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Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard Headshot

10 Wedding Tips Before Your Big Day

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10 Wedding Tips from the Mean Minister*
*mean, because I care

1. A wedding, a marriage, does not make.
Let's start with this one. Bridal magazines and Pinterest boards don't often speak of this, but I will: Your wedding day is one day of your life. Your marriage, God willing, will last longer than one day.

Case in point:
Once, a few years after I got married, I lamented to an older friend about the torrential rain that fell on my wedding day.

She replied simply, "My daughter's wedding was picture perfect. Her wedding was out of a magazine, everything elegant, tasteful, lovely. We spent $30,000 on it; it couldn't have gone more smoothly, everything according to plan."

I didn't know where she was going with this?

"I had to hold my dress up to my chest to avoid the streams of water flowing past my feet," I complained.

"My daughter was divorced within the year," she continued, "The wedding, a marriage, does not make. You can have a perfect wedding, but that's just the wedding, that's not the marriage. They are not the same thing."

2. The Perfect Wedding? No.
Meaningful, yes. Perfect? So over it. Here's the thing. The flowers will be late or wrong, someone in the wedding party will be hung over, a hem will rip. These are not "signs" that the wedding should be called off, that you shouldn't get married. These can serve as reminders that you're not going for a "perfect" wedding day, you're aiming at meaningful with your wedding day -- maybe memorable too -- but meaningful is the aim. When you say your vows to your partner, look into her/his eyes, say that you mean it, and mean it. Have a Kleenex handy.

Case in point:
A couple I knew married during World War II in Newfoundland, and as would happen in Newfoundland, sled dogs ate their wedding cake. The couple were incredibly happy together. Theirs was a story of a wedding gone wrong, and a marriage gone right. Sally Quinn, in her book The Party: A Guide to Adventurous Entertaining, points out that sometimes when crazy stuff happens, it makes it all the more memorable, it'll be something people talk about for years.

3. Speaking of meaning it: Do you?
Weight on your chest? Think again. If you begin to feel a lion sitting on your chest every morning before your wedding day, if you feel drained completely by the notion of being married to this person, if going through with the wedding makes you nauseous, then, "Houston, we have a problem."

If, as the day gets closer, you know in your gut it's a bad idea, then stop. Don't go through with it.

Yes, you sampled wedding cake, and purchased a cake that's non-refundable. Yes, the flower girl's dress is adorable and her heart is set on wearing it. Yes, your groomsmen and bridesmaids have plane tickets. Yes, countless people will be really, really angry with you and you'll have to return gifts. Sometimes the momentum of a wedding sweeps up people, who aren't quite sure, in the glorious wrappings and trappings of a big event. If dread sits on your chest like a lion, stop the madness, stop the forward motion, stop the wedding. People will be upset with you. Hopefully that's short term. Marriage? Long term.

Case in point:
When I was first ordained as a Presbyterian minister, I asked, "What's needed to perform a wedding?" The answers were easy:

  • Have the couple show their legal identification, pay the application fee to get a marriage license, and obtain it in the county in which they'll be getting married within 60 days of the wedding. Valid legal identification is needed to obtain such a license.
  • Have the couple state they're entering into the wedding as willing participants, acknowledging they know what they're doing, and that they are not getting married under duress.
  • Have the couple state that they know this is a long term commitment, not a flash in the pan, which is where the "I do" comes in. "I do" get this, is what you're saying, "I do understand that I'm getting married."
  • Sign and mail in the wedding license after the wedding ceremony (Note: make sure the person performing your wedding ceremony signs this, and mails it in after the service)

All of this can be quick and easy, and in truth, doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Divorce is rarely quick, rarely easy. With divorce, there will be casualties. Just sayin'.

4. Script it:
If your friend is officiating at your wedding and not someone who, say, has done 1,000 weddings, (I can tell you the pros and cons of this), have them script it. Choose vows that mean something to you and aren't empty words. Write up a "script." If you're spending hours planning the day, you need to spend a couple hours thinking about the actual thing that gets you hitched, the ritual or ceremony. This is the heart and soul of the event, not the dress which will be hermetically cleaned, sealed, and stored in your attic for your daughter, who may or may not choose to ever look at the dress in the box with the acid free tissue paper.

Case in point:
My dress was totally '80's over the top, a big dress, a huge veil, big hair, and I'm pretty sure my daughter would rather wear a leotard and leg warmers than show up in my wedding dress. Therefore, as much time as you spend on "the look" of the wedding, spend on the substance of the wedding. This will have meaning if you do this, and we're going for meaningful.

5. Keys? The bane of your existence, or not.
This is an issue with every wedding I've ever done. Getting a bridal party from point A to point D, with various points in between on the wedding day takes a tactical team, or good planning. The bridal couple leaves in a limo, old car, whatever, and now the car they came in has to be moved from the wedding spot, only no one has any clue where the keys might be? Or, the bridal party needs to arrive early for photos, they've come in a variety of vehicles, but they'll all be in one vehicle, or different vehicles going to the reception, and no one knows who has the keys. Or, someone has too much to drink, and she/he needs a designated driver.

Case in point:
Almost every wedding I've done, this has become an issue. I've seen years of this, trust me on this one. Think it through beforehand, and/or assign someone you trust with the keys. If either the bride or groom is stressed out, on the day of the wedding, don't let her/him drive, she/he will be too distracted. Yes, people get in accidents on their wedding days. No, we don't want it to be you.

6. Plenty o' water:

Make sure everyone has something to eat and water to drink before the wedding. Tooth brushes/toothpaste and/or mints are another good idea, but food is a necessity as is hydration.

Case in point:

You've seen videos of people fainting in weddings? People turning green? They're real. Eat, drink water, and be merry. Those watermelon shots someone wants you to do the night before your wedding? Skip those. No, really, skip those.

7. Rehearsal, not just for high school plays:
Have a wedding rehearsal. Do it. Plan a rehearsal. I don't care if you're getting married in your backyard with the neighbor officiating, if you're having people come and watch, do a run through. Stuff happens. You need to rehearse so you know where people will be entering, where they'll be walking, where they'll exit. You need to know this, and your wedding party and wedding guests need to know this too.

Case in point:
Wandering brides or grooms, not knowing where to stand or enter, this isn't pretty, and it can be stressful for those in the wedding, and those watching.

8. Be quiet before the wedding:
Don't greet people right before the wedding. Take time to break away from the crowd and be quiet somewhere. You'll be able to get centered, you can get a drink of water (Tip #6), collect your thoughts, etc. This is a big day, it's a big commitment, it deserves your full attention. Think ahead how much time you want away before the ceremony begins... 5 minutes? 10? 30?

Do this. People you haven't seen in ages will be arriving, great! Talk to them after the ceremony, or before, but take these minutes right before the wedding ceremony to set yourselves apart from the thundering herd.

9. Rounding up the thundering herd:
Tell people what to do. Tell them, especially if you're not getting married in a venue like a church, synagogue, etc. We human beings, when in a herd, we become brainless. We don't know what to do, you have to tell us. State the obvious to a crowd of people. Tell them to sit or stand or walk where you want them.

Case in point:
Have the person conducting the wedding service tell those gathered, "Following the ceremony, please join us for the Macarena in the tent," or "Following the wedding service, you can ...." Maybe you'll have a bulletin outlining what the crowd can expect during the wedding, maybe you won't. Either way, tell those gathered what you expect and where to go, nicely.

10. Wedding Toasts: Give them some thought
Wedding toasts should be given by those who have your best interests at heart. If you want someone to make a toast, and it's usually the best man and maid/matron of honor, talk with them about what is off limits. Short speeches here are a good idea. There are many commercials on TV about people making speeches at weddings, because we've all seen them go wrong. This is a good thing to discuss before the wedding. I've never seen liquor enhance the speech giver's delivery, in fact, it can make her/him sloppy.

Case in point:
After conducting the rehearsal for a dear friend, the drunk best man pulled me aside to practice his wedding toast.

After hearing it, I replied, "You can't do that."

"What? Why? It's hilarious! That's why I'm best man. It's SO funny."

"You're right," I responded, "It's funny, very funny, and the bride and her family are gonna hate it. You can't give that speech."

MawMaw and PawPaw, NaNa and her beau, or whoever the grandparents are, for the bride and groom, they don't want to hear it either, I assure you.

Let them eat cake.
It'll be over before you know it. Your wedding day will fly by. All that planning? Your wedding day will spool out just like every other day in your life, moment by moment. All that food you agonized over? You may not even get a bite. People photographed at your wedding will not always be around, look at them, see them at this occasion for celebration. Don't sweat the small stuff, do embrace the people present, who are celebrating with you at a party you're throwing in honor of love.

Wishing you all the joy you can hold on your wedding day, and in the moments of marriage to follow.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Psalm 85:10