I tell couples in my consultations not to worry about the length of their ceremony. Most weddings, excluding those as part of a full religious service, rarely last more than about fifteen to twenty minutes. Anything you add to your wedding ceremony (or take out), only increases or decreases the total length by a minute or so. No one is going to lock their knees long enough to pass out!
Consider three things and your wedding will be absolutely perfect.
1. Only include elements meaningful to you. If you stumble upon a reading, ritual, piece of music, vow exchange, etc. that brings a glisten to your eye, a lump in your throat or goose bumps down your arms, you should probably include it. If someone raves about this really cool thing they saw done at a wedding recently and their description fails to generate an emotional response in you, don't do it. Your family and friends know you. They'll be disengaged the moment you put something in your wedding that doesn't capture your personalities, regard for one another and expectations for your marriage.
2. Think short and sweet. I'm not referring to the entire ceremony, that takes care of itself. I mean the elements that come together to become your order of service. Most wedding rituals such as the unity candle, bell of truce, sand ceremony, vessel and rose, etc. take less than two minutes. In fact, it's rarely worth playing music during these rituals because they don't last as long as a single song and your officiant is generally walking everyone through the ritual with words as the ritual is happening. It's better to have more short and sweet elements to lengthen a ceremony than to include elements that last longer. For example, a short reading is more engaging than a long one, especially if you have a friend or family member who is not an accomplished public speaker come forward to read. A short song is more meaningful than a longer piece of music. If you don't believe me on that one, I suggest the two of you play your favorite song, hold hands facing one another and stare at each other for the duration of the song and tell me how long it feels. I promise you 20 seconds will feel like 20 minutes when you add guests staring at you.
3. Include motion in the ceremony. If the entire wedding is the two of you standing in front of your guests with your officiant talking non-stop from beginning to end, you probably don't want more than about a ten minute ceremony. This is why I recommend couples who want a piece of music included in the ceremony do something while the song is being sung or the music played. Let's sign the marriage license, go hug the parents, or warm the rings. Wedding rituals following the exchange of rings are a great way to add activity, if the ritual is meaningful to you. If you have selected a reading or two (short and sweet of course), let's invite someone else besides the officiant to come forward to read. Granted, that individual should be asked before hand and provided with a copy of their reading to practice. Yes, I've startled someone in the middle of a ceremony before who had no clue he was going to be invited to come forward to read. Please, warn them!
These are really the essentials for putting together a wedding ceremony that capture who you are and engages your guests: meaningful, short and sweet, movement. Your officiant should be able to work with you to guide you through your options, identify what constitutes an appropriate order of service and write a ceremony that makes ritual sense based upon your choices. Release doves if you want, but let's not have any Angry Birds at your wedding!
Photo Attribute: Beverly Bennett Photography