Last Saturday I officiated the wedding of Stephen & Monique, a couple who are friends of Cody & Katie, a couple whose wedding I officiated last year. Stephen had been one of Cody’s groomsmen and now Cody was one of Stephen’s. In fact, Stephen’s other three groomsmen had been groomsmen for Cody, as all the guys had been in the same fraternity.
I wanted to make sure that at Stephen and Monique’s ceremony I didn’t say any of what I had said at Cody and Katie’s wedding. But not only could Stephen and Monique not remember what I had said, not even the groomsmen could remember!
Each reassured me that although they couldn’t remember my words, they’d been touched by the ceremony and my sentiments.
After the ceremony, I asked Katie, last year’s bride, if I had repeated what I’d said at her wedding. She laughed as she, too, couldn’t remember what I had said. All she knew was that she felt as refreshed at this wedding as she had at her own.
When I coach professionals in public speaking, I remind them that all sorts of studies confirm that after a presentation people forget 50 percent of what they heard by the time they get home and they will forget 50 percent of the 50 percent by the next day. I stress that before giving a presentation, a speaker needs to know what it is they want their audience to remember.
A wedding is a unique type of presenting and this weekend I was reminded of what I sometimes lose sight of – family and friends will not remember my exact words, but they will remember the feeling and tone I create – they will remember the experience I create.
I recently met with a couple who are getting married next year. When I asked them if they know what they want or don’t want in their ceremony, they told me about a boring wedding they’d attended. While they couldn’t remember what the officiant had said, they remembered how the ceremony had a disjointed feel about it, how nothing that was being done or even said made sense. They felt like they were simply observers, onlookers at an odd event.
Another couple I recently met with originally was going to marry last year but with less than a month to go they called it off. They’re now at a place where they know they are necessary in each other’s life and are ready to marry in a way they were not the first time. To my surprise, they told me that they couldn’t stand the officiant they had hired, but they didn’t care as he was cheap and that was their priority.
The bride shared that now the ceremony is the most important part of their wedding day, but she doesn’t want to be the center of attention and she doesn’t want the ceremony to be long. She does, though, want it to be meaningful.
So what is this “thing” we know as a wedding ceremony?
Strip away the clichés, religious and civil, strip away the pomp and circumstance, and what you’re left with is – an exquisite moment in time.
A ceremony is the acknowledging and affirming and blessing the simple and lovely miracle of these two persons, alive on earth at the same moment, pledging to live all the remaining moments of life together.
Despite its power, or maybe because of its power, a ceremony is a fragile experience. It’s not a vehicle for lecturing or venting, rather, it’s a moment in time in which everyone present does something out of the ordinary – they give thanks for the brave generosity of two people.
Maybe it’s because it is so simple that a ceremony is so tricky to execute.
Last month I officiated eleven weddings that together had over one thousand guests. Given the opportunity to speak to a thousand people was a privilege I cherish. But, now, I wonder about all those wedding guests. What will they remember of the ceremony? What do I want them to remember?
The three things I hope guests remember from every ceremony I officiate:
1. That they were part of an invited group who witnessed something extraordinary – the pledging of love between two people – love faithful, protective and sturdy.
2. That despite the fact that life can be exhausting – life is good and worthy of our best – and because they joined in the feast, they will continue to live life and not slog through it.
3. That we need one another – whoever that “other” may be, so that we can live with generosity and courage.
Maybe, though, all I really want guests to remember, is this –
That they experienced a moment where they felt valued and appreciated because they valued and appreciated a couple who said “yes” to life in all its messy, uncertain glory.
JP Reynolds, M.Div. has officiated more than one thousand weddings and has coached hundreds of people in how to create and deliver heartfelt, personalized ceremonies.
If you’ve been invited by a friend or relative to celebrate their wedding ceremony and are wondering what to do, visit: http://ceremonymadesimple.com