Wedding Vows: Beyond Love, Honor, and Cherish
By Susan Lee Smith
Another important consideration - one that will strongly influence your selection of a ceremony location, the vows you exchange, and many other elements of your ceremony - is whether or not you plan to have a religious ceremony. Religion is one of those topics that some people are uncomfortable discussing outside the context of their own spiritual (or nonspiritual) life. However, if you're planning a wedding, it's an unavoidable topic.
The decision about whether or not to have a religious ceremony, whether in a house of worship or a strictly secular location, should be made by the bride and groom alone. Parents may not be pleased, friends may question the decision; but if a couple is mature enough to wed, their choices with regard to religious observance or nonobservance should be respected.
If the bride and groom themselves are at odds about the matter, it must be addressed immediately. A couple's ability to reach an understanding about religious matters is essential not only to planning a meaningful ceremony, but also to countless circumstances that are likely to follow within the marriage itself - from celebrating holidays to child rearing. If there's a problem, work it out now.
The decision about whether or not to have a religious ceremony should stem not from the desire to be married in a particular location, but rather, of course, from a desire to be married within that religious tradition. Some religions require that a marriage take place within a sanctioned house of worship in order to be recognized by the religious body. Others are more flexible on this matter, and the ceremony can take place just about anywhere. Generally speaking, nonreligious locations - hotels, parks, gardens, historic sites, and the like - are available for religious or nonreligious ceremonies. Most houses of worship, on the other hand, have restrictions about who may be married there and what kinds of ceremonies can be performed. While some houses of worship will accommodate nonreligious ceremonies involving nonmembers, those having nonreligious ceremonies will probably be limited to non-religious locations.
Because the policies vary widely among different religions, denominations, and sects and even among different congregations within a single denomination, the only way to find out if you may be married in a particular house of worship, and the specific conventions or restrictions associated with marrying there, is to ask. If your request to be married in a particular house of worship is declined, don't hesitate to ask why. It may be that by attending classes or converting to that faith, you may be married there. Certainly it is not advisable to "take on" a faith simply to secure a ceremony location, however, if your commitment is true, this may be the perfect opportunity to strengthen your spiritual life. If instead the bottom line is that you and the house of worship just aren't going to see eye to eye, move on. There are many lovely places to hold your ceremony; you can find one that shares your sensibilities.
In the United States, religious institutions are increasingly asking those who wish to be married within the religious community to participate in some kind of prewedding marriage preparation course, conducted either by the resident officiant or through a related organization or group. In some cases participation is optional; in other cases it is mandatory. The sooner you understand the expectations of the house of worship where you plan to marry, the better. Arrange to meet with the officiant or other official at your earliest convenience to discuss your plans and clarify expectations. At this first meeting you should also plan to discuss what restrictions, if any, the institution has with regard to the vows you will recite, musical selections, readings, and all other elements of your ceremony.
Indoors or Outdoors?
The most obvious consideration when deciding whether or not to have an indoor or outdoor ceremony is weather. Weather predicting has become very sophisticated, and you can find numerous so-called authorities that will predict the weather in your wedding city on your projected wedding date ... but don't count on it. We all know that these predictions are far from 100 percent accurate. You should always have a backup plan if you are planning an outdoor event.
If you are planning a wedding in colder climes during winter, be practical. Even if the weather is clear, the temperature is likely to be too chilly outdoors for most of your guests. Different regions of the country are prone to rainy weather during the spring, so plan accordingly. Other areas experience high humidity during the summer and early fall; your guests may melt if asked to sit through an outdoor ceremony.
Don't just consider the weather in terms of the magic moment itself; snow, ice, and rain can also create havoc on the roadways and impede your guests, vendors, and service providers or even your own ability to make it to the event on time ... or at all.
If you are considering an outdoor wedding, you should realize that there are other variables than the weather that may be beyond your control. The location may be subject to disruptive or distracting noises or sounds. A wedding in a civic garden may seem the perfect idea - but what if you arrive at the location on the big day only to discover a road crew tearing up the neighboring city street with jackhammers? Will low-flying jets drown out your vows? If you plan to marry outside, visit the location at the chosen time of day, on the same day of the week, to gauge the ambient decibels. Bring a picnic basket and stay awhile. Check with local authorities to make sure there isn't a major demolition project or public parade scheduled at or near the site on your special day.
If your outdoor location is a public one - such as a city park - be aware that your event may be interrupted by the public. When you book the location, make sure there is a clear understanding of the specific boundaries of the area you are to use, how the boundaries will be enforced, and what other events or public access will be allowed to take place adjacent to that location on the day of your wedding. Even if a passerby is just curious, he or she might unwittingly interrupt or intrude upon the event. If that is a concern, you must take steps in advance to secure the perimeter of the location, which may mean hiring a private security service.
An outdoor location might also present obstacles to participants or guests with health concerns - particularly those with allergies or physical limitations that might make it difficult for them to reach the location. If you're planning to many amid an alpine meadow in the pristine Idaho wilderness, make sure in advance that your officiant won't have a sneezing attack and that your dearest great-aunt who uses a walker will have a way to the spot without trouble.
Finally, there are the two essentials for a wedding that might not be in ready supply if you plan to wed out of doors: electricity and rest rooms. Don't laugh. It's difficult to have a wedding without the first, and please don't try to have one without the second.
With regard to the ceremony, electricity can be essential for lighting, musical equipment, and sound equipment. Planning on having a candlelit ceremony, engaging an a cappella choir, and just speaking loudly? Okay, you can probably forgo electricity, but make sure you have authorization to have open flames, and have an emergency fire plan in case something goes wrong. Electricity may also be essential for your photographer and videographer, so if you really plan to have your ceremony sans electricity, make sure all your vendors and service providers are aware of this limitation. Keep in mind that if you will need to rent and use a generator to power your event, you may have a noise problem: most generators are quite loud.
As for rest rooms ... well, there's just no doing without them, especially if your location is for both the ceremony and the reception. If your outdoor location has rest room facilities, make sure they are in good working order and that their plumbing is sufficient for an event of your size and duration. Expect that each guest will need to use the facilities about once every three hours. If you will need to rent portable rest rooms in order to stage that wedding on that long stretch of deserted beachfront, keep in mind that each unit typically readies capacity after 115 uses. If only your ceremony will take place in that location, you can probably get away with just two rest rooms - one for women and one for men. (Two might seem excessive, but it also provides you with a solution should one malfunction.) If your location will be used for the ceremony and the reception, and your combined events will last four to five hours, you should plan on a minimum of two rest rooms per 150 guests. For each hour past five hours that your event will last, count on needing one additional rest room.