Wedding Ceremony Chat with Reverend Chris Castle, Thursday, July 3 at 11 am

This Thursday, Reverend Chris Castle takes your questions about the first, and often most daunting, part of your wedding: the ceremony.

Arlington, VA
How do you create a ceremony that includes both the bride and grooms faith if they are from different churches?
This is very common since today we find people meeting outside of their "circle" of faith. Sometimes couples reveal only after knowing each other a while that they are the same or similar faith.  Your wedding will draw in friends and family who will be very sensitive to what is said–they may parse every word.  So you must decide which words and values you want to express without stepping on anyone's toes.  For example, a Catholic and Buddhist wedding I did a few years ago didn't raise any issues because Buddhism is very inclusive.  However, if you merge two denominations with differing views you may step into a hornets nest!  Ouch.  Come up with key words that express your faith and values and ask that these words be used by the officiate.  Less is more–soft and fuzzy rules the day.
Fairfax, VA
How much leeway do couples have when it comes to what's said during the ceremony? And what's the most unique or memorable ceremony you've ever been in?

Depending on where you are married determines the content.  I recently did a wedding in a church whose policy is that the Senior Minister must do at least some part of the ceremony.  this couple had very little input into the wording used in the vows.  They invited me to do the homily and it was there that I incorporated their thoughts that they wanted to convey to their family and friends.

Most unique ceremony:  Last year I did a ceremony for what the Post called "the most hated woman on Capitol Hill" who stopped me in the middle of the ceremony and said, "Is that the ceremony I gave you!?"  Startled by the jolting interruption I respond that indeed it was but that I had to improvise  to make transitions.  She shrugged her shoulders and said, "Okay, you can go on…" (She actually was very nice). 

Shaw, DC
What do you think of this trend of friends getting officiated on the internet and ordaining weddings for their pals?

It is the Barney Fife of the wedding industry!  I couldn't resist.  For some people, the formality of having a minister or civil celebrant officiate is like being coerced to sing the national anthem at a ball game…The usher in the red coat runs down the aisle and screams, "She's not singing…stop the music!"  

I understand why some resort to this, but I think as a society who has a major problem with divorce, we should enter marriage with great sobriety and should find solace in the fact that there are professionals who help add a somberness and seriousness to this wonderful merging of lives.  We require driving lessons for teens; your pilot has thousands of hours of training, but anyone can get a marriage license without any training or advice necessary. 

Washington, DC
How do you develop a sermon for a couple that you don't know well?
A good wedding officiate knows how to tap into the heart and soul of a couple by asking the right questions and listening to what is said.  I have done more than 80 weddings and understand what couples are looking for–generally speaking–and what has been done in the past.  Everyone has expectations, it is my job to figure it out.  couples should have already thought out what they want expressed in the words and the feeling of their ceremony.  In other words, is it reflective?  Is it light-hearted?  Romantic?  A great stage show that no one will ever forget?  Express your wishes and know that the words will be forgotten by most, but the overall feel of the ceremony won't.  By all means, say what you want.
Arlington, Va
When do you sign the actual marriage license? When is the couple actually married? Do you then send it in? Strange question, I know – I was just curious how that all works. Thanks Chris!
The license is signed after the ceremony.  You are married (officially) when the license is signed.  What happens if it gets lost in the mail?  Your still married…just the license got lost.  The County Clerk's office would resubmit the license and it would be resigned.  How do I know?  It happened.
Arlington, VA
What's a common mistake you see brides and grooms make when it comes to writing their vows or planning the ceremony?
Actually, most couples don't want to write their vows.  The ones who do amaze me by their wonderful thoughts.  A mistake which can be made is that the vows are too long or the couple tries to memorize the words.  Too much pressure.  Use the KISS method:  Keep It Simple Stupid!  
Arlington, Va
Is it a good idea to write your own vows? Or does that make the ceremony way to stressful for the bride and groom?
I kind of answered that on a previous question, but I like when a couple writes their vows and leaves the ceremony to me.  I know what flows, how it unfolds and the dramatic/artistic effect of various words.  But since the soul of wit is brevity–the less you write on your own the better.
Washington, DC
What are your favorite ceremony traditions from non-Christian weddings?

One of my "secret weapons" that I like to employ in a ceremony that is intended to be  non-traditional and when emotion is okay (I love when people cry happy  tears!) is to read an excerpt from the Velveteen Rabbit.  The simplicity of the story is a subtle nod to our past.  It is as though standing at the alter the bride sees the softside of love portrayed in this touching story of what real love is.  Read it for your self and find the part where the skin horse and the rabbit discuss what it means to be real.

Another tradition is when the father gives the bride away. I know, I know, very traditional, but most dad's turn into old softies when they give their daughter away and it is something that people enjoying seeing.  Don't be too untraditional because some of the elements are there for a reason. 

Washington, DC
If you don't have a childhood church and minister who can marry you and your groom, how do you find a minister and get to know him or her? I feel like to have someone marry you, you'd want to have a relationship with them. What do you do when you're marrying a couple you don't know very well?

Most people don't know what to do.  Go to a pro!  What I mean is, turn to someone who is known for producing wonderful celebratory events.  My experience at the Inn at Little Washington is that they are so accustomed to special events that you don't have to worry whether the wedding (or other type of event) will unfold as you dreamed.  People who are used to doing special events for high end venues understand that a lot is riding on your special day.

As far as a minister is concerned, find someone who speaks with you with great enthusiasm and passion.  They will translate that into the ceremony.  I disdain boring ceremonies!  the way they talk in person is a good indication of what you will get in the ceremony.

Ministers who work with teens and college students often have  what it takes, so ask to speak with a Youth Minister if you are fishing for the right person. 

Washington, DC
Who is able to marry you? Meaning does the minister need to be in the denomination of the church you're marrying in (ie: Catholic minister in a Baptist church?) and how far in advanced should you look for someone?

Not all ministers are approved.  They must  be registered with  the appropriate authority  in their respective state.  I know one man who  captains a very large  yacht and he was approved to do weddings (though he only did one and said that was enough!)

Typically, a church will have a policy as to who can do the marrying.  I worked in a church in Virginia Beach that had a very traditional look–beautiful white steeple, center aisle, etc.  We had so many requests for weddings that their policy it could be used by member only because they would be doing weddings every weekend.  Most denominations do not have requirements for who does the ceremony–but they may have strong requirements about marriage counseling before the wedding takes place since we see so many failed marriages.  We find a great need for helping couples understand what they are agreeing to be and do in their marriage.

How far in advance:  popular wedding spots fill up a year in advance. However, thinking creatively you can find some great venues which don't require a great deal of advance notice.  

(Shameless plug for the Inn at Little Washington):  Many couples plan an elopement only a few weeks in advance and the details unfold like a dream.  

Washington, DC
Are there requirements for written vows? Things you theoretically should include or not include?
No requirements for vows.  But theoretically you are making a pledge to be faithful to one another for life.  I always include that phrase in the vows to my wedding couples:  "and I promise to be faithful to you as long as I live."
Washington, DC
Is the minister invited to the reception typically?
yes. and here is why.  Often the minister has given up his plans for the day (or two days if there is a rehearsal).  Even when he does not know the couple well or the families, it is courteous to invite the minister and his/her spouse.  I find that when I travel to a wedding event that to be included in the post wedding festivities becomes a special part of the event for me personally.  Most couple give great attention to the flowers,  the music, the programs, the ribbons on the rice packets or the bubble-blower thingys, but not much thought as to the content of the covenant made to one another.  Find someone who will give their best to you and then extend them the same courtesy, whether is the reception or the honorarium.
Washington, DC
My fiance and I are having two receptions, one in Texas where we will marry and one in Maryland for my side of the family…we wanted to repeat our vows at the Maryland reception as a symbol of our wedding for those who could not attend in Texas. Is this all we need or should there be a "remarriage," so to speak, with the minister present?

Depending on how many people are there for the event, I would "re-enact" the event so it feels just as official to folks in MD as in TX.  Without the officiate, it will feel like the reception.  I suggest you redo the entire event whenever practical.  

By the way, that is a good idea.  I have seen many couples from different parts of the country re-do the event so all could experience the joy. 

Washington, DC
We're looking to do a civil ceremony but pay homage to the faiths that have been an important part of each of our upbringings/family lives. Can you recommend any judges or other officiants with a good knowledge of both Judaism and Catholicism who would be good for such a ceremony?

I think that it will be difficult to find a civil celebrant (that is, someone who has been approved to do civil ceremonies only) who has the ability to "perform" with such adaptability.  Typically, civil celebrants/officiates are "clerical" people who perform the ceremony in a capacity that is closer to a notary.  I know someone who does a good job, but by-and-large I would find someone who is accustomed to public speaking–such as a minister.  

Lots of great questions!  I have truly enjoyed answering them.  If you have any questions in the future, feel free to email me at  Best wishes to each of you as you pursue your dreams…A word of advice to some of you out there:  Don't rush it!  Many of the couples that I marry are in their late twenties to late thirties.  find the right person by being the right person and you will eventually meet!