The Ceremony Venue
Squaring away the details of your ceremony should be one of your first and highest priorities. If you don't know the location, time, and date of the ceremony, then you certainly can't do much to plan the reception. Try to get a ceremony date six to twelve months before you want the wedding to occur, particularly if you want a date between April and October. Competition for ceremony sites in those months can be pretty fierce, so you're more likely to get the day and time you want if you start looking early. If you don't plan on a long engagement, set the date as soon as you can.
Types of Ceremonies
One of your first decisions should focus on the tone and style of your ceremony. Here, you need to consider your views on religion and marriage. Your upbringing and your family's views may also influence this decision. You might want to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with the more common guidelines for wedding ceremonies. If you are not particularly religious or do not attend a regular church, examine some of the different types of ceremonies that are available to you. For more specifics regarding different types of religious ceremonies, refer to Chapter 12. Here are some points to consider when thinking about your ceremony venue:
A civil ceremony is nonreligious. It is presided over by a civil or government official, such as a judge, justice of the peace, a hired officiant, or a legally able friend. It can be as formal and dramatic as traditional church weddings. You will need a marriage license, and you may need witnesses; each state has different requirements, so research what they are. If you opt for a civil or nondenominational ceremony, your particular house of worship may not recognize your union within its organization, although it is legally valid.
A nondenominational ceremony emphasizes religion without being associated with any particular group. It is often free of the structure and restrictions of traditional religious ceremonies, but it does have a religious tone. The format of the ceremony typically resembles a traditional Protestant ceremony; however, customs and traditions from all religions may be blended into the ceremony. The reception venue, a boat, public spaces (i.e., a park, garden, or beach), and some nondenominational churches are all possible locations for the ceremony. This is a popular choice for couples who do not have a strong religious background, have different religious backgrounds, are marrying in a place other than a house of worship, or want the freedom to create their own ceremony.
An interfaith marriage is between two people from different religions. Some religions will permit and recognize these unions, while some prohibit them and will not recognize the union. Inter-faith ceremonies are usually held in religiously neutral locations. Many times, depending on the particular officiants involved, the ceremony may even be presided over by leaders from both the bride's and groom's religion. Not all officiants will agree to these terms, so if this is what you want, be sure to ask.
Questions to Ask
Here are a few questions you should ask as you scout location sites. Some questions may pertain specifically to houses of worship and should be discussed with the officiant.
What kind of services does the facility provide (music, reception area)?
What fees are required for marrying in the facility?
What specifically do the fees include? Is there a security deposit?
What is the cancellation or postponement policy?
Will the facility provide any decorations? Carpeting? Aisle runner? Ribbon?
Are there restrictions on décor?
Are there any restrictions as to the kind of music you can have at the ceremony?
Is a microphone or sound system available for the officiant?
What are the rules regarding photography and video recording?
Will you be dealing with a coordinator for the ceremony site over the course of planning the ceremony, or speaking directly with the officiant?
Is there a bridal changing room?
Are there any other weddings that day?
Is there room to have receiving line at the back of the facility? What about outside, in a courtyard or garden?
What is the parking situation?
Is the site wheelchair accessible?
Is the site air-conditioned?
Is the site available for the rehearsal? At what time?
Ceremony Site Tracker
Use this handy checklist to keep track of the information on your venue options: