I love weddings and I'm blessed to have the opportunity to officiate at a large number of them each year. My wonderful bride often tells me that I need to compile and write a book full of the many wedding anecdotes that I've collected over the years. These include the common ones like fainting groomsmen and bridesmaids, times that the best man lost the rings, alcohol-influenced toasts at the reception (both hilarious and tragic), canine ring bearers, three-hour-late starts, cakes in faces, cakes messing up wedding dresses, cakes being licked off of dresses (in front of us all at the reception!), half-million dollar weddings, weddings at homeless shelters (among the most sacred I've witnessed), being asked to perform weddings in Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese...all in the same month, people getting cold feet, the time that a bug flew into my mouth while preaching at a garden wedding (perhaps as a sign that I needed to wrap my sermon up), or the time I got a concussion when a pillar fell on my head in the middle of the ceremony. And there's so much more.
It was not until recently that I began to see the great potential in weddings for societal impact and community service. Many of us spend thousands of dollars and many months planning what ends up being one of the most amazing days of our lives. If I am fortunate enough to witness my daughters' nuptials someday in the future, I expect that I will spend whatever is necessary to make it the most wonderful day of their lives as well. Yet, I think that those of us who plan weddings are missing a chance to make it not only a special day in lives of those getting married, but also something special for others -- in particular those in need. Here are a few service-minded suggestions for your special day that I've recently seen and also heard of from some wedding planning friends of mine:
More and more couples are, in lieu of wedding favors, making a donation in honor of their marriage. Wedding favors for a 200-person wedding probably cost a couple between $200 and $500. Instead of giving all of your guests a little bag of chocolates, personalized lip gloss, picture frames, or a wine flute with your name on it, you could instead donate that money to a cause that means a lot to you. I just recently married a couple that donated $250 to a charity called Smile Train. The sum paid for a child to have cleft lip and palate surgery. Instead of purchasing a trite little give away that most guests will throw away, they spent that money on life-changing surgery for a child. $500 could cover a loan through a micro lending agency creating occupational opportunities for someone who just needs a little help getting started. You could even sponsor a child through Save the Children for a whole year for just $336. Lip gloss for $300 or sponsoring a child for a year... I don't think your guests will be offended.
Or instead of giving out a gift that your guests will throw away or lose in their basement, you could give them a wedding favor that will bring about some good. You could give each of your guests a tree to plant (seeds will actually cost you about the same as other wedding favors). This type of wedding favor is meaningful, symbolic, green, and it will most certainly put a smile on the faces of your guests. Not only is the tree a lasting tribute to your marriage, but it helps our planet in important ways.
Wedding planner Cecilia Ramirez encourages the couples that she works with to hire caterers who use locally grown products. There are of course many benefits of buying and eating locally grown products. In addition, couples can make sure that the leftover food is donated or at the very least composted. And while you're at it recycle all reusable products from your wedding!
I occasionally preside at a wedding for a couple that is at a point in life where they do not need or desire to register for gifts. For couples in this position, maybe instead of a gift registry, you could compile a charity registry. Setting up a site for your guests to browse and choose from various causes that mean a lot to the two of you is not very difficult to do.
Or perhaps you could choose one large cause (instead of several options) and have all of your guests donate to that one with the intent of making a large collective impact rather than touching several causes in a smaller way. For $5,000, you could build a well in the Sudan or for $30,000 you could build a middle school in Mali for 200 kids. What a testimony of love that could be.
There is something nice about seeing loved ones arrive with a lovingly wrapped present though isn't there? Guests could also be asked to bring an item to the reception that will be donated. In addition to a wedding gift, guests could bring a non-perishable food item for donation, or even something like a children's book. If 300 wedding guests each brought a book, you could compile a collection large enough to start a small library for an elementary school in need of one (here's one organization in Philadelphia that does just that). You could place a label inside of each cover saying who donated the book in celebration of your marriage.
Destination weddings continue to be popular. Of course couples want to tie the knot in the most beautiful places on the globe, but maybe you'd consider having your wedding in a location that could use either your tourism or your compassion. A destination wedding in New Orleans could be very fun while at the same time it would be bringing business to an area that could still use the tourist traffic. Or maybe you could have your wedding in a location where you and your guest could help to build or rebuild a home in the days leading up to the wedding service and then even get married in that home later.
Philadelphia area planner Sue Jacquette recognizes that even with destination weddings in popular places like the Caribbean, there are often neighborhoods on the Islands that could greatly benefit from a service-minded act from couples and guests who are visiting. Jacquette suggests that couples consider asking their friends and families to make a donation to a school or orphanage on the Island that is hosting their destination wedding.
There are many more possibilities. Growing up, many of us dream of our wedding day as being magical and one of the best days of our lives. So, in some ways it is understandable that "no cost is too great." On the other hand, imagine the potential to really impact the lives of others if we just make a small sacrifice -- a sacrifice that might make it not just the best day of your life, but one of the best days of someone else's life as well.