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Where do I stand during the ceremony?

By Published On: December 1, 2020Categories: All About Weddings

Where do I stand during the wedding ceremony? For me that’s an easy answer: I generally stand between the couple and the first attendant on the most appropriate side (in a straight wedding, between the groom and the best man).

That’s the short answer. If you want more info on where I stand and how I came to my preference, keep reading the lengthy post below! I originally wrote this post for my celebrant colleagues, but I think couples might be interested in it too.

The “traditional priest position”

When I first started as a celebrant, during my training in particular, I thought all celebrants stood in what I call the “traditional priest position”: between and slightly behind the couple. That’s the way I was trained. It’s what I assumed from the movies. It’s where the celebrant who inspired me to become a celebrant stood.

Drawing of the celebrant standing in between the couple
Traditional priest position, between and slightly behind the couple. Please excuse my crappy drawings; hopefully you’ll get the idea!

Next to the couple

Then I went along to my first wedding officiated by a “younger” celebrant. I had just been registered and Danielle Binaisse was being a huge help to me. She graciously let me come along to one of her ceremonies. She stood next to the couple, which at the time, quite frankly, I thought was a bit weird. I didn’t understand it, and it wasn’t in keeping with what I was used to.

So I asked her why she did it that way. She said she liked the couple to spend some time facing their guests. While she was standing next to them, they were standing next to each other rather than facing each other. This was while she was telling their story etc, so they could enjoy the reactions of their guests. She also said from that position she found it easy to present both to the couple and to the guests.

I still thought it was a bit weird, but I tucked it away in my memory for further consideration.

Drawing of the celebrant standing next to the couple
Next to the couple.

At the end of the wedding party

By that time I’d started following other celebrants on social media, and attending some association networking events. I started hearing about some celebrants who stood at the end of the wedding party. They felt they were then out of all of the photos of the couple and their attendants.

Some of them also said they created a point of focus for the couple, their attendants, and their guests to watch. This way the couple didn’t feel all eyes were on them for the whole ceremony. (Some couples are very anxious about having everyone looking at them.)

Again, my personal feeling was that it was weird, but I tucked it away for further consideration.

Drawing of the couple standing at the end of the wedding party
At the end of the wedding party.

My first weddings in the “traditional priest position”

My first “big” wedding was in March 2014. (My first two weddings were essentially legals only ceremonies, so no need to stand anywhere in relation to the couple.) As I’d been taught, I stood in the “traditional priest position”. Throughout the ceremony I was distracted by the groom blowing his beer breath in his bride’s face. He thought he was hilarious; she wasn’t quite as convinced. They also talked and laughed with each other. But the wedding had been generally an unpleasant experience (that’s a story for another post) so I just chalked up my discomfort standing in that position to the general discomfort of the wedding.

The following week I had another wedding, and this time I had more to say as I was telling the couple’s story. Again I stood in the “traditional priest position.” And I hated it. I hated having the couple as a barrier between me and the guests. I didn’t feel I could present to or engage with the guests in any way while I was reciting these gorgeous words I’d spent so much time writing. All I could see was the couple standing in front of me. I could see that for them facing each other for that length of time was becoming awkward. They pretty much looked anywhere except at each other’s faces. I vowed then and there that I would never stand in that spot again.

My first weddings trying the “next to the couple” position

The next wedding I decided I was going to try the “next to the couple” arrangement I’d seen Danielle use. I encouraged the couple to face their guests for the opening of the ceremony and only face each other for the vows and rings. I stood next to them but not between them, and I felt so much more comfortable:

  • I could present to and engage with both the guests and the couple
  • I wasn’t in the middle of all of their photos
  • There was space enough for the photographer to zoom in and just get pics of the couple
  • I was still next to them if they needed anything – there were definitely some requests for tissues during that ceremony).

I had found my spot!

I usually stood between the groom and the best man. I had seen some photos of the wonderful Andrew Redman standing between the groom and the best man. Because he was wearing a similar suit, he looked like a groomsman. Now it was highly unlikely that in my wardrobe of black dresses I would ever look like a bridesmaid. But I still wanted to avoid that, and avoid standing on the bride’s dress. So my preference became to stand between the groom and the best man. (Remember this was pre-marriage equality; all weddings had a bride and a groom.)

Yes, my PA is in a very ugly spot here; the chapel at Bramleigh Receptions was tricky for PA placement!
Standing between the groom and the groomsman.

Where I stand during the vows and ring exchange

During the vows and the ring exchange, I used to move to stand behind the person speaking so I could hold the microphone for them, but I still didn’t stand between the couple. I would hide myself behind the appropriate person as much as possible. Obviously I will never be able to completely hide myself behind a person, but it’s the thought that counts!

Standing behind the person speaking to hold the microphone and feed her the ring ceremony wording, a few words at a time.
Standing behind the person speaking to hold the microphone while he reads from one of my handmade vow cards.

I did it this way because I always wanted the couple to be able to hold hands with their free hand while they’re saying their vows. I feel sad when I see photos of couples not holding hands during their vow exchange; I feel like it’s such an intimate part of the ceremony, they should be touching.

But then at one of my training sessions in 2017 a couple of lovely celebrants showed me there was a way the couple could hold the vow card, the microphone, and be touching, and I could get out of the way altogether!

Vows read from a card with me out of the picture!

They face each other. With the hand closest to the guests they hold the vow card. With the hand furthest from the guests they hold the microphone. The partner holds the hand holding the vow card. Hopefully that makes sense!

I still move behind them with the microphone for the ring exchange. It’s way too difficult for them to juggle the microphone and the ring.

Still thinking about standing at the end of the wedding party

I was still curious about the “end of the wedding party” choice.

I wasn’t convinced about the “not being in any photos” thing. I felt that they couldn’t get married without me. There would be hours of opportunities for them to have photos without me in them during the wedding day. So I wasn’t too fussed about being in some of their ceremony photos.

I felt like I might be too far away from the couple if they needed anything. I see part of my job on the day is to look after the couple as much as it is to present their ceremony. If I was at the end of the wedding party I wouldn’t be able to hear them if they needed to ask for a tissue or for a pause to collect themselves etc.

So I was interested in the opportunity for a different presentation style. It would mean turning to face the couple wouldn’t mean turning so severely away from the guests. But I wasn’t entirely prepared to move away from my preferred option.

My first weddings standing at the end of the wedding party

Until one day I had to. We had rehearsed me standing between the groom and the best man, who was the groom’s twin brother. But just as the processional was about to start he whispered to me, “I really need to stand next to my brother for support, can you please swap with him?” Sure thing; I’m all about whatever the couple wants and needs.

I decided that rather than standing one removed from the groom (who had six groomsmen) I would take myself down to the end of the line and see how it felt. And I hated it. I felt so removed from the couple. I didn’t feel like I could engage with them at all, and it didn’t feel any easier to present than my usual spot did.

I wasn’t keen on standing in that position again, but a couple I worked with in 2017 asked me to. At the rehearsal I was showing everyone how we would stand. I moved to the bride’s side this time because she had one less bridesmaid than the number of groomsmen. I like to balance things out wherever I can. The groom said they’d worked so hard to choose bridesmaid dresses that complemented the bride’s dress. He didn’t like the look of me in the middle of that. So I moved to the end.

Again, I hated it. I couldn’t see the couple from where I was standing; there was limited space and if I’d moved forward out of the line of bridesmaids, I would have blocked the view of some of the guests.

Standing at the end of the bridesmaids.

Back to standing next to the couple

So I’m back to my preferred position, standing between one party and their attendants. If there is only one attendant on each side I’ll often stand at the far end of them. Then there’s only one person between me and the couple and I still feel like I’m close enough to engage with and look after the couple. But any more than that, my preference is:

When it comes down to it I actually move around quite a lot during the ceremony, and I think that it’s important for celebrants not to feel “stuck” in one position. It’s okay to move to where we’re needed at any given time. Our feet are not concreted to the ground!

If you have a specific preference about where I stand I’m happy to discuss the pros and cons with you!

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