The seating of family and guests at the ceremony is determined by the floor plan of the church and the number of guests attending the wedding. The following guidelines describe the most common seating situations and procedures.
House of Worship with Center Aisle
The bride’s section for seating guests of the bride is on the left as one faces the altar; the groom’s section is on the right. Parents occupy the first pews; the fathers are seated closest to the aisle. Relatives sit with the parents and in the pews immediately behind them. The processional and the recessional are down the center aisle.
House of Worship with Two Main-Aisles and No Center Aisle
If relatively few people will be present, the right aisle can be treated as if it were a center aisle in all details, and the rest of the pews ignored. The marriage is held at the head of the right aisle.
For a medium-sized wedding, all the guests may be seated in the center section. The processional progresses up the left aisle and the recessional down the right aisle.
If the church will be fully seated, two seating options are possible. The processional and the recessional may take place on either the right or the left aisle.
In Orthodox and Conservative synagogues and temples, the bride’s section is to the right as one faces the Ark or the Covenant. Reform rabbis endorse the traditional Christian seating arrangement with the bride’s section on the left and the groom’s section on the right.
Divorced parents do not occupy the same pew. The bride’s mother occupies the first pew with her mother and father or her immediate family beside her or in one or two pews immediately behind her. The bride’s father takes his place in the pew behind those occupied by his former in-laws after giving his daughter away. His own family sits beside and immediately behind him.
If the bride’s parents have remarried, her mother sits in the first pew with her current husband beside her, and the bride’s relatives on her mother’s side in the next rows. The bride’s father, his current wife, and their children, if any, occupy the next pew with the bride’s paternal grandparents, aunts, and uncles in the succeeding pews.
Large bridal parties typically consist of several groomsmen who are each paired with a bridesmaid, as well as ushers who remain in the back of the church during the ceremony. Smaller bridal parties may have no ushers, but instead assign the ushers’ duties to the groomsmen. In either case, the ushers should arrive well in advance of the first guests (1 hour before a large wedding, 45 minutes before a smaller one). Ushers may ask female guests if they are part of the bride’s or bridegroom’s party, then escort them to the appropriate side of the church. The following is a list of seating procedures for ushers.
· The usher’s right arm is offered to arriving female guests.
· If two ladies arrive together and only one usher is available at the moment, he offers his right arm to the elder as the younger follows a few paces behind.
· When a family group arrives, an usher escorts the wife. Her children and husband follow, usually in pairs.
· An usher never offers his left arm to a guest or walks up the aisle between a couple.
· An usher should never offer his arm to a man unless the gentleman is incapacitated and in need of assistance. Instead, they walk side by side, the male guest on the usher’s right.
· Guests who arrive early are privileged to take the aisle seats if they are shown to an empty pew. They are not expected to move over when others join them in a row.
· Ushers should be told if the guest list has a disproportionate number of guests from either family so they can distribute the guests evenly.
· Ushers should also be told who the guests of honor are (parents, grandparents, and other close relatives) and if there are any unusual parental situations on either side (parents who are divorced, stepparents, or remarried parents).
· The mother of the bridegroom is seated by the head usher in the front pew or in the row on the right side with the groom’s father following a few paces behind.
· The mother of the bride is always the last to be escorted to her place. If she has a son who is acting as an usher, he takes her to her seat. If she has two sons, the older son seats her and the younger son escorts her out after the ceremony. Otherwise, she is seated by the head usher. She is seated on the left side of the sanctuary.
The positions of the wedding participants while entering and exiting the sanctuary, as well as while standing at the altar and in the receiving line, vary according to the type and size of the wedding. The following guidelines and illustrations describe the most common ceremonial positions for the members of the wedding party.
The entrance of the bridal party may be varied in several ways. The bridesmaids and groomsmen may walk down the aisle singly or as couples. The flower girl and ring bearer may walk together. The bride may be escorted by her mother and father together, or even by children, especially for encore weddings.
Orthodox and Conservative Jewish Processional
For the traditional processional for an Orthodox or Conservative Jewish wedding, the entrace of the bridal party may be varied in several ways. The mother of the bride may walk down the aisle on the arm of the best man, while the father accompanies his daughter. Sometimes both fathers walk with the groom, and both mothers with the bride. Another variation is for the groom and the best man to walk side by side. If the grandparents are to participate, the bride’s grandparents follow the rabbi, and the groom’s grandparents follow those of the bride.
The processional for the Reformed Jewish ceremony usually follows the traditional procedure customary to other faiths. However, the groom often participates in the processional, entering just before the maid of honor.
Traditional Altar Positions
In traditional weddings, the maid and/or matron of honor stands beside the bride, and the best man stands beside the groom. The remaining attendants stand one step behind and to the sides of this foursome. Usually, all of the bridesmaids stand to the left of the maid/matron of honor and all of the groomsmen stand to the right of the best man. For smaller bridal parties or when there is room on or near a large altar, the bridesmaids and groomsmen may be arranged in a single row. When there is a large number of bridesmaids and groomsmen, they may be divided into two rows. A second option is to group half of the bridesmaids and half of the groomsmen on each side of the wedding couple with the women in front of the men. Often the bridal party will move at different parts of the ceremony and may face the congregation for all or part of the wedding.
Orthodox and Conservative Jewish Altar Positions
The Orthodox and Conservative Jewish wedding ceremony takes place under a canopy, called a chuppah (pronounced “hoopa”). The couple’s parents are key participants. The bride’s father and groom’s mother stand next to their respective children. The bride’s mother and groom’s father stand next to their spouses. The maid or matron of honor and best man stand behind the bridal couple and parents.
There are two different recessional styles for formal weddings. Following the exit of the entire bridal party, the head ushers typically return to the front of the church and escort the mothers of the bride and groom down the aisle. The fathers follow behind them. Then, the ushers return to the front of the church again and signal guests to exit one row of pews at a time.
In the recessional for the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish ceremony, a flower girl may or may not be a part of this procedure. The rabbi sometimes follows the parents.
The receiving line may take place in the vestibule of the church if the reception is to be small and informal. If the bride and groom request it, the receiving line may be held at the reception if there is a large number of guests attending the wedding.
The receiving line may be ordered so that the parents stand together as a couple or stand with each other’s spouses. The best man, ushers, and child attendants are not traditionally included in the receiving line; however, the bride may choose to have them take part, especially in an informal situation.
The guests should begin at the left end of the line and proceed to the right.
· The bride’s family and friends sit on the left side of the aisle at the ceremony.
· The men of the wedding party wear their boutonnieres on their left lapels.
· The bride and groom wear their wedding rings on their left hands.
· The groom’s family and friends sit on the right side of the aisle at the ceremony.
· The ushers offer each female guest their right arm as they escort her to her seat.
· The bride walks down the aisle on her father’s right.
· During the wedding ceremony, the bride wears her engagement ring on her right hand.
· In the receiving line, the bride stands to the groom’s right.