What to Say and Do to Start the Ceremony

(Hint: It’s Not “Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here Today…”)



by Mark Allan Groleau in Ceremony Kickoff
October 16, 2017

Let’s say you’re officiating a wedding. You make the last check of the five details, walk to the front of the room, turn, see 100+ people looking back at you, and take a breath to start the wedding ceremony.

Here’s where the Choose Your Own Adventure begins. (Remember those books? Did I just date myself?)

Scenario One: You say, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today….” Okay, let’s reserve judgment on your choice to start the ceremony that way. (For now.)

The question is: what do the guests know about how they are to behave and feel during this ceremony?

Answer: reserved. Quiet. Like an audience. And if that’s what you and/or your couple are going for, you can stop reading now because you’re gonna get exactly the result you want with that opening. A nice tame group of listeners. Cheers – have a great week!

Okay… if you’re still here – hi!

Scenario Two: Now imagine you say, “Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to an event years in the making. Let me hear you, now! Are you ready for Jill and Andrew to finally get married?”

What do the guests know about how they are to behave and feel during this ceremony?

They’re going to cheer. And holler. And maybe even whoop. They know right away: the officiant sees me. We have permission to participate. We’re an active part of this ceremony. This is a celebration!

So if that’s what we’re going for – if that’s the vibe we want – then we don’t start with declarations like, “Welcome to the wedding of Jill and Andrew” or “Hi everyone, thanks for coming. We are gathered here today….”

The first thing we say in the wedding ceremony is: a question.

It’s a question that can only be replied to with a rousing “YES!” from all the friends and family and guests.

The question is: “Are you ready for Jill and Andrew to finally get married??”

(Of course… make sure you change “Jill and Andrew” to the names of your couple. Otherwise it will make things really awkward.)

And now the guests are all in. They’re with us. And they’re grateful we’re made the wedding ceremony about them, too.

When I started out officiating, I learned this the long way. I learned it by comparing my first many weddings to each other. Sometimes the guests were a bit uptight. Other times they were really rowdy. What was the difference? Was it the decor? The seating? The echoiness of the room? The weather?

Sometimes a number of factors contribute to how free and relaxed the guests feel during the wedding ceremony. But soon I suspected the algorithm was me, and I started to test it. And yep: in the weddings where I opened with just, “Hi everyone, welcome to the wedding of…,” the guests were a bit muted; when I opened with that YES!-inducing question, the guests laughed harder, cried freer, and cheered louder.

Boom. It was about the permission I was implicitly giving them. The tone I was setting for their level of participation.

“Okay, Mark, great. So that’s the first thing to say. But, wasn’t this post called What to Say and Do to Start the Wedding Ceremony?” What’s the do part?

‘Glad you asked. The first thing to do will come easy when we open with the cheer-inducing question.

The first thing we do when we take the front and turn, and see all those people looking back at us tense and anxious and tight as a drum is: smile.

Give everyone a huge smile for a few full beats. When we do, we’re prepping them in advance to answer us back when we ask them the cheer-inducing question. We’re inviting them in.

And then we say the thing. “Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to an event years in the making. Let me hear you, now! Are you ready for the wedding of Jill and Andrewwwwww?”

Let the cheering and the hollering and the whooping – and the celebration – begin.

It’s how I start 100% of my ceremonies. And now you have my secret.

Bonus! A word on Opening Remarks

So, usually, the above part happens – the “first thing we say to start the wedding ceremony” – before the processional where the person getting married comes down the aisle after his/her wedding party.

Most of the time I’m standing up there with the groom and his groomsmen for these first words. Technically, the ceremony hasn’t started yet. It’s that part of the ceremony called the “opening remarks” or “announcements.”

Here are the two things the guests need to know before the processional starts – the two things we tell them in the opening remarks.

1. Guests may (or may not) take photos.

In our planning session with our couple, we will have asked them if guests are allowed to take pictures. This is where I tell guests either:

  • “The couple have said we are permitted to discreetly take photos, but please, let’s not get in the way of the professionals,” OR
  • “The couple have asked that we not take any photos, so please put all your cameras and phones away.”

2. Please turn your phones on silent mode. 

Regardless of whether or not guests are permitted to take photos with their phones, as officiants, we need to remind everyone to turn their phones off or to silent mode.

Pro-tip: this is a good time to make a joke like, “Especially the groom. And groomsmen. C’mon guys, is everything off?”

With those things out of the way, I then say the magic words that are the real cue to get the processional started: “With that, let’s begin.” The music starts, and here we go.

  1. Is there anything else you check on in the last minutes before the ceremony starts? A #6 or #7 of your own?

  2. Ernie Cortazar says:

    Wow.. Thank You so much for these most helpful tips. This will be my first Wedding officiating. It’s my lovely niece and her fiance…. and I so appreciate your funny and most informative suggestions as they have really helped me in my planning. Especially with the Opening… I’m pretty cheerful and colorful, so your insight with the Greeting will get many cheers and laughs and set the tone. Thank You once again… Much Appreciated… Sincerely, Ernie C.

  3. Geoffrey muzungu says:

    Nice one

    1. Doug Brunnette says:

      I thought about being a little early so that I could greet the guests informally as they are seated, a personal contact. How does that sound to you?

      1. Hi Doug – I think it’s up to you! For me, as a hired pro who is going to be centre-stage for about half an hour, I like to stay out of the limelight until it’s time to take the mic, so to speak. As officiants, it’s very easy to come off as “stealing the show” when it should be all about the couple. So my advice would be to proceed with caution and err on the side of “graciously on the margins” until it’s time to do the job. Make sense?

  4. Oliver Ray says:

    I found it interesting that as the wedding minister you wanted to have everyone happy, not just the bride and a groom. You suggest doing that with a specific question that will get everyone cheered up, laughing, and in a proud mood for the bride and groom. I think this is something very powerful to consider using to make the bride and groom’s day even better by having everyone else enjoy them together as well.

    1. Thanks, Oliver! You’re very right, I want everyone to be happy, and that stems primarily from the bride and groom’s wish that they want all their guests to be happy on their wedding. After all, they’re typically wining and dining all the guests as well, and it’s all the people they love the most. No need to make the guests suffer on the couple’s behalf! lol On the contrary, wedding officiants can be an integral part of everyone having a great time from the moment the ceremony starts and for the entire rest of the day. the energy is already there to channel! Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. Kalissa says:

    Thank you! My cousin asked me to officiate her wedding which is lord of the rings themed, your tips will go a long way in making this event even more light hearted and fun!

    1. That’s awesome, Kalissa! A LOTR wedding sounds so fun! Yes – you definitely want to create a lighthearted atmosphere for a theme wedding. All the best!

  6. Nick says:

    Does this only work if the wedding officiant is up at the podium before the processional? What if the officiant is a part of the processional?

    1. If you’re part of the processional, I’d say still do the opening remarks like this, and then close them out by making a fun comment that you have to leave now but you’ll be back in a few moments along with everyone else. Be fun, be human, and anything goes! Thanks for the question, Nick!

  7. Ray says:

    This is a beach wedding. I was thinking about an “ice breaker” joke. Would that be inappropriate?

    1. Haha – well… it depends on the joke. Because “jokes” are so subjective, you’re not gonna win everyone over with a joke. That’s why I recommend starting with the little tease (“c’mon you can do better than that… ‘good afternoon!'”), then with asking an obvious “yes” question to break the ice like, “Are you ready for these two to get married??” Everyone will shout back at ya, and the ice is broken.

      That said, if it’s super hot (or cold) out and people are uncomfortable, it’s best to just name that and put it on the table: “How many people wish it were just a few degrees coooler??” with a smile. Again, you’re gonna get everyone “YEAH!”ing back at you. It’s the safest way to break the ice. Because if you tell a joke that doesn’t work right off the top, that’s a tough hole to crawl out of for the rest of the ceremony. 🙂 Thanks for your question!

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