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How to Plan Your Ceremony
Sunset Wedding Ceremony Raleigh Union Station Wedding Venue in Downtown Raleigh Barlow

Wedding Ceremony Guide

Your Guide to NC Ceremony Locations, Wedding Celebrants and How to Write Your Vows

Congrats, you’re engaged! Time to hit the ground running with reception venue tours, lists for the engagement party, and wedding dress appointments, right? Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of planning. But, don’t forget about the most important part of all – planning your wedding ceremony!

As the local guide for weddings in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill region of NC for three and a half decades, we are pleased to share this quick guide for all of the things to consider for your ceremony.

When Should I Book a Wedding Ceremony Location?

Book your wedding ceremony location alongside the venue itself! This is especially important if your heart is set on one of the very high in demand ceremony sites. For example, in Durham NC, sometimes dozens of couples are competing for popular wedding dates at the Duke University Chapel.

Ceremony Location Options in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill or NC

Most people today get married at the Wedding Venue itself. This tradition truly roots in convenience – no one has to travel from point A to point B. After the ceremony, the wedding party takes photos while guests go straight into cocktail hour. This plan might entail some logistical planning. For example, the venue might need to “flip” the ceremony site into the reception site during that cocktail hour. The wedding venue will be able to guide you through how they make this work.

That said, don’t forget that the ceremony is the centerpiece of the entire occasion! The location where you exchange your vows is so important. Sometimes offsite is necessary to make the wedding vision come to life.

Place of Worship Ceremonies

Many couples can only fathom having their wedding ceremony in a place of worship. If you are a member of a congregation, synagogue or mosque, consult the administration there to find out details about booking your ceremony there. Some active churches, like Duke University Chapel or the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh, are also available to book.

Chapels for Rent as a Wedding Venue

Across NC, find historic chapels and cathedrals that are now run as wedding venues. Rent these as a ceremony space or even for the entire wedding. It’s a great way to feel like you’re getting married in a church space.

Other Ideas for Your NC Wedding Ceremony

Perhaps you want to be outdoors. Many NC wedding venues have gorgeous gardens, rooftops or courtyards onsite. Use these for a distinct, romantic ceremony location. So be sure to consult our Venue Features for locations with outdoor space before you shop around.

But if you book a venue that does NOT have the ideal ceremony location, do not fret. North Carolina is full of gorgeous natural spaces. Here are some ideas:

Garden Wedding Ceremonies

From Wilmington’s Airilie, to Durham’s Duke Gardens, to Raleigh’s WRAL Azalea Garden, many private gardens are available for rent.

Greenhouse or Atrium Wedding Ceremony

Want the garden wedding vibe without the risk having plans ruined with bad weather? Consider an atrium – such as the butterfly house at the Museum of Life & Science or the dinosaur dome at NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

Park Wedding Ceremonies

City parks are often for rent, and are not very expensive. Check out Durham Central Park or Raleigh Parks.Gov for some Triangle Area ceremony ideas.

NC Beach Wedding Ceremony

Most NC beaches require a permit to host a wedding ceremony with guests and rentals. Some beach property rentals or resorts do include the permit to marry on the beachfront as part of their package, or as an add-on. Do your homework before setting up chairs and hoping for the best!

NC Mountain Wedding Ceremony

Likewise, you can’t just load a bunch of chairs onto a mountaintop without a permit. If you want to say I Do with a mountain view, we recommend looking into wedding venues with this attribute.

Backyard Weddings

If you have a picturesque family home, you can absolutely tie the knot there. Please note, it does require building a venue onsite (aka a tent) if you host the reception there too. Alternatively, you could have the wedding ceremony in your backyard and then take a party bus out for dinner and dancing at a local restaurant!

Officiant for Your Day

If you’re exchanging vows at your house of worship, you’ll have a built in officiant. Some ministers / rabbis etc will travel offsite to perform weddings, so you can also check with your congregation. But most likely, you’ll need to hire an officiant, minister or celebrant to perform your NC wedding ceremony. This person must be ordained for the marriage to be legal. A legal officiant will take care of the final step of filing your marriage, as part of their fee. (Please note, you’ll still have to go to the Justice of the Peace ahead of the ceremony to get your license).

Considerations Before You Book a Wedding Officiant, Minister or Celebrant

Options for a personalized wedding reception are endless! But don’t forget about all the ways you can also personalize your wedding ceremony to make it your own. You may be hesitant to add your own personal touches for the sake of adding time to your wedding ceremony, but a personalized ceremony can better reflect your love story to your loved ones who are gathered to witness your special day. Keep in mind that your ceremony can be just as exciting, meaningful and engaging as your reception if it authentically represents you and your partner’s love. From cultural rituals to your family traditions, there are many ways you can personalize a wedding ceremony. These personal details can add more emotion and authenticity to your wedding ceremony with a little creativity.

Planning a Personal Wedding Ceremony

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you plan your ceremony.

  • Think about what you want to feel and what you want your guests to feel during the ceremony. Then work backwards to decide what elements you want to incorporate into your ceremony. Do you want everyone to feel grounded and present? Burn some calming oils and include a brief meditation. Do you want to relax and have a good time? Throw in a few and laughs. Or, offer guests an ice-cold beverage when they walk through the door.
  • Do your parents have any faith-based or cultural wedding traditions that are important to your families that you could add in to your wedding ceremony?
  • Alternately, there are so many ways to honor your Union outside of the traditional unity ceremonies. Consider a hand-fasting or sand ceremony. Take some time to consider your unique relationship. If you love adventure, get married on a hot air balloon.
  • Do you want anyone other than your celebrant (like a family member, friend or member of the wedding party) to speak during the wedding ceremony? For example, they might say a prayer or reading.
  • Are there any symbols you want to include in the ceremony? For example, pouring together two vessels of sand.
  • Are there any specific or meaningful excerpts, poems or scripture verses that you want to incorporate into your ceremony?
  • Another thing to think about is setting the mood while your guests are waiting for the ceremony to begin. How many weddings have you been to where guests are forced to sit bored and hot in the sun with nothing to do, waiting for the ceremony to start? Give your guests something to do, create a space of transition. Prime your guests to be in the moment, feeling what you want them to feel.

Planning Personal Wedding Vows

Remember, the possibilities for personalizing your wedding ceremony. Personalizing your vows is one of the best ways to personalize your wedding ceremony and incorporate something deeply meaningful to both partners. While there are no rules for writing your own vows, these following ideas may be helpful.

  • Remember the definition of a vow? It’s a promise. What promises do you want to make to your partner as you start your life together?
  • The exchange of wedding vows is not the time to share remembrances or stories. Those are certainly romantic and fun. But, they shouldn’t take the place of making your promises.
  • Think about what your partner wants to hear from you. We don’t all express love in quite the same way. You may like to hear romantic words while your partner prefers quality time together. Learn what your partner’s primary love language is and then make promises that fit that language.
  • Agree on the format and length of your vows. You don’t want to be embarrassed on your wedding day because your personal vows are much shorter than your partner’s. For example, you might choose to agree to each make five promises to each other. Or, agree on a specific word count to keep your ceremony to the right length.
  • This isn’t a competition! You don’t have to out-do each other. Speak from your heart and let your love for your partner shine.

Remember that the wedding starts long before the music starts playing. Your guest’s first experience with your day starts the moment they get the invitation. There are ways to set the tone from the beginning. Talk to your stationer about ways to make your wedding invites personal.

Sunset Wedding Ceremony Raleigh Union Station Wedding Venue in Downtown Raleigh Barlow
Find the Perfect Match

Ready to Plan the Perfect Wedding Ceremony?

Sunset Wedding Ceremony Raleigh Union Station Wedding Venue in Downtown Raleigh Barlow
Find the Perfect Match
Ready to Plan the Perfect Wedding Ceremony?