Minister Jeff's Wedding Speech and Ceremony: An Analysis

I've been a minister since 2012, but I haven't done anything with it, until now. I recently officiated the wonderful wedding of Ashley and Joshua Plecas. It was a lot of fun. It was also a unique experience. I'm going to break it down here.

Many people are afraid of speaking in public, which is reasonable. It's an animal thing. All of those people staring at you is intimidating. Eye contact is one of the fundamental forms of dominance displays. I've learned to enjoy it. But, a wedding ceremony is a little different.

When I'm giving a speech I only have to worry about me. I'm 100 percent in charge. If I want to change something I just change it, and nobody else even knows. A wedding is a little more like acting. You have to wait until it's your turn, other people are moving and responding to you. Also, people want to know what you're going to say beforehand.

Luckily for me Ashley and Joshua are pretty easy going, and I have a bit of experience creating speeches. I created a shared document, we pulled from some different sources, and I made a number of things up. It turned out well. I'm going to go through piece by piece. There's also a video that my sister Kristin took. You can see that on Youtube here.

And people in China can watch it on Youku here.

These are the notes that I slid inside of plastic sleeves (because there was a little mist in the air) and taped inside of a leather folder.

1. “All rise.” Ashley with father. Stops with father between Joshua and Ashley.

Everyone basically knows the drill at a wedding. The wedding party comes down the aisle and takes their various positions. The groom is standing at the front. There's a pause when the bride and her father appear at the entrance to the wedding aisle. Everyone stands and the music begins. It would be awkward to miss the "all rise" part though, so I included that in the notes.

2. “Who offers this woman in marriage?” Father responds and lifts veil. “Everyone may now be seated. Joshua and Ashley please step forward.”

It was a little windy, but the veil still worked out just fine. At one point we had decided to have the groom facing toward me (the minister) as the bride came up the aisle. The father would stop in between the bride and groom. I liked that image as a symbolic barrier being removed. But, the various women of the wedding party overruled Josh at the wedding rehearsal and we changed to him standing beside me, which worked well.

3. “Ladies and gentlemen. Some of us are gathered here today for free drinks (gesture), some of us are gathered here today for cake, and some of us are gathered here today for dancing, but all of us are gathered here today to witness a wedding. And more than that, to witness a commitment. Commitment comes from the Latin com mittere, meaning to send together. Joshua’s entire past, every moment, was necessary to bring him to this one. Every decision that Ashley has ever made has led her to this very place. Joshua’s had good times in his life, and hardships. Some that he brought upon himself, some that he did not. Ashley has had moments of joy and moments of despair. Some that she chose, others that she did not. In the future, too, there will be good things and there will be bad things, there will be joy and there will be despair. Which brings me to this question - why get married? It’s an important question, hopefully asked before now (smirk). And the answer is this, we do not get to choose many of the hardships we will face, but we do get A choice. We get to choose how we will face these hardships, and who we will face them with. Joshua and Ashley are here today to make a commitment, we are here today to witness their commitment and to send them forth into the future, together. That, is why there is a wedding today.”

Ashley had mentioned at one point that it would be fun to have a humorous wedding. Oh no! This was after I had agreed to do it. Now, I've given a lot of speeches, but humor is not my forte. As a matter of fact it's an ongoing joke in my Toastmasters groups about how bad I am at prepared humor. Some naturally happens off the cuff, but it's different when you're trying to make people laugh at a certain time. I gave a humorous speech one time where I didn't get a single laugh. Afterwards several people complimented me on my informative speech. You can imagine that I informed Ashley and Joshua (his name might fluctuate between Joshua, Josh, and Jay in this post because I was used to calling him Jay, but then various forces decided that only Joshua would be used in the ceremony and now I'm inconsistent in how I refer to him) that I'm probably not going to pull off a raucous ceremony, but that I would incorporate a few jokes.

This opening statement by the minister is important to set the tone for the whole ceremony, and it is the most speech like portion as well, so I put a lot of thought into this bit (more than I will fully expand on here, but quite a lot nevertheless).

Someone, it seems like it might have been Ashley, suggested opening with a joke. That was a very good idea. As it happens it had been raining all day and it was an outdoor wedding, and tents weren't available. Everyone was a bit on edge about that. By opening with a joke, one that worked because I practiced that thing, everyone was able to laugh and it relaxed the entire crowd. The pause and slight gesture were a huge part of that joke working. It took me awhile to figure out how to pull it off right.

I remember a discussion at my speaking group in Grand Haven between Rocky and Joan. Rocky was giving a speech at his sons wedding, I think, and he had a killer speech. But Joan pointed out that a great speech could overshadow the rest of the ceremony a bit, and the wedding is about the wedding couple not about any of the speakers. I kept this in mind when I was writing this bit. I didn't want to go so epic or dynamic that it became a great speech rather than a great wedding ceremony.

I kept it short, but I made strong and memorable points as well. It was directed to the audience, to Ashley, and to Joshua, but in a somewhat general way. In this way I didn't leave anyone in the dark with inside jokes, but specific images were brought forward in each of their minds in the relevant section of the speech.

I purposefully confronted any hesitations about the wedding in a head-on fashion while emphasizing the meaningful choice. I was pulling some inspiration from Viktor Frankl in there somewhere. It also helps to separate it from being felt as just another wedding.

There was also a fine line to walk in this entire ceremony. Ashley specifically wanted explicit religious phrases left out, but of course there are going to be parents and grandparents that want something traditional. I believe we achieved a nice mix in this ceremony. It's something that everyone can recognize, along with a bit of humor, combined with some emotional depth.

4. “Please join hands.” Ashley hands off bouquet.

It would be awkward to have the bride standing there without something in her hands so this is the appropriate time to do the hand off.

5. “(Joshua/Ashley), please repeat after me.
I, (Joshua/Ashley), commit to love you, honor you, and cherish you.
I commit to celebrating the good times with you,
and to being by your side during the bad.
I commit to trusting you, laughing with you, and crying with you.
As I have given you my hand to hold, so I give you my life to keep.”

I went through this twice, first with Joshua and then with Ashley. This was my biggest mistake. I made an extra script which I gave to Jay because he wanted to review it. And, I wanted him to review it. I made the line breaks where I would stop, but they are way too long. I talked to my Uncle Rick about this afterward and he pointed out that that is why everyone else makes these repeating lines so short. I thought I could extend them a little bit. But even though Jay could probably do it just fine in a normal circumstance, when you're standing in front of 70 or 80 of your friends and family in a highly emotional situation your short-term memory drops to about 2 or 3 words. Now I know.

“Joshua and Ashley, in the future, when you are confronted with hardships, remember these vows, so that they may bring you closer together.”

I could have used "remember these commitments" in place of "remember these vows." I took commitment and used it as a theme throughout the ceremony. But vows worked well also, it has a more traditional feel and may even be better here from some peoples' perspectives.

6. “Joshua, do you take Ashley to be your lawful wedded wife?
Do you promise to love, honor, cherish, protect, and be faithful to her?
Do you promise to take out the trash and pick up the clothes off the floor?
Do you promise to love her even when she is cranky?”

“Ashley, do you take Joshua to be your lawful wedded husband?
Do you promise to love, honor, cherish, protect, and be faithful to him?
Do you promise to not whine at him when he forgets to take out the trash and pick up his clothes?
Do you promise to love him even after he has been out all night with the boys?”

Ashley sent me a wedding ceremony that she liked and this is one of the pieces that I pulled from it. It's a humorous bit that works well. I like how it's structured to interact so well.

7. “Bring forth the rings. These rings are a symbol of your commitment to each other.
(Joshua/Ashley), repeat after me.
I (Joshua/Ashley), take thee, (Ashley/Joshua) to be my (wife/husband),
to have and to hold,
in sickness and in health,
for richer or for poorer,
in joy and sorrow,
and I promise my love to you.
With this ring, I take you as my (wife/husband), for as long as we both shall live.”

This part worked well other than that I had envisioned them putting the rings on while they were repeating the last line, but I forgot to communicate that vision to them. I noticed with Jay and told him to put the ring on. With Ashley on the other hand she had to remind me to have her put Jay's ring on. Technically I said "We will now have the sand ceremony." before she put the ring on Jay's finger. Any little mistakes like this worked out fine in the vows and the ring ceremony because they were simply laughed off, which worked to relieve the ever present tension. Laughter evolved from, and you can see this in the ontogenesis (development in children) of laughter, from a combination of the startle reflex and cooing when in a safe and comfortable environment. So, as long as everyone feels comfortable in the ceremony then anything that startles them should make them laugh. If the environment isn't comfortable you will get a very different reaction.

8. “We will now have the sand ceremony. Two different colors of sand. Each beautiful on its own, but more exquisitely intricate when combined. Once combined the two cannot be separated, and will stand as an ongoing testament to the commitments made here today. The marriage certificates will also now be signed.”

There is an odd bit in here and I'm the only one that knew about it. While I was speaking this piece I said "delicate" instead of "intricate." I said it clear as day, I did not intend to, but no one noticed, and it still kind of works. A fairly big change was made here on the day of the wedding. We did not sign the certificates at this time, we signed them after the pictures. It was still damp out, the table was small, and there was a little breeze. It would be easy for the certificate signing to go poorly in that environment. It was easier to do afterward.

The sand poor had me a little nervous because there were still some sprinkles coming down. I put the sand into the containers about 15 minutes before the ceremony began. I was hoping that the sand on top wouldn't get wet and then decide to get stuck in the containers, or come out in big clumps. Luckily it did not, it all went rather well.

9. Return to positions. “By the power vested in me I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride. I would like to introduce the happy couple, Joshua and Ashley Plecas.”

And there it is. The entire ceremony. I must say that it was a fun adventure, and I think it went quite well. Let me know what you think.


I've written two fictional pieces that I like so far.

"The City of Peace" - A future history science fiction utopia/dystopia action adventure in a framed story of a father telling his son a story about the child's grandfather.

"The Birth of Hanniba'al" - A dark, somewhat alternative, historical origin story for the Carthage General Hannibal.

Here are three of my most popular posts.

"The Making of a Great First Line in Fiction"

"A Letter to My Niece in 2034"

"The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 4 of 4"

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