Guide to Planning a Wedding Ceremony


Planning your wedding ceremony can be both super intimidating and incredibly satisfying. I mean, you get to pick out cool readings, jam-worthy tunes, gorgeous flowers, comfy seats, and the whole shebang to create the ultimate day for declaring your love to your partner. If you’re feeling a bit stressed out or don’t know where to begin, just take a deep breath and know you’re in good hands! This “wedding ceremony guide” offers tips to help you through each step. So, let’s get started!

pittsburgh wedding ceremony guide photo

Laying the Groundwork

Alright, so there’s nothing quite as sweet and personal planning your wedding ceremony together. After all, this whole shindig is all about you two, right? So, let’s get down to business and make sure your ceremony is a true reflection of your love story. Now, there are countless ways to whip up the perfect wedding ceremony, and tons of advice swirling around out there. But let’s start with these three essential building blocks to give your ceremony a solid foundation and let the rest fall into place naturally.

The Sequence

Unless you’re following a specific religious or cultural script, your first task is to map out the order of your ceremony. Typically, a secular ceremony might include these key moments:

  • The Processional
  • A Warm Welcome
  • Some Thoughts on Marriage
  • Readings
  • Vow Swap
  • Ring Exchange
  • That Memorable First Kiss
  • A Unity Ritual
  • Closing Words + Announcing You as Newlyweds
  • The Grand Exit

pittsburgh wedding ceremony guide photo

Now, there are certain things you absolutely shouldn’t skip, like the vows, ring exchange, and that smoochy first kiss. But the other bits and bobs? Well, those can be rearranged, tweaked, or tossed out entirely, depending on your style and preferences. Think about what truly matters to you, what kind of ceremony will really hit you in the feels, and set the order accordingly. Let’s make it uniquely yours!

Theme Time

When you’re putting together your wedding ceremony, think about weaving in three key themes: your history, the here and now, and the road ahead as a couple. When you’re hashing out the details with your officiant, make sure to share the nitty-gritty of each of these aspects of your life. This way, they can spin those threads into the overarching tale they’ll weave during the ceremony. And when it comes to readings, stick to these themes to keep the narrative flowing throughout the entire event. Take a moment to express gratitude to the folks who’ve had your back, acknowledge the blessings of the present, and look ahead with positivity to the adventures yet to come.

Nailing the Timing

For a non-religious wedding ceremony, aim for that sweet spot of 20-25 minutes. Anything shorter might leave you feeling like you’re racing the clock, and your guests could end up a tad baffled and let down. On the flip side, go over the 25-minute mark, and you might risk losing your audience’s focus. So, shoot for that magic window, and you’ll hit the bullseye.

The Music

When it comes to wedding ceremony music, the cool thing is that you can go all-out or keep it low-key, as wild or as traditional as your heart desires. You’ve got the freedom to curate the soundtrack to this special chapter of your life, so why not have a blast with it? Here are a few pivotal moments where most couples like to sprinkle in some musical magic:

  1. The Grand Entrances of Parents and Grandparents
  2. The Groom’s Swaggering Entrance
  3. The Bridal Party’s Grand March
  4. The Bride’s Show-Stopping Entrance
  5. The Unity Ceremony (if you’re having one)
  6. The Post-“I Do” Victory Strut

Now, if music’s high up on your list of priorities, we’d totally suggest going all-in with live musicians. There’s something downright magical about having live tunes on your big day. But even if it’s not at the tippy-top of your list, trust us when we say live music adds an extra layer of charm. Of course, if the budget isn’t singing that tune or you’re sticking to just a processional and/or recessional jam, a good ol’ recording is a solid alternative – just make sure to enlist a trusty DJ to press play.

The Vows

Some churches do require couples to recite a set of standard vows to make the whole shebang official. While you can’t exactly dodge that bullet, we’ve got a trick up our sleeves for those who want a religious ceremony but still want to pour their hearts into personal vows. Do both! During your wedding ceremony, go ahead and recite those standard vows your church insists upon. Then, at your first look or maybe during the post-ceremony photoshoot, share the vows you’ve penned for each other. Because if there’s anything even more special than writing your own vows, it’s taking a little breather from the wedding day frenzy to privately share those vows with the love of your life.

The Readings

Beyond crafting your own vows, sprinkling in a ceremony reading is a fantastic way to put your personal stamp on your wedding ceremony. Here’s the deal: Invite a family member or a close buddy (or two!) to step up and share passages that resonate with your thoughts on marriage or your dreams for the future.

Now, when it comes to these readings, you’ve got some wiggle room. They can be totally unexpected, like lines from your favorite flicks or books, or they can take a more traditional, classic route with romantic love poems. The key here is to pick readings that mesh with the vibe of your big day and the message you and your partner want to send about love and marriage.

pittsburgh wedding ceremony guide photo

Exit Strategy

To wrap up your ceremony and kick off the real party, why not go out with a bang? It’s time for an exit that’ll leave everyone in awe. Think flower petals, confetti, sparklers, or bubbles – all fantastic choices to have your guests shower you with love as you make your grand exit as the newlyweds. Just remember to give your venue a quick buzz to check if they’ve got any rules or cleanup fees in the mix!


For the majority of couples, their wedding ceremony will be illuminated by the gentle glow of natural sunlight, whether it takes place outdoors or filters through the windows of their chosen venue. This is why we recommend that couples carefully orchestrate their wedding schedule around the sun. Ensuring that you bask in the perfect light, your photographs capture the essence of your special day, and neither you nor your guests are dazzled by intense sunlight becomes paramount.

In the event you are planning an evening ceremony or your chosen venue lacks sufficient natural light, it becomes imperative to secure alternative lighting solutions or make provisions for additional illumination. If you find yourself unsure about where to begin, fret not! Our comprehensive wedding lighting guide is here to assist you in determining the ideal lighting setup for your unique celebration.

Programs & Signage

While wedding ceremony programs are not obligatory, they serve as a delightful means to inform your guests about the proceedings and introduce the members of the wedding party. Should you choose to create these programs, consider including essential details such as your names, the wedding date and venue, the names of your wedding party, the officiant’s name, and the sequence of events. If you wish to provide explanations for any incorporated traditions or readings, this is the ideal platform to do so. Platforms like Etsy and Minted offer a plethora of exquisite and customizable templates to help you craft the perfect program. While ceremonies usually require fewer signs compared to receptions, a few essential signs can enhance your ceremony décor:

  1. Welcome Sign: Extend a stylish welcome to your guests.
  2. Seating Sign: Inform your guests that they don’t need to pick sides.
  3. Program Sign: Useful if you’re not printing order-of-events programs.
  4. Unplugged Ceremony Sign: A polite reminder for guests to stow their phones away.

A Few Last Minute Pointers

  1. Keep those rings close and ready.
  2. Ditch the phone for your vows. Scribble ’em down on paper. It’ll look way better in pics and save you from any microphone mishaps.
  3. Double check the church rules! Some churches don’t allow a photographer’s camera flash during the ceremony. Others limit where the photographer can stand and how far away from the alter. Know the rules & limitations beforehand because this will impact your ceremony photography.
  4. Get to know your officiant beforehand. It’ll help to put your mind at ease. Its one less unexpected stress before your ceremony.
  5. Consider hiring a coordinator to take charge of the ceremony. Even if you’re DIY-ing most of your wedding, having a coordinator can be a game-changer.
  6. Amid all the excitement, try to be present in the moment and take it all in. Take a deep breath and soak in the love and support from your peeps.

So, with this “wedding ceremony guide” in your back pocket, you’re all set to plan your Pittsburgh wedding ceremony. Now let’s dive into crafting an amazing reception!

If you still have questions that this “wedding ceremony guide” didn’t cover, feel free to drop me an email or give me a call. I’d love to chat about the specifics and provide some helpful suggestions.

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Wedding Ceremony Guide | Pittsburgh Wedding Planning