MORENO VALLEY, Calif. After 35 years as a wedding planner, Cynthia Ward has seen her share of nuptials. She learned the business at the side of her aunt in Newark, N.J., when she was 9 years old.
"I did every job but the preaching," Ward laughed. "I cooked, ushered, sang, and I loved every minute. I never knew it was work."
Ward has seen many changes in the billion-dollar industry since she started her own Moreno Valley wedding consulting business in 1971.
"There are a million wedding sites on the Internet, and brides can get overwhelmed and feel pressured to spend a lot of money," she said.
Ward estimates that 20 percent to 30 percent of today's couples hire a wedding consultant, up from 5 percent just 10 years ago.
"And that's not enough!" she said. "A bride can plan, but she needs someone to make sure it all gets done properly."
According to Ward, the average wedding today costs $27,000 to $30,000. Food still represents the lion's share of any budgeta sit-down dinner can run $50 per plate.
"But you don't have to spend a lot," she said. "You can have a beautiful wedding for $1,200 if you're willing to do some of the work yourself. I have hundreds of money-saving ideas."
Ward, who attends the First Church of God in Inglewood, confirmed that church weddings are still the most common, even for people who don't attend services on a regular basis.
"Yet, even in a house of worship, many brides think of their wedding as a theatre production," she said. "They mock the sacredness of the day. As a Christian I always stress what the ceremony is all about."
To that end, the effervescent grandmother is now teaching others how to plan the perfect wedding through her Certified Wedding Consultant & Wedding Coordinator Training School in Moreno Valley. In addition to a certificate program for wedding planners, she offers a course for church wedding coordinatorsthe first course of its kind in the country.
Ward said she created her courses out of frustration at seeing so many weddings go awry.
"The wedding party was running around not knowing what to do or where to go. No one knew what time to be ready," she said. "Everything was in disarray. I felt bad for the bride.
"Most church wedding coordinators are volunteers who don't know what their job is. One of their biggest points of confusion is where to draw the line on their responsibilities. Therefore, they're often overworked and overwhelmed."
She's seen people faint at the altar and pastors who preached so long that the candles burned low enough to nearly start a fire. She's had to figure out how to get ringsforgotten in the dressing roomup to the altar without disrupting the service and how to stitch a torn wedding gown with straight pins. She carries a serving knife in her equipment trunk after having to cut and serve a cake with a tiny plastic knife.
To help eliminate situational snafus, Ward's two-day course includes an on-site evaluation of the trainee's facility.
In the coming year, Ward's courses will be offered in San Diego as well as Moreno Valley, and the focus will be more on training church wedding coordinators than individual consultants.
"Weddings are a long-neglected area of instruction in our churches, and most of our church-appointed wedding coordinators have never been properly trained to do their job or know their responsibilities," Ward said. I want to help make the wedding experience better in our churches."
Adapting to clients
While Ward's heart is for the churches and their wedding ministries, she has had plenty of experience with couples opting for non-traditional locations. These can present unique challenges for wedding coordinators. Ward's most elaborate wedding was held overlooking the ocean in Palos Verdes.
"I had to create a chapel atmosphere up on the cliff, and I had to haul everything up thereeven the flowers flown in from Hawaii. My biggest concern was for the wind but everything turned out beautifully."
Ward's resume includes several celebrity events. She planned an 800-guest wedding for a Los Angeles congressman's daughter and an elaborate affair for a Grammy Award winner's niece.
Her reputation earned her a consulting role for the movie "The Wedding." For three months she lunched with the producers and explained the role of a wedding coordinator. For her efforts, they called the wedding coordinator character in the movie Cynthia. Ward has also consulted with several soap operasexplaining the proper order of a wedding processional and how to design wedding favors for the Hollywood bride and groom.
Ward's courses teach the tact and diplomacy skills she's learned throughout the years. An area of frequent contention is seating at the church. Divorce often generates multiple sets of parents and grandparents, and some people sit in the wrong seat. At one event she had to ask the groom's aunt, a well-known TV personality, to move from the seat reserved for his parents.
"She was very nice about it, but it is something a coordinator needs to learn how to handle," she said.
According to Ward, the biggest challenge lands on the best man and the coordinator needs to know that.
"He's got a big job getting the groom to the church," she said, adding that she's had grooms show up 90 minutes late and sometimes not at all.
She's even had to lend a hand to a few pastors.
"One asked me if I had any words he could use for the ceremony," she said. "And I've had to stop a minister from saying the exact words at the rehearsal… otherwise the couple would have been married the day before the wedding!"
For more information on The Certified Wedding Consultant & Wedding Coordinator Training School call (951) 367-7747 or visit www.weddingconsultants-coordinatorstraining.com.