You CAN Have an Incredible Wedding Ceremony!

If a survey was taken asking the question, “What are the words that come to mind when you think of a wedding ceremony?” Chances are the responses would not be positive. A majority of couples these days have preconceived notions that weddings are too long, boring, overly traditional, or all of the above! And that’s because they have personally attended a wedding that was too long, boring, overly traditional, or all of the above! What should be an engaging celebration turns out to be a dull, dry, yawner.

On their wedding day, couples know they will be exchanging vows, but little else of what will be said on their behalf. However, they are decently confident that when the ceremony is over, they will have been pronounced “Husband and Wife.” Because of the fear of the unknown, couples are increasingly leery that they will be embarrassed by their officiant. Example? Brides are STILL being asked the “question of doom” in front of their beloved family and friends: “Do you promise to “OBEY” your husband for as long as you both shall live?” Back in the day, that WAS 100% apart of the script! To me, it sounds like someone is marrying a Labrador Retriever. I can’t tell you how many times I have taken a phone call from a bride and groom telling me, “We just want to exchange vows – that’s it – short and sweet.” The underlying message is, “We don’t want to take a chance. Let’s make it legal and move onto the reception.”

So, what are the key ingredients that make for an incredible wedding? Based on my 20-plus years of working with amazing couples, a great ceremony is uniquely tailored to the personalities and character qualities of the bride and groom. It should be engaging. It should be meaningful. It should be fun. It should be memorable! When words are spoken in a wedding, they should be real, honest, transparent, creative, humorous, and thoughtful. Most of all, there should be no surprises. A wedding should not be about conforming to a ritual, it’s about being real. Your guests will tune out when they begin to sense your ceremony is scripted, hokey, and stuck in a time warp. I understand that we should respect tradition, but we don’t worship it.

How do we transform a wedding and make it engaging and memorable? The magic key is profoundly simple: It’s all about telling a special story; the tale of two unique people who somehow found each other while living on this planet earth, began a friendship, fell in love, do life together, popped the question, and now stand on the mountaintop proclaiming, “We love each other so much that we want to spend the rest of our lives together, and we’ve brought all of you here to celebrate like you’ve never celebrated before!”

Now we’re talking!

I have met with hundreds of couples since the mid 90’s, investing my time and energies to plan out every detail of their wedding ceremony. It is vital I gain their trust and become their friend and confidant. I refuse to show up and “wing it” on their wedding day because I consider being a wedding officiant a “calling,” not a business. It’s one of the main reasons why I exist – to serve others. I know it sounds cliche, but I want my next wedding to be my best wedding and I am keenly aware that I can’t afford to throw in a “bummer” on the most important day of a couple’s lives. It’s all about integrity. It does not matter if there are 5 or 500 guests at your wedding, the commitment to preparation and process are the same. “If we prepare well, excellence is sure to follow.” That’s my promise to every couple.

Sadly, this is not the mindset and values for many officiants. Maximizing profit while minimizing time is the name of the game, especially when couples have no idea what they are looking for in a wedding officiant. Hopefully, the wisdom I’m offering will help you make a more informed decision.

These are just a few of the questions I ask in a typical pre-ceremony planning session:

➢ When did you first lay eyes on one another?
➢ Where did you first meet?
➢ What were your first impressions?
➢ What’s does the FUN mean to you?
➢ What are your most meaningful memories?
➢ What is he/she really good at?
➢ What are the character qualities you love about one another?
➢ What will it mean to you personally to be married to one another?
➢ What are your dreams for the future?
➢ Would you like to write and exchange your own wedding vows? I’m here to help
you if that’s the case.
➢ Do you want your family to be involved in the ceremony?
➢ What religious values do you want to be apart of your ceremony?
➢ Are there any ceremonies within the ceremony you’d like to implement?

As I ask these questions, I listen carefully and take copious notes with the confidence that once I have the answers I can then craft a one of a kind, personalized love story and ceremony that is communicated with enthusiasm. It takes a little bit of work, but makes a world of difference! No scripts, no flowery poems, no lofty platitudes. It’s all about the story of two people committing themselves to something incredibly cool for the rest of their lives.

I have come to understand that every couple is different. Some have very strong opinions about the content of their ceremony, while others have little idea and need to be thoughtfully led through the planning process. However, every couple with whom I meet hears the same mantra: “It’s your wedding ceremony – not mine. There are no rules. You can do whatever you want and I’ll do everything I can to make it happen. I’ll give you suggestions, but the decisions are yours. What is most important to me is that when we are finished planning, both of you give me a thumbs up and say. “That’s exactly what we want!”

And by the way, I need to address the pink elephant standing on this page: IF YOU CAN’T PLAN A GREAT WEDDING CEREMONY THAT IS 30 MINUTES OR LESS, GO BACK TO DRAWING BOARD AND TRY TRY AGAIN!

Do not be fooled! The truth is you do not have to settle for the “vows only” approach. Sadly, I see too many couples do just that because they don’t know what they COULD have. Be not dismayed and believe this to be true: Your wedding ceremony can actually be the catalyst for an amazing reception!! The celebration starts when the bride is walking down the aisle!! But this can only happen if you are willing to put aside preconceived notions and make the decision that “We want our ceremony to matter!” If you are willing to interview officiants who will invest their time and energies to make your wedding unique, personal, and memorable, your smile will shine brightly on your BIG DAY when friends and family congratulate you with a hug and express to you the words you want to hear: “That was the best wedding I have ever attended!! Incredible!!”

About Dean

Dean Merrill brings 22 years of experience as a wedding officiant in Southern California. His creative and professional approach to performing weddings comes from a unique blending of talents he utilizes in every ceremony in which he officiates. He is currently the preferred wedding officiant for Southern California’s #1 rated wedding coordinator, Bella Vita Events.