Our team of professional wedding officiants has performed over 5,000 wedding ceremonies, and our couples occasionally ask us to be a part of their wedding rehearsal. While some officiants offer “rehearsal coordination” as an integral part of their services, we have found that it’s typically unnecessary (and sometimes even counterproductive) to have the wedding officiant running the wedding rehearsal. We are perfectly happy to do wedding rehearsals for our couples for an additional fee, but the vast majority of our clients choose to do the rehearsal themselves.
The Free Guide to Running Your Own Wedding Rehearsal
We created this free wedding ceremony rehearsal guide as a way to help couples run their own wedding ceremony rehearsal, saving you time and money, as well as helping the ceremony run more smoothly on your wedding day. It’s important to note that there are many possible variations to the ceremony order, and this guide was created focusing on a straight, non-denominational wedding ceremony. Please see the “Variations” section of the guide for options for our LGBT couples, as well as common cultural, religious, and regional variations.
Who Should Be In Charge?
At the rehearsal, you are not practicing the ceremony itself – you are only practicing walking in and walking out, and making sure everyone knows where to stand. Since the officiant is one of the first people to enter at the beginning of the ceremony, it’s not possible for the officiant to “cue” each group and tell them when to start walking. This is normally the responsibility of the coordinator at your ceremony site, or your wedding planner if you have one. Many of our couples will also ask a friend or family member to help run the rehearsal and cue everyone for their entrance to the ceremony, which is a great option. You want the same person who is running the rehearsal to be in charge of the ceremony on your wedding day as well – that continuity will really help ensure that there isn’t any confusion on your big day.
Your wedding rehearsal should be a quick, easy, and straightforward process. If your ceremony venue doesn’t provide a coordinator, you should choose a friend or family member to help you. The best person for this job is, quite frankly, someone who is a little bossy. They will need to be assertive enough to get your group to pay attention, but not be so overbearing that it’s off-putting to your families and wedding party. Teachers are almost always the perfect choice for this because they are used to corralling large groups of unruly children. Give them this guide before you arrive, and also give them a copy of your ceremony draft that you have finalized with your officiant. They’ll have all the information they need to run your rehearsal quickly and efficiently.
Running the Rehearsal
Follow these easy steps to rehearse the wedding ceremony quickly and easily, your friends and families will thank you and you can get on to your rehearsal dinner!
- Start in the middle. Instead of starting with the processional (entrance), start by getting everyone into place where they will be standing during the ceremony. Remember that you are practicing walking in and out, so knowing where to stand is the first step. See the diagram below for the standard positions for your officiant, parents, and attendants. It’s important to have your wedding party evenly spaced and standing at a slight angle in relation to your wedding guests, with the attendants at each end a little more forward than the Maid of Honor and Best Man. This looks better for pictures, and helps the guests see each person in your wedding party better. Bridesmaids should hold their bouquets in front of them with both hands, and groomsmen should decide on clasping their hands in the front or the back of their body. It’s important that everyone do the same thing, if everyone is doing something different it looks awful in your wedding photos.
- Speak through the ceremony headings. Take a look at the ceremony draft and read through the headings aloud, so everyone knows roughly the order of the ceremony. Don’t read through the entire ceremony word-for-word or say the vows, save that excitement for your big day. Make a note of any wedding ceremony readings, candle lighting or sand ceremonies, and when the rings will need to be presented. Double check that any items needed during the ceremony like candles or a table will be there that day. No matter what, make sure that everyone (including the couple) knows that they shouldn’t stand with their backs to the wedding guests at any point in the ceremony. Even if people need to move around during the ceremony, for example to do a candle lighting ceremony, make sure that they always end up standing in a position where they still face the guests (and the photographer). The last item on the list will be the kiss and, if the couple has chosen to do so, the presentation of the couple.
- Practice walking out (the recessional). Since you have everyone in place already, practice the recessional as if the ceremony has just ended and you are walking out. Start with the kiss and/or the presentation of the couple, and exit in the proper order. The Bride will take her bouquet from the Maid of Honor and exit with the Groom. Typically, the wedding party will exit in pairs even if they enter separately, followed by the Flower Girl and Ring Bearer and then the parents and grandparents. It’s important to make sure that each couple that exits the ceremony leaves enough room between themselves and the couple in front of them. To do this, everyone should agree on a set distance they will wait for before walking. Most people choose to start walking when the couple in front of them is halfway back up the aisle. In general, it’s best to leave at least 20 feet between each couple for the sake of pictures, but not much more than that. Once everyone has successfully exited the ceremony, it’s finally time to practice walking in.
- Practice the processional last. Now that everyone knows where to stand when they enter the ceremony, practicing the entrance should be a piece of cake. Line everyone up in the order they will enter, for our clients this information is at the top of the ceremony draft. The Officiant, Groom, Best Man, and Groomsmen enter first, typically from the side of the ceremony site but sometimes up the aisle depending on preference. Following them are the grandparents, the parents of the Groom, and the Mother of the Bride. Finally, the Bridesmaids, Maid of Honor, and Flower Girl enter. While the Officiant, Groom, and Groomsmen normally enter together as a group in a straight line, everyone else needs to be spaced evenly. As with the recessional, it’s important to agree upon how much space to leave between people entering the ceremony – normally about 20-30 feet.The Bride and her escort (typically the Father of the Bride) should not enter until the entire wedding party has entered and is in place. Normally there is a separate piece of music for the Bride’s processional, and the officiant will usually say “If everyone will please rise,” in order to invite your guests to stand.
- The hand-off. The last item to practice is what happens when the Bride and her escort make it to the front of the ceremony and are standing in front of the Officiant and the Groom. If the escort is a parent of the Bride they should give her a kiss and congratulate her. The escort then typically shakes the Groom’s hand, the Bride hands her bouquet to the Maid of Honor and steps forward next to the groom, and the escort moves to where they will be seated. The Bride and Groom should then be standing facing one another, holding hands in front of the Officiants. At this point, the Maid of Honor can hand off both sets of flowers to one of the Bridesmaids and fix the Bride’s train, if necessary.
- Do it again. Now that everyone is in place, practice walking back out and back in one more time to make sure everyone knows what to do, then you’re done! The rehearsal should not last more than 20-30 minutes at most.
Following these steps will ensure that everyone knows exactly what to do on the wedding day, and that you aren’t wasting a lot of time practicing unnecessary parts of the ceremony itself. Below is a helpful diagram of where everyone should be standing:
Many of our couples choose to forego the traditional wedding ceremony order and include cultural, religious, or regional variations in their ceremony. Our award-winning wedding officiants create a fully customized ceremony for each couple, and these are some of the more common variations of a “standard” ceremony.
- LGBTQ Ceremonies – We work with hundreds of same-sex couples each year, and the only rule for gay weddings is that there are no rules. Our LGBTQ couples tend to break the mold entirely, creating a custom ceremony that reflects their relationship while still incorporating a few elements seen at most wedding ceremonies. The order for the processional and recessional may be completely different than the diagram we’ve provided, sometimes with the wedding party and couple entering together, or having no wedding party at all. We encourage all of our LGBTQ clients to be creative and work with their officiant to create something truly unique!
- The Midwest Processional – We work with couples from all over the world, and couples from the Midwest are sometimes surprised to see the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen entering the wedding ceremony separately. Regional differences in wedding traditions are pretty common, and in the “Midwest Processional” the Maid of Honor, Best Man, and all of the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen enter the ceremony in pairs. The Officiant and the Groom still enter first from the side, and then the rest of the wedding party enters in reverse order, with the Maid of Honor and Best Man the last to enter before the Flower Girl and Ring Bearer.
- Multi-Parent Escort – Many of our couples choose to be escorted into the ceremony by multiple parents, instead of just by one. While the Father of the Bride traditionally escorts the Bride down the aisle, we often work with couples who have their mother and father, or father and step-father, walk them down the aisle together. This isn’t just limited to the Bride, we also have plenty of weddings where the Groom is also escorted into the ceremony by his parents. This is often seen in many Jewish and interfaith weddings as well.
- Jewish Traditional Entrance – For our Jewish and half-Jewish weddings, our couples sometimes opt for a traditional Jewish entrance to the wedding ceremony. In this variation, the Officiant enters first, followed by the Groom who is escorted by his parents. When the Groom and his parents reach the wedding canopy, or Chuppah, the Groom stands in the “standard” position but his parents stand under the Chuppah on the opposite side, so behind the Officiant’s right shoulder across from the Groom so they can see him. Next, the Bride enters, escorted by her parents, and they take the opposite positions, behind the Officiant’s left shoulder. Both sets of parents remain standing at the Chuppah for the entire ceremony.
Breaking With Tradition
We always tell our couples that there is no “right” way to do a wedding ceremony, and we encourage them to work with our officiants to create something that is a unique expression of their love. Traditions are wonderful, and many of our couples choose to perform a traditional ceremony – others choose to break with tradition and do something entirely different. We encourage you to listen to your heart and do what feels right for the two of you, whatever that may be.
If you are interested in more ideas and guidance for your wedding ceremony, please check out our Wedding Ceremony Resources section on our website. There, you’ll find wedding ceremony ideas, suggested ceremony readings, wedding ceremony songs, and Rev. Laura’s premarital counseling eBook, “The Marriage Manifesto”.
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