A wedding with no officiant and no wedding party. Am I insane?
January 28, 2013 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm getting married this summer, in a small, casual, non-religious wedding. We're not planning to have a wedding party, and haven't been able to come up with any good ideas for an officiant, so we're probably going to try to do without one of those as well. Have you done something similar? How will the logistics work out here?

We're inviting about 50 people, but a lot of them probably won't be able to attend, so we're talking a very small number of people. We're not worried about the legal aspects -- we're fine with having the actual marriage performed at a courthouse, and just having a meaningful but non-legally-binding ceremony at the wedding itself.

The things I'm concerned about are largely logistical. How will we signal to the guests that it's time to stop milling around and pay attention? Who's going to hold the rings until the part of the ceremony when we need them? Who's going to hold the pieces of paper with our vows for in case we forget what we're saying?

The big one, though, is will it actually feel like a wedding ceremony with just the two of us up in front of everyone?

My fiance and I are each planning to be walked in by one of our parents, but I'm not sure I want them to stand with us for the vows. My fiance will be wearing a suit, and my dress has pockets, so I guess rings and vows could just be in our pockets.

If you did something like this for your wedding, or have attended a wedding with a similar format, how did it work in practice? Were any of my worries actually issues?

I'd love to hear either concrete suggestions about how to handle things, or just anecdotes about similar weddings and how it felt.
posted by duien to Human Relations (42 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Forgot to mention, the wedding will be in Oregon if you do have any suggestions about making an unofficiated ceremony the legal wedding, although that's not my primary concern.
posted by duien at 8:12 AM on January 28, 2013

Do you have a good friend who can be a "minimal officiant" or "MC?" ie,e someone who can do those things - hold rings, direct guests, hold copies of vows - but simply won't be as involved as a 'traditional' officiant?
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:13 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it doesn't need to be legal, why not just have a close friend or even a family member be an officiant-type person? You don't need to give them a big speech to say, but, as you referenced in your post, there are a few logistical aspects that would be pretty easily solved just by having someone else up there with you.
posted by something something at 8:14 AM on January 28, 2013

Do you actually need/want to have a ceremony? My cousin had a very small destination wedding (aka a planned elopement), and they just had a reception when they got back. A lot of people just hold receptions after the fact, or because they're from different coasts and people can't travel so they have the wedding one place and receptions where they're from.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:17 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do what these cool kids did and make everything a surprise.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:19 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

My brother got married at a courthouse and then had a very small party. It went fine.

For you, you could do the legal thing at the courthouse, then have your "officiant" tap on a glass to get everyone's attention and proceed with the ceremony. Exchange vows if you'd like to. Exchange rings if you'd like to (if you want to hold each other's ring that's fine). Kiss, hug, and smile.

A wedding party doesn't have to be much more this. You are sharing your real and symbolic commitments with your spouse to be while your friends witness and then celebrating.
posted by plinth at 8:19 AM on January 28, 2013

I have been to a similar event in the backyard of distant family in Boston. The only two things I clearly remember are: 1) Thinking over and over, the entire time, that this sure beats attending a large expensive wedding. It was relaxed and I did not have to spend a lot of money on clothes, etc. 2.) I wish they would speak a little louder so I could hear the poems and words they wrote to each other.

It became clear it was starting when a friend of the groom started playing his violin. They both walked down the fire escape/back steps to the mini deck at all three floors.

The one thing I heard clearly, and being in my 20's at the time it makes sense, was when the bride turned to the assembled 30 of us and said, "Now that that is over, the bar IS OPEN."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:19 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

We did an minimal ceremony (about 15 minutes), but we had an officiant. (Tomorrowful, coincidentally enough.) We're in PA so we did a Quaker wedding ahead of time.

We picked out the reading for him, and we also had a few friends do short readings. Then vows and we were done. I can't imagine doing it just by ourselves; because of the structure that people expect, it's tough to do it non-awkwardly without a third party up there, at least to MC things.
posted by supercres at 8:21 AM on January 28, 2013

....The lack of an officiant is reminding me of a traditional Quaker ceremony; they don't have an officiant. In fact, that structure may suit you just dandy -

* The wedding took place inside the spare back room of a library. The only "decor" was a couple vases of flowers.

* Quaker weddings take the same structure of traditional Quaker masses - in which the entire hour is meant to be spent with everyone sitting in silent reflection. Traditionally, you only speak in a Quaker "meeting" if you are just going to burst if you don't. In the wedding, the first half hour or so is spent in silent reflection, and then the bride and groom stand up and recite their vows to each other - no officiant - and then a friend of the couple reads aloud the wedding contract, and the bride and groom sign it. Then everyone sits back down for more silent reflection. (Only odds are that most of the guests are so moved/happy/giddy that you'll have people speaking up every few minutes throughout.) Then the service ends with the wedding party leaving and the rest of the guests signing the wedding contract as witnesses.

* At the one I went to, we guests just sort of milled around until one of the members of the Quaker church asked us all to take our seats and explained how a Quaker wedding "worked", and then the wedding party entered to the tune of a CD someone put on and they all sat down and that was that. We knew we were done when the wedding party got up, another song got played on a CD, and the party walked out. And the walking in-and-out of the room wasn't any major processional, they were all just hanging out in a side room or the lobby before the service and that's where they went after (in fact, I overheard them all cracking up when they all got out to the lobby afterward, all "holy shit we just did an actual live wedding that's so crazy").

And honestly, the simplicity of that all was incredibly moving - we guests didn't have any big floral displays or fancy dresses to distract us; all we had to focus on was this couple and the things they were promising each other, and it was incredibly powerful just to watch. I imagine it must have been equally powerful, if not more, for the couple.

(The couple in question is still married, 17 years later. Two kids.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

I did something similar and thought it would just be ok to wing it. We've all seen marriage ceremonies on TV, we basically know what it's supposed to look like. Well, don't just wing it. Practice it at least 3 times. Otherwise it will be a disorganized mess. Which may be fun in its own way, but not how you want to remember this special moment if you can avoid it. This will solve the problem of making it feel like a wedding ceremony.

In particular, make a list like this one, figure out how you want it to look, and then like I said, practice it with everyone involved at least 3 times.

- The part where you get everyone's attention and get them to sit down. You might designate someone as an "MC" whose job it is to herd the cats.
- The part where your fiance and your parents arrange themselves in back of everyone.
- The part where you walk down the aisle and your parents put themselves where they should go.
- The vows themselves - for some reason my hubby and I didn't bother to memorize these or even read them over before hand, and stuff got left out. :(
- What happens when it's all over and what exactly do you want to happen here.

My hubby held onto the rings in his pocket until it was time to do the ceremony, and then I held his on my thumb. It's good that your dress has pockets, keep your vows there.
posted by bleep at 8:23 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since EC mentioned a real Quaker wedding, I should clarify what I meant: because of Quaker ceremonies, PA allows non-officiated weddings. A few people sign a legal marriage certificate and it's all over. We did ours at a bar (at a sidewalk table, actually) with a few friends as witnesses.
posted by supercres at 8:26 AM on January 28, 2013

We considered doing something similar (although we ended up going a little more traditional). A day-of planner would be really helpful for this. They can corral your guests, set up a table/platform with a binder for your vows and a box for the rings (which they can also hold onto until the last second). A strictly day-of planner won't set you back more than a couple hundred bucks at most. They can also introduce you to make it feel more like a traditional ceremony.

An alternative would be to have a parent or close relative handle all those details.

An idea I had that we didn't end up doing was for us to walk in at the same time and meet in the front - symbolizing that we're equals. I'm not sure how that would work with escorts, but I feel like this kind of idea is up your alley.
posted by tealcake at 8:27 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's nice, as a guest, to know what to do if things are going to be nontraditional. Having an MC seems like a good move here. Do you have a friend who is a little bossy who wouldn't mind being put in front of people? We are getting married in a non-traditional ceremony in October, and we're planning to ask an acquaintance to officiate and MC (someone with a booming voice, able to command a crowd). This is someone we wouldn't invite to the wedding otherwise, but we think of as an "elder statesman" in our local music scene.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:27 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of good input so far, thanks!

Just to clarify a couple things, we are definitely having a ceremony and reception. We've already booked a venue. The physical setup for the ceremony will be fairly traditional -- there's a courtyard with a raised area at one end, and a door at the other. People will be sitting facing the raised area, first my fiance and then I will walk in from the door at the back down a center aisle up to the front.

We've talked about having a friend of family member as a semi-officiant, but just can't figure out someone who has the right place in our lives.

We're definitely open to the idea of having an MC, or maybe having a few different people do readings, rather than having a single officiant.
posted by duien at 8:28 AM on January 28, 2013

The first time we got legally hitched was as a civil union in a town hall in Vermont: just us, no wedding party. We weren't thinking of it as a significant event. Our brains apparently disagreed and went space-cadet-level AWOL. As in, each of us lost important documents, couldn't remember important facts, and caused officials to suggest we weren't actually ready to do this -- which we sensibly ignored, but still our big takeaway from that experience was that there are very very good reasons for the best man/maid of honor position: someone to hold your brain.

When we got married we still didn't have guests, but we DID have a wedding party: legally required officiant & his date, plus best man/MOH & their dates, one of whom took the photos and the other of whom played the music. We all rented a beach cottage, and it was awesome.

I recommend division of labor, especially ritual labor.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:29 AM on January 28, 2013

In Oregon, I believe you need to have an officiant for the ceremony to be the legal event. However, the rules on what constitutes an officiant are fairly relaxed. My husband did the ceremony for his sister in Oregon relying on his mail-order "reverend" license from the Universal Life Church. Another friend of mine was married in Oregon by some pagan priestess type person. There is a waiting period between when you get your license and when you perform the ceremony. Of course, a wedding by a judge and then your own ceremony is legal and allowed.
posted by amanda at 8:32 AM on January 28, 2013

A lot of this depends on your expectations. If your goal is simply to state your vows in front of your friends and family, you can certainly do this without an officiant. The more you want everything to be organized and perfect, though, the more you should consider having someone who does this kind of thing for a living. It doesn't necessarily have to be an officiant; are you having a photographer? Ask the photographer if he or she or they would be willing to corral people. If you are having musicians or even just playing recorded music, you can use this to cue the start of the ceremony and your arrivals.

Keeping the vows and rings in your pockets sounds fine to me. If you want to carry flowers, consider having a pomander that can dangle from your wrist while you exchange rings.
posted by payoto at 8:33 AM on January 28, 2013

Upon clarification -

In lots of states you can definitely appoint any random person as the officiant for a wedding; my cousin did that with a family friend for hers. Their function in the service itself is largely "they do all the things an officiant does in every other wedding", and the guests all know what weddings are and know what to do when the officiant says one thing or the other, so this may be a self-running apparatus once you've got a Somewhat Official Looking Person up in front of the guests there. My brother's wedding was similarly free-form - there was an actual officiant, but they just had the officiant prompt them for the vows, and they asked me to give a reading and one of my brother's friends to play a guitar solo. The whole "service" took like fifteen minutes. Another cousin's wedding was the same way.

Vows and rings in pockets is fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 AM on January 28, 2013

Or, a small table up front where you've pre-set rings and vows is another idea - this table could be used for other functions (lecturn, unity candle ceremony, etc.) if you wanted to include them, so using it as "temporary ring storage" would be just fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

We're definitely open to the idea of having an MC, or maybe having a few different people do readings, rather than having a single officiant.

I should note that the last time I performed a wedding (on preview, supercres', in fact) I was really more of an MC than an "officiant" in the traditional sense. I read something the bride and groom picked out for me; I directed people and announced each stage of the process "...and now, such-and-so will read this-and-that" and that's about all. But it helps the crowd to have someone to look to for direction, since that's what they're used to at weddings. Yes, I was friends with the couple, but I don't think I was chosen for any particular symbolic value about my place in their lives - more that I was a good friend who was comfortable with the role and could speak loudly to a crowd when needed. Master of Ceremonies, not Secular Clergy.

Also, it can be very helpful to have some kind of predetermined troubleshooters. At at most weddings that means the wedding party, maybe the officiant if it's a friend or family - but something will probably go wrong, and it can be very good to have a person who's ready to leap into action to fix minor problems, like "can someone help grandma from her taxi" or "can someone talk to Uncle Tom on the phone and give him directions" or "For god's sake, the groom needs a stiff drink NOW."
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Addendum for clarification: our 'legally required officiant' was a good mutual friend, who had kindly sacrificed his Jewish atheist principles to become a Universal Life Church reverend.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2013

Another thing: Programs. You can outline the format and timeline of the ceremony in the programs so that guests know what to expect and can follow along. The programs can mention the fact that there won't be an officiant so people aren't confused, and they can include signals like the song you will be walking into so people know it's about to start when they hear that song.
posted by payoto at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

The things I'm concerned about are largely logistical. How will we signal to the guests that it's time to stop milling around and pay attention? Who's going to hold the rings until the part of the ceremony when we need them? Who's going to hold the pieces of paper with our vows for in case we forget what we're saying?

The big one, though, is will it actually feel like a wedding ceremony with just the two of us up in front of everyone?

Signaling to guests: Are you planning to walk down the aisle in silence, or to music? If you're walking to music, start the music and make sure you have a few people there who will instantly pop down into chairs. Others, I predict, will follow. If you're processing in silence, you will need someone to be designated to walk around and say, "They're getting ready to start."

Holding the rings: Well ... what's most obvious to me is that you could hold each other's rings?

Pieces of paper: Again, I think the answer there is for you to carry them yourselves. If there are no pockets in what one or both of you might be wearing, you could certainly employ the suggestion of a little table up front.

Feeling like a wedding: Will it feel exactly like a traditional wedding the way you see them on television? Nope. Will it feel like a wedding? Yup. As others have mentioned, Quaker weddings don't have most of the trappings of other weddings, and they feel profoundly like weddings. But you'll have to think through how you want to begin and end. Quakers start when everyone walks in and, in my experience, end after about an hour when two people shake hands to signal everyone else that it's over. (For real.) (Other meetings may do it differently.)

Don't fret about it. You sound like you're well on your way to doing what makes you happy, and that's the biggest obstacle overcome, right there.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:47 AM on January 28, 2013

The lack of an officiant is reminding me of a traditional Quaker ceremony

I've been to these, they are great. There is often a "convener" type person, you can think of them as a party planner type, who can just scoot people from one place to another. That person doesn't need to be someone who is central to your lives as much as someone who would be on top of things enough and in charge enough to do that job.
posted by jessamyn at 8:47 AM on January 28, 2013

My brother-in-law and his wife did this. They had been legally married some time previously at a courthouse, so they didn't need to include any particular ceremony in their wedding celebration.

Here's what they did: they asked several people in advance to prepare short speeches. On the day of the wedding celebration, people came at the time specified and had some appetizer-type food and listened to music, chatted, etc. At the time they had planned for the actual ceremony, several people rounded up all the guests in a little grove (the party was at a state park campground with a lodge/meeting space that had a kitchen).

My brother-in-law and his wife opened the ceremony by thanking everyone for coming and restating their vows, along the lines of "I promise V. to be her husband, to build a life together..."

Then V.'s aunt gave a lovely speech about how she had always known that V. was an original thinker, and she hoped she would find someone who shared her spirit of adventure, and when she met J. she knew the two of them were a great match, etc.

Then my husband did his speech, which was "wedding speech Mad Libs," which went down well.

Then a longtime friend of the couple gave a speech that was partly funny, partly touching.

Then V.'s friend and professional mentor, and her two young children, gave a speech that was funny and touching all at once.

Then a friend of J's offered a toast with his terrible home brewed beer. It was a good toast, though.

Then V. and J. thanked everyone for coming, and said that lunch was now served in the lodge.

It was lovely, and felt perfectly satisfying as a ceremony. One other cool thing about this wedding was that the wedding cake was pineapple upside-down cake that V.'s dad made in iron pots over the campfires. Delicious!
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:50 AM on January 28, 2013

I too would suggest looking the Quaker marriage ceremony. Google "faith and practice" and you should find the faith and practice books for various Yearly Meeting, which will describe the ceremony. IN particular I like the idea of a marriage certificate. This is a certificate signed by all in attendance. It can be framed and hung in your home.
posted by tman99 at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2013

The big one, though, is will it actually feel like a wedding ceremony with just the two of us up in front of everyone?

The last wedding we attended felt like this, but in a really good way. The legal stuff had been taken care of elsewhere; there may technically have been groomsmen and stuff, but what I mostly remember was the bride and groom talking directly (but loudly) to each other, in the middle of a circle of guests who had trooped out to follow them into a spectacular natural setting (Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park).

We and our friends among the guests and even the couple's parents were all cheerfully lost and unsure what was going on much of the time en route to the ceremony (were we going the right way? how the hell far were these crazy kids leading us? should we have worn hiking boots?), but that uncertainty emphasized how the bride and groom were the ones who knew the territory and were taking charge of their own destiny.

It felt way MORE like a proper wedding, to me, than the kind where everything is so orchestrated by various powerful others that the bride and groom seem like pawns.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2013

You could get a "day of" coordinator, who will deal with last-minute details. He/she can also announce the wedding is about to start, etc.

(FYI: I have never gotten married or helped anyone plan a wedding. Just thought I should disclose that.)
posted by emilynoa at 9:20 AM on January 28, 2013

We did this. We got the legal marriage stuff out of the way at the Justice of the Peace the day before (with my husband's grandparents as our witnesses, since they couldn't attend the ceremony the next day) then had a small ceremony at a B&B that we had rented out for the weekend.

Our dogs were our "ring bearers" : we attached the rings to their collars and appointed "ring bearer handlers" to hold their leashes and bring them to us at the appropriate time.

My dress didn't have pockets, so I just carried my vows in my hand. It was fine.

We had everyone gather outside before we "walked down the aisle" so everyone quieted down and paid attention when we came out.

My mom had selected a reading beforehand, which she read before we exchanged vows, so that was kind of like the replacement for the officiant's words before the vows.

We had a kind of Quakerish element where, after we exchanged vows and rings, we invited anyone who was so moved to speak. About 5-6 people did speak, which was really cool.

We didn't rehearse beforehand, we just went with the flow, and it worked out really well.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:20 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of my aunts had a wedding like this, and it was really beautiful. Coincidentally, it was in Oregon too! The wedding was in a park that had special meaning for them, and they had a master of ceremonies who was really just kinda herding cats. The MC got all the guests to stand in a big circle, and my aunt and now-uncle stood in the middle and exchanged vows. They had their rings in their pockets and exchanged them. At the end, a friend of theirs played some music (I think it was on a cello, but I don't really remember), and they walked around the whole circle and shook everyone's hand. Then they had an outdoor reception that was like a big party. When they left, we all stood in two rows to make an aisle, and threw some sort of confetti or something at them while they ran out to their car. It was personal, fun and beautiful.
posted by OrangeDisk at 9:39 AM on January 28, 2013

Ours was even less ceremony than you're proposing, but I think some of our ideas might help. It basically went like OrangeDisk describes, but it was a more formal setting. We had a cocktail reception that ran for about four hours, with passed finger foods, food stations and an open bar.

Prior to the start of the party, we told the musicians when to break for the "ceremony" and told the caterer/bar staff when to break. We asked a couple friends to circulate and gather everyone in a central location and went there ourselves (we were lucky in that our venue had a nice place with a short rise). My husband carried the rings in his suit coat pocket all night.

When basically everyone had gathered, we thanked everyone for joining us, told them what it meant to have everyone around us, exchanged rings, kissed, and raised a toast to the room. We had an officiant, in order to have someone who could sign the papers without us having to make another trip to the courthouse. We actually pretended to sign the license, too, but in Illinois, the couple doesn't need to sign the license: the officiant fills in some details, certifies that (s)he's allowed to marry people, and then files it with the appropriate office. A group of guests who had snuck out to have a smoke actually walked back in during the applause after the kiss. It was sort of silly, and definitely the sort of thing that rarely happens with a big ceremony, but no-one (least of all us) cared at all.

Feedback from guests indicate that it felt like a wedding and that it was a wedding well suited to the two of us. No-one seemed disappointed in the lack of traditional wedding trappings, especially because it was only about 70 guests and the food and drink was really good.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:46 AM on January 28, 2013

My best friend had no officiant at her wedding (although they did have attendants). I think you can use music or other sounds to great effect in this situation -- if everyone is sitting waiting for someone to come down an aisle, you and your fiance could ring a bell, or there could be live or recorded music that simply starts to indicate the beginning of things.

They spent some time at the beginning talking about what getting married meant to them. Each of the attendants gave a reading of their choosing. Then the couple exchanged vows and rings, and did a "will you stand in support of our marriage" thing. I think they simply closed it by saying, "Yay, we're married!", kissing, and walking back down the aisle as music played. It worked fine. They'd gotten legally married earlier in the day.

Having a program that explains a bit about what you're doing could be helpful to guests who might be confused about the lack of attendant, but with a small wedding, you may not have that problem.

If you do the recorded music thing, I strongly recommend assigning someone you trust to play it -- also, with a small wedding, your guests will feel really involved and probably will want to help in some way, so don't hesitate to let them!
posted by linettasky at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2013

If you're fine with a courthouse, why not ask a judge or county clerk to preside at your wedding? Or if you'd prefer a Quaker-like wedding, do consider having someone stand up at the beginning and just explain real quick what will happen. (A real Quaker wedding would have you meeting with a committee of people beforehand to determine your readiness to marriage; a judge or religious officiant would also want to have that conversation.) I chose a Quaker-like wedding, preferring to avoid another committee, and my sister (also a Quaker) chose a judge for her wedding (I believe preferring to avoid giving anyone that chance to stand up and natter on). And I did like having a family friend just stand up and tell people what would happen.

*links to Multnomah county and Oregon specific info.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2013

If given the choice, I would lean towards having the wedding with your friends present, rather than having it ahead of time. It adds meaning to the event; it's most likely what people will be expecting; and it really really doesn't have to add any particular complication to the event. We had a judge and his presence added perhaps 30 seconds to the actual ceremony, increasing it to a total of about 5 minutes.
posted by ftm at 11:32 AM on January 28, 2013

You mention that you're not sure of someone who is in the right position/ relationship to officiate the wedding for you.

Look at your friends again, perhaps casting a wider net, and think of someone who would be happy to be there, for you and would BE A GOOD MC.

Don't think of them as "the person marrying us" but rather, the MC who is helping herd the cats and allowing you two to marry each other.

Other people have chimed in with other great ideas, but for the sake of simplicity, it might actually be easier to have one more person involved to help make things run smoothly so you can enjoy each other and your guests.

posted by raccoon409 at 12:07 PM on January 28, 2013

My brother's wedding didn't have an officiant or a wedding party. We knew it was starting because the scheduled time arrived and the musicians started playing. One of the bride's nephews served as the ring bearer, and he just got up from his front-row seat at the specified time and brought the rings up to the couple. They had all the readings in a binder on a music stand.

It was an unusual wedding for unrelated reasons (it was a puppet show!) but it still "felt" like a wedding and it was lovely.

My own wedding was pretty non-traditional as well, and I believe strongly that you should plan the wedding that you and your spouse-to-be want and not worry too much about what other people want. Unless those other people are footing the bill.
posted by wolfnote at 1:12 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had a JP "officiate", mostly to - as you mentioned - have someone to get everyone's attention and provide some minimal structure. Also, we're introverted private people, so we weren't going to write our own vows or anything. I wanted to get up there, say "I Do" ASAP, and get it done! (Worst. Bride. Ever. hehe) We had about 30 guests, and no wedding party. Super laid back lunch afterwards, with lots of homemade cake (thanks to our moms). It was fine. In fact, the next wedding we went to the bride said she was inspired by ours and how relaxed it was (they had a slightly more formal, but pretty low-key garden party). People are still talking about the cake ;)

I do wish there'd been an "MC" - someone to say "Everyone go eat lunch!" and (to the staff) "Isn't there supposed to be beer?" etc... but with a super small wedding it went okay anyway. =)

Gook luck!
posted by jrobin276 at 1:28 PM on January 28, 2013

I went to a wedding recently that was "Quaker-inspired." They printed out a pretty through (and funny!) guide to the ceremony, which mainly included readings from parents and wedding party members (3-4?) They wrote their own vows. There wasn't really a need for anyone to direct everything from up front, though it seemed like having family members up in front/in the small wedding party was something meaningful for them and also helpful for vows, ring-holding and tissue-carrying. (Maybe have a day of coordinator sit in front if you really don't decide to have anyone else up front, with backup vows, etc? They could also help with herding everyone to the seats.) They did have background music playing from a speaker, which helped sort of collect everyone together, and family members also helped get everyone to the outdoor seating area.

It was ridiculously sweet and wonderful. It was fast, it was meaningful, and I totally teared up.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:13 PM on January 28, 2013

Honestly, what your guests (or at least, the ones who are not hidebound traditionalists) are going to want is A Designated Moment when they can all focus all their attention on the two of you, all at once, and think to themselves in unison "Holy fuck! It's really happening! They're really getting married!"

And for most couples, the basic requirement is the same thing: A Designated Moment when you can both focus all your attention on each other, and feel everyone else's attention on you, and think "Holy fuck! It's really happening! We're really marrying each other!"

If you clearly mark the beginning of the Designated Moment — and, even more important, clearly mark the end of that moment, when everyone can let out their breath and relax again ("Holy fuck! It really happened! They're/we're really married now!") — then I think you've got your ritual/social/emotional/spiritual essentials taken care of. The rest is just entertainment and logistics and you can do it however the hell you want.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:18 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think the Most Minimal Wedding Ceremony might go something like this:
"When the clock strikes noon, the couple will turn to each other and take a deep breath in. Everyone else, when that happens, turn to face them and take a deep breath in too. While you hold your breath, think about your wishes for the couple and their future together. Whenever you're ready, breathe out again. When the last person in the room breathes out, the couple is married."
And you know, I'm pretty sure that if everyone got the instructions ahead of time, that would Feel Like a Real Wedding even though nobody said a word or did anything perceptible other than breathe. It's really just about having that shared moment.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Friends of mine had a lovely wedding where they stood up without an officiant. A local judge sat in the back of the audience to make it legal in their state. When it came time to have some vows, the bride and groom turned to the audience, and the audience read in unison from the program: Do you take this man/woman, etc.? and then the couple answered. It was really unique and lovely to have the whole community take on the task of officiating together.
posted by judith at 7:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

My husband and I married ourselves to each other without an officiant or wedding party. A friend who was chosen mostly for the fact that he already happened to have a ULC certificate signed the papers for us but didn't speak during the ceremony.

Since doing the "walking down the aisle" thing was important to me, I hid like a traditional bride while the guests arrived, got drinks, and were greeted by my man and our families. When it was time to be seated, the recorded music was shut off and the live musician started playing. Everybody got the message no problem; no one needed to make an announcement.

After I'd joined my man at the front of the room, I just hugged him real quick and then he greeted the audience in the way an officiant would have: thanks for coming, our 2 friends will be doing readings, etc. The guys did their readings, I did a reading that led into our vows (including asking each other a "Do you..?" question to get an "I do") and then we walked back up together. The ceremony was actually fairly traditional, except that we were our own MCs.

All the papers for the readings were up front on a table from the beginning, no one had to carry them. My sister and his brother carried our rings and handed them to us at the important moment. They also signed the papers as our witnesses.

The ceremony and reception were in the same room, so while the relevant parties were in the other room doing paperwork immediately after the ceremony, the venue staff came in and rearranged the chairs/tables and set out the food. When we returned to the party, there was no announcement or presentation, so we just slid into eating and drinking with everyone like it wasn't a big deal.

I did a lot of research to make sure the silent presence of a buddy with an old ULC would be enough to make us count as married, and I could find nothing in the rules to suggest it wasn't. We were in Oregon too, and as far as I can tell, everything is official.

Feel free to memail me if you have any questions.
posted by hyperfascinated at 9:00 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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