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The most common advice our featured brides give to our readers week in and week out? Throughout your wedding day, regularly step back and take mental snapshots. Slow the day down, and soak it in, or else it will whir by in a happy blur. I’m positive each of the ten most memorable moments below are imprinted in each couple’s mind just as beautifully as their photographers’ captured them for posterity.

I hope these photos help you to take a pause even today, and remember how joyful and sublime a wedding day can truly be!

Ashley’s sweet confetti moment with her bridesmaids (photo by Elisabeth Carol)

Nicole’s tearjerker moment with her Dad (photo by Danielle Nichol)

Madeleine and Caleb’s giddy first look (photo by Kristin Sweeting)

Erica and Daniel’s private foot washing and letter exchange before their ceremony (photo by Anna Shackleford)

Callie and Cade’s joyful ceremony exit (photo by Paul Johnson)

Libby and Matt’s bridal party huddle (photo by Lynnesy Catron)

Leigh and Steve’s ceremony to reception boat ride (photo by Rach Loves Troy)

Emily and Matthew’s private dinner (photos by Clark Brewer)

Amy and Mike’s second line boogie (photo by Arte de Vie)

Finally, Caitlin and Davis’ confetti-soaked exit (photo by Landon Jacob)

I would love to hear: what is one of the moments that stands out most vividly from your wedding day?

Elisabeth Carol and Anna Shackleford are delightful members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
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Planning a wedding can feel like fielding a continual series of questions you didn’t even know you needed to answer. For instance, what order does everyone walk down the aisle in a wedding ceremony? You’ve no doubt been to many weddings before, and witnessed many ceremony processionals, but when you actually sit down and think about it, even something as straightforward as walking down the aisle can get a little fuzzy. Of course, if you have a church lady at your side, she’ll be more than happy to set you straight (!), but in the meantime, here’s our guide to who goes where, when!

P.S. Have you signed up for our Fruitful Summer series yet? There’s so much goodness in store whether you’re dating, engaged, newly married, or have a few years under your belt! See it all here.

From Jessica and Michael’s wedding, by Blue Ribbon Vendor Tracy Enoch

THE FAMILY: Traditionally, the mother of the bride enters first, often escorted by a special gentleman in her life, such as her brother or son-in-law, and then takes her seat to the left of the aisle in the first row. However, we like the idea of honoring the groom’s parents, as well. If you choose to have them join the processional, ask the mother of the groom to enter first, then take her seat to the right of the aisle in the first row. She can either be escorted by her husband or by another special gentleman, with her husband entering just behind them.

THE GENTS: The groom, best man, and groomsmen generally process together. If you’d like them to walk down the aisle, the groomsmen are followed by the best man and then the groom. We’ve also seen grooms and groomsmen take a more subtle approach by entering the ceremony from the side of the chapel or venue to take their place at the front. Officiants generally process in a similar manner and at the same time as the gents.

THE LADIES: The music generally changes for the bridesmaids’ processional. The maid of honor is the last in line so she’ll be standing next to you at the altar.

THE KIDS: If children are included in your ceremony, they’ll process immediately before you.

THE BRIDE: Traditionally, a bride is accompanied by her father, who walks at her right side and lifts her veil at the end of the aisle. Some brides choose to walk with both their mothers and fathers (this is customary in the Jewish tradition), others choose to walk with just their mother, others with their brother, and others on their own. In unique family situations, we’ve also seen brides split the honor, by, say, linking arms with her stepfather for half of the walk and then switching to her biological father for the remainder. This is one of the most special ways to honor loved ones your wedding day affords, so feel free to do what feels best for your situation.

One helpful tip: on a pre-wedding visit to your ceremony space, make sure you time how long it will take you and your bridesmaids to walk down the aisle–this will help you plan your musical selections, especially if there’s a particular point of the song where you’d like the doors to open or to coincide with your arrival at the altar.

For more wedding ceremony planning tips, pick up your copy of the Southern Weddings Planner! And y’all, I have to brag for a minute. I just finished typing up the final edits before our reorder of the Planner, and friends, it is SO GOOD! It is the project I am most proud of from my seven years at this magazine, and that’s saying a lot. If you’re a bride, go get yourself one – it is one purchase you will NOT regret!!

emily Written with love by Emily
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Hello, lovely friends! Today we’ll be chatting about a topic that hasn’t gotten much airtime yet in the Emily Plans a Wedding series, but that is very close to my heart: our wedding ceremony. Despite my radio silence on the subject, it’s the part of our wedding weekend that I’m most looking forward to, and perhaps the part I’m most anxious about. In fact, I’ve got so much to say about the ceremony that I’ll be discussing it in my next post, too!

But let’s start at the beginning! For those of you who weren’t with us back in September, John and I will be saying our vows at the United States Coast Guard Memorial Chapel, on the grounds of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.

Fingers crossed we get a day just like this!! (Personal photo)

A few reasons why we love the CGA Chapel:

1. The Chapel welcomes visiting clergy, meaning there were very few obstacles to the pastor from our church in North Carolina performing the service.
2. It’s about 15 minutes away from our reception location.
3. My Dad is retired Coast Guard and taught at the Academy for 25+ years, so I have very happy memories associated with the base.
4. It is gorgeous! Love those blue walls and huge windows!

One downside: that tile aisle is treacherously slippery! I’ve been walking around the house wearing my wedding heels to scuff the soles in preparation :)

I’ve mentioned it a couple times, but one thing that was really important to us was that our pastor from our church in North Carolina could perform our ceremony. (Some churches are very strict about who they will allow to lead a service, which means we were even more grateful to have found the CGA!) We have a tremendous amount of respect for our pastor and know he will help strike the joyful, thoughtful, faith-filled tone we’re hoping our service will have. Plus, we can’t wait to hear his message, AND we can’t wait for our Northern friends and family to enjoy his thick Southern accent :) Asking Carl to officiate was one of the first to-dos we checked off our planning list, and one of the best.

We made another big decision when we decided to serve communion at our ceremony. We were a little hesitant about doing this, because we know not all of our guests share our faith, but happily the United Methodist Church offers communion freely to all those who “want Christ in their life,” regardless of religion or denomination, and doesn’t question those who choose not to partake, for whatever reason.

Photo on left by Kurt Boomer via 100 Layer Cake, photo on right by Lisa Lefkowitz via Style Me Pretty

John and I will be serving communion to our guests directly following our vows. We’ll use a silver cup from the church where my grandmother was baptized, and I’m hoping I’ll have a volunteer to bake us some bread! We find it very meaningful and appropriate that our first act as a married couple will be to serve others, and we’re also happy that communion will give us a chance to see each of our guests one by one, since we’re not doing a receiving line and won’t have a seated dinner at our reception.

A favorite classic program design… still trying to figure out what ours will look like! (Photo by J. Cogliandro)

Speaking of vows: We’ll be saying the traditional ones, though perhaps with a few small tweaks. We think making the same vow that our parents and grandparents and their parents did is powerful, especially because we are lucky to have such beautiful examples of marriage in our parents. We’re still discussing exactly what we’ll say, but this is the rough draft:

“I, Emily, take you, John, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, all the days of my life.”

So exciting to think about actually saying those words, no?? I can’t wait!

Another pretty set of programs, this one by Mr. Boddington’s Studio

We’re still discussing whether we’ll also exchange more personal vows at the ceremony in addition to the traditional ones. I’m all for it, while John is not totally on board (he’s a pretty traditional sort, plus he’s afraid he’s going to start bawling, which, I’ll admit, is a distinct possibility, but not really a problem, in my opinion!). Just in case we do go this route, I’ve been storing away ideas in a Google Doc for the past year – no last-minute vow writing for this girl!

I just keep thinking about my friend Katharine’s wedding – she and Kyle exchanged the most meaningful set of “promises” in addition to traditional vows, and it was definitely a highlight of their wedding. When I think about the other wedding ceremonies that have really stuck with me, it’s usually the ones that included some sort of personal words from the couple.

One thing that’s always confused me, though, is how, exactly, the personal vows are created. From my research, it seems like couples do it in a variety of ways. Some decide on a rough format (like Katharine and Kyle’s promises), word length, or length of time to ensure the vows somewhat resemble each other. Others write the personal vows together (like my sister and her husband), and exchange the same set. My thoughts, as of right now? There’s so much that I have painstakingly planned about this wedding, I think it would be a thrill to have at least one part of the day where I don’t know what’s going to happen – and hopefully, I’ll be delightfully surprised. (If not sobbing!)

I’ll be back soon to share more about our readings and music! In the meantime, tell me: What kind of vows did you recite, or what kind are you planning to recite? Traditional? Personal? Both? Please comment and let me know!

In case you missed a post…
The main characters | Where we’re getting married | I go dress shopping | We choose a photographer | I ponder bridesmaid style | Mini food! | The music | We’re renting a tent! | We discuss bouquets + boutonnieres | We send out our save the dates | I gather hair and makeup inspiration | We talk cake and sweets | I introduce you to our videographer | We create a registry | We buy a tuxedo | We style a reception | I choose accessories | We take engagement photos!

emily Written with love by Emily
14 Comments
  1. avatar Madelynne Moulton reply

    We recited traditional vows for the very same reason y’all did! There’s something powerful about saying the same words as the generations that came before you. I LOVE the idea of writing your a set of vows together and reciting them back to each other as well. We all have unique aspirations with our married life and it’s pretty special to be able to share them with others and God.

  2. avatar Kelly reply

    I love those blue flags and all of your reasons for picking the church! We used traditional vows but we also had 3 ceremonies technically (one by friends, long story involving an expired driver’s license; civil ceremony, and a blessing in a chapel with just family and closest friends), so I guess we made our promises three times :)

  3. avatar Katie O’Keefe reply

    My dad served in the Coast Guard for 20 years as a helicopter and fixed wing pilot. I love that you are getting married at the chapel – it is so beautiful, and so special!

    We only exchanged traditional vows, but I love the non-traditional vows as well. I would perhaps have some guidelines though. For instance if we had written our own vows, mine would have been three pages long and his would have been one sentence. :-)

    Do whatever is natural for you both as a couple, this is your wedding day. Would writing your own vows end up stressing you both out, or would it be easy for you and a great meaningful, addition to the ceremony?

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Katie! That’s so neat about your dad! Mine was on ships for a bit, but for as long as I can remember, he was on the permanent teaching staff at the CGA, so both the Coast Guard AND the Academy were important parts of my life! Great question about the vows – I think it might stress both of us out a bit, but in the long run, sometimes there are things that are worth getting stressed out over, you know? If they’re the right things :)

    • avatar Katie O’Keefe reply

      Emily: Exactly, you’ve got to do what means the most to both of you – you only say these words once! I’m sure whatever you decide will be beautiful. :-)

  4. avatar Kristen reply

    Beautiful church! The ceremony is obviously the most important part, and what I was most excited about, as well.

    We wrote our own vows, but they were fairly traditional. No “I promise to scratch your back” or “I promise to laugh at all of your cheesy jokes.”

    I know it’s been done – but if John isn’t too excited about sharing very personal thoughts with the entire congregation, perhaps you can write letters to each other and read them to one another in private following the ceremony. Those precious minutes after you have walked out of the church are some of the sweetest ever, and this would only add to the happiness of that moment.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Kristen! Completely agree! I definitely believe that marriage and vows are for life, and so I really want to make sure we’re promising things to each other that we can keep FOR LIFE, even if they’re more personal than the traditional ones we’ll exchange. Definitely love the note idea, and that will for sure be our backup plan if we don’t do the dual vows at the ceremony!

  5. avatar Lara reply

    Oh, how beautiful and special and meaningful! I love that you are serving communion to your guests. That is so special. Beautiful!

  6. avatar Desiree reply

    Emily!!! this is the best post by far :) I’m so excited for you. Eric and I spoke traditional vows and I very much remember the “these are the hands” poem that our pastor read to us. I.love.that.reading. Everytime I hear it (ahem…often) I think back to that day when I was so excited to look at my husband’s hands. Truth be told – I thought he had super hot hands when we were first dating and he was driving around his manual car :) Go with the surprise vows – I think it’s brilliant!! Make sure you keep copies of them and recite every year! xo

  7. avatar Emily reply

    This looks so gosh darn charming! I’m in total wedding planning mode… mine’s next June. Today I found some amazing antique glass bottles for my centerpieces!

    xoxo
    Emily
    emilyannestyle.com

  8. avatar Bri @ Posh Purpose reply

    My fiance and I are saying the traditional vows, as well. I love that they have been used for so long and for so many couples in my family and church. My fiance is also an engineer and I recently got my math degree; we aren’t really word people so we were never interested in writing our own vows. I think the set of promises is a lovely idea for others, though! It will definitely be memorable and it is always sweet to be surprised by your beau :)

  9. avatar Stephanie reply

    My husband and I shared communion with all of our guests at our wedding. We were both a little hesitant at first because of the reason you stated above but also because of how much time it could end up taking. Our minister kept encouraging us to do it so we gave in and added it to the ceremony. We are so glad we did! It is truly the most special time. You are able to have a moment with each one of your guests as you serve them. Jonathan and I still one month later (i know its not that long) talk about how that was the best decision we made! It will forever hold a very special place in our heart! I recommend it for any bride who is considering serving communion. PS during that time we had two hymns sung “Be Thou My Vision” and “Come Thou Fount”…it was perfect!

  10. avatar Emily Plans a Wedding: The Ceremony, Part II – Southern Weddings Magazine reply

    […] back to the Emily Plans a Wedding series! Thank you so much for your thoughts on my last ceremony post – I loved reading through all of the comments! As promised, I’m back with a few more […]

Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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