Prev Next

An Episcopalian Church Wedding

In all its inclusive chaotic beautiful joy

Hayley, Student & Tim, Organist AND Choirmaster

Photographer: Holly Clarke Gardner (APW Sponsor)

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: Our wedding was a celebration of ancient traditions and music, delicious food, drink, and an amazing community of generous and beautiful friends.

Soundtrack for reading: “This Marriage” by Eric Whitacre

Other Cool Stuff we should know about

From the very beginning we had three goals…

First, we wanted to bask in our faith tradition. The Episcopal Church is known and respected for its support of gender and marriage equality and its work for social justice, and we were proud of that. Its also home to a profoundly beautiful and ancient ceremonial and musical tradition, and we wanted that tradition to be the focus of the day, not us. We had a full nuptial mass, complete with incense. Tim’s choir sang, his friends and colleagues played brass, strings, and organ. We celebrated open communion, and as our first act of hospitality as man and wife we served the chalice to our guests. It was a full-throated celebration of everything it means to be an Episcopalian, in all its inclusive chaotic beautiful joy, and it could not have been more perfect.

Second, we wanted to jettison just about every other modern wedding tradition. For us, they just felt like a script that everyone expected us to follow, but to us… it just didn’t feel right. So we didn’t do it. I had no engagement ring. I didn’t wear bridal or carry a bouquet or wear a veil. Cue the genteel Southern gasp—I wore black! We had no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no showers or bachelor’s parties. Tim conducted his own choir. We walked up the aisle together as equals, no big bridal “reveal.” We instituted a “no gifts” rule, except for donations to charity. There wasn’t a fancy car, or a guestbook, or a photo booth. We DID have wedding cake(s), and we did cut our cake and serve each other… because at the end of the day, I’ll make an exception for the traditions where everyone eats!

Third, we wanted the sort of wedding where we could invite everyone—all these amazing artists, musicians and friends in our lives—and not have to worry too much about the size of the guest list or the bill. We wanted it to feel like a big family Christmas dinner… so that’s what we did. We had a formal-but-potluck dinner reception in our own parish hall. How does that work? Planning. Lots of communication, and planning. Hiring a professional waitstaff doesn’t hurt either. But I can tell you, it was all worth it, because the food was AMAZING. We ordered honey baked hams and roasted our own turkeys, and then invited everyone to bring their favorite holiday dish. We had the church kitchen manned all afternoon so guests could drop off their dishes, which were re-plated on the church’s serveware. By the time the guests came back in their finery, the buffet overflowed with the most amazing food. I collected the recipes beforehand and bound them together in a book with the name of each giver and the dish’s backstory. Our wedding recipe book was both our guest book and guest gift. I love the idea that years from now, I—and our guests—will still be able to get it out and make those dishes and remember.

We had three goals, and thanks to our church and our friends we were able to accomplish them. In a lot of ways, our wedding was “crowdsourced.” We wanted it that way. No polished professional perfection for us. A friend stepped in to be my day-of coordinator. Friends set up the reception hall, and cleaned up the mess when it was over. A friend baked not one, but TWO amazing cakes. A friend helped me with my makeup; a friend made my prayer book cover. A friend coordinated the potluck and ran the kitchen, keeping the amazing waitstaff running smoothly. A friend and his band played the reception. It was really a celebration of friends.

In the Episcopal wedding service, there’s a moment where the priest asks the assembly if they will do all in their power to support the couple; at our wedding the “We Will” thundered off the limestone walls, but they didn’t need to shout. They had already shown their support by coming together to make the day possible. I can really honestly say it wasn’t our wedding—it was theirs, a celebration of a whole family of friends, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Favorite thing about the wedding

Watching my groom conducting his choir for the offertory anthem, wreathed in clouds of incense, with everyone bonded together and lost hopelessly in the moment and the music.

The Info:

Photographer: Holly Clarke Gardner (APW Sponsor) | Location: Jacksonville, FL | Venue: The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd | Hayley’s Blouse and Ball Skirt: Carolina Herrera, via Bergdorf | Hayley’s headpiece: Jennifer Behr | Hayley’s shoes: Nine West Austin | Tim’s Attire: Brooks Brothers | Cover for Hayley’s Prayer Book: BBs by CC | Bar Service: Oliv’r Twist Mixology | Reception Centerpieces and Decor: Ikea | Extra tables, linens, and chairs: Luxe Party Rentals

More in Real Weddings Recent Posts Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Kayjayoh

    Beautiful. I love that he directed the choir. :)

    • Hayley Tuller

      This was the best part for me too. Normally when he conducts, his back is to me, so I never get to watch his face.. but this time I got to watch and listen close up to the whole thing. Holly ducked out from behind the organ, and ninja-like, leapt out to catch him in the act. The results are, to me at least, spellbinding…

  • JDrives

    Everything about this wedding makes my heart warm. And that bridal outfit is BOSS. Congratulations!!

  • Dess

    an eric whitacre soundtrack for reading about a beautiful wedding on apw=3 of my favorite happy things!!!

    • Hayley Tuller

      The choir sang “This Marriage” by Whitacre for the introit from the gallery and Morten Lauridsen’s “Ubi Caritas” for the anthem. It was breathtakingly spectacular.

      • Dess

        …and now I love your wedding even more! Whitacre AND Lauridsen…and those shoes! Not to mention the happiness so clearly emanating from you in your pictures. Beautiful.

  • Sarah E


    • I feel like this is the theme from today’s posts, no?

  • MisterEHolmes

    Gorgeous, and you just OWN IT so hard. I mean, that tiara and killer blouse? Wow. Beautiful balance of church and self.

    • Hayley Tuller

      OMG I’m blushing!

  • I LOVE that you compiled all of the potluck recipes into a book to keep and give to guests. What a wonderful keepsake from the day. Congratulations!

    • Hayley Tuller

      Here was our potluck recipe book!

  • Meg Keene

    For the record, this made me cry. This is how I grew up in the church.

    Also, this should basically be a How We Did It also, because, wow.

    • MerlyBird

      Methinks you’re in the right industry — as if there were ever any doubt. ;)

      • Meg Keene

        I know, right? Since “women’s stuff” is perpetually undervalued in this culture, it’s not particularly cool to say you love weddings (because obviously weddings are a “girl” thing). But I fucking love weddings you guys. I always have, for as long as I can remember. Since like, four.

    • TeaforTwo

      Me too. As in, me too I cried, and me too this is my exact experience of the church at her best.

      • Stella

        Me too! This is exactly how church was when I was growing up… also totally crying at my desk.

      • Hayley Tuller

        I really resonate with the comments about “the church at her best” here. It’s so bittersweet, because we all know that great lady not so much at her best… sometimes at her worst, she is ugly and mean… but in the summer sunshine of her best face, she’s the fairest of ladies and an easy mistress. I’m not blind to the faults, but sometimes, the church shines through as the family it should be, and I’m so proud to be a part of that.

    • Stella

      Oh my goodness, me too! This is exactly how church was when I was growing up…. also, crying like a baby at my desk!

    • H

      I didn’t grow up in this tradition, and I was bawling by like the third or fourth picture, which never happens. I’m usually very composed, and I really think in my case is was the sheer weight of ritual as encapsulated by the music and the mass. I have always felt very deeply that there is something to be said for preserving history through ritual. This hit me so hard because it was truly an echo of a rich and beautiful past.

      • Hayley Tuller

        I feel EXACTLY the same way. I once went to Rome, and I took a tour of the ruins underneath St. Peter’s. In the first century, it was a necropolis, and after St. Peter was buried there, the Christians would bring their dead to rest near St. Peter. They left their graffiti on the marble sarcophagi, and scrawled there I touched the same words that we speak at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Table: “Let us lift our hearts; we lift them up to the Lord.” Speaking those words is like reaching back through time and hugging those people, 2,000 years ago. That was why it was so important to us to do things this way.

        • H

          That is exactly it. What a wonderful way of putting it! There is a certain, unrivaled beauty in choosing to acknowledge the many who came before you, and recognizing how you are alike. I feel like we lose sight of this a little in our quest to be wholly original in our wedding planning. Everyone should hold the wedding they feel most comfortable with, but to me there is nothing more comforting than knowing you are embarking on a tradition shared by innumerable others throughout human history. Thank you so much for sharing your day with us!

      • holly gardner

        One thing that I didn’t see mentioned anywhere was about the music. This was the actual recording from THEIR wedding – not off iTunes. And as beautiful as it is, it only hints at the magnificence of how it sounded with the voices reverberating through the high ceilings. They started singing and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I honestly got chills, started tearing up, and stood there for a few seconds before I composed myself. I will never get sick of hearing this.

    • Hayley Tuller

      Meg, you know, I almost didn’t submit at all, but I’m so glad I did!

      • Laura

        AH! It makes me want to reach through the computer and give you a hug! Thank you for going forward and sharing it.

        • Hayley Tuller

          <3 <3 <3

  • Lada

    This is amazing. And THE SHOES!

    • Hayley Tuller

      Shoes!!!!!!! :)

  • Annie

    This wedding just made my day!! As a fellow Episcopalian planning to bask in our tradition, I have some logistical questions: where did you sit during the Liturgy of the Word? We’re debating sitting in the first row of pews or in the choir stalls. Also, did you process in to instrumental music or a congregrational hymn?

    • Hayley Tuller

      Ahhhh the liturgical movement questions! It went like this:
      – We processed to a sung hymn, “The King of Love my Shepherd Is”, because traditionally, celebratory processions are done to sung hymns instead of instrumentals, although the show/entertainment paradigm of weddings has supplanted that in modern times. We went old school, and simply processed as the last two sacristans (which technically we were, cue we chaliced).
      – During the Liturgy of the Word, we sat in two chairs placed in front of the first row of pews. I didn’t want to sit in the pews because I didn’t want to fuss with getting in and out of the pew.
      – During the Marriage service, we stood at the chancel steps, and then moved to the altar steps for the blessing and the smooches.
      – Tim conducted the offertory anthem from the mid-chancel while the oblations came forward and the table was set.
      – After that, you see us inside the altar rail in the photos praying together because after our union was solemnized, we moved inside the rail to serve chalice.
      – We recessed to a sung hymn again, this time “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”
      I thought using the congregational hymns for the procession and the recession also helped make people involved in the service, and dampened the “big bridal reveal” moment, which I didn’t like so much.

      • Katie*

        Great selections! I know my favorite hymns not by their names, but by their numbers in the 1984 ;-)

        • Hayley Tuller

          My husband is like that!!! He knows them all by their numbers and the tune names!

      • Akweley

        Beautiful. Thank you so much for this. The pictures were truly moving, but reading the thought you put into each aspect of the mass is incredibly meaningful! Hope to celebrate my own story within the robust tradition of our faith as y’all have done so gracefully.

      • Annie

        Awesome! Thanks for the pointers. I agree, I really like the congregational hymns for the procession and recession because it makes it feel more like Sunday worship and less like a wedding show.

      • Nope.

        My old choir director used to call “Crown Him with Many Crowns” “The Dentist’s Hymn.” Ah, Episcopalian humor.

  • Elizabear

    Love it. I get so happy when I see other Episcopal weddings :) Congrats!!

    • Hayley Tuller

      Go Team Episcopalian!

    • Katie*

      Yeay Episcopalians! I love high-church stuff. FH is incredibly uncomfortable with all of it, so we’re creating something that works for both of us.

  • jashshea

    That outfit though! Oh my! Gorgeous.

  • emilyg25

    Your last paragraph made me cry. What a lovely sentiment to reflect with your wedding, and a glorious way to start a marriage.

  • This is AWESOME! You had me at “potluck wedding” (an idea that I feel is SO underrated these days) but then the recipe book!? Holy shit, that’s amazing.

    • I. Know. I’m a complete internet stranger, and *I* want a copy of that book.

      • Carly

        Me too!

        • Hayley Tuller

          Yesss! Food is multiplied in sharing!!

      • Hayley Tuller

        LOL! I’ll send you one!!! We’re an internet sisterhood of non-conformists, we are.

    • Sarah

      I’m definitely sold on this idea now. Sounds like great way to really make your guests feel included and appreciated.
      And also, those SHOES!! ♥
      Congratulations guys!

      • Hayley Tuller

        Dude. The shoes were almost the cheapest purchase I made. Love me some Nine West — so good for us big-footed gals.

    • Meg Keene

      We should do a potluck wedding post!! I’ve been to (at least) one, so I actually have a really good idea of what to do… and not do. LIKE: no fish sitting around in hot cars, please and thank you.

      • Hayley Tuller

        YESSSSSS this needs to happen. There are a LOT of logistics about running a pot luck like this, but it can be done. I was blessed to have a culture that knows how to make large-scale potlucks work, but I still discovered a lot of wedding-specific things about how to make it work. There wasn’t a lot of professional/internet help on this point, either. We had to pretty much figure that out ourselves. This would be an outstanding feature post on APW, I think. I would happily guest write it. :)

      • TeaforTwo

        I’ve been to a couple of potluck weddings, and they were SO GREAT. Folks tend to bring the one dish that they are really known for, or know that the couple love, and I think it’s such a beautiful way to express your love for the couple.

        (And the Lazy Girl’s Guide to Potluck Weddings goes like this: grow up protestant. Practically guaranteed access to a parish hall that’s equipped for giant potlucks, AND to the church ladies who know how to make it happen without breaking a sweat and have watched you grow up and will be honoured to help. DONE.)

        • Alyssa M

          OMG yes “grow up protestant,” and then don’t move away. I’m sure it’s the same way in other denominations, but Southern Baptists specifically hold the potluck as a part of their identity.

      • Alyssa M

        Man, I REALLY wanted a potluck wedding… but with it being a “destination” wedding for 90% of the guests it just isn’t possible.

      • Harmke

        Oh, yes, please can we do that? I would love to have a potluck at my wedding but have never even heard someone do it over here!
        (Here is the Netherlands, where we have way less wedding traditions. And that’s nice because that means there are also way less expectations. BUT: it also means that the few things people think do belong to a wedding (the couple buying the food for example) are kind of set in stone.)

        • holly gardner

          Go for it! I want to see how it turns out. :) <3

      • Oakland Sarah

        Yes! I love how you managed to pull off a formal potluck–which was my big hesitation. My partner REALLY wanted to do potluck, but I couldn’t get past it not feeling too casual/adding logistic stress/and stressing out guests. Ultimately, since the vast majority of our guests are coming from out of town we decided not to go the potluck route, but I’m so excited to see this!

    • Hayley Tuller

      I agree, I have no idea why more people don’t do the potluck wedding. I did get some really weird looks when I describe it to people, and there were even a few vendors who refused to work with me because of it. I dunno. People get scared when you ask them to color outside of the box. The recipe book was just about my favorite part of the whole reception thing, too. :)

      • holly gardner

        people refused to work with you???? so glad I wasn’t phased! :)

        • Hayley Tuller

          Oh yeah. I sent a few debutant wedding planners/day-of coordinators running. And I’m so glad you weren’t too!!!

      • snowmentality

        The logistics of a potluck wedding are hard when most of your guests aren’t local, is the major thing. It can become less fun and more stressful. I’ve been a guest at a potluck wedding to which I had to travel 4 hours and stay in a hotel, and I did stress about how I was going to manage to bring a dish until the parents of the couple told me not to worry about it.

        But potlucks were my formative childhood experiences of a big, supportive, loving multi-family social circle, so I am totally on board with the potluck wedding concept!

        • Hayley Tuller

          I agree, you have to have the right guest situation. Rule #1: Know your crowd. Fortunately, we had only a handful of out-of-towners, to whom I stressed repeatedly that there were zero expectations they bring a dish. As well as some older guests, and just some friends who didn’t cook. Which was totally fine, because there was TONS of food.

      • Laura

        I don’t think potluck weddings are really that out of the box – just out of the box from the WIC weddings that we all know and love to hate these days. Gosh, I grew up in a church were all weddings were pretty much potluck weddings. It’s such a wonderful concept because it allows your community to DO something to help. Food is such a great way to show love and support.

  • holly gardner

    While every wedding is special, this one just took my breath away. And it still does. I am so grateful to have been a small part of their big day and now be able to call them my friends! <3 <3 <3 And Hayley – you absolutely did own it!

    • Hayley Tuller

      Holly… there are no words. You are the BOMB. Thank you for your art!

      • Outside Bride

        There are so many things I love about this wedding, and I feel like there’s no need to repeat the other comments, since I would essentially just ditto them all. But one of the things I’m most excited about is that Holly is going to photograph our wedding too! This is so incredibly beautiful. Between the music and the photographs and the words, I’ve been sharing this with all my folks.

        • Hayley Tuller

          Holly’s shooting your wedding? Oh… you are in for a treat. You’ll get to see the shoeless ninja gumby in action!

          • holly gardner

            haha. thanks.

        • holly gardner


  • Alyssa

    That outfit, that cake, and the recipe book are fantastic. As a person who grew up episcopalian, i still love the wedding ceremony. And as an atheist now, I still get choked up remembering my friends’ wedding where the bride and groom served communion to everyone. So so so meaningful for the couple, for believers, and even for non-believers.

    • Hayley Tuller

      The communion part was really important to us, and I’m do glad we choose to do that. It was like a really INTENSE receiving line!!

  • Bsquillo

    Even though I grew up in a less formal Baptist tradition, I LOVE “high church” traditions. And I love the “We Will” part of the Episcopalian wedding service. It’s so important to include your community in your new marriage.


  • Ariel

    This makes my heart feel full. :)

  • Brooke

    Your wedding looks amazing! I’m definitely going to use some of your ideas as inspiration for my own.
    I hate the idea of being the center of attention and having a big, formal wedding with a “big reveal” and all that…BUT we are having a large guest list simply because I love my family and FI loves his friends and we couldn’t imagine excluding them, and we’re having the wedding in a church because, well, we’re religious. I’m looking for ways to make the event low-key and informal despite the fact that it’s a big, church wedding. A pot-luck reception in the church isn’t an option because it’s very important to FI that we portray our mid-sized Midwestern hometown in a good light to his lifelong Manhattan-ite friends, so we’ve already booked a downtown museum for our reception venue. That’ll be a big to-do as well. And it will all be VERY cool…except for the fact that I’m running out of ways to scale down the scope of the thing without either excluding people we love or jeopardizing FI’s friendships. We’re definitely scrapping all reception traditions except for cake-cutting and I’m definitely letting the bridesmaids pick their own dresses, we’re planning on having minimal decorations and almost no flowers…but even so. I’m still looking for ways to say “this is not a formal wedding, please quit looking at me.” Haha!

    • Hayley Tuller

      Yeah… that big “everybody stare at the bride” thing was very disconcerting to me, too. It’s so unfair. The wedding is about the groom as much as it is the bride!

    • Sheila

      I didn’t like the “big bridal reveal” idea either, so our priest suggested that the two of us stand in the lobby before the ceremony began and greet people as they came in. There were definitely people who were startled to see me and thought they must be late or committed some big faux pas, but we just gave them hugs and said we were glad to see them. I still walked in with my dad later but since nearly everyone had already seen me and said hello, it didn’t feel as weird to me.

      • Oakland Sarah

        I had friends do this. It was great! They stood next to the guest book and greeted people as they arrived.

      • InTheBurbs

        We did too…mostly since we got married on a Friday night and knew people would be hungry by the time the ceremony ended and didn’t want to do a receiving line then…

      • Hayley Tuller

        That’s such a great idea — I bet it deflated a lot of tension and made the ceremony even more emotional because everyone already felt connected! The whole “here comes the bride” moment just feel so contrived to me. I know it’s a big deal for some people, but I’m too introverted for that. That, and my inner feminist just couldn’t take the idea that the norm was to be escorted down the aisle as a public display by my male chaperone, and then passed off at the altar to my new male chaperone who did not have to similarly be paraded about. We instead try to crowd out that image with the symbolic gesture of processing into the service together as equals, and just at the end of the regular procession you would have seen at any other high holy day at our church. For us, that emphasized the sacramental nature of what we were about to do — that we were entering into a contract together freely as equals an sacristans, as an act of worship, and not as a show or as different genders or with differ power levels. As equals, together. We also made the point of walking through the external east doors, which in our church as in many other Christian churches, is an act that symbolizes new beginnings. I think it all helped to really deflate the pressure of the “big bridal reveal” by crowding that cultural trope out with ritual and tradition drawn from our church’s shared worship rituals.

  • MC

    I want to echo what everyone else said, but also: THAT CAKE LOOKS AMAZING.

  • Carly

    The potluck/cookbook/guest gift thing is so amazing and special; that would be my grab-in-event-of-a-fire item. And the coordination of a potluck with dozens of participants – mind blown.

    • Hayley Tuller

      All told, there were almost 80 people who brought a dish. Unfortunately I didn’t coax 80 recipes out of everyone, but I did get more than half that number. It was a logistical operation tantamount to the Crimean War. :)

  • carolynprobably

    Just, yes. All of it. Yes.

  • Daniella

    I just love this! I find so often that not buying into the WIC some how means that you are okay “downplaying” the importance of your wedding. I love that your wedding and your description of everything is anything but downplaying!

    • Alyssa M

      You can feel the gravitas just looking at the pictures. It’s kind of amazing.

    • Hayley Tuller

      Yesssss! I totally agree! That was something I felt too… that somehow, if we weren’t conforming to cultural notions of what we were supposed to be doing, that somehow that equated to and meant that we should be downplaying everything. As you can see… we choose not to do that. :)

  • Amy March

    Can we get a how-to on that wedding cake? Because I suddenly feel like I need it in my life. See also: bride’s hair.

    • Hayley Tuller

      The cakes were made by a woman in Tim’s choir who does them more or less as a hobby, so I can’t help ya…! The bride’s cake was carrot with cream cheese frosting, my favorite. There was a groom’s cake too! It was chocolate and orange, with chocolate ganache icing, and it was TO. DIE.

      • Laura

        That is her HOBBY? Holy cow. But yeah, maybe she’d be willing to do a how-to? Pretty please? Not even for my wedding, just for… what day is it? tuesday? Yeah… how about a tuesday cake!

        • holly gardner

          or a Thursday cake? ;)

  • Hayley Tuller

    Hey everyone, so I’m the bride in this post! I have been so touched to read everyone’s comments. To be completely honest, I’ve been lurking in the discussions at APW for basically the last year while I planned our wedding. Your collective voice as a community was a major source of empowerment! Stay awesome, everybody!

    • holly gardner

      <3 you

    • Laura

      Don’t go away! Post-wedding people are our best source of wisdom around here.

      • holly gardner

        Plus, Hayley has a great voice and her writing is thoroughly entertaining to read.

  • Laura

    This is just beautiful – beautiful in the aesthetic way, yes, but also beautiful in the way that you embraced all the important traditions (religious and cake) and totally dismissed the rest. It has such a genuine feel that makes me so happy. Congrats!

  • enfp

    I have to join in the chorus of people loving everything about this wedding, from the gorgeous non-white wedding dress, to the beautiful ways you honoured tradition and your community, and everything in between. I just love the ‘we will’ vows in the episcopal liturgy, and your last paragraph perfectly captured the power and meaning of those vows. There is so much in this post that could be expanded on, would love to see the ‘how we did it’!

  • cara

    everyone is crying at this wow wow. we’re just a bunch of weepy people and this is a beautiful wedding.

  • Liz

    Um, need to go find a choir to perform Whitacre for my October wedding stat. Good thing I have lots of conductor friends…

  • katiemckinnie

    I love this so much, for so many reasons! I grew up Episcopalian and had such a wonderful and enriching church life. (And so unlike a lot of my classmates – my priest encouraged the idea that faith & evolution could coexist – not a popular opinion in S. Georgia.) We’re having an Episcopalian ceremony, which makes us and our parents happy (he grew up Catholic but is frustrated with the church).

    Also – I love that this is in Jax! We are getting married in Yulee/Amelia Island, and I love Jacksonville. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed the church where your wedding was held, but goodness is it GORGEOUS. (As were you, and your husband.) Beautiful photos!

    • Hayley Tuller

      it is a beautiful church… it was built in the turn of the century, and it’s a real architectural and historic gem. Good Shepherd welcomes weddings!!! :)

Shhh... Secrets Inside

A secret post emailed to you every week!

… plus our 20 best wedding planning guides

No, thanks.