A Guide for Your Rehearsal

May 1, 2019

One of the very first weddings I was a part of included a fight. A full physical altercation. I was not the officiant, but I learned a whole lot that day. The fight was between the bride and her sister, who was serving as the maid of honor.  

There are two main ways to organize your entrance as we will describe below. There is a traditional option that has the grooms side enter first, followed by family, the bridesmaids and bride and father. The Midwest entrance begins with minister and groom, followed by family. Then the wedding party enters as couples, followed by bride and father.

The bride at this wedding opted for the Midwest entrance. She had arranged for couples to enter together, but the best man would enter with the groom, meaning the maid of honor would enter by herself just before the bride.  The sister/maid of honor could not understand the arrangement of this special entrance. She wanted to enter with the best man. Come to find out, she had crush on the best man and in her mind, this would magically put them together.  This turned into a huge debate causing the rehearsal to last for about two hours.  The coordinator, the minister, the groom and his family and the parents of the bride all had something to contribute to the discussion.  Eventually, the bride won, and the maid of honor relented. But the victory was short lived. As the family arrived at the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner the unthinkable happened. The rehearsal dinner was held at a big southern barbeque restaurant. Complete with a steel guitar band at the front and rolls of paper towels on the table for people to use. The food was amazing, but that was not the main event at the restaurant. During the meal, the maid of honor pulled the sister to the side where the argument reignited. Obviously, this sibling rivalry had a back story that went well past an awkward wedding rehearsal. The argument reached a crescendo and the maid of honor sent a right hook to the face of the bride. She caught her just under the bride's left eye. The room descended into chaos. Everyone was crying, yelling, and scrambling. Eventually, order was restored, and the sisters reconciled through hugs and tears. Tragically the bride walked the aisle the next day with a black eye. The lesson is… make sure you have a clear and organized rehearsal.

Make sure you have a clear and organized rehearsal.

Who Should Be in Charge?

At the rehearsal, you are not really practicing the whole ceremony word for word. It is mostly about movements and positions. You are practicing walking in and walking out, and making sure everyone knows where to stand. Since the officiant is one of the first people to enter at the beginning of the ceremony, it is typically difficult for the officiant 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. Some couples will also 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 is not any confusion on your big day.

Your wedding rehearsal should be a quick, easy, and straight forward process. Each of our officiants at WeddingChaplain.com prepare to run the rehearsal unless someone else takes the lead. That is the case for us and not necessarily for other officiants. The best person for this job is, quite frankly, 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. You can give them this guide before you arrive, and also give them a copy of the ceremony draft that you have finalized with your officiant. They’ll have all the information they need to run your rehearsal quickly and efficiently.

Running the Rehearsal

Follow these easy steps to rehearse the wedding ceremony quickly and easily, your friends and families will thank you and you can get onto your rehearsal dinner!

A. Start in the Middle. Instead of starting with the processional (entrance), start by getting everyone into place where they will be standing during the ceremony. We usually start with everyone lined up and beginning with the entrance of the bride and her father/escort. You can practice the handoff, shaking the parent’s hands etc. Remember that you are practicing walking in and out, so knowing where to stand is the first step. See the diagram below for the standard positions for your officiant, parents, and attendants. 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 with both hands, and groomsmen should clasp their hands in the front of their body. It’s important that everyone do the same thing, if everyone is doing something different it looks awful in your ceremony photos.

B. The Hand-Off. This is the moment when the Bride and her escort make it to the end of the aisle and are standing in front of the Officiant and the Groom. If the escort is a parent of the Bride, they should lift her veil if she is wearing one, give the bride a kiss and congratulate her. The escort then typically shakes the Groom’s hand, the Bride hands her bouquet to the Maid of Honor and steps forward next to the groom. The escort moves to where they will be seated. The Bride and Groom should then be standing facing one another, holding hands in front of the Officiants. At this point, the Maid of Honor can hand off both sets of flowers to one of the Bridesmaids and fix the Bride’s train, if necessary.

C. Age of Flower Girl and Ring Bearer. If the children are less than five years old, we highly recommend that they walk in and have a seat and not stand with the party. We also highly suggest there is another adult in charge of the kids.  The most challenging situation is for the parent of the child to also be in the wedding party. We have seen moms who are also bridesmaids trying to hold their child during the ceremony. This just never works out. It is completely fine to have an adult guide the toddlers down the aisle and then gather them up before the entrance of the bride. This person can sit with the children and take them out if need be. Everyone wants this moment to be cute, but no one wants this moment to take away from the bridal entrance or the ceremony.

D. Talk Through the Ceremony Headings. Look through the ceremony draft and read through the headings aloud, so everyone knows roughly the order of the ceremony. Do not read through the entire ceremony word-for-word or say the vows, save that excitement for your big day. You can read one line for sound, or they can recite a version that is not actually the one from the ceremony, just for practice. Make a note of any wedding ceremony readings, candle lighting or sand/wine box ceremonies, and when the rings will need to be presented. Double check that any items needed during the ceremony like candles, a wine box or a table will be there that day. The last item on the list will be the kiss and the presentation of the couple.

E. 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 all exiting. Start with the kiss and/or the presentation of the couple and exit in the proper order. The Bride will take her bouquet from the Maid of Honor and exit with the Groom. Typically, the wedding party will exit in pairs even if they enter separately, followed by the Flower Girl and Ring Bearer and then the parents and grandparents. It is 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 is 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 is finally time to practice walking in.

F. Practice the Processional Last. Now that everyone knows where to stand once, practicing the entrance should be a piece of cake. Line everyone up in the order they will enter. For our clients this information is always at the top of the ceremony draft. If you are doing a traditional entrance, the Officiant, Groom, Best Man, and Groomsmen enter first, typically from the side of the ceremony site but sometimes up the aisle depending on preference. Following them are the grandparents, the parents of the Groom, and the Mother of the Bride. Typically you will enter grandparents then parents, groom's side then bride's side.

  1. Groom's Grandparents (if they are processing)
  2. Bride's Grandparents (if they are processing)
  3. Groom's parents
  4. Bride's mother (escorted by groomsmen or family member)

Finally, the Bridesmaids, Maid of Honor, and Flower Girl enter. While the Officiant, Groom, and Groomsmen normally enter together as a group in a straight line, everyone else needs to be spaced evenly.

The groomsmen can also serve as escorts.   If there are six groomsmen, you can use three or four to escort grandparents, parents and especially the mother of the bride. Once then drop off their party they can take their place in the lineup at the from with the groom and other groomsmen.

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 usually say “If everyone will please rise,” in order to invite your guests to stand.

G. Do it Again. 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.

Following these steps will ensure that everyone knows exactly what to do on the wedding day, and that you aren’t wasting a lot of time practicing unnecessary parts of the ceremony itself. Below is a helpful diagram of where everyone should be standing:



The Midwest Processional – Couples from the Midwest are sometimes surprised to see the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen entering the wedding ceremony separately. Regional differences in wedding traditions are common, and in the “Midwest Processional” the Maid of Honor, Best Man, and all 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 of our 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, we often work with couples who have their mother and father, or father and stepfather, walk them 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.

Jewish Traditional Entrance – For our Jewish and Jewish/Christian weddings, couples sometimes opt for a traditional Jewish entrance to the wedding ceremony. In this variation, the Officiant enters first, followed by the Groom who is escorted by his parents. When the Groom and his parents reach the wedding canopy, or Chuppah, the Groom stands in the “standard” position but his parents stand under the Chuppah on the opposite side, so behind the Officiant’s right shoulder across from the Groom so they can see him. Next, the Bride enters, escorted by her parents, and they take the opposite positions, behind the Officiant’s left shoulder. Both sets of parents remain standing at the Chuppah for the entire ceremony.

Breaking with Tradition

We always tell our couples that there is no “right” way to do a wedding ceremony, and we encourage them to work with our officiants to create something that is a unique expression of their love. Traditions are wonderful, and many of our couples choose to perform a traditional ceremony – others choose to break with tradition and do something entirely different. We encourage you to listen to your heart and do what feels right for the two of you, whatever that may be.

A Few Random Thoughts:

1. There is a difference between the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. There is not a big deal, but something to consider. Many times I will show up at the rehearsal and the room is full of people. The wedding party has the bride, groom, a few bridesmaids and family members. But when I walk in there are 60 people in the room. Once that many people gather it is hard to get them out of reunion mode and into rehearsal mode. I have seen rehearsals begin 30 minutes late simply because too many people came to the rehearsal. Save the party for the party. Rehearsals should be purposeful and brief.

2. There is a trend to be creative with flower girls. I have seen elderly grandmothers serve as flower girls. That is actually pretty cool. Watching a spry 90 year old great grandmother throw flowers on the aisle is very meaningful. The other trend is the flower man or flower men. Typically, it is a wacky element making fun of the tradition. The guys will dress up like run way models pulling flower petals out of a fanny pack. I had a ceremony where the flower man wore hot pink jeans, a Hawaiian shirt and the DJ played Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me." It was creative, funny and memorable. And there was a moment where I wondered if the flower man was taking his attention away from the bride.

The main thing we stress over and over to couples is finalizing the plans before the rehearsal. The rehearsal is not the time to make decisions. Discuss things with the family and friends well before the evening of the rehearsal. We wish you all the best and above all, no boxing at the rehearsal.

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