When a couple chooses to hold a wedding and invite guests, we assume that they want the love and support of all their family members and friends in attendance; after all, if that weren’t true, wouldn’t they just elope instead?
If you're in the middle of wedding planning, remember not to make an entire roomful of people just sit and wait patiently until the bar opens. Wedding guests can be more than just a captive audience that passively witnesses your nuptials; there are many meaningful and creative ways to turn honored guests into valuable participants at your wedding ceremony.
Have a Ring Warming
Instead of the best man holding the wedding rings in his pocket, have him give them to two people in the rear of the church or seating area. At the beginning of the ceremony, he’ll ask the guests to take turns holding the rings while saying a silent prayer or blessing for your marriage, and then pass them up through the rows. Once the rings have made their way up to the front and are ready to be exchanged, they’ll have been imbued with positive thoughts and warm wishes from all of your loved ones.
Get Their Input on the Playlist
Even before the guests arrive on the big day, let them get involved in picking out the songs they’ll be listening to. Either include a “Song Request” line on the RSVP card, or set up a space on your wedding Web site where guests can leave comments with their favorite tunes. Hearing the songs they requested will make guests feel that their opinions were valued. For an even more personal touch, give the DJ the song request list with the names of the people who requested each one, and have him send a special shout-out to each guest when his or her song is played.
Ask for Their Wisdom and Thoughts
In the invitations, ask guests to write a few encouraging words on the back of the RSVP card, maybe a funny story about you and your fiancé, some words of wisdom about marriage, or any other special thoughts they’d like to share. When you’ve collected the responses, pick out a few particularly touching, thoughtful, or hilarious ones and, instead of having traditional readings, ask someone to read the cards at your ceremony. Display the rest on a board or strung on a line in your reception space so that guests can browse through them. Afterward, keep them in a book or keepsake box for a special memento.
Participate in a Seashell Ceremony
For beach weddings, this ritual is a popular alternative to the traditional unity candle, as well as one that allows guests to take part. Have a box of cleaned seashells on hand, and at some point in the ceremony, ask the officiant to invite guests down to the water’s edge. Each guest takes a shell from the box and makes a wish or bestows a blessing upon it for your marriage, and then everyone throws the shells into the sea together. This ceremony also makes for a great photo opportunity.
Make a Video Guest Book
A standard guest book can’t capture the emotion and personality of your guests’ well wishes in the same way video can. If you’re having a professional videographer, either ask her to set up a station with a camera where guests can leave a video message, or have her wander through the crowd, asking for each guest’s thoughts in turn. If you’re not hiring a pro, any friend or relative with a camcorder should be able to handle the job. After the night is over, you’ll have a personalized video of all your nearest and dearest, perfect for displaying on your Facebook page, wedding Web site, or blog.
Recite Guests’ Vows
It takes a village to make a marriage. This tradition started in the Episcopal Church, but you can modify it and use it for any type of ceremony. Before you and your fiancé(e) recite your vows, the officiant instructs the guests to stand, asking them, “Do all of you promise to support this couple, offering your love, encouragement, guidance, and compassion?” The guests then profess, “We do.” You can customize the vow any way you wish.
Perform a Rock Ceremony
A rock ceremony is another popular alternative to the unity candle; you can have it either outdoors or indoors. At a predetermined point in the ceremony, all guests receive a smooth, polished stone and are asked to make a wish or bestow a blessing on it. Have the best man or a groomsman collect all the stones, and after the wedding, display them in a pretty glass jar for a daily reminder of your friends’ and families’ good wishes.
Light Unity Candles
During evening weddings, a unity ceremony that involves the whole room is a striking moment. Upon entry, give each guest a taper candle. At the preappointed time, one guest’s candle is lit and the flame is passed through the room until each guest is holding a glowing candle. This provides an ambient atmosphere in which to recite vows. The candle ceremony is best left for the end of the service, so that guests don’t end up holding hot, dripping wax.
How the guests get involved depends on the couple’s tastes and preferences, the limitations of the venue, and the size of the guest list. Naturally, it’s easier to make each and every attendee feel valuable at smaller weddings, but there are ways to make guests feel honored even at large affairs, such as singing a song together, releasing butterflies, or tossing flower petals. While the wedding day is ultimately all about the couple getting married, letting the guests know how important they are is a great way to kick off a long and happy night, and—hopefully—a long and happy marriage.