Waves of Weddings

In our community we have waves of weddings, and we are learning the discipline of celebration. It takes practice to get really good at it, and God has blessed us with lots of opportunities for such practice. So from time to time I compose a few etiquette reminders for the saints.

In Moscow we have a very unique situation: we do not yet have our own church building proper, we have lots of weddings, a large Christian community, an overwhelming desire to include everyone, and very modest budgets for such things. It is not uncommon for the weddings to include four hundred people, and sometimes more. So the saints here have some serious obstacles to overcome each time a wedding is planned. Where will we have it? (And if it is outside here in northern Idaho, what is the back-up plan in case of rain?) What can we feed so many people and still make it a great party on a shoestring budget? The women in our church have become very creative in planning weddings, and we all are eager to help by bringing food, etc. So bear in mind as you read these reminders, that I wrote them with our own congregation in mind.

Wedding Etiquette Reminders: A Wedding Invitation is a Beautiful Thing

With quite a few weddings filling up the calendar over the next several months, it’s time for a few more etiquette reminders. Courtesy is simply love expressed in tangible ways. A lack of courtesy is a lack of love, whether intentional or not. So think of wedding courtesies as incarnational living. And these courtesies work both ways: guests to the bride and groom, and bride and groom to the guests.

The bride and groom’s families are spending a good amount of time on the guest list. Due to facilities with limited seating, as well as limited budgets, it’s simply impossible for the parents to invite everyone in our Christian community, even if they feel that everyone is near and dear. So don’t take it personally if you are not invited. Don’t ask the bride or groom if you can come……and don’t just assume you can go if you didn’t get an invitation. Students, you are particularly to pay attention to this! You may not invite your friends and roommates to go with you to a wedding unless they were specifically invited. A wedding just isn’t the same thing as a church potluck.

After this sometimes agonizing work, the families then spend a good bit of money on printing and mailing the invitations. So when you receive a wedding invitation in the mail, you should view it as an honor. It is a privilege to be a wedding guest, and with the privilege come some clearly defined responsibilities. Because of that, here are some suggestions on how you can be a good and grateful guest.

When you receive a wedding invitation in the mail, look carefully at the following:

Whose names are on the envelope? Pay close attention to the names written on the envelope of the invitation. Don’t assume your children are invited. If they are invited, their names will be there next to yours. If their names are not on the envelope, well, they are not invited. Bear in mind, if all the children were invited, they could easily fill a hundred or more seats. So don’t be offended if your children are not included. It doesn’t mean they are not loved. But if they are not invited, you may not bring them anyway. If your children are invited, they are invited to participate fully, but it is assumed that they will be well supervised.

Is there an rsvp? That is code for please reply. Sometimes there will be a small return envelope, stamped and addressed for you. All you have to do is fill it out and pop it in the mail. Sometimes the guest is requested to reply via email. The secret here to being a good guest is to FOLLOW DIRECTIONS and do so by the given date. This enables the family to plan well for the number of guests. Do not ask if you can bring friends or relatives who are not on the invitation. And do not bring uninvited guests.

Save the invitation so that you can double check later if you forget the time or place. Then you don’t have to call the bride to ask.And speaking of what time to ARRIVE………..it is most courteous to arrive at a wedding a good 20 minutes before the scheduled time to begin. It is inconsiderate to arrive at a wedding when the bridal party has begun to line up, or even worse, after the wedding has begun. Remember, extra time is needed to sign a guest book and ushered in, so arrive with plenty of time to be seated. If everyone arrives at the last minute, the wedding is delayed. But, horrors, if you do arrive late, wait until an appropriate time to slip in the back. Don’t go barging in, even on the side aisle, while the wedding party is walking down the aisle.

Dress for the men is a tie and coat. Don’t even think about jeans, not even with a dress shirt.

Dress for the ladies is dressy slacks or skirts and dresses. Not a time for being casual.

How long do you stay? It is actually important for the guests to stay until the bride and groom leave, but this can be very difficult if the party is going on too late. This is where the bride and groom can be kind to the guests by keeping the reception a reasonable length (and not leaving the guests with long periods of dead time). If it goes on too long, the only people left to send the couple off will be the bridesmaids and groomsmen.

And gifts. You can either deliver it to the bride’s home before the wedding (or of course at the shower, etc.) or you can bring it to the reception. It’s best not to bring a gift to the wedding ceremony because the family will have to load them up and take them to the reception for you. Tape your card onto the gift so it isn’t lost in the shuffle. And though the newly married couple has an obligation to send thank-you notes in a reasonable amount of time, don’t be too hard on them if it takes a while. A number of people have told me they have never received a thank-you for many of the gifts they have given. With the number of showers/weddings in our congregations, it is really important for the brides to do their duty here. Gift-giving is an investment and commitment. Receiving thanks is not the motivation for giving, but it keeps the gift-givers going. They have spent time and money and effort on purchasing, wrapping, and delivering your gift. You really must say thank you in a timely way.

Dancing. If there is dancing, enjoy it. But don’t use it for a time to show boat your own dancing talents or let your small children cut loose on the dance floor. This is a party for the bride and groom.

Sometimes we use the familiarity we have with one another as an excuse to overlook our responsibilities. We think, “Oh she won’t mind if I come, even though I didn’t rsvp.” Or, “I won’t send a thank-you note. It takes too much time, and I’m sure they know I like the gift.” Nope. These are short cuts that end up being negligence of our God-given duties of charity toward one another.

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11 thoughts on “Waves of Weddings

  1. You mentioned the reception not being too long or long gaps with your absence… It made me recall my wedding where I didn’t see my husband in wedding attire until I walked down the aile, so pictures with both of us together took place after the ceremony and before the reception–and took a great deal more time than I anticipated. I felt horribly rude going into the reception!! Any advise on how to handle this? Should that just be done beforehand? Maybe we planned too dull a reception!

  2. Billie, how formal was your reception? I’ve been at receptions like that where we had to wait for.ev.er for the bride and groom to arrive, and I think the simplest thing to keep your guests sane is to feed them something while they’re waiting. Another option would be to have a clear plan with the photographer about how many pictures to take so the session won’t last eternally. On the flip side, people understand that wedding photography takes time, and it’s not unusual to wait for a while for the couple to arrive, so be patient and talk amongst yourselves…but not about how long you’ve been waiting. 😉

  3. Billie, ours sounds very similar to yours… all the joint bride/groom photos were taken afterwards, and we were having a simple reception, with no meal or dancing, afterwards. By the time we got down to the fellowship hall, many if not most guests had left. I was so disappointed and felt rude for inconveniencing my guests.

    I wonder if it could work, if you’re having a simple reception, for the wedding party to go to the reception first, cut the cake & give a few well-wishes, then do the photos? The bride & groom would have to be very nice to each other when feeding each other cake (*grin*).

    In retrospect, even with a simple cake & punch reception, it would have been good to plan for some music (a quartet maybe?), some finger sandwiches or other light eats, and simple activities I’ve seen at other receptions: a slideshow, memory book for guests to write in, photo board… any other ideas?

  4. Nancy,
    I loved reading your wedding etiquette reminders! Appropriate etiquette for all sorts of circustances is becoming a lost art in our day. I especially liked your special focus to the teens and young single folks. As mothers we must make sure that we teach our children these kinds of social graces. And yes, we must not take things personal. This is hard to do in practice, much easier in theory. For me, it always comes back to trusting in the Lord’s good providence to order my coming and going.

    My last comment is this – and this is something my husband and I did at our reception. We took time to go from table to table to greet and thank our guests for coming. It can be hard to try to get to everyone, but we did and we were so blessed and I think it blessed our guests as well. It feels very strange to be invited to a wedding, especially if you’ve traveled a distance to get there and the bride and groom only spends time with their closer friends who they often see. Not that you place expectations on them as if they owe you some time, I just think it is good and proper wedding reception etiquette to acknowledge out of town folks even if it is only giving a little of their time to them at least it is time to extend gratefulness to their out of town guests for taking the time and expense to share in their special day. I do hope I made sense here.

  5. As for photos our photographer took all the pictures except for couple and group pictures beforehand. Most the of the couple pictures were taken outside immediately after we’d come down the aisle and while people where still leaving the sanctuary. Some people even stayed and chatted during the formal group pictures. All in all I don’t think were delayed from the reception more than half and hour.

  6. The most common thing here is for the pictures to be done well before the wedding. The couple is left alone together for a few minutes to greet one another in their wedding finery, and then all the pics get done with all the families together, and there is no pressure of waiting guests. After pictures, there is usually some down time before the ceremony so the family and wedding party can relax and have something to eat(usually something that won’t be messy). After the ceremony, everyone arrives at the reception together. I’ve been to weddings like the ones you have described (with a long lull before the bride and groom arrive). The best ones have plenty of food and music for the guests (drinks and hors d’oeuvres) so that it really is a party while the guests wait for the arrival of the bride and groom. Sounds like Diane did what has become common here as well, and that is for the couple to make it around to all the tables to greet the guests.

  7. Nancy,
    I’m not very certain how to ask this question, for it is quite embarassing. My husband and I never sent thank you cards. It has been two years and the memory still haunts me. There are several reasons and a few excuses that aren’t worth mentioning, but I am wondering if you think there might be a way to at least try to make amends for that neglect. I’ve thought about maybe sending out a letter to those who gift gave (although I no longer have the lists, I’m fairly certain I could remember who blessed us with gifts)- apologizing, thanking, updating…

    I’m not sure if that would do- do you have any suggestions?

  8. Chiming in here to say that when we were married we took the pictures before the wedding service. It was so much easier on the guests, and more fun for us too.

    I appreciate the tips. Hopefully we’ll have a Moscow wedding one day!

  9. Adena,
    By all means do send out a note of apology and thanks to as many gift-givers as you can remember. Start with the apology and them tell them how much you have enjoyed the gift these two years. You will feel better, and they will appreciate it.

  10. Okay, so all the pictures first, just find a way to make the bride and groom meeting special. And I could have better prepared the people handling my reception rather than assuming they knew my expectations (don’t hold back any of the food, turn the music on…) Something to keep in mind when the time comes for our children. 🙂

    Adena, I’ve received thank you cards for things much later than that, and it’s heartwarming and amusing all in one. I never remembered not receiving one in the first place, and it’s a joy to know the gift is still appreciated.

  11. We have been to weddings where people who were on a tight budget (i.e., no meal or dancing) handled it with grace, and many where people did not. Although we had a formal reception, one of the things we chose to do that actually enabled us to have something more formal was to ask others to help. I know sometimes that can get overwhelming to a bride when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. But we thought that asking others to help was a way to show them how much we loved them and were thankful they were there, as well as allow them to give their talents as wedding gifts instead of traditional household items.

    We planned activities between photos and the end of the reception that cost us next to nothing as a result, which our guests still tell us they enjoyed (like having friends teach folk and ballroom dances, and setting up table games to encourage introductions and conversation). We certainly couldn’t guarantee that all of our guests would extend us grace when inevitable bumps in the evening occurrred (which they did!), but we tried very hard to think ahead of ways to be gracious to them so they might be more inclined to give it to us! We were just so profoundly greatful they were there, we wanted to be sure they knew it.

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