There are only a few things that are necessary to get married. A marriage license and someone to officiate and sign that license are two essentials. Of course, there is the date and location, and then the clothes, flowers, food, music… all that good stuff. It’s exciting to choose your vendors, but don’t let your officiant be an afterthought.
Your wedding ceremony should honestly reflect your beliefs: who you are, where you’ve come from, and where you are going. Whether you’re religious, spiritual or secular, the ceremony is a very special time — for many, a sacred time. It is a big decision and can be extra tricky when the two partners have different views on a topic as complex such as religion.
Choosing to marry in a church, synagogue or mosque will be easy when both partners agree, but sometimes families pressure couples to have a more traditional ceremony than they might want. If you do not choose a house of worship, or even have this option, what do you do?
Many couples want something not strictly religious, but more on the spiritual side. Some would prefer a completely secular ceremony, but don’t want the quickie wedding at the courthouse. Interfaith couples have another specific set of needs. Don’t give up! There are officiants who can accommodate all of these viewpoints. You just have to search for them.
For interfaith ceremonies, if you want balance, be cautious in having your officiant come from one side of the equation. When two clergy officiate, it can become a competition. However, there are clergy who are trained specifically to do this. Unitarian ministers are especially good at this, as are graduates from The New Seminary in New York City and similar programs, as well as celebrants from the Celebrant Foundation and Institute).
Naturally you will read through an officiant’s website and reviews. Are their words general and clichéd? Are they trying to be all things to all people, or do they have a point of view? Do they perform weddings for couples with needs similar to yours?
Then – and this is most important – take the time to have a conversation with a few different people. You should feel comfortable with the person who is marrying you. Find someone who, along with having experience, will listen to you and give you the opportunity to have input.
Language matters. For example, most modern couples do not care for the ‘obey’ part of the ‘I dos,’ and most officiants no longer include it. Don’t get caught off-guard by hiring someone who surprises you at your ceremony with a statement that does not represent you. And asking about this opens the door to meaningful conversation. Be clear about your point of view as well as his or hers. Don’t be afraid to say how you feel about religion. I know it can be a daunting subject.
It disappoints me when I sometimes see how little is suggested to pay for an officiant. As if it isn’t important. In an earlier era, you could have your local priest or minister come and perform the ceremony for very little money. But times change. Consider this financial factor for officiants: clergy with their own congregations have a salary, whereas independent officiants do not.
A point of note: here in Pennsylvania there is no ‘licensing’ system for officiants. The statute on who can perform marriages is a little vague, but it does require an officiant to be a spiritual leader of a congregation, a mayor or a judge. I do not recommend having a friend officiate for you — although an on-line ordination, with click-of-a-button, is usually accepted by most clerks in Pennsylvania (there has been some debate on this in the past), but why take that chance? Besides, would you want someone who never danced before to teach you the waltz?
A true professional officiant has a depth of knowledge and will bring ideas to the table you may never have thought of, deepening the experience for you.
And finally, don’t wait until the last moment. You cannot get married without a legal officiant to marry you. Good officiants are in demand and get booked up. A wedding ceremony can be more than just something to ‘get through.’ You can have a wonderful service by taking the time to choose the officiant who is right for you.
Lois Heckman is a celebrant practicing in the Poconos. www.LoisHeckman.com