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CONTEMPORARY COURTESIES

Etiquette column: Know your responsibilities if you're asked to be in a wedding

Friday, March 8, 2013 - 12:01 am

Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.

Q. Karen, our daughter is getting married in the summer, and as we make our plans, I remember hearing that the attendants do have specific jobs if they accept the invitation to be in the wedding. If that is still true, what are their responsibilities?

A. It is an honor to be asked to be in someone's wedding, and there are responsibilities that each member plays in all of the festivities. Here are some hints that define the role of the wedding party participants and help the wedding ceremony itself go smoothly.

Be sure each member of the wedding party has an agenda of events that will take place during the wedding weekend.

For instance:

•Time and place of the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.

•The time they are expected to arrive at the church or wedding location.

•When and where photos will be taken.

•Who is expected to be in photos.

•Where the receiving line will take place — after the wedding or at the reception.

•Mode of transportation to the reception.

Dressing:

•Know where and when all will be dressing. The bride and her attendants often dress at the wedding venue.

•The groom, groomsmen and ushers usually arrive at the church dressed in wedding attire.

•Be sure all wedding participants have tried on their wedding attire well in advance of the wedding. This ensures that everything has been included with the tuxedos and that the clothing fits.

•Having an emergency kit ready that can take care of any unexpected problems is helpful (suggested contents below).

•Be sure to eat a little something before the ceremony to avoid fainting at the altar.

Ushers' duties:

•Should be at the church an hour before the ceremony or earlier if photos will be taken before the ceremony.

•Escort female guests to their seats and oversee the seating of all guests.

•Should know where special members of the families will be seated.

Best man and maid of honor duties:

•The best man and maid of honor should attend to the needs of the bride and groom on the day of the wedding and the days leading up to it.

•They are the official witnesses and sign the marriage certificate.

•They are expected to offer a toast (one that is appropriate for everyone to hear) at the wedding.

•Transport the couple to the place they will be staying the night of the wedding.

•Help with details the day after the wedding.

Protocol for seating:

•The usher greets the guest, asks the name of the guest, if there is special seating, and checks a list to see whether the guest is being seated in a special place.

•Offer your inside arm to the woman. Bend your arm at the elbow so she can slip her arm through yours just above the elbow. Be sure your arm does not feel limp. The man and children arriving with a woman follow behind.

•If several women arrive at once, offer your arm to the senior guest. The other women can wait for ushers to come back and seat them, or they can walk down themselves.

•Know how many front pews are to be reserved for family. Traditionally, the bride's family sits on the left and the groom's family on the right.

•After the family pews, the seating is on a first-come basis.

•Ask whether the guest is a friend of the bride or the groom and seat accordingly. If the guests are weighted more to one side than the other, try to balance out each side.

Seating the mothers:

•The mother of the groom is seated first, about five minutes before the ceremony, in the front right pew. Her family follows behind. (It is not uncommon these days for the groom to seat his mother.)

•The mother of the bride is escorted to her seat in the front pew on the left.

•Grandparents are seated in the same order, just before the mothers.

Processional:

•The clergy, the groom and the best man come from the side of church. They move toward the altar and face the back of church. The groomsmen usually come down the aisle first and join the groom.

•Bridesmaids come down the aisle next, and then the maid of honor followed by the flower girl, ring bearer and junior bridesmaids, etc., if any — just before the bride.

Other hints:

•Be sure to smile.

•Walk slowly and naturally down the aisle with about four paces between each attendant.

•Don't do the hesitation step; it is outdated.

•Avoid chewing gum — it is undignified.

Emergency kit contents:

•Needle and thread, buttons.

•Deodorant, basic cosmetics, hair spray.

•Analgesics, spirits of ammonia.

•Mints, snacks, water.

•Sandpaper to rough up the bottom of new shoes. Masking tape can work too.

•Hem tape.

I have listed the more traditional protocol. However, this protocol may vary depending on the church and personal preferences.

It is helpful to have someone remind all guests to silence their cellphones during the ceremony.

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email clarson@news-sentinel.com, and we'll forward it to her.