they weren’t told and never wrote a letter to the couple.
My job is to officiate, so I tell them that it’s no big deal and that it happens all the time. The last thing the bride and groom needs are stressed out family members. If they don’t have paper handy, I’ll find them a few pieces and tell them to bring up blank paper to deposit during the ceremony and to write letters of blessings, encouragement, and support later on, after the wedding. This usually calms nerves immediately and gives them permission to relax.
Guest readers are often not prepared, too. The male ego is an interesting thing. I’ve asked so many guys if they practiced their reading out loud only to be brushed off and told, “I got it, man.” They inevitably trip on their words and lose their place and bomb. So, I’ve learned to tell them that we want the couple’s ceremony to kick ass and that takes a team effort.
It’s a bit passive aggressive, but I then say something like, “Since everyone here wants their ceremony to be their best memory yet, I’m sure taking a few minutes alone to practice your guest reading out loud makes sense. Right?” I then show the guest reader how I underline words in my book where I’ll inflect my voice in some way and that it helps me to keep my place, so I can look up from the page. That usually works and the reader then finds a quiet place to practice.
Before every ceremony, I’m sure to ask the bride who will escort her down the aisle and if she’d like me to ask, “Who has the honor of escorting Bride down the aisle and presenting her to the groom?” The old-school way to say that is, “Who gives this woman away?” but times have changed and the bride’s not a possession or gift. If she’d like me to ask, I’m sure to then speak to her dad, or whoever is escorting her down the aisle so that person knows I’m going to stick a microphone in their face, expecting an answer.
I don’t want to surprise him and make him look foolish in front of all the guests, but when dad messes up, it’s usually funny and a great ice-breaker. The bride’s dad is usually grateful for my introduction and attempt to prepare him prior to the ceremony. Dad usually asks, “What do most people say?” and I tell him to please feel free to say whatever he likes, but most dads say something like, “I’m her dad and it’s my honor.”
As officiants, it’s our job to be prepared and to help others do the same. Calming nerves and preparing others is part of the deal, and I love it and hope you do too!
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