How We: Planned Our $5K Episcopal Church Wedding

A humble wedding with hospitality to spare

Valerie W. (long hair and pants), Occupational Therapy doctoral student & Valerie S. (short hair and dress), Social Worker

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A day full of love, welcome, and vulnerability.

Planned Budget: $5,000

Actual Budget: Slightly under $5,000

Number of Guests: 92

Where we allocated the most funds

I like to tell people that the way we were able to plan a $5,000 wedding was to set a line item budget of $500. $500 for a live band for contra dancing, $500 for each venue, $500 for food, $500 for photography (three hours, amazing deal from our amazing photographer!)… and on to smaller items. There are other approaches to low budget weddings, but for us this worked.

Where we allocated the least funds

We essentially had to be careful on every line item. Our budget met our tone: a humble wedding with lots of hospitality and lots of love. It could have felt like an aesthetic compromise but instead it let the vulnerability that we set as tone in our ceremony shine through our party as well.

Food: We self-catered our wedding and hired some folks who are doing a year of volunteer service to serve. It was a simple homemade meal of enchiladas, chips, salsa, and salad. We made and tested so many enchiladas the year before, and settled on two vegetarian options. With the help of the volunteers and a good friend we made 288 corn tortillas from scratch, and then made twenty-four pans of enchiladas, which we froze (after much testing to ensure quality!). We wanted to feed everyone, and we wanted it to feel like they had come over to our home for lunch. It did: delicious with wonderful conversation.

My dress: It is a non-wedding dress, and I found it marked down seventy percent. I loved it—the lace, the color and a short dress! It wasn’t all that a dress could be, but I will wear it again. I had earrings made from my grandmother’s opal ring to wear, and I wear them often with great delight.

What was totally worth it

We created extra opportunities to see our guests and to extend our circle with low-key, no cost events. We had a hiking trip on Thursday, our rehearsal was an open invitation to the Portland food carts, we had an after party where we invited a broader guest list, and a day-after brunch at our favorite coffee shop for family and a few friends. We loved extending the party and spending time with our favorite people who had traveled and taken time off work for our wedding.

Focusing on our ceremony as the main event throughout the wedding planning process kept us grounded in the who and why of it all. Unable to get married in our own Catholic tradition we had played with many ceremony ideas. We eventually asked Chris Craun at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church if they would be willing to host us and marry us. The church was adorable, and having a minister who is a married lesbian herself was the most wonderful gift. We got to know her through our pre-marital counseling and will continue to visit their church—it was good to have a pastor on that day. Her homily spoke of the power of vulnerability and service, two themes of the music and readings we had chosen. My sister-in-law sang “I Want You to Be My Love” by Over the Rhine as we processed in together. We created a foot washing ceremony to wash each other’s feet before our vows to begin our marriage in vulnerable service to each other. I cried as we entered, and again as we washed each other’s feet. We wrote our own vows with the support of APW tutorials. By the time I was ready to kiss her I was just jumping inside with excitement and started hopping in place.


What was totally not worth it

Trying to control all of the things we cannot control, from dirty floors at our reception venue, which gave me nightmares, to the legal status of gay marriage in Oregon. It didn’t matter. We were wed in front of ninety-two members of our community in the most sacred ceremony. Two days later, we were standing outside the Multnomah County building when the judge announced that the ban against our marriage was out, we had a license in hand a few moments later, and were legally wed that afternoon, again by Chris, our pastor from St. Michaels. And I never noticed the floors, bathrooms, or anything else on the day of the wedding, and stopped caring if others did.

A few things that helped us along the way

Doing things together: meaning us plus all of our people. We are both helpers, and it was very hard to ask for help, but I am so glad we did. We included handwritten notes in our invitations, asking local guests to bring pies for the pie bar. Whenever I felt my energy lag during the planning process I thought: “PIE! Everything will be okay!” I’ve helped and participated in many weddings, but reading APW really filled so many gaps. Especially making room for the hard stuff and remembering (over and over and over) what you really care about.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Trust the wedding magic. Magic takes the ordinary and makes is extraordinary. Being so close to the details made me think I knew exactly what was coming on our day. We had worked on projects for a year, starting with marionberry jam favors the summer before, to sewing sock monkeys for the kids in the dead of winter, to making two hundred and fifty feet of bunting flags. I had worried about so many things. I had made all of these choices with my wife confidently for the right reasons, but still I worried that our wedding would leave people feeling flat. What we discovered was that people had come for us, and together we filled the day with tears, laughter, and hugs. From getting ready together in the early morning, to hugging our families and our bridal brigade as they joined us at the church, to contra dancing with everyone the entire day was so much more than I ever dreamed or dared hope.

Favorite thing about the wedding

Valerie W.: Dancing together, with all of our guests, and dancing in the rain at the end of the night.

Valerie S.: Feeling so whole and full of happiness, and being surrounded by our community.

STAY TUNED FOR Valerie and Valerie’s legal CITY HALL wedding this afternoon!


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  • Hope

    “I Want You To Be My Love” as a processional song?!?! LOVE IT.

    I also had a religious wedding with the same budget, and identify with what you said about your dress, “It wasn’t all a dress could be”…but you liked it anyway–I feel that way about a lot of the “line items” in our wedding, but I liked them anyway.
    I love footwashings in weddings! They make me cry too!
    I liked that you described the humility of your wedding as an expression of vulnerability. What a strengths-based way to frame it! (And I think it’s true that it works that way.) :)

    Thanks for sharing!

    • swarmofbees

      That foot washing is such a beautiful and meaningful way to start a marriage. I participated in a foot washing during my confirmation class, I think, and it is such a powerful experience. I wouldn’t have thought to include one in a marriage ceremony, but man, does it make sense!

      • swarmofbees

        Also, I am super excited to see the wedding part 2!

  • StevenPortland

    What a great article and beautiful photos. And then to learn it took place here in Portland! Congrats!

    • vegankitchendiaries

      Agreed! This is so lovely jubbly!

      It’s funny that Portland people (and Portland weddings) always seem so true and sincere and the complete opposite of the ‘Portlandia’ stereotype. I’ve been to Portland a few times on holiday (can’t stay away) and there are less birds on everything than people think! It seems like people there are really concerned with living by their values rather than handlebar mustaches or being snobby about craft beer. :)

  • ART

    Made me cry :) So sweet – so happy for you ladies.

  • You guys look so happy and beautiful :) Congrats!! And I loved your group activities that you planned throughout the weekend. :)

  • stella

    This is beautiful. I teared up at the foot washing, what a lovely way to begin a marriage. My childhood church in the UK was a St Michael and All Angels too.

  • Lisa

    I love the idea of vulnerability as the wedding tone.

  • anon

    Just wanted to say thanks for the notes on what you spent and where. It’s super helpful. My dream was (is?) the $5K wedding, but seeing the enormous amount of time and work that went in to yours makes me think this particular style won’t work for us. I think this will help me to have more realistic budget expectations when we get down to the nitty gritty of planning where, when and how. But, damn! you two are on top of it and pulled off an amazingly, beautiful thing. I’m majorly impressed.

    • A-L

      Don’t think such a budget is hopeless unless you’re willing to do tons of work. Our budget was higher ($7500), but there was little DIY involved. We had a church wedding & church reception, which kept venue costs low. The food was done by a bbq place (less than $10/person, I believe) and we did cheese & crackers & veggie platters for apps. Our budget also included the costs of a rehearsal dinner where we paid for all guests at our wedding to go bowling as well as for some local food there as well. Not doing this (or doing something less expensive) would also bring the budget much closer to the $5k goal. Just saying.

  • Emma

    CONTRA DANCING. So jealous! That sounds like an awesome reception. It’s something I would definitely be thinking about if we were going to have more people at the wedding, but I don’t think it would work right for a super small wedding with a lot of non-dancing family members. Maybe we can go contra with our bachelor parties…?

    This, and other post from you two, were totally touching.

  • EF

    this is wonderful!! I’ve been toying with the idea of including handwritten notes in with invites, and so happy to see it worked out with you two. also I feel ya on the budget and line-item option. sounds like an awesome way to think about it! CONGRATS!

  • Noelle Bakken

    What an awesome couple of human beings you two are! Thank you for sharing your wedding story with us :)

  • AL

    Way to make me cry over my coffee this morning. Same fears, different city. I am so nervous that the vibe will just be off. That my very-religious family and my atheist fiancee and our fun-loving liberal friends won’t mesh. But what you said: that the magic of it all will bring it together…. that resonates and calms me. Thank you times a million for your story. Love to you both from Queens, NY.