Making the Most of Wedding Ceremony Readings

Including a reading or two in a wedding ceremony is quite a common practice. I explore this routinely with couples because it can be a wonderful way to honor a special friend or family member while imparting wisdom.  Often in a church ceremony, passages from scriptures are read by someone the couple chooses. It might even be a required as part of the liturgy (depending on the denomination) – and is always an honor to be asked to participate.

When outside of a specific religious orthodoxy, many people still want to include readings, and are free to choose from prose, poetry, and other inspirational sources, or even write something original. Readings can add content and meaning to any type of ceremony.

Photo: Garth Woods

But too often the reading is either not heard, or the meaning is not clear. Don’t squander this opportunity. Here are some helpful ideas for selecting and performing – yes, performing – a reading. Brides, grooms: please share this information with your readers.

  • Practice, practice, practice! Unless you are a professional actor or public speaker, in which case you already know this, practice (aka: rehearsing) makes all the difference. The piece should be practiced out loud. It is not the same as just reading it to yourself.
  • Typing or writing the piece (even if it’s been given to you) helps – you can put accents, or stress marks, as cues for the proper inflection. This also reminds you of a difficult word or phrase, so you don’t trip up. The process itself helps you internalize it.
  • As slow as you may try to read the piece, go even slower. Perhaps even jot a note to yourself to remind you of that. When we are anxious or excited we often go faster than we realize. Remember, the listener needs to absorb the meaning.
  • And with that one opportunity to hear the piece, unless you are providing ‘Cliff notes,’ go simple! Unless your guests are literature scholars, choose something easy to understand. Classics often require some analysis and are written in a style unfamiliar to most of us. A simple, straight forward piece, such as “The Art of Marriage” is not only beautiful and meaningful, but accessible for most of us.
  • Don’t put the text in your program booklet – it will shift people’s attention away from the reader.
  • Consider having several people read one piece. It can be very effective to have a group, such as siblings, read alternating lines or stanzas. Pauses tend to be longer between the readers, slowing it down, and each reader gains confidence from being with the other. This is also a great technique for children.
  • Volume, volume, volume. If there is a microphone, don’t shy away from it. If there is no microphone you will need to project your voice. Again, practice that.
  • When thinking about who will read, and why, pick something that fits both reader and the couple.

    Photo: Lisa Rhinehart

There are many places to look for ideas, including song lyrics, excerpts from novels, contemporary poets, and religious writings. From Dylan Thomas to Bob Dylan, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, or even children’s literature – I have found all of the above inspiring.We are free to borrow wisdom from other cultures. The writings of the Persian philosopher Rumi, or the Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran have works that are particularly appropriate for weddings.Gibran wrote that: “Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.”

Bob Dylan wrote: “… she opened up a book of poems and handed it to me. Written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century. And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burnin’ coal, pourin’ off of every page like it was written in my soul from me to you.”

I hope your readings ring true for you, too.

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