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Wedding Ceremony Planning Guide

Things to Know While Planning Your Ceremony

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We start with the ceremony because it is your wedding. For some, a favorite family officiant or house of worship drives all the choices regarding the ceremony. 
For others, it’s built around a beloved location. Be aware in advance that if you want a religious service, there are rules involved - not just about where the ceremony takes place and how it’s structured, but also about the works, music, people and rituals involved. Make sure to okay everything with your priest, minister, or rabbi. If you’ll have a civil (secular) ceremony, feel free to be as creative as you like. If your ceremony will be at your reception site, you’ll still want to use the following worksheet as it relates to officiants and ceremony organization. 

Ceremony Sites + Officiants

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Finding the Right Ceremony Site

First, you need to find a ceremony site. Religious options include notable local churches, your current church or temple, your parents’ church or synagogue, a house of worship you’re interested in joining as a married couple, a military chapel (if one or both of you is in service), or a college chapel (at your alma mater). For civil sites, the sky’s the limit. 

Find an officiant if your site is not a house of worship. For a civil wedding, contact the city, town, or village halls and ask about judges or justice of the peace availability for weddings. If you have no connection to a specific church but want an officiant of a certain denomination to perform your ceremony, ask friends and/or search online for names of churches and synagogues. Try nondenominational or interfaith officiants. (These officiants will perform ceremonies at nonreligious sites)

Make appointments with several sites and/or officiants (unless you’re marrying in your own house of worship and the decision is a given.

8 Things to Consider While Planning:

1. What It Costs 

Fees can vary from none or moderate donation to upward of $1,000 for high-demand, big-city cathedrals. This fee may be separate from the officiant’s fee, which can run from $150 to $800. Fees may be considered a (tax-deductible) donation to the site if it’s a house of worship. Every site is different; ask up front. If your ceremony musicians are in-house staff, their fee may be included in your location cost. If not, plan to spend between $50 and $350 per hour for a minimum of two hours of work.

2. Ways to Save 

 Have your ceremony in a special spot at your reception location (but if you’re having a religious officiant, check to make sure this is okay). Marry in your own church or temple. Don’t choose the National Cathedral (popular places suggest larger donations). Stick to a smaller chapel, instead of the pricier main sanctuary. Choose a public site such as a park. Visit city hall.

3. Holiday Hot Spots 

Certain times of the year may be off-limits for weddings in particular religions - for example, the High Holidays in Judaism. Also, you may not be able to wed during Lent in the Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic Church.

4. Consider Religious Requirements 

If you choose to have a religious ceremony, be prepared to comply with all rules and beliefs that go along with it. If you find that you can’t do so because of your own beliefs, you may want to reconsider and wed a nonreligious site, where you’ll have more input.

5. Keep Vows Simple 

If you write your own vows, keep them relatively short and personal (but not too personal), and decide ahead of time if you’ll memorize them or carry a written version down the aisle. You don’t want to forget your lines!

6. Make a Program 

Ceremony programs aren’t required, but they’re a great place to list and thank your wedding party and close family. If you’re including special religious or ethnic traditions guests may not understand, a program is a perfect way to explain them. Include words to special readings or songs.

7. Invite Your Officiant 

Send your officiant and his or her spouse an invitation to your reception; plan to seat them with your parents or another family table. Especially if your officiant has known your family for a long time, you’ll definitely want him or her there. Many officiants decline (they may have another wedding to preside at), but they’ll appreciate the gesture.

8. Pay Their Way 

If your officiant is coming from a distance to perform your ceremony, it’s appropriate for you to offer to cover the costs of travel and accommodations.

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