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Planning a Wedding During a Pandemic

As a wedding officiant I have officiated weddings during this pandemic, although many of my weddings were postponed until next year. The couples who postponed did so after considering the many options and concluding that it would be safer for everyone if they waited until the virus is under control. Some have already set a date for 2021 while others have opted to keep the date open. A few couples decided to have a small, intimate wedding ceremony with fewer than 30 family and friends in attendance, but they are planning and hoping for a larger celebration with dinner and dance in 2021. A handful of my couples decided to move forward with the full event that they had been dreaming about. Each wedding was driven largely by what the couple wanted.

There was a lot at stake for every one of the weddings. Reports have surfaced about a wedding in Minnesota where up to 70 cases of Covid-19 were traced to the event1. The September wedding took place at a small town bar and grill and was followed by an indoor dinner and dance. The wedding did not follow the CDC guidelines for the numbers allowed and social distancing.

What’s been my own experience with the weddings I have led?

For the small, intimate wedding ceremonies there was more social distancing in the arrangement of chairs. Family members wore masks. As with all weddings, there was power and beauty in the moment, not only for me, but I believe for everyone else. Weddings are wonderful events no matter the setting or size of the event!! Every couple I work with believes that their wedding day is about lifting up their love for each other and declaring to the world their friendship and life-long fidelity. Even though the celebration of the dinner and dance that follows is important to them, it’s their relationship and future that matter most.

For the larger wedding events, I experienced the power and joy of a couple in love, but there was less thought put in on how everyone there would be kept safe during this pandemic. At one wedding of around 100 there were no masks or mention of masks and no social distancing in the arrangement of chairs. Because I always lead the rehearsals, I have asked those in charge of the venue if there were any Covid guidelines. Their response was mostly, “No, you’re welcome to do whatever seems appropriate.”

My Advice to Engaged Couples

So, here’s my main advice to engaged couples who are in the middle of planning a wedding: Know the guidelines for Covid and then take the lead for the sake of the safety and health of your family and friends. People always listen to the desires of the wedding couple, and your family and friends will listen to you.

  • Know what you want for your wedding and communicate it to others.
  • Know the CDC guidelines for the state/county where your wedding will take place. You can find much information by searching online.
  • Know your venue and the rules they have established for mask wearing and social distancing not only during the ceremony but also during the reception that follows.
  • Communicate with your family and friends about what your expectations are for the wedding. How will mask wearing and social distancing be handled? Know that if you as the bride and groom ask your people to wear masks during the ceremony, they will. If you don’t ask, they may not.
  • Provide special masks as some of my couples have done that have your names and the date of your ceremony on the masks, and wear the masks yourselves as you come down the aisle. Take them off only during the ceremony, although some couples have even kissed with their masks on.
  • Let your officiant know your expectations and the rules of the venue, and ask your officiant during the rehearsal to communicate your wishes by saying, “Bride and Groom have asked me to let you know their expectations for this rehearsal and for the ceremony…”
  • Invite a representative of your venue to welcome your guests during the rehearsal and clearly communicate what the venue’s guidelines are for keeping all safe during the event.

An Example of a Successful Covid-19 Wedding

A great example of wedding planning during the time of Covid-19 happened in the backyard of the home where she grew up. In physical attendance were only the bride, groom, and the bride’s parents. The other guests were the flower girls, musicians, readers, parents of the groom, and family all attending by way of Zoom. Here’s the link:

I love this summary written by the Mother of the Bride for the October 26, 2020 backyard wedding:

Our beautiful daughter was married in our backyard this Saturday. It was a Zoom wedding so that the only people in our backyard were my husband and myself, the bride and groom, and a photographer, and videographer. But I wanted her wedding to be a special as she is — and so we transformed our backyard with the most extraordinary flowers – in particular, a spectacular floral arch from Mark’s Garden. My husband was the officiant, and performed the marriage ceremony, I walked the bride down the aisle, and her sisters participated by doing readings, and giving toasts — and my youngest was the Zoom emcee for the event (a necessary person if you are thinking about a virtual event!). We had everything an in-person wedding would have: a walk down the aisle, blessings, prayers, flower girls, inspirational readings, wedding songs, vows, kisses, toasts, a cake cutting, and over 100 guests — but all on zoom! It was a tightly choreographed event – about 45 minutes in length, and we enjoyed every moment. (We’re now such experts on Zoom weddings that we think we’re going to publish an e-book about it so that others can benefit!) The groom’s parents were not able to attend in person, so they also participated on Zoom. His mom did a reading, and his stepdad gave a toast – it was so good that we could see them and interact with them on such a special day for their son.

Backyards can be magical spaces. Our girls have grown up in our back yard, so seeing our daughter be married here, was incredibly moving for us. And witnessing the commitment of two people to a life together at this particular time, was also very uplifting for us, and I think for all of those who participated in the wedding ceremony. As my husband said at the beginning of the wedding ceremony: “Your marriage is a blessing for our family, for our community, and for the world. Marriages are always blessings, but yours today is especially so. You have found the courage to marry in the middle of a pandemic and during a time of turmoil and division in our country and the world. Thank you for being a beacon of hope to us all, and for reminding us that there is always room for more love in the world.”

Yes, there is always room for more love in the world. And we feel so blessed to have witnessed a commitment to a very special kind of love in our own backyard.

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This blog is in a series of articles for engaged couples. Rev. Dr. Frank Nelson is not only a wedding officiant, but has developed a popular online marriage preparation, especially helpful during a pandemic. It’s a self-guided, self-paced and private marriage prep eCourse available in a Basic Non-Religious version, a Non-Denominational Christian version, and a Roman Catholic version. They have been used successfully by thousands of couples.