The Problem with Running Late to Your Wedding

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This is a delicate matter for me to write about… even though I haven’t been kept waiting to begin a ceremony for years it is still relevant for me to talk about it : the “tradition” of running late to your wedding.

Who dreamt up that idea? That it would be endearing to keep your family and friends standing out in the blazing sun or the chill of a cold snap? To let their anticipation of your arrival rise to increased heights of love and conviviality? I don’t think so.

Trust me, it is not kind to let your guests wait unduly. They have come to honour you.
You need to think of them.

Being late is often caused by your service providers – hairdressers taking too long, photographers holding you up, wedding cars arriving late … but these people are professionals and you should confirm with them the time your ceremony is scheduled to start – then they can allocate the time they know they will need to get you to the church on time!

Don’t listen to your bridesmaids telling you you’ve gotta be late! This could throw out your day and compromise your celebrations : caterers will be depending on a time to start the food service, photographers will see their light dissipating, you may even have to cut your reception short…

As your celebrant I’ll be anxious that you should have a happy, momentous and hassle-free occasion - so I’ll be there in good time to allay any nerves.

If I have another wedding to get to after yours it also makes for a nerve-wracking time for me. Although I leave good time between bookings, it is very stressful to have to weigh up my options : leave your venue and come back to do your wedding later, or be late for another couple’s ceremony.

I have never done this in 20 years, but I was advised years ago by an experienced celebrant to put this in my contract:

“If a bride is more than 15 minutes late the celebrant may have to consider departing to keep faith with a following commitment (often at some driving distance). In these circumstances the celebrant will usually be willing to return to your venue later in the day or evening to perform your ceremony.”

We don’t want that!
End of lesson.

Personalise Your Civil Ceremony: A Wedding Ceremony Guide


There are no hard and fast rules as to how you should organise the official part of your wedding - the Civil Ceremony was conceived so that you, the couple, could design proceedings to reflect your individual style, beliefs, culture and personality. The ceremony you choose, or write, can be traditional or unconventional; ritualistic or simple.

Much will depend on the number of guests you have invited. If you are having a big wedding it is recommended to have ushers arrive half an hour before starting time to greet guests and direct them to the venue.

If you are arriving separately, the groom and attendants should be present at least fifteen minutes before the start and stand close to the celebrant so that the ceremony can begin as soon as the bride arrives. She will arrive a few minutes before the proceedings with her father, or person “presenting” her (optional), and attendants. She then proceeds down the “aisle” on the left of her father, followed by, or following, her attendants, to stand on the left of the groom. You will stand flanked by your attendants ( or with no attendants!) in a kind of semi-circle. I usually stand off to the side – not in the middle, ‘presiding’ over you.

If you are arriving together, you and the bridal party, at least the two witnesses, should meet the celebrant away from the guests a few minutes before the ceremony, and then proceed to the location decided upon for the wedding. The celebrant will normally come forward first and invite the guests to come closer.  It is usual that you will stand facing the guests.

The ceremony you have chosen will then begin. Afterwards you will recess down the “aisle” or just disperse with the wedding party so that everyone can come forward and congratulate you.

The ceremony takes 20-30 minutes, after which the celebrant makes a quiet exit.

Music can be incorporated into the ceremony as you wish – e.g. during the processional, the signing of the Register and recessional.

Remember that these are only guidelines – essentially you can decide the seating, standing, timing arrangements – as long as the legal requirements are met.

Announcing Your Marriage: The Transition of Exchanging Rings

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Although you are married the minute you have exchanged the legal vows (and I love that moment of transition as only we 3 know it’s happened), it is tradition to hold off announcing your marriage until after the rings are exchanged.

Once this has happened I can turn to your guests and pronounce you married, or as husband and wife. If in fact that is what you want me to announce. I need just say: “Congratulations!” but it is nice to enjoy a moment when your change in status is defined. This is the moment when you can be announced as married partners/ your commitment in marriage is declared/ your intent to live together in marriage is cemented – you can play around with the words if you want to get away from tradition.

However it is after this declaration that I say “ You may kiss (the bride)!” - a moment everyone seems to be waiting for. Again this is optional – you can leave it out or say something different.

After the applause dies down you sit quietly to complete the legal formalities – i.e. sign the documents. You and your two witnesses over the age of 18 must sign 3 documents in my presence – an elegant, commemorative certificate which you keep ( proof and souvenir of your marriage), the register ( the celebrant’s book) and an ordinary-looking form which is your official certificate of marriage that goes to Births Deaths and Marriages. A woman will sign all 3 in her existing name. At BDM your official certificate is processed along with your Notice of Intended Marriage. You can apply for a copy of the certificate ( i.e. purchase it ) from BDM. It is essential to get this copy as it is proof not only of your marriage but of your ID. You will need it anywhere you have to prove your identity – e.g. when changing a name on legal documents like licenses and passports. It is also worth mentioning that there is no obligation for a woman to change her family name after marriage. Getting a copy of your official marriage certificate keeps your options open. For men as well as women!

After the signing is complete you are introduced to your guests as “Mr and Mrs”, or “a married couple”, “married partners” – or whatever appellation you choose – and usually you will walk back down an aisle or just step forward to meet your guests who will be wanting to congratulate you.

Writing Personalised Vows for Your Civil Ceremony: A Guide

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The vows are the crux of the ceremony – they make the marriage legal.
In every civil ceremony I encourage couples to write or choose their own vows.

I have many you can choose from but you are strongly encouraged to put together your own promise of future commitment. The vows may refer to your personal circumstances, allude to secrets between you or shared with your nearest and dearest, or fulfill your role as parents… so give some time to think about what you are actually promising each other. It is the foundation of your lives together! This is your commitment.

These personal vows, however, are not enough in themselves to make your marriage legal.
This is what you have to say before me and two witnesses to make a marriage:
“ I (full name) call upon the persons here present to witness that I take you
( full name) to be my lawful wife/husband/spouse).” Not a word more nor less. These are the “legal vows”.

If I've told you this before it’s because it’s important! As soon as you've said this to each other YOU ARE MARRIED. Even without signing documents, even if your marriage is not registered, you are married – no turning back!

Next you can exchange rings – or one ring – or none: this step is optional but integral to a wedding ceremony. Usually the exchange of rings comes as a discrete step after the vows and can involve a ring-bearer or best man – i.e. it can give someone you love a role to play in the ceremony in stepping forward to present you with the rings. In this, it is an honour - to entrust someone with your wedding bands. Sometimes though the rings are exchanged during the delivery of the personal vows – it just seems to follow nicely. In this case it works if you just produce the ring you have been keeping for each other in a pocket or purse.

It is the exchange of rings that is the culmination of the ceremony – the moment your guests have been waiting for, because straight after follows the public announcement of you as two individuals, united in marriage.

Legal Declarations and Traditions in Australian Weddings

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We don’t say that in Australian wedding ceremonies – the statutory declaration that you sign before you can be married takes care of this clause! However, hearing the words from the Marriage Act clears the way for the ceremony to proceed, as does the

“Giving Away”, which albeit optional and archaic serves as a precursor to the next, more pertinent question, “ Do you take…?”

The “ Giving Away” is sometimes called the “Presentation” and doesn’t have to be conferred by the bride’s father – rather it is an opportunity for anybody, friend or family, to speak on behalf of everyone in support of the marriage. It is a kind of blessing then – in fact all the guests can answer “We do!”.

A bride can be “ given away” by both parents, mother, brother, son, children…or not ‘”given away” at all. This step is entirely optional. But before discounting it, consider what it adds to the ceremony to include this stage in the sequence leading up to the vows.

The “Giving Away” leads into the next optional question – this one is arresting, spine-tingling, the crux of the matter… in my material there are many variations of the “Asking”. It is the “Do you take…?” or the “Will you …?” question – and the answer must be affirmative. You do. You will. That’s why you are here. As if the answer could be “ No”.

Excerpts from Sharon Old’s poem “ The Wedding Vow” sums up the significance of the “ Asking”. The “ Asking” makes your heart stand still.

“………………We stood
holding each other by the hand…..
……..I felt as if I had come
to claim a promise……
…..I had been working toward this love
all my life. And then it was time
to speak – he was offering me, no matter
what, his life. That is all I had to
do there, to accept that gift
I had longed for – to say I had accepted it,
as if being asked if I breathe. Do I take?
I do. I take as he takes – we have been
practising this. Do you bear this pleasure? I do.”