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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My stepson is being married this summer. Both he and his fiancee have been away from the area to attend college and graduate school. Their friends are scattered throughout the country as well as Europe.

They have chosen a reception hall midway between our hometown and that of her parents. (Each of us will have to travel about 45 minutes.)

My husband and I have offered to pay for the rehearsal dinner. Her mother is paying for the wedding -- an elaborate cocktail reception. Although the wedding party is small, my stepson's fiancee claims that all out-of-town guests should be invited to the rehearsal dinner. My husband and I disagree. We feel it is customary to invite parents, siblings and wedding party members and their spouses only. They plan on having 150 to 200 guests at their reception. Please give me your comments, Abby, as I don't feel it is our responsibility to host people they may just want to "party" with. -- MIFFED IN EASTON, PA.

DEAR MIFFED: The etiquette experts are not in complete agreement about whether out-of-town guests "must" be included in the rehearsal dinner.

According to the "Modern Bride Complete Wedding Planner" by Cele Goldsmith Lalli and Stephanie H. Dahl: "The rehearsal dinner may be as formal or as informal as you and the hosts like, and will include all members of the wedding party and their spouses, as well as the clergy, parents and grandparents. OUT-OF-TOWN WEDDING GUESTS SHOULD ALSO BE INVITED." (Emphasis is mine.)

"McCall's Engagement and Wedding Guide" advises: "The rehearsal dinner is likely to be a sizable undertaking. All attendants are always invited; it is also polite to include the husband or wife of a married attendant and to ask the fiance of an engaged attendant. The parents of the ring bearer and flower girls are invited, though they will usually leave these very young attendants with a baby sitter unless the hostess has made special provision for them. If the clergyperson is a family friend or from out of town, he or she is included, as is the spouse. Otherwise, the clergyperson is not invited to this gathering. Special out-of-town relatives MAY also be invited." (Emphasis is mine.)

According to "Emily Post's Complete Book of Wedding Etiquette," it is permissible to exclude out-of-towners at the rehearsal dinner, especially when the wedding party is large and other parties have been planned for those visitors.

Under no circumstances should you entertain more guests at the rehearsal dinner than you can comfortably afford. To help defray the cost, an alternative solution might be for some of the bride and groom's friends to host an informal gathering for the out-of-town guests.

DEAR ABBY: When we were little, my father lovingly changed our evening prayer. As your readers know, it is:

"Now I lay me down to sleep,

"I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

"If I should die before I wake,

"I pray the Lord my soul to take."

My father deleted the last two mournful lines and taught my brother, Andy, sister, Polly, and me to say instead:

"Forgive my doing what was wrong,

"And make me pure and wise and strong."

Perhaps other parents and grandparents would like to say this with their little ones. Do you like this? My father's name was Casper Schenk of Des Moines, Iowa. -- PEGGY SMITH, ARIZONA CITY, ARIZ.

DEAR PEGGY: I like it very much. Your father was a sensible and sensitive man.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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