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THE ALTAR

Including family in your ceremony (without having them officiate)...

One of the easiest ways to make your ceremony engaging and memorable is to have your family and friends included! Having them participate in the ceremony creates a sense of familiarity at the altar (for you and your guests), shows their importance in your life, and adds meaningful memories to a sacred experience.


And honestly, the trend to have a friend officiate your ceremony doesn’t work for everyone ('cause trust me, I know that giving a mic to certain family members is the last thing on your wedding planning to-do list). You may simply want more guidance and support from a professional in this role.


There are many other intentional and fulfilling ways to include family in your wedding ceremony (without having them officiate). These ideas will help you customize your wedding ceremony so that it’s memorable and a little magical. You will be able to honor your community in a way that’s authentic to your relationship!


Photography credit: Tia Nash Photography, Capture Studio NOLA, and Marquez Fotos


1) Acknowledgments and Gifts

If you want to include family without giving them a lot of responsibility in your ceremony, you can take a few approaches. Firstly, you can take a moment in the ceremony to speak directly to the family you want to honor. Ask them to stand or come to the center of the aisle, as they’re willing and able, to receive your gratitude and acknowledgment.


You can make these sentiments tangible by giving your family members a gift during the ceremony. Consider giving flowers, custom bracelets or jewelry, crystals, or other trinkets that reflect something unique about their relationship to you.


2) Coordinate Colors or Other Clothing

Another way to set your special people apart and show their importance is to ask them to wear a special color or article of clothing. It may be a color that ties into your wedding decor or an article that has some special significance to your family’s culture. Even consider making is something personal and fun like Mardi Gras beads (if you met on a random trip with friends to New Orleans), a pin that signifies your first family vacation, etc.


Seeing everyone show up in such a unified way will absolutely fill your cup on your wedding day!


3) Special Vows

As an officiant, I have worked with clients to create special vows for family and friends. These vows can be included with kids for blended families, specific for your support group, and used to include all of your guests.


During the wedding ceremony, I ask guests to support the couple in a number of ways. They respond “We do” to signify their support for the couple and the significance of community in their marriage. This is always a fun addition that gets the guests engaged and active in the ceremony itself.


Photography Credit: Hannah Pickle and Mateo & Co.


Interactive Elements of the Ceremony

Of course, you can also choose to include family in a wedding ceremony in more active ways. My biggest suggestion is to make sure your family or friends feel comfortable performing the tasks you're asking of them! Some people completely freeze up with public speaking, have serious anxiety in large groups, or simply won't want the pressure to "perform well." Standing at the altar in charge of memories and moments that can't be redone is a big deal... make sure it will be as meaningful to them as it is for you.


4) Share a Reading, Poem, Prayer, or Excerpt

One of the most common is to ask someone to share a poem, reading, prayer, or scripture. This is a great opportunity for your family to share something important from your culture. The ideas for having family read are seriously limitless! Consider having them read a specific prayer in their native language, the "Marriage Equality Ruling" (to honor LGBTQ+ unions), lyrics from a favorite song, or any other meaningful text.


5) License Signing

Opt to sign your marriage license during the ceremony (it's usually written in after the ring exchange but before the pronouncement). Logistically, it's super easy to include in your ceremony and will give your family a chance to witness the special moment of getting "legally" married. Signing during the ceremony means that you can ask family members to sign as your witnesses. Like the special vows I just mentioned, this is a meaningful way to affirm your family and friends’ significance in your marriage.


6) Inclusive Ritual

Some of my couples opt to include a family unity ritual during their ceremony. You may choose to honor your family’s heritage here or come up with something completely new if that feels right for you. The unity candle ceremony is a popular way to include family members. Each of the people getting married chooses a family member to bring a taper candle to the ceremony. After the couple exchanges their vows, the family members light the tapered candle and the couple uses the tapered candles to light a larger one of their own. The warmth and symbolism adds a unique touch to a wedding ceremony.


As lovely as the unity candle ritual is, it is not always the best option for each couple (outdoor weddings make it difficult, traveling after the wedding makes keeping up with it hard, etc). For my couples, we talk about all types of ritual options (it's kind of my favorite part)! So don't be afraid to do a little leg work and incorporate a ritual that you actually feel connected with.


7) Get Creative

Including family in your wedding ceremony can bring some lightheartedness to your day, too. It is a celebration, after all! Don't be afraid to create a new trend!


Does your family love to shake it, do the electric slide, or know the latest TikTok dances? You could include a fun dance routine or a special handshake during the processional. This lightens the mood and sets a joyful tone for the rest of your ceremony.


Do you want to learn other creative ways to include family in your wedding ceremony? I have more helpful ideas, including readings and unity rituals, in my book Laughter at the Altar! This guide will help you create a meaningful, memorable, and magical ceremony.


No matter how you choose to show off your favorite people, remember that this moment is a reflection of you and your partner. Honoring the people that have laid a foundation of love for you is a bonus. Avoid letting these details send you into information overload! Gather a few ideas, talk it out with your partner, check-in with family, then write it into your ceremony.


Keep it cute, simple(ish), and most importantly... AUTHENTIC!


From NOLA with love,

From NOLA with Love Minister LaToya Papillion-Herr

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