Like First Impressions, the First Line of Your Wedding Ceremony Matters

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (26/09/2020)
Categories: | Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Legals |
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Spiral notebook with words Once upon a time
                      surrounded by blue and turquoise watercolor
                      flowersThe first words we hear at the start of a movie, or the opening line of a novel should say, in the words of author Stephen King (yep, him of those horror stores) "Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this." Ditto for movies. The first words that we hear draw us in, captivate us, entice us to immerse ourselves in the story. The Princess Bride sucks us in from the first words, whether it is the words that start the movie "The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette" or the first line of the novel on which the movie was based This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

And every Christmas, no matter how many times we've seen it, "Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there"has us grabbing the tissues and settling down for a repeat viewing of Love Actually.

So why, you might ask, are the first words out of the celebrant's mouth at the start of a marriage ceremony so darn boring?  "My name is x, and I'm a civil celebrant. I am authorised by law to solemnise marriages according to law" does nothing to suck you in. In fact, it is a signal to prepare to be bored. So why is it so common? Because that's the way celebrants been trained to fulfil (a narrow interpretation of) our legal requirement to recite the passage required by the Marriage Act before the marrying couple make their vows. Disclaimer: I've never started a ceremony this way and never will!

A lot hangs on the first line

Whether book, movie, or your wedding ceremony, the opening line can be, should be, and, if done well, is a heads-up that sets the tone, and opens a window onto what to expect. And what follows should fulfil the expectation. That's a lot of responsibility!

Think about the movie Kubo and The Two Strings. First line "If you must blink, do it now". What follows is touching, daring, bold, unique. As that line lead you to expect.

Or the opening lines of Spider-Man. "Who am I? You sure you wanna know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart. If somebody said it was a happy little tale, if somebody told you I was just your average ordinary guy, not a care in the world, somebody lied. But let me assure you, this like any story worth telling, is all about a girl."  Of course we do.

A lot goes into a great first line

As demonstrated above, a first line can be compelling. How it achieves that can differ.
  • It can be inviting, welcoming your guests to participate in to an entertaining experience
  • It can be prefatory, setting the stage and serving as an introduction, which, to be fair, is what opening the ceremony with the celebrant's name and the statement of the celebrant's authority to solemnise the marriage, does, because it makes it clear that what follows will be a civil ceremony, just as the words "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together ...." makes it clear that what follows will be a formal, traditional, religious ceremony.
  • It can be confiding, telling your guests something they don't already know that succinctly tells them everything on which the rest of your story hinges. The movie, A River Runs Through It, uses that style: "Long ago, when I was a young man, my father said to me, 'Norman, you like to write stories.' And I said, 'Yes, I do.' Then he said, 'Someday, when you're ready you might tell our family story. Only then will you understand what happened and why'."
  • It can be unexpected, raising questions in the minds of your guests that they will be excited to have answered by the ceremony
  • It can be romantic (not necessarily in the hearts and flowers soppy sense). A great example of a romantic opening line is the first line of John le Carr√©'s spy novel Call for the Dead "When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary."

What are the legal implications?

What the Marriage Act says about the ceremony is short and to the point.
  • The minimum number of people who must be present, in the same space are the two of you, your two adult witnesses, and the celebrant
  • Your celebrant must recite the passage that is often referred to as the Monitum (Latin for Warning) by celebrants, though not called that in the Act, and must recite it before you say the mandated words (legal vows) that will create your marriage

It is silent about opening lines, closing lines, rings, what you wear - the list of non-mentions goes on.
So, whether the opening line of your marriage ceremony is inviting, exciting, and something that signals that the ceremony to follow will be worth paying attention to or whether it is boring is not a legal issue. But it is a hugely important emotional issue worth paying attention to and getting right.

Thanks for reading!

Jenny xxx Let's talk
                      soon about how you can have the best ceremony
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