From time to time I'm asked by couples if it's generally expected that they provide their guests with an order of service. You know, the booklet or card often distributed by ushers to guests prior to the ceremony, otherwise known as a ceremony program. My answer? "Take it or leave it." Given that the duration of a civil ceremony is usually 30 minutes, guests don't necessarily need one. Over half the ceremonies I conduct don't include them.
By comparison, the duration of religious ceremonies is generally longer than civil ceremonies, often lasting for an hour or more. So giving guests, especially those who are likely to be unfamiliar with the content of a specific religious ceremony, an understanding of what to expect can be a good idea.
For example, have you ever attended a Macedonian Orthodox wedding and had absolutely no idea of what was being said? I remember standing in an Orthodox Church many years ago, watching rituals such as the Crowning, the procession around the sacramental table and seeing almonds being thrown about, having no appreciation of the meaning behind each ritual. The fact the ceremony was conducted almost entirely in Macedonian didn't help either! An order of service with a brief description of each ritual, or translations of each reading, would have been a welcome offering.
But that's me. I enjoy learning about religious and cultural rituals. Others may simply view an order of service as a guide by which they can, dare I say it, determine "how much longer there is to go". I mean no disrespect in this regard, but a poll of my peers (many of them monolingual and non-religious), over many years and many weddings, supports this view.
An order of service can enhance the overall styling of a wedding. They can help to the convey the level of formality (or fun!) you are trying to achieve before the ceremony has begun.
They can serve a practical purpose too. I've seen some include hand drawn maps, guiding guests to the reception venue and directing them to the location of the barbeque being held the following day. Some were printed on fans, which were a welcome gift during warm weather.
Shannon and Brad incorporated a little pocket on the back of their booklet. In the pocket was a tissue and underneath, the inscription "A tissue for your tears", which was very well received on the day.
Melissa and David inserted a crossword puzzle for their guests to complete (not during the ceremony, mind you!). I mentioned prior to the ceremony that the answers would be revealed during the ceremony and that a prize would be awarded during the reception. Again, the guests loved the idea (and I've since shared that idea with many of my couples!).
Of course, the order of service can also list family members, the bridal party and other participants, such as your celebrant and musicians. It can also include specific requests, such as refraining from taking photos or throwing rose petals or inviting guests to take a container of bubbles (should your ushers, preoccupied with handing out booklets, fail to distribute them!). They can include a note of thanks to all guests.
And so, if I’ve managed to inspire you, and if you have the time and the creative energy to produce one (they’re usually relegated to the bottom of the “to do” list), please consider this advice: Don’t list too many ceremony details. I believe a simple running order is far better than writing paragraphs of information. If your vows are included in the order of service, guests will most likely read along, rather than observe one of the most important and memorable ceremony moments. You should consider that most guests will read them prior to the ceremony too! Humorous vows obviously lose their impact if guests read ahead (and I promise you, they will). Similarly, guests aren't likely to sit and enjoy the performance aspect of a reading or ritual if they have the text in front of them. View them more as a keepsake than a script.
And should I ever spy a lone order of service, abandoned on a chair or pew, you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t remain there. I’m always looking to share creative ideas with couples.. and I quite like a keepsake!
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