There are three crucial moments when the wedding officiant needs to step aside in the wedding ceremony. As officiants, we’re literally the centre of attention for almost the entire ceremony. I mean, there’s no need to hog the spotlight the entire time!
Hopefully, we keep our self-into in our opening comments down to a single sentence or two, and then our officiant speech is entirely about our couple. With our words, we’re doing our best to deflect everyone’s attention to who the whole day is really about. (Hint: it’s not us!)
In addition to our words, though, we can also send that signal with our bodies. Here are three moments in the ceremony when we can physically get out of the way and keep it all about the couple.
1. The Processional
I’ve officiated countless weddings, and every single wedding shares the same feature. At one point near the beginning of the ceremony, one Marrier* (bride or groom) is standing at the front, and the other Marrier walks down the aisle towards them. (*”Marrier” is contemporary gender-inclusive language in the wedding industry for “bride” or “groom”.)
When you have the officiant’s vantage point, you’ll notice two things.
First, the wedding guests don’t just watch Marrier A walk down the aisle. Oh no. Their heads will be turning back and forth. First towards the back to watch Marrier A coming down the aisle. Then towards the front to see Marrier B’s reaction. Then back to Marrier A, and then back to Marrier B. There are smiles and tears and it’s all so very intimate and electric.
Second, you’ll notice that the photographer and/or videographer are doing much the same. The camera is pointed at Marrier A in the aisle, then Marrier B at the front. Or one shooter will be capturing A, and a second will be focused on B.
When I started officiating, I would stand in place, front and centre. Which meant I was in the line of sight of Marrier A gazing at Marrier B waiting. It also meant I was right beside Marrier B when all the wedding guests were crying and smiling at him or her. Finally, it meant that I was in a heck of a lot of those photos. The ones where Marrier B is wiping their eyes or beaming with joy at the love of their life coming down the aisle. And wait – is that the officiant, too? Just how close is he standing for goodness sake?
Then I clued in.
“I’m going to start getting out of the way.” Here’s what that looks like.
After the Processional song starts, Marrier A steps into view at the rear of the ceremony space. Everyone is turning around and craning their necks to catch that first glimpse.
This is the moment. Rather than getting caught up in what everyone else is looking at, we officiants want to have the presence of mind to step to whichever side Marrier B is not standing on. We give them space. We get out of the shot. We are out of the spotlight so our couple can lock into each other and become the focus of all the attention – each other’s and their guests’.
Officiant, if there’s ever a moment you’re not needed in the ceremony, this is it. Tastefully step out of the way.
When Marrier A arrives at the front row and stops, we return to our place at the centre to ask the question or prepare to speak while the couple takes their place in front of us.
Now we’re needed, everyone needs to see us, and we’re rightfully commanding attention again.
2. The Vows
Easily the most intimate part of the wedding ceremony is when the couple exchange vows.
I want you to remember the last time you shared an intimate moment with a significant other – just the two of you. Someplace you could really lock into each other and open your heart. Say, a restaurant, cozied up in a booth just for two.
You’re staring into each other’s eyes, and you start thinking about telling the other person just how much they mean to you. And then… you turn your head slightly. The waiter has decided to slide into the booth and sit right next to you. “Go ahead, pretend I’m not here,” he assures you.
You hesitantly return your gaze to that special someone. You clear your throat and get ready to speak.
Then, the waiter raises a glass of water to your lips. He doesn’t put it to your mouth. Just… hovers it. A few inches from your chin. You look at him, utterly perplexed at how he can think this is appropriate.
“It’s okay,” he says. “In case your mouth gets dry from the nerves. After all, this is pretty intense!”
That would never happen.
Why does it happen at weddings?
For the life of me, I’ll never understand why officiants and celebrants hold the microphone to the mouth of the bride and groom when they’re saying their vows. And yet, it’s common practice.
It’s a practice that needs to go.
First of all, when the officiant holds the mic during the vows, the officiant is literally in the shot. The photos of our couple saying their vows capture one of the most intimate and meaningful moments in their lives. When you’re holding the mic for them, the photographer cannot get an angle where you or your arm are not dominating the photo. So get out of it.
If our couple are repeating their vows line by line or simply saying “I do” in reply to a big long vow question, then I’d argue they don’t need a mic at all. All the VIP guests in the first few rows will be able to hear them just fine, and no one at the back will be whispering to their neighbour, “What are they saying??” They’ll hear the officiant’s voice first and know what the couple are repeating or answering to.
Even more importantly, this is a very intimate moment. True, it’s not a private moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s not intimate. And the last thing anyone needs during an intimate moment between two lovers is a third person holding something to their faces. Whether there’s a photographer there or not.
“Don’t the couple need me to hold the mic for them, though?”
I’ve had fellow officiants object to my advice that they let the couple hold their own mic for themselves on the premise that the couple need to hold their vows with one hand and their fiancé’s hand with the other.
To that I say: nope, the couple do not need to hold hands for this part.
I mean, sure, it would be ideal if they could hold their vows with one hand, their fiancé’s hand with another, and the mic with their third hand. I’ll give you that. But such is the limitation of us humans’ shortsightedness to evolve with only two arms. (If only we’d started doing weddings a few million years ago, maybe we’d have the necessary appendages…?)
Sure, you might gain some intimacy by having them hold hands during this part. But you’re immediately erasing those gains and then some – by interloping between them and pressing a mic all up into their grill.
This is another one of those moments where they don’t need you, and they sure don’t need you in their photos.
When it’s time for the couple to say their vows to each other, simply hand Marrier A the sheet with their written vows on it and either the mic you’ve been using (on the stand in front of you!) or another mic nearby expressly for this purpose. They have two hands, and they can hold two things.
Then take two or three steps backward left or right of centre and observe the moment along with everyone else. When Marrier A is done, step forward, take their vows, give Marrier B their vows and the mic, and step away again.
Voila. You’ve given the couple space, plus you’ve facilitated a rare intimate and public moment. The kind of moment that only happens in a wedding ceremony!
…When the officiant isn’t ramrodding his or her arm in their face, that is.
3. The Kiss
A quick Google image search of “wedding ceremony kiss photo” will turn up hundreds of results of a newlywed couple locking lips under a gorgeous arbour festooned with flowers.
A majority of those photos will also feature something else just behind the couple. A shoulder. A tuft of hair. An arm holding a binder. Or the officiant in full view. Sometimes the officiant is rooted in place, smiling uncomfortably at the couple. Other times, the officiant is captured mid-stride, looking like they’re trying to flee the scene of a crime.
The officiant in the kiss shot is the bane of every wedding photographer, and it’s so easily avoidable.
Here’s how it’s done.
Moments before the kiss, we pronounce the couple as married. Depending on what my couple tell me in our ceremony planning session, here’s a version of what I say for the Pronouncement:
“Well, with nothing left to be said, in front of your closest friends and family and by the authority given me by the Province of New Brunswick, I pronounce you married! You may share your first married kiss!”
They go in for the kiss. And by then I’m long gone.
How do I make sure I’m not still there or even walking away when they kiss?
I don’t wait ’til the end of my pronouncement before I start moving. I start stepping away from the centre when I get to “…Province of New Brunswick….” That leaves a good three seconds as I complete the statement to grab the mic stand if there is one and start walking back and to the left.
That way both the mic and I are well out of the shot by the time they have at it. Cue the perfect photo!
Photographers have personally thanked me for saving them hours of Photoshop work having to remove the officiant from the shot. Couples have thanked me for sparing them the all-too-common “officiant leering at the kiss” photo they’ve seen elsewhere.
You can do it too. As you state your Pronouncement, start walking back and to one side before you finish. If there’s a mic stand, take it with you. Then bask in the glow and cheer them on like one of the wedding party until it all subsides and you step back to the centre to announce the Signing of the Registry or make your Closing Remarks.
Wedding officiant, you’re a crucial, indispensable part of the wedding day. The ceremony can’t happen without you! But there are three moments where you don’t need to be at the centre of the action: when the Marrier is coming down the aisle, when the wedding vows are being said, and when the married couple kiss.
Graciously step out of the way, and your need not to be noticed… will be gratefully noticed.