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respect and gratitude in ceremony

quotation marksWe can all appreciate the value of respect and gratitude in our lives. Whether you are a celebrant conducting a celebration or you are planning a ceremony in your life there are profound opportunities for deepening our connection to others and building community by considering these two qualities – respect and gratitude, and the way we can represent them to others.

Webster's Online Dictionary gives the synonyms, ‘to value’ and ‘show courtesy to’, for the word respect and defines gratitude as ‘a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation’. Respect requires our attentiveness to others; it calls for inclusiveness, empathy and compassion. Gratitude requires an open heart. The willingness to express these qualities in our ceremonies … and in our lives is invaluable.

As a professional celebrant respect is a natural part of our service to couples and would be displayed in many ways prior to the ceremony starting – respecting our client’s choices and supporting them to have the ceremony they want, offering a high standard of service and attention, punctuality and excellent presentation – just to mention the obvious ones.

And, for the ceremony itself? There are many ways… and here are just a few …
  • Setting the scene for the ceremony and checking everything is in order before the start is an act of respect for everyone present.  At ceremonies it would be usual practice for the celebrant or other key person to gather guests to be seated or to invite them to stand close to the ceremonial area and request that mobile phones be switched off. In most ceremonies, people look to the celebrant for leadership (even at the most subtle and discreet level) and it is important that we honour this role, guiding and supporting our clients and also the guests to have the most heartfelt and enjoyable experience possible.

  • Before I start to speak at the ceremony I take a moment to pause, to look and smile at the bride and groom if it is a wedding or at the parents if it is a naming ceremony and then discreetly ask if they are ready to start. It is this quiet moment that offers the courtesy of allowing everyone, especially the key people, to ‘arrive’ at the ceremony. It would be easy to rush in and begin however, I would say it is essential to take a moment, take another breath in and out, look out and connect with everyone present and smile. It is that simple.

  • Paying respect to a family member or close guest who cannot be present or who has died can involve speaking a few words or be a symbolic gesture such as the lighting of a candle or an acknowledgement of a photograph or representation of the person.  Ensure that the key people feel comfortable with what has been decided.

  • Honouring parents, children or the bridal party can be embraced in many ways. Here are a few:
    • Often the mother of the bride will arrive with the bride and her father. After I have greeted the bride and ensured she is ready, I would then offer to escort the mother of the bride to her seat before her daughter’s entrance. This is a beautiful non verbal show of respect and courtesy that can be friendly, quiet and non fussy. The family may wish to ask another family member or possibly one of the groomsmen to be the escort.

    • At one of my earlier weddings I was packing up my things after most of the guests had moved to the reception venue when I found the mother of the bride, who was single, in tears in the car park. She had been collecting the last of the things from the chapel and realised that she had not organised a lift to the next venue. She had arrived with the bride and yet in the busyness that followed had no plans for this transition. Almost everyone had left without realising the dilemma. It highlighted to me the importance of small details such as this. I make a point, when knowing that a parent or grandparent may be at the ceremony on their own, to ask if the couple thinks this person would like an escort, a brother or an uncle for example, to get them a drink, take them to the next venue or ask for the first dance. It has been appreciated many times.

    • Gratitude towards the parents can be acknowledged verbally or symbolically in the ceremony. When I am crafting the ceremony I ask my couple: What do you love and appreciate about your parents/family? Their response is then used to write a simple paragraph or two. As a show of respect the parents may also be invited to speak a blessing or offer a small reading at this time.

    • Gifts can be offered, for example: the presentation of flowers to the mothers’ of the couple or to both parents, the giving of the signing pen to a significant family member, a candle lighting or sand ceremony will all show respect and gratitude that will mean a lot to the family or friends involved.

    • The expression of respect and gratitude in the exchange of vows between a couple is a highlight of the marriage ceremony. Inviting the couple to express what they are thankful for to the other is a display of intimacy that will touch the hearts of everyone present. Their thoughts can be crafted into their vows or a space can be created in the ceremony where they speak their love and appreciation spontaneously… ‘what I love about you is your…’, ‘what I appreciate about you is…’. The latter need to feel confident that they can be present in the moment and not feel under pressure to ‘perform’. I find this is usually better suited to smaller and intimate ceremonies.

    • As the celebrant, being conscious of the layout of the ceremony and, for example, when moving to undertake the signing of the documents, direct the couple to move to the signing table first and then follow. It may seem obvious to most however it is worth mentioning and is an important part of the choreography of a ceremony and shows great respect to the parties.

    I realize that it is essential to allow plenty of time at ceremonies to talk with guests, to be observant and not rush things. This creates space and awareness of some of the finer details which can show themselves. There are many other ways and I would love to hear your ideas on this topic if you would like to email me.

    Throughout time displays of respect and gratitude have touched people deeply especially when they least expect it. May respect and gratitude flow in abundance particularly at these very special occasions in people’s lives.
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