I can clearly remember it: August rolled around, and suddenly, I was one month out from our wedding. (How did that happen??) The to do lists seemed to be multiplying before my eyes, and the thought of pulling together the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner details in addition to wrapping up ceremony and reception details seemed impossible. Thankfully, I had a gracious and capable sister-in-law who stepped in and took some of the pressure off me, but I know I’m not the only one who’s found herself in a similar situation.
Out of all the details you’re planning for your big day, the rehearsal itself might not seem like a terribly important one. However, because it will likely be the first time you’ll see many of your guests that weekend, emotions will be running high, and you might be just the teensiest bit stressed (though we hope not!). If you’re not working with a planner, it will fall to you to take control of your rehearsal, and even if you will have a planner on hand, there are steps you can take to help it run smoothly. Here are our best tips!
1. Set a hard-stop for projects. The goal should be to arrive at your rehearsal calm, happy, and ready to welcome your VIPs. In order to do this, I suggest setting a goal of having all details, DIY projects, and arrangements made one week before your wedding day. That way, you’ll be free to enjoy the folks coming into town early, to savor your last week with your fiance, to have the headspace to deal with the last-minute snafus that inevitably pop up, and to still be calm when your rehearsal rolls around.
2. Communicate early and clearly. Send out an email at least two weeks in advance of your wedding weekend to all of the ceremony participants (bridal party, family members, readers, soloists, etc.). Let them know where and when you’d like them to arrive, and what, if anything, they need to bring or wear. Be gracious if some folks can’t make it – rehearsals are often in the afternoon on Friday, during the normal workday. Communicate the same details to your vendors (officiant, musicians, etc.) so they know what to expect, too.
3. Prepare for the rehearsal. Decide in advance who is going to stand in what order at the altar, who is going to participate in the processional and recessional, if folks are sitting or standing… try to think through any questions that might come up so that they can be dealt with quickly and clearly. Print multiple copies of your ceremony timeline to distribute.
4. Arrive early to the actual rehearsal. I’d suggest arriving at least a half an hour before you’re asking participants to arrive. That way, you’ll have time to scout the ceremony space, making sure it looks like you’re expecting it to; greet the “church lady,” if you’re marrying in a chapel; and greet each beloved friend or family member as they arrive.
5. Rehearse with purpose. Depending on whether you’re working with a church lady, with a planner, with a day-of coordinator, with a friend who’s officiating for the first time, or with a pastor who’s presided over hundreds of weddings, the leader of the rehearsal can vary. In general, it’s good to give your officiant a chance to give any direction he’d like (our pastor reminded us all not to lock our knees!) and the church lady a chance to issue any directives for the use of the space. Then, read through the “bullet points” of the order of the service so everyone knows what will happen when (i.e. “first Lila will give her reading, then John will give his reading”). Next, practice the processional and recessional (see below). Finally, go over any musical cues with your musicians.
6. Start with the recessional. Processing and recessing can raise the most questions, even though it’s pretty simple! To rehearse in the most painless way possible, start with everyone where they’ll be for the bulk of the ceremony: bride and groom at the front, bridesmaids and groomsmen lined up in the right order, parents in their seats, etc. Then, have everyone recess up the aisle, staying in order. Once you get to the back of the church/space, you’ll be all set to practice the processional.
7. Make the hand-off. After your rehearsal wraps up is a great time to hand-off any wedding items a friend, planner, or day-of coordinator will be setting up the next day. Make sure everything is securely packed (big Rubbermaid tubs are helpful!) and clearly labeled. I also printed off a packet list (with diagrams and photos!) for our day-of coordinator of where things should go and how they should look.
With a smooth rehearsal under your belt, I hope you’ll be feeling finer than a frog’s hair split three ways and ready to dine at your rehearsal dinner! Putting in just a little effort on the front end to start your wedding off on the right foot will pay off handsomely in the days that follow.
Love this advice? We promise, there’s so much more in the Southern Weddings Planner, a must-have for every bride!