Welcome to Elopement Planning 101: a series where we’ll dive into how to plan your elopement with 8 key steps and considerations.
Each of these blog posts is also a podcast episode. You can listen to The Elopement Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play.
How to Create a Meaningful Ceremony
Today we are talking all about how to create a meaningful ceremony! There is such a crucial difference between a wedding ceremony that is intentional and full of love, and one that is read without thought from a basic script that was found on the internet. One of the biggest key aspects to creating a meaningful ceremony is the relationship you have with your officiant, and having a ceremony that is customized and unique to you and your partner.
For this topic, I was able to chat with a good friend of mine, Meredith Richmond with Ceremonies by Meredith. Being an officiant who is native to Lake Tahoe, Meredith and I have done many weddings together. She is hands down the most amazing officiant I have witnessed as an elopement photographer! During our conversation, we dug deep and talked about how to create a meaningful ceremony, what her process is like, and what to look for in hiring an officiant. Buckle up, ‘cause this post is a good one!
Another way to think of your wedding ceremony is to realize that it is an experience in itself, apart from the rest of the day.
It’s a moment that is new and unfamiliar, one you have yet to experience up to that point. Often times couples experience an out of body experience from the many emotions they feel during such an impactful moment of their life. Sort of like – “did that just happen?”
To get into that space of realness and vulnerability, Meredith meets with each of her couples (usually over Zoom these days, thanks Covid!) and gets to know their stories. She has a method of asking certain questions to understand their relationship and weave personal details from their history into the ceremony. She has an optional questionnaire after the call for each partner to answer separately, which allows for an anticipation of reveal during the ceremony. Each of the guests and the couple are engaged and involved, eagerly waiting to hear the responses! It’s such a great way to add an element of personality and love.
There are so many different elements to a ceremony that may or may not be important to you as a couple, so Meredith takes the time to get to know each couple and their history together, bring up suggestions, and work her magic. By the end of the meeting, they’ve created a masterpiece together in the form of a unique, custom, written ceremony.
As someone who’s witnessed countless ceremonies officiated by Meredith over the past three years, I’ve come to realize how transformational a customized wedding ceremony can be.
It truly transcends people into another moment – another “portal”, as we like to call it – that allows for an entirely unique and special experience. We’ve all been to weddings that stick to a traditional church script, which works great for some couples, but the beauty of elopements is that the couple has the opportunity to march to the beat of their own drum and make it their own. Whether it be a tree planting or a wine pouring ceremony to represent two lives merging together as one, each ceremony can (and should) be an honest representation of who you are as a couple, and what means the most to you. After all, your wedding is about you first and foremost!
There is so much to be said about working with an officiant who takes the time to get to know the both of you and your story. It’s important to not look at your officiant and see them as “just another vendor”. Booking an officiant should be an intentional and thoughtful process.
Here’s what to look for in an officiant:
Think about what matters most. Is it important to you to have a ceremony that’s spiritual, Christian-based, or non-religious? Your ceremony can be as personal as you want, or you can keep it more traditional – it’s YOUR special day!
Find an officiant who wants to hear your story. You’ll never go wrong with choosing something who fits you and can identify with the type of ceremony you’re looking for.
Choose someone who allows you to be your authentic selves, and lets you and your partner be involved in creating your ceremony. You don’t want an officiant who shows up with their own agenda and has no regard for what you want.
You’ll want an officiant who is approachable and makes you feel comfortable! This is so huge. Ceremonies can be vulnerable and come with a lot of emotions. You want to feel safe and be able to trust your officiant with such a major moment in your life.
Never forget, your vendors are there to be your support team throughout the wedding process! Each vendor should be inclusive and open to making your wedding day about you and not them. Find vendors who care more about your day than their portfolio, this applies to officiants as well!
Creating a meaningful ceremony is all about vulnerability.
Think of it as a trust fall between you and your partner, as you share in the growth and triumphs you’ve been through together. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up to creating a ceremony that may look different than what you’re traditionally used to seeing – it can be so rewarding!
When it comes to choosing your officiant, understand that your ceremony is more than just a 10-15 minute “lecture”. Your wedding ceremony – however it looks – sets the tone for the rest of the wedding day, and the rest of your relationship together as a couple. It’s not something you show up for then it’s over and done, never to be thought about again. You and your guests are going to look back on those moments during your ceremony forever. When I think about my own elopement, the way we chose to get married let everyone know what they can expect from us moving forward in life. It allowed us to be more authentic than if we had not been able to share that experience of creating our ceremony.
Now I’d like to speak to couples who choose to have a friend or family member officiate their ceremony, because this is quite common!
Here are a few pieces of advice for hiring a friend or family member as your officiant:
Wanting to choose a friend or family member as your officiant is understandable, because that level of comfort is already there. However, it’s important to make sure this person genuinely feels honored and excited, and not pressured or obligated. While some friends or family members would feel thrilled by the idea, others might just feel stressed by such a task.
If they are up for the task – encourage them to talk to Meredith who has a formula for helping your friend or family member develop a personalized ceremony. She will even coach them through the process, from getting ordained to tips for performing the ceremony. Learn more about Meredith’s officiant coaching here!
Officiating a wedding ceremony is not like a stage performance. It is a real, authentic life experience. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, it’s okay to go “off-script” and let the moment feel raw.
In my experience witnessing many ceremonies, I notice when friends or family members turn their officiant role into a way to make people laugh, share inside jokes or disclose too much. It’s best to save this approach for the speeches later on!
It’s normal to get emotional, but make sure your friend/family member officiant is able to stay grounded during the ceremony.
Rehearsing IS encouraged! If you are choosing a friend of family member to officiate your ceremony, practice is key. It’s okay to give them direction for what you want in your ceremony, it can still be authentic if it’s prepared.
Over the years, I’ve developed a new perspective on the reverence of ceremonies. Everything we do on the elopement day leads up to the ceremony, and the ceremony sets the tone for the rest of the day. Hiring the right officiant should be a priority, and is a decision not to be taken lightly! The right officiant will provide an exceptional experience and help you create a meaningful ceremony that you’ll look back on forever. Always remember, we as wedding vendors are here to make you feel empowered and fulfilled when planning your elopement!
Don’t forget to check out the full Elopement Planning 101 series on the podcast, and head to the blog for more elopements, tips, and resources. Still in need of a photographer or help planning your elopement in Lake Tahoe? Reach out!