Wedding Rehearsal Guide

Wedding Ceremony Rehearsal Guide

I have performed over 1000 wedding ceremonies in the last 10 years. Occasionally I am asked to be a part of your wedding rehearsal. While I do offer rehearsal coordination, it is unnecessary. I require a Phone Rehearsal for all wedding ceremonies and elopements, but I am happy to supervise the rehearsal for an additional fee.  The majority of my couples choose to do the rehearsal themselves without me being present.

Running Your Own Wedding Rehearsal

Below is an extensive guide as a way to help you run your own wedding ceremony rehearsal, saving you time and money, as well as helping the ceremony run more smoothly on your wedding day. It is important to note that there are many possible variations to the ceremony order, and this guide was created focusing on a straight, non-denominational wedding ceremony. Please see the “Variations” section of the guide for options for our LGBT couples, as well as common cultural, religious, and regional variations.

Who Should Be In Charge?

At the rehearsal, you are not practicing the ceremony itself – you are only practicing walking in and walking out, and making sure everyone knows where to stand. Since the officiant is usually in the front of the ceremony site and not the back, it may not possible for me to “cue” each group and tell them when to start walking. This is normally the responsibility of the coordinator at your ceremony site, or your wedding planner if you have one. Many couples ask a friend or family member to help run the rehearsal and cue everyone for their entrance to the ceremony, which is a great option. You want the same person who is running the rehearsal to be in charge of the ceremony on your wedding day as well – that continuity will really help ensure that there isn’t any confusion on your big day. If the ceremony site or event is small, then I am usually able to cue by nodding my head.

Your wedding rehearsal should be a quick, easy, and straightforward process. The best person to run the rehearsal is someone who is a little bossy. They will need to be assertive enough to get your group to pay attention, but not be so overbearing that it’s off-putting to your families and wedding party. Teachers are almost always the perfect choice for this because they are used to corralling large groups of unruly children. Know the order of your processional BEFORE you start.

How to Start

Instead of starting with the processional (entrance), start by getting everyone into place where they will be standing during the ceremony. Remember that you are practicing walking in and out, so knowing where to stand is the first step. It is important to have your wedding party evenly spaced and standing at a slight angle in relation to your wedding guests, with the attendants at each end a little more forward than the Maid of Honor and Best Man. This looks better for pictures, and helps the guests see each person in your wedding party better. Bridesmaids should hold their bouquets in front of them (over the navel) with both hands, and groomsmen should decide on clasping their hands in the front or the back of their body. It is nice that everyone do the same thing, if everyone is doing something different it looks awful in your wedding photos.

You may go over the OUTLINE of the ceremony so everyone knows roughly the order of the ceremony. Don’t read through the entire ceremony word-for-word or say the vows, save that excitement for your big day. Make a note of any wedding ceremony readings, candle lighting or sand ceremonies, and who has the rings. You should not stand with your backs to the wedding guests at any point in the ceremony. Even if people need to move around during the ceremony, for example to do a candle lighting ceremony, make sure that they always end up standing in a position where they still face the guests (and the photographer).

Next, practice walking out (the recessional). Since you have everyone in place already, practice the recessional as if the ceremony has just ended and you are walking out. Start with the kiss and perhaps a little applause and exit in the proper order. Before the kiss, I tell the bride to take back her bouquet and the couple faces out to their family and friends.  TIP: The recessional is basically the opposite of the processional with a few exceptions.  The married couple, followed by the flower girl, ring bearer, wedding party, parents and grandparents.

It’s important to make sure that each couple that exits the ceremony leaves enough room between themselves and the couple in front of them. To do this, everyone should agree on a set distance they will wait for before walking. Most people choose to start walking when the couple in front of them is halfway back up the aisle. In general, it’s best to leave at least 20 feet between each couple for the sake of pictures, but not much more than that. Once everyone has successfully exited the ceremony, it’s finally time to practice walking in.

Now practice the processional. Now that everyone knows where to stand when they enter the ceremony, practicing the entrance should be a piece of cake. Line everyone up in the order they will enter. First to walk down are are the grandparents, the parents of the Groom, and the Mother of the Bride. Then Officiant and Groom enter (with the option to add the Best Man, and Groomsmen), typically from the side of the ceremony site but sometimes up the aisle depending on preference. Finally, the Bridesmaids (optional with Groomsmen), Maid of Honor (optional Best Man), Ring Bearer and Flower Girl enter.  Everyone needs to be spaced evenly. As with the recessional, it’s important to agree upon how much space to leave between people entering the ceremony – normally about 20-30 feet. The Bride and her escort (typically the Father of the Bride) should not enter until the entire wedding party has entered and is in place. Normally there is a separate piece of music for the Bride’s processional, and the officiant will announce “please rise, here comes the bride,” in order to invite your guests to stand.

You need to practice is what happens when the Bride and her escort make it to the front of the ceremony - usually the first row of seats. If the escort is a parent of the Bride they should give her a kiss and congratulate her. The escort then typically shakes the Groom’s hand, then the groom offers his left arm and escorts the bride to the spot where in front of the officiant, and the escort moves to where he/she will be seated.

Now that everyone is in place, practice walking back out and back in one more time to make sure everyone knows what to do, then you’re done! The rehearsal should not last more than 20-30 minutes at most.


There are not right or wrong ways to start a wedding ceremony.  Many couples choose to forego the traditional wedding ceremony order and include cultural, religious, or regional variations in their ceremony.

LGBT Ceremonies – The only rule for gay weddings is that there are no rules. My LGBT couples tend to break the mold entirely. The order for the processional and recessional may be completely different, sometimes with the wedding party and couple entering together, or having no wedding party at all. I encourage all LGBT couples to be creative and create something truly unique!

The Midwest Processional – We work with couples from all over the world, and couples from the Midwest are sometimes surprised to see the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen entering the wedding ceremony separately. Regional differences in wedding traditions are pretty common, and in the “Midwest Processional” the Maid of Honor, Best Man, and all of the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen enter the ceremony in pairs.  The Officiant and the Groom still enter first from the side, and then the rest of the wedding party enters in reverse order, with the Maid of Honor and Best Man the last to enter before the Flower Girl and Ring Bearer.

Multi-Parent Escort – Many couples choose to be escorted into the ceremony by multiple parents, instead of just by one. While the Father of the Bride traditionally escorts the Bride down the aisle, I have seen the mother and father, or father and step-father, walk down the aisle together. This isn’t just limited to the Bride, we also have plenty of weddings where the Groom is also escorted into the ceremony by his parents. This is often seen in many Jewish and interfaith weddings as well.

Breaking With Tradition

There is no “right” way to do a wedding ceremony, and I encourage you to ask questions to create something that is a unique expression of their love. Traditions are wonderful, but many of my couples choose to break with tradition and do something entirely different.  Listen to your heart and do what feels right for the two of you, whatever that may be.

Resource : Ceremony Officiants dot com and Rev LC Cannon

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Carolyn Burke | Officiant | Coordinator
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