Published: Wednesday, Mar. 10th, 2021
Months spent apart from family and friends can be challenging, but physical distance also gives us a chance to connect in other intentional and creative ways.
Enter: the virtual wedding ceremony! These creative modern ceremonies show us that with a bit of effort, no distance is too great to bridge with love! (...and a little technology.)
This simple outline for a virtual ceremony with special readings will help you get started planning your own online wedding celebration.
In the weeks leading up to your virtual ceremony, send out invitations. You might choose beautiful, traditional paper invitations, which can be kept by loved ones as a memento of your wedding day. Or choose something nontraditional, such as a cute video invitation, filmed by you and your sweetheart.
If it’s in the budget, mail small gift boxes to each honored guest along with your invitations. Include noise-makers, festive party hats, strands of twinkle lights, or sweet treats like packaged truffles or mini bottles of champagne. Ask your virtual guests to save these party favors for the wedding day, when they can bring them out to enjoy as part of your virtual reception.
Hire a band or DJ, or ask a musical friend(s) to be your wedding band. With a little planning, this live accompaniment to your modified procession, recession, and afterparty will make your event feel festive and exciting.
Choose two friends or family members to participate as special readers during the ceremony. Your officiant will want to talk with these special guests and see copies of the readings while the ceremony is being planned. Make sure your readers practice their presentations before the wedding day!
Just as you would at a traditional venue, set the stage! Decide where you’ll place the laptop and other equipment for streaming, and mark the floor of the ceremony space so you know where the officiant and couple will need to stand to stay in frame.
Decorate! Consider what will look best on camera. We recommend soft lighting, paper lanterns, greenery (such as trailing ivy, roses, vases of wildflowers or decorative branches), crepe streamers, and candles. Just because your event is virtual doesn’t mean your space can’t look and feel ceremonial!
Birds-eye view: If some guests will be attending in person, we recommend using a second device to join the video-conference call as a birds-eye view of these guests. This way, virtual guests will be able to see the reactions of in-person guests, without missing a moment of the ceremony.
Lighting: Practice streaming once or twice ahead of the event, and pay attention to heavy shadows, yellow-tinted light, and other factors that will affect the look of your ceremony (or the colors of your wedding clothes). Set up additional lamps, choose a cooler-toned light bulb, or adjust the furniture to make your set look as beautiful as possible.
Ask your wedding officiant and readers to prepare their spaces in a similar way if they’re not in the same physical location. If you’d like to have a consistent visual style, share supplies! Ask them to hang lights, lanterns, or decorative plants in their own spaces, whenever possible.
Work out kinks with your readers during the rehearsal, which you will definitely want to plan! Rehearsals are important, especially with new technology in play.
Document! Record the ceremony on your device (or on the cloud) for later viewing and editing!
Virtual ceremonies don’t have to skip the procession!
In one option, the officiant can appear on screen as guests arrive, welcoming them as they join. Then, the couple can make their entrance from either side, as the invited musical guest plays processional music. Guests will love seeing live music! This works well even when officiants and couples are not in the same physical location.
In an alternate set up, couples may place a decorative curtain in front of the ceremony space, to be opened when the ceremony is scheduled to start, revealing the decor, couple, and officiant.
Have fun with planning your virtual ceremony. Get creative!
The officiant welcomes the guests and introduces the couple. Because this is a virtual ceremony, the officiant will draw special attention to the unique circumstances of the event as they welcome online guests.
They may talk about the beauty of technology, the resilience of the couple, how physically spread out the guests are, and focus on the ways love and family bring us together against all odds. They’ll explain the purpose of the gathering (marriage, betrothal, vow renewal, or commitment ceremony), and share the history and significance of the ritual, while offering insight into the couple’s personal love story.
The focus of this reading is the couple’s foundation -- what’s led them to the present day.
This reader gives the couple a blessing, offers a song or instrumental performance, reads from a special text, or presents a few secular words on the importance of love and commitment. The reading should reflect on how the couple met, what their life together has been like, challenges they’ve overcome, or what the meaning of partnership or marriage means to them.
The reader should take care to position themselves in good lighting, facing the camera, and remember to keep good posture while they read.
The couple publicly declares their intent to marry, with the officiant asking each partner if they want to marry each other. This is where the familiar ‘I do’ part of the ceremony comes in, and in some states it’s mandatory. The declaration of intent can be as simple as asking, “Do you wish to join with this person in marriage?”, followed by “I do.”
If the officiant is in the same physical location as the couple, they will turn to them and perform this part of the ceremony in a traditional way, making sure to stay ‘in frame.’ If the officiant is performing the marriage remotely (which is only allowed in a few states), they’ll want to direct their comments to the camera warmly, and wait for the couple to respond.
The officiant informs the guests that the couple have written personal vows to share while exchanging rings, making special mention of the ability of their love to overcome distance and obstacles. For example, “The couple will now share their vows with us while exchanging rings. Near or far, these are the promises that will guide them as they travel this journey together. Let these words, and these symbolic bands, deepen the bond that already keeps them close.”
If the officiant is in the same physical location as the couple, they will turn to each in turn to share what they’ve prepared.
The focus of the second reading is the future -- looking ahead.
This reader chooses a selection from a special text, song, or poem, or offers a few secular words on the joy and promise the future holds. The reading should reflect on continued growth, collaboration, adventure, exploration, and the joy of traveling through life together.
The reader should take care to position themselves in good lighting, facing the camera, and remember to maintain good posture while they read.
The officiant officially declares the couple to be married (or engaged, committed, bound).
This is the moment the guests have all been waiting for! As the couple kisses, all the guests can chime in, cheer, use their noise makers, and don their party hats to celebrate together!
The officiant announces that the ceremony is over.
The couple should ‘join’ their online guests in conversation and congratulations, pulling up chairs to sit comfortably, and even offering a virtual toast or eating desserts together.
If there’s a DJ or band joining the video call, these guests can start playing after the conversation dies down, for everyone to start dancing in their own homes -- separate but together!
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