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One of the happiest of ministries in the Episcopal Church is that of wedding guild. That being said, it would not be possible to carry out the joy and continuity of the sacramental wedding service without the full assistance and cooperation of the members of the altar guild.

In some parishes, the members and duties of both groups may overlap. However, when that is not the case, it is imperative that communication between the two groups be clear and thorough. For example, one of the first questions that I ask a bride and groom is if the wedding will include Eucharist because this will, of necessity, affect the altar guild’s preparation for the wedding as well as for Sunday services that follow.

The bride receives a copy of our parish’s Wedding Guidelines when she makes the initial reservation for the church. Then, the wedding guild coordinator typically meets with the prospective couple about 8-10 weeks before the ceremony, and is available to answer any questions and to assist the couple as they begin their planning for the operational pieces of the service.

By the time this prewedding meeting takes place, the couple has already met with clergy for premarital counseling and has made many of the decisions that will affect the wedding service. Some of the decisions we cover during this pre-wedding meeting include:

1. Will there be a Eucharist? 

Not only does this affect the altar guild’s set up, but also it dictates the number of servers needed (crucifer, acolytes, LEMs, etc.)

2. Who is responsible for the rings? 

Often it is the honor attendants, but we also provide the option of placing them on a tray on the altar for the officiant to handle.

3. What color hangings do you wish? 

Traditionally the color would be white, but our parish celebration hangings are multicolored and are sometimes used, epsecially if the wedding is in the fall. Often the hangings must be changed out again before Sunday morning services.

4. Would you like to use the candelabra?

We have two seven-branch candelabra in addition to the office candles and Eucharistic candles. These would be checked and put out and away by the altar guild.

5. When will you take pictures?

Many couples take all of their pictures before the wedding, but often there will be some taken afterward. Our practice is to limit post-wedding pictures to a maximum of 30 minutes so that the preparation for Sunday services is not delayed too long.

6. What music do you have planned for your wedding? 

Normally music is selected in collaboration with the organist and does not include hymns. In our parish, we put Holy Matrimony on the hymn boards for the wedding and then post the hymn selections for morning services after the wedding.

7. How many attendants will you have and how many guests are you expecting? 

These numbers have a direct effect on preparations for Eucharist if it’s being celebrated.

8. Who is your florist and have they reviewed our Wedding Guidelines

Our parish allows flowers on the front door, on pews as markers, and on the retable behind the altar. Only the latter are allowed to remain for Sunday services. Since the retable is quite narrow, it is imperative that the flowers fit properly in the space so that clergy can pass by during the Eucharist, and so that the organist is able to see around or through them for processionals.

As you can see, many things must be done in collaboration between the wedding guild and the altar guild. Since our parish has a separate group working services each weekend, I typically contact the altar guild chair early in the wedding week with all of the pertinent information so that plans can be made accordingly. The addition of a wedding service certainly requires additional time and altar guild workers. I am always so grateful for their loving assistance!

Nancy Terrell, Wedding Coordinator, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama 

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