Planning makes perfect, a step-by-step guide to all you need to know – and then some…

Who does what - and when?

If you think military precision takes the fun out of a wedding, you’d be wrong. The essence of a trouble-free day is everyone knowing where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing. Put the work in before the big day so that when it actually arrives you can relax and enjoy it.

Read on for the low-down from arrival at the ceremony to your final goodbyes…

Arrival at the Church

The ushers should arrive about 40 minutes before the ceremony is due to begin so they can show guests to their seats as they arrive.

The groom and best man should arrive about 15 minutes before the ceremony is due to begin.

The bridesmaids and attendants should arrive about five minutes before the ceremony is due to begin.

The bride’s mother should be the last to arrive before the bride – when she is shown to her seat that is a signal to the congregation that the wedding is about to start.

The bride and her father may be met on their arrival at the church by the vicar or priest, who will precede them down the aisle. As the congregation rises, the groom and best man take their places at the chancel steps.

The order of the bride’s procession is:

  • Priest
  • Bridesmaids
  • Ring bearer or flower girl if you have one
  • Bride on her father’s left arm

Photo by Linus Moran Photography

Order of Service

The order of service at a church wedding is variable and your vicar or priest will advise you. Often a hymn is sung after the bride’s procession, followed by readings and an address by the priest.

The marriage itself follows. The priest asks ‘Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?’ and the bride’s father silently gives his daughter’s right hand to the priest who passes it to the groom. The bride’s father then takes his seat beside the bride’s mother.

The vows are made and the best man may either pass the ring(s) to the groom or they may be placed on the priest’s prayer book before he passes them to the groom. The best man then returns to his seat.

After the ceremony, the priest leads the couple to the altar for prayers, possibly a hymn or psalm and a final blessing.
The priest then leads the couple to the vestry to sign the register and they are usually joined by their parents, the best man and the chief bridesmaid. The signing of the register must be witnessed by two adults and it is at this point that the bride raises her veil if she is wearing one.

While the wedding party is in the vestry, the choir may sing or the organist play a piece of music. The bridal procession them leaves the church in the following order:

  • Bride and groom
  • Young attendants
  • Chief bridesmaid with the best man
  • Bride’s mother with the groom’s father
  • Groom’s mother with the bride’s father

If you are having bells, they will peal out at this point.


Photo by Bridle Photography

At the register office

Whether the ceremony  is to be held in the register office or in a venue licensed for civil weddings, guests are expected to arrive 15 to 20 minutes before the ceremony. The groom and best man should arrive about 10 minutes before the ceremony is due to start and the bridesmaids, followed by the bride’s mother and then the bride and her father in quick succession.

Nowadays many register offices have light, spacious ceremony rooms or suites accommodating reasonably large wedding parties and even a separate bride’s waiting room and garden for photographs. A large number of venues are now also licensed for civil ceremonies and the only major restriction is that no religious music or reading may be used.

Otherwise, you may personalise your ceremony in terms of vows, readings, music, dedicating candles and lots more. The registrar will offer help and advice in planning your ceremony and will normally meet you a few weeks in advance to go over the format which could be:

  • Pre-arrival music
  • Entrance music
  • Welcome by the registrar
  • Reading
  • Legal declarations and vows
  • Promises and exchange of rings
  • Signing the register
  • Reading or music
  • Presentation of the certificate
  • Leaving music

You can also have a ‘dual’ ceremony – after a short ceremony at the register office to fulfil the legal requirements, you can have a further ceremony of your choosing in front of family and friends on the beach or in a woodland glade, for instance.
Most registrars will try to be as flexible as possible to accommodate individual requests and they will lead you through your declarations, vows and promises.

The one thing you must do is agree all of your selections in advance to ensure they comply with the law.

Photo by Kevin Drake Photography

At the reception

The formal receiving line at the reception should take the following order:

  • Bride’s parents
  • Groom’s parents
  • Bride and groom
  • Chief bridesmaid
  • Best man

After the meal, the best man (or toastmaster, if you have one) introduces the speeches in the following order:

The bride’s father (or an old family friend) always speaks first, welcoming the guests to the reception and his new son-in-law to the family. He will complement the bride and often thanks her mother for their many happy years together. He ends by proposing the toast to the bride and groom

The groom replies to his father-in-law’s toast, thanking him and the bride’s mother for their daughter, for their welcome into the family and for the reception (the wording can be discreetly changed if the newlyweds and/or the grooms’ parents have contributed to the expense). He thanks the guests for coming to celebrate the day and for the presents they have given. He thanks his best man and the bride’s attendants for the help they have given to the bride. He then proposes a toast to the bridesmaids.

Now girl power is more firmly established, it is not uncommon for the bride to say a few words and if she chooses to do so, she should speak after her new husband. This is a good opportunity for her to thank all the people who have helped her plan the big day, to thank her own parents for all their support and to thank the groom’s parents for welcoming her into their family.

Last of the speeches is always the best man, who replies to the groom’s toast to the bridesmaids, wishes the happy couple well, reads the cards and messages and announces the cutting of the cake.

Photo by Neolimn Photography

The evening reception

Most weddings now include an evening dance or disco. Before it begins, the best man should make sure the bride and groom are ready to take the floor for the first dance, followed by the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents, the best man and chief bridesmaid.

Photo by Neolimn Photography

Goodbye & Good luck

At a formal wedding, the bride and groom should be the first to leave the reception. The best man announces their departure after they have changed into their going away clothes and, if the bride is going to throw her bouquet, she should do so just before she leaves for her honeymoon.


Photo by Linus Moran Photography

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