Nuptials via Zoom: a strange new world

Reflections

“If someone had said in February that I would be officiating my son’s wedding ceremony with all the guests…‘Zooming in’, I would have laughed in disbelief,” says The Rev’d Donna Petersen, who offers helpful tips on how to run a successful Zoom wedding

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“Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.” Go on, admit it. You sang along to The Dixie Cups’ famous 1964 tune!

This is the song I sang loudly and with enthusiasm first thing on Easter Sunday morning when I burst into my son’s bedroom, jumped on his bed and sang to him while I danced on the mattress. Adrian was a little upset, but not surprised. He told me to go away, more than once. “Come on,” I said, ‘It’s your wedding day. Aren’t you excited? I’m really excited.” He called me some names like ‘crazy’, ‘loud’ and a couple of others I dare not repeat. His new wife, Bec, later said to me, “You should have recorded that. I really wish I had seen it.” After faking his crankiness, he jumped up to hug me, said he loved me and admitted to being excited. It was, after all, his wedding day and he was marrying the girl of his dreams.

Now, I know a wedding is somewhat unusual on Easter Sunday, although not unprecedented. It certainly was also unusual for me, especially given that it was my youngest son getting married. It felt a little strange for me, preparing to say farewell to my last child at home in this way. Actually, the really bizarre thing is that this wedding had the smallest guest list of any wedding I have ever officiated. Not because we do not have any supportive family members or friends – in fact the opposite is true, as there are over 35 people in our immediate family alone. But, rather because of the implications of the challenging COVID-19 environment, temporarily changing life as we know it, including the need for physical distancing and for the necessity for folk to stay at home to keep their communities safe.

So, instead of postponing the wedding, Adrian and Bec decided to ‘Zoom’ the wedding for friends and family. Six weeks ago I had never really heard of Zoom. My first foray into Zoom was for a leadership conference in late February and, admittedly, I was mildly terrified. Come six or so weeks later and I think I have attended at least two dozen Zoom meetings. If someone had said in February that I would be officiating my son’s wedding ceremony with all the guests, except the two witnesses, ‘Zooming in’, I would have laughed in disbelief, but there you are.

So, Zoom it was. We sent out Zoom invitations and organised an online rehearsal. Based on my experience, I must say that it is very helpful for anyone who has never used Zoom before to ‘attend’ a rehearsal to work through any possible kinks. My suggestion, for the benefit of those attendees unfamiliar with Zoom, is to have some people on hand over the phone who know how to troubleshoot connecting via Zoom.

Below, I have listed our ‘Top 10 tips for hosting a Zoom wedding’ based on our recent experience. Other than offer as many rehearsals as required, with as much support as necessary to help those who need it, especially older people or those who have digital literacy challenges, my other primary tip is to have someone other than the priest, couple, witnesses and key family members ‘host’ your Zoom meeting and control microphones, video spotlights, and so on.

Nothing about Adrian and Bec’s wedding was conventional, but it was blessed and beautiful nonetheless. God was in their midst as they exchanged their vows and promised a future together with God as an integral part. We are planning a nice big non-Zoom celebration for their first anniversary, where we can all be physically together; but, for now, Zoom allowed us all, family, friends and loved ones, to be as fully present as we could be. I, for one, am so very grateful that digital technology exists and that we have access to it, so we could have this option.

Here are our top 10 tips for hosting a Zoom wedding

  1. Let the guests ‘mingle’ online until about five minutes before, and again after, the event to cheer and offer congratulations.
  2. Remember to record the wedding manually – as setting the ‘automatically record’ feature does not always work.
  3. If you are using more than one account/camera, it is helpful and easier to switch off guest cameras. This will give you the flexibility to ‘spotlight’ only those cameras involved in the ceremony. However, this must be properly explained to guests, so that they do not think there is a problem or even that they have been accidentally disconnected. This is particularly true for guests who experience digital tech challenges.
  4. If you want a record of who was in attendance, take a ‘screenshot’ of the face gallery before the service starts, as you may miss the opportunity later.
  5. Explain why guests will not have control of their microphone or video. Let them know that you will be in full control of these for the entirety of the service.
  6. When setting the settings for the meeting, choose the option which allows guests to automatically join without microphone.
  7. Disabling the ability of guests to switch their microphones back on is helpful. This also helps prevent accidental disruption by latecomers.
  8. Send a ‘chat’ text message to late entrants letting them know the drill (i.e. that they will not be in control of sound and video).
  9. Set up at least one rehearsal a few days before the wedding, with at least one attendee per household joining in.
  10. Download a copy of the ‘chat file’ video and gallery shots for posterity.

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