How do I invite guests requesting “ceremony only” wedding invitations?

Dear Gwyn,

My son is getting married in about 6 weeks. He and his fiance are having a small wedding with just family and a few close personal friends of theirs. He has grown up in the church where they are getting married. Several people in the congregation have asked to attend the ceremony even though they were not invited. We’d love to have them attend, but cannot have them attend the reception. Is this ok? They did not receive formal invitations to the wedding, but approached me to let me know they really want to see him get married. They even said the reception doesn’t matter to them. If this is ok, can I let others know they can attend the wedding, but not the reception? We are not sending invitations to any of them.

The ceremony is the heart of a wedding celebration, but today the reception is more often the focus.  Although I would almost never advise inviting guests to the ceremony and not the reception, this is an unusual situation in which the guests are requesting to attend the ceremony.  As you mention, even the simple act of saying “yes” to the request opens the door to inviting guests who did not seek out the invitation. And you will also face the potential “wedding crashes” that make their way from the ceremony to the reception.

Truly only you can decide if your friends’ attendance is the right choice, but if you say “yes,” keep in mind a few things as you begin to extend the invitation:

  • Select a firm guest list: Spend some time thinking about the guests who would truly appreciate the invitation and include them in the ceremony guest list. Stick to your list though; once you start adding one more you may find that you lose control of your good intentions.
  • Provide a formal invitation: No, you do not need to send the wedding invitation, or anything nearly as proper, but your friends will not only appreciate a paper invitation, it will provide clear information about the unusual “ceremony only” invitation.
  • Avoid the “B List” situation: As tempting as it may be, keep your ceremony only guests separate from the reception guest list. Many brides and grooms use a “b list” to backfill seats at the reception.  However, if you imply to your ceremony only guests that one of these seats may open up, you may find yourself having to select one guest of many to attend the reception and cause unnecessary hurt feelings.

Despite the long history, wedding etiquette is evolving and with that we find ourselves in tricky and new situations. But one thing remains: you will never please everyone, and all good friends understand this.