Now if you’ve never stepped foot in a church before and are invited to a church wedding, you may be wondering whether you’ll ever make it out in one piece! Crossing a religious threshold is a daunting prospect for many people who are simply not used to formal religious ceremonies and are too busy fretting about when to sit, when to stand and what is appropriate to enjoy the actual ceremony.
Therefore we’ve put together a quick guide of the dos and don’ts for most religious wedding ceremonies.
One tip we would give to the bride and groom is to print out a brief guide to the service to give to guests beforehand, just so that they feel included and less daunted about the whole prospect.
Christian Wedding Service
This is probably the easiest service to get through. Most of us have seen the inside of a church at some point in our lives so will be familiar with the layout and if you caught the Royal Wedding on TV you’ll have a very good idea of what happens and when at a church wedding.
There will be plenty of hymn singing so make sure your voice is in good working order and as most of the tunes are pretty easy to grasp, it won’t be long before you are humming along with the rest. Three readings from the Bible are usually given and then a sermon by the priest or vicar in which he/she will focus on marriage and the couple. The bride and groom then say their vows and depending on the church, everyone will go up to receive communion. If you are in a catholic church you cannot accept communion unless you are a baptised catholic, but if you bow your head the priest will give you a blessing.
- DO: Have some spare change for the collection.
- DON’T: Have conversations with your neighbours in the middle of the ceremony.
- Guest Dress Code: Smart wear. Revealing outfits are frowned upon but are not uncommon.
- More Info: Church of England Anglican Weddings – Catholic Church Weddings
Orthodox Wedding Service
An Orthodox wedding service may be Greek, Russian, Lebanese or Ukrainian, depending on the nationality of either the bride or groom (or both). The ceremony is usually fairly quiet, with the couple speaking only to answer questions put to them from the priest. The rings are blessed and then the couple are crowned. Afterwards the couple along with the best man and chief bridesmaid will parade three times around the altar table. When the service is over the couple leave the church first followed by everyone else.
- DO: Wait outside with the groom until the bride arrives.
- DON’T: Walk onto the altar to take better photos.
- Guest Dress Code: Dependant on the nationality; Greeks tend to be less formal, Russians will be conservative.
- More Info: Marriage in Eastern Orthodox Church
Jewish Wedding Ceremony
The Jewish service is full of traditions and rituals so it may be worth asking the bride and groom for a brief explanation before you attend. The bride and groom (chatan and kallah) will be seated in separate areas. You will greet the bride separately before you then go and greet the groom who will be surrounded by friends all singing and toasting him. The bride and groom’s mothers may break a plate to symbolise the seriousness of the commitment (once broken can never be repaired).
The ceremony usually takes place outside underneath a chuppah, which is an open-sided canopy. There will be rituals concerning the ring, cups of wine and blessings before the marriage contract is read out. After that comes seven more blessings and the breaking of a glass to symbolise the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The guests then sing, shout and clap as the couple leave the chuppah together to adjourn in a private room.
- DO: Get into the spirit of things!
- DON’T: Follow the bride and groom after the ceremony unless you are one of the special witnesses to the symbolic consummation of their marriage.
- Guest Dress Code: Cover up shoulders and knees for women. Men may be asked to wear a skullcap, particularly in a synagogue.
- More Info: The Jewish Wedding Ceremony
A Muslim Marriage Ceremony
Muslim wedding ceremonies vary enormously, just as Christian ones do, but there are some rituals that stay the same. As many Muslim mosques do not have a marriage licence under UK law, it is unlikely that you will be expected to enter a mosque. The wedding itself is known as a nikah and is treated as a formality at which the bride is not obliged to attend. The Imam may give a reading from the Qur’an and will read out the vows. It is not likely that, unless you are asked to be a witness, you will need to attend the ceremony itself but you may be invited to the walimah – the celebratory party afterwards which could last several days and involves vast quantities of food!
- DO: Cover up, especially if you are a female guest.
- DON’T: Ask when the bar opens.
- Guest Dress Code: Women may be asked to wear a headscarf and full cover-up.
- More Info: Muslim Marriage Ceremony
Hindu Wedding Ceremonies
Hindu weddings normally take place outside under a Mandap, which is a canopy much like the Jewish use for their weddings. There will be a fire in the centre of the Mandap to symbolise purity and illumination of mind and spirit.
Whilst the bride and groom perform various rituals with close family members the priest will chant mantras and invoke the Gods to bless the marriage. After the ceremony guests will sit down to a bridal banquet and may play a number of games to signify their various roles in their marriage.
- DO: Be prepared to eat with your fingers.
- DON’T: Wear anything black or revealing.
- Guest Dress Code: Long saris or trouser suits for women, smart suits for men.
- More Info: Hindu Marriage Ceremonies
Humanist Wedding Ceremony
Although not a religious ceremony in any sense of the word, a humanist wedding ceremony may still practice certain rites and rituals that guests may not be familiar with. Most wedding ceremonies are conducted with a civil wedding under English law (in Scotland humanist weddings are legally recognised) but then the couple may decide to have a simple ceremony in which they conduct their own promises to each other with friends and family present. The ceremony will be as formal or informal as the couple wish, so there are no set rules to follow, only the ones the couple with to adhere to themselves.
- DO: Expect the unexpected.
- DON’T: Presume that both couples are atheists.
- Guest Dress Code: Anything goes! Consult with the bride and groom first about the kind of service they are planning.
- More Info: Humanist Weddings