Wedding Rehearsal Checklist
Will the officiant attend? Many wedding officiants find it difficult or impossible to attend rehearsals. There are many reasons for this, but the most common are probably overbooked calendars and the frustration of participating in what is often more a social occasion then a structured planning event, without a clear function for the officiant, other than standing in a designated spot.
Have a plan. If you do have an officiant willing to attend the rehearsal, be prepared to:
(1) Indicate a start and end time for the officiant's presence.
(2) Determine whether a fee is required for this additional time commitment.
(3) Provide the officiant an opportunity to comment on and assist with the planning based on his or her experience and preferences.
(4) Let the officiant know if you want her or him to go through the entire text of the ceremony or just the transition parts - beginning, vows, rings, conclusion.
(5) If you intend to critique the diction, etc. of the officiant, please be sure he or she realizes you are testing whether the ceremony will be easy to understand for guests in the back of the room or with hearing difficulty.
Before the rehearsal day. There are a number of things you can decide, at least tentatively, before the rehearsal. At the rehearsal you can review these items and make any needed corrections to your plans:
1. Write down the order in which people will go in and come out of the ceremony. (Referred to as processional and recessional.)
2. Designate someone to supervise any child participating in the ceremony (one supervisor per child). That person needs to be prepared for anything -- such as temper tantrums, refusal to walk down the aisle, etc. The designated supervisor should be prepared to do whatever is needed to deal with the situation, including taking the child outside to calm him or her down. You need to be prepared to go ahead without the child or children, if necessary. (About 50% of the time small kids don't do what they are supposed to. Usually what they actually do is cute and creates no big problem, but other times they have to be dropped from participating because they won't budge.)
3. Know where the rings will be. (Usually bride's ring is with the Best Man and groom's ring with the Maid of Honor.) Tying the rings onto a pillow is somewhat risky - the knots may be hard to untie during the ceremony. Or, they may be too easily untied and fall off. The Ringbearer may prove unreliable, etc. If the Ringbearer brings in the actual rings, be sure that child's "supervisor" understands the task includes keeping track of the pillow and the rings.
4. Determine where everyone will stand upfront and what direction they will be facing. If the bride and groom stand sideways facing each other with a space in between the officiant can see the audience. Don't ask the officiant to stand with his or her back to the audience. No one will hear the ceremony.
5. Decide if you want the officiant to have a microphone. Microphones are particularly helpful outdoors where there is traffic noise, airplanes, noisy yard equipment or noisy fans. Indoors, it depends on the acoustics of the room and the number of guests, as well as the issue of noisy ventilation systems. Also, consider whether any guests have hearing difficulties.
6. If you have recorded music, make sure someone knows how to work it and that the equipment is reliable. The music operator should practice setting the correct volume, starting and stopping, etc. Make it very easy for the person playing the music to find the correct piece. Brides may get upset when the wrong piece of music is played, which can easily happen. If you have a DJ or live music, this should not be a problem.
7. Designate someone to decide when the ceremony actually starts. The bride is usually hidden just before the ceremony and not in a position to decide. Someone needs to tell people to be seated and make sure everything is ready to go and then get people lined up and give the signal to start. (Due to late arriving guests, it is common for ceremonies to start a few minutes late. More than 15 minutes late might be considered disrespectful to the guests who were there on time.)
8. Make sure someone knows how to pin flowers on dresses and men's jackets. Have someone check at the last minute to make sure anyone wearing flowers has them pinned securely in a way that looks nice.
9. Decide on what will happen immediately after the ceremony. If there will be a receiving line, decide who will be in it and where it will be located. Wedding guests will all want to greet the bride and groom after the ceremony, so the receiving line is a good idea. If you don't have a formal receiving line, be prepared for people to gather around in an effort to extend their greetings. It really is less chaotic to create a system for them to do this.
10. Decide if the seating of parents and grandparents will be done as part of the ceremony. Often there is formal seating just before or just after the officiant enters the room. While it is nice to honor these family members in this way, it can also be a bit of a problem, since they are not able to take their seats until the last minute and must wait somewhere out of the way.
At the Rehearsal
1. Make sure everyone knows his or her assigned role.
2. Practice walking in and out.
3. Have everyone stand in the designated locations for the ceremony and have someone look to see how it looks. Consider marking the locations where people will stand with tape or something else.
4. If someone will be walking down the aisle with the bride, practice saying good-by and having him (or her) sit down. Make sure that it is clear whether or not there will be any questions for the person to respond to (such as who gives the bride in marriage?). In most weddings, there are no questions and the parents simply give a hug or kiss to the bride and go sit down in the audience.
5. The groom is usually at the front of the room before the bride comes in. As she approaches, he walks toward her and then walks with her to join the officiant.
6. When facing toward the front of the room from the back, the bride and her attendants are usually on the left. The groom and his attendants are usually on the right. If you do it another way, that's fine too - it's your wedding.
7. Practice going to the location of the receiving line, if any, and taking your places there.
8. Typically the bride and groom are not holding hands at the beginning of the ceremony and the bride is holding her flowers. When it is time for the vows, the bride gives her flowers to her bridesmaid and takes the hands of the groom. Some brides prefer to pass the flowers at the beginning of the ceremony, so that the couple is holding hands throughout the ceremony. Decide which plan works best for you.
9. Make sure the aisle will be wide enough for the bride, her dress and the person(s) accompanying her down the aisle. If there might be a problem, see if the chairs can be set to create a wider aisle. Look out for any decorations that are placed at the ends of the aisle to make sure they won’t be knocked over.
10. If there are any steps in the path of the bride and the attendants, they should practice how they will walk up and down carrying flowers and in their dresses and wedding shoes. If the bride is in a long dress, steps can be challenging.
11. Usually, the bridal party should walk in and out slowly but with normal strides, except that the bride may have to take very small steps and kick her dress out of the way so she doesn't trip on it. Everyone should practice walking to make sure no one is walking in a way that does not blend in.
12. The bride should practice how she will hold the arm of the person accompanying her during the processional and the groom at the end. Traditionally, a man extends his elbow, which the woman holds with her fingers around his arm.
13. The bride should remember to get her flowers from the bridesmaid before walking out with the groom after the kiss. There need be no hurry to walk out. Usually there are many people snapping pictures as the bride and groom turn around to look at everyone. It's OK to stand there a few moments and let people get their photos.
These hints are based on the 33 years of wedding experience of Retired Judge Carolyn Hayek. She enjoys sharing her Common Sense Reflections about weddings, even though she no longer performs wedding ceremonies.
Note: To help you with your wedding planning, there are four complete weddings ceremonies posted on this website. Take a look at the Simple Wedding Ceremony, the Special Wedding Ceremony, the Plain English Ceremony and the Partner Ceremony. You might also be interested in the suggestions contained in the Judge’s Advice About Wedding Planning.