How to Personalize Your Wedding Ceremony

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Nikki and Cody Dysert wed in Schiller Park.

Many brides and grooms spend a lot of time personalizing the details of their wedding reception, from centerpieces and favors to musical selection and late-night bites. But the ceremony itself is a great way for you and your fiance to express yourselves as a couple. When my fiance, Matt Henterly, proposed in December 2013, we knew right away we'd do exactly that.

Having written for Columbus Bride for several years, I had some ideas in mind before Matt even popped the question. But I'm far from an expert, so I turned to Columbus wedding-planning professionals to see what they had to say about personalizing various aspects of a wedding ceremony.

One factor I never considered was a grand entrance into our wedding. But Devoted to Details owner Jamie Rapavy says doing so lends an interesting start to the event. She's seen brides arrive by golf cart, horse-drawn carriage and boat, and she even had a member of the armed forces who wanted to rappel into her ceremony-in a Downtown church, dress and all.

And of course, there's the official "here comes the bride" moment as the bride proceeds down the aisle. I chose to have both my father and my mother accompany me on that walk. "I don't understand why more people don't do this," Rapavy says. "They both brought you up; they're both very important. And if there's a divorce in the family … the stepfather can walk [the bride] down the first part of the aisle, and the birth father can take her down the rest of the way."

Rapavy encourages couples to choose ceremony music that's meaningful to the bride and groom, instead of defaulting to Pachelbel's "Canon in D Minor" or Wagner's "Bridal Chorus."

The moment I heard the second verse and repeating end section of Mumford and Sons' "Sigh No More," I knew I wanted to walk down the aisle to it. I wasn't even engaged yet, but there I was, sitting on a COTA bus getting chills and tearing up. To me, it was perfect. Fortunately, Matt enjoys Mumford and Sons, too, and while he was a little surprised by my selection, he's behind it 100 percent.

Because Matt and I aren't getting married in a church, we needed to find an alternative officiant. We didn't like the idea of hiring a complete stranger to facilitate such a significant event, so we considered who we already knew who might be up to the task. Matt's brother-in-law wrote beautiful vows for his own wedding and delivered them with poise. Choosing him was a no-brainer and, fortunately, he was willing to get ordained online.

"It's just so much better when [the officiant] knows you," says Jennifer Drew, owner of Something to Remember Events. "Including those people in your ceremony makes a huge impact."

We wanted to include the rest of our families in the ceremony, too, so we asked Matt's sister to read a poem. Three of my sisters are bridesmaids, two of my brothers and my brother-in-law are ushers and my youngest brother and sister (who will be 11 and 9, respectively) will read an excerpt from a children's book.

Rapavy is also a big proponent of mixed-gender attendants, with titles such as man of honor, bridesman, best woman and groomswoman. So instead of asking your fiance's sister-especially if you've only met her twice-to be a bridesmaid, let her stand on the groom's side in a dress that matches the color of the groom's attendants.

"[Your attendants] really should be people that support you and mean something to you, rather than girls on one side, guys on the other," Rapavy adds.

You can find plenty of pre-written ceremonies online, and professional officiants have a variety of formulas to follow. But if you don't have the restrictions of a religious wedding, you can craft a ceremony that's perfectly suited to you and your fiance.

Rapavy sees a lot of sand ceremonies and rose ceremonies, during which couples present flowers to their mothers in appreciation. Our wedding will be on Mother's Day weekend, so we're considering this, as well as the idea of a knot ceremony, in which we tie a specific knot that gets harder to untie as you pull together. I especially like this idea because strong knots are vital to our shared hobby: rock climbing.

Drew also notes interfaith weddings are a great way to add custom flair. By creating a ceremony that incorporates religious traditions from both heritages, you truly blend your families together.

Of course, you can always choose a traditional ceremony and personalize it with your vows. And both Drew and Rapavy encourage couples of all backgrounds and affiliations to try to do so. "It doesn't have to be long; it doesn't have to be what anybody else expects you to say," Drew says. "It should be what you want to say."

Ceremony personalization doesn't have to be about all the big factors. You can add tiny touches that make a big impact, like the ever-popular remembrance photos that honor loved ones who have passed. An arch or other structure made by you and your fiance or a family member can serve as a backdrop, framing you as you say "I do."

Nontraditional programs are gaining popularity as well. Drew helped a bride with a program designed after a playbill-complete with cover art-and saw another couple create a program with attendants' "stats" for their sports-themed wedding at Huntington Park. Another fun option is having your pet serve as a ring bearer or attendant.

Making your ceremony a reflection of you and your fiance-whether this means personalizing the entire thing or just opting for a few key details-is a special decision the two of you will remember for years to come. I know Matt and I are beyond excited to be married in a ceremony that expresses who we are together, and we can't wait to share that with our family and friends.