24 February 2018

How To Officiate a Wedding

Tonight is the night. You can feel it in your bones. You're dressed up and seated at a romantic restaurant, staring across the table into each other's eyes. You're already enjoying your second glass of wine, knowing more plates of delicious food are on the way. Then... you hear the question that will change your life: "Will you marry us?"

Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! Of course I'll marry you!

With these words I started a journey to become an ordained minister (ministeress?) to officiate the wedding for my good friends Hexar and Natalie. As their "accidental matchmaker" I was truly honored to be asked to play such an important role in their life-changing day. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Having the opportunity to marry people will change your life!

I have a few friends (and a grandfather!) who have officiated weddings, and they thoughtfully took time to share their tips and tricks with me prior to the big day. Thanks to their guidance, I was able to put together a memorable ceremony for the couple. This blog outlines the things I learned that you need to do/know to officiate a wedding.

10 Steps to Officiate a Wedding

1. Get ordained! First thing's first, you need to get ordained. Head on over to see the good folks at the Universal Life Church, pay $10 or whatever (they have all sorts of packages you can sign up for), and BOOM. You are ordained.

2. Meet with the couple to talk hopes and dreams. Before you can dive into the different sections of a ceremony (convocation, readings, vows, etc.) you'll need to get a sense of what type of wedding the couple has imagined. What role do they want religion to play? Do they want it to be funny or serious? Is it inside or outside? How long do they want the ceremony to be? How many readings to they want to have, and who will be doing them? What should you as the officiant wear? The list goes on and on and on. Get together over drinks to talk high level about the weddings you've been to and enjoyed, what you want to avoid, and what elements are most critical for success.

3. Outline your ceremony. Once you have a general sense of how the happy couple would like the wedding to go, start doing research into the elements of a ceremony. Anticipate the couple has a lot going on, and running the ceremony is now your job. The more research/preparation you can do to support decision making, the better. Remember this couple trusted you enough to marry them, so they will rely on you to drive this process. Here is a general outline to get you started, with some helpful links:
  • Processional (aka the people walk in)
  • Welcome Address/Convocation
  • Give Away (or community blessings)
  • Officiant Address to the couple, which often includes readings
  • Unity Ceremony
  • Vows
  • The I Do Part
  • Rings
  • Kiss
  • Pronouncement
  • Recessional

4. Start customizing. Present an outline and elements you think make the most sense and talk through what you want with the couple. We spent a lot of time talking about the "giving away of the bride" and the "unity ceremony" parts. Rather than being given away, we opted to ask all of the parents for their blessing, then ask the entire audience for their blessing as well. This addition meant we avoided the whole "speak now or forever hold your peace" business later on.
Presentation by parents:
To honor the families who supported Natalie and Hexar, we ask them for their blessing of this marriage. Doug and Janice, do you you support Hexar’s decision to join together in holy matrimony with Natalie, and do you vow to receive her as a member of your family from this day on?
“We do.”
 Bruce and Suzette, Brian and Maria, do you support Natalie’s decision to join together in holy matrimony with Hexar, and do you vow to receive him as a member of your family from this day on?
"We do.” 
The Community’s Vow of Participation:
Even the healthiest marriages go through the occasional hardship or conflict, and your community is there to provide support when you need it. To each of you here today: As we celebrate Hexar and Natalie, will you support their decision to marry by offering them your constant love, encouragement, and wise counsel? If you will, please let them know by expressing a heartfelt and resounding: “We will!”
For the unity ceremony, we opted away from the traditional unity candle that is popular in religious ceremonies, and instead went with a unity beer. That's right, they picked two different beers, poured them into a special Hexar + Natalie beer stein, and drank up.
To begin the process of merging your lives together, we will share a symbolic first beer. Hexar and Natalie, the two separate beers symbolize your separate lives, separate families, and separate sets of friends, in other words, your lives before today. Combining these two beers represents that your two lives are now being joined together and cannot be separated, but must be enjoyed as one. Please pour your respective beers into the ceremonial beer stein, and take a sip to celebrate your delicious new life together.

5. Get personal. The most memorable weddings I've been to are the ones where the officiant speaks personally about the couple. To help personalize, I sent the below questions to the couple and asked them to answer it together.
  • Why are you having a wedding? 
  • What does a wedding mean to you? And why now?
  • What are the most beautiful parts about your relationship? 
  • What are the first things that people usually notice about you as a couple? 
  • We spend a lot of time talking about/doing...
  • What parts of your relationship do you hope never change? 
I really wanted my ceremony to provide an overview of the two individuals: who they were before, how they met, and how they've changed as a result of this most meaningful relationship. I used these responses in the officiant address when I was outlining the ongoing arch of their relationship.
Natalie you were struck by Hexar from the start. You found yourself intrigued by his quite confidence and flirtatious smile. Given his choice in costume, you knew he was fun and open-minded.
Hexar, you had a similar reaction to Natalie, noting how cute she looked in her pink leopard pajama pants and feeling like she was a girl with a fun streak.
Your love has taken you on many adventures together. From the excitement of your first date, to your first trip to Mexico, to Las Vegas where you spooned in the back of a passenger van during a running relay race, you two embrace new experiences together. And that was just the first 9-months! When I talked to your friends and family, the one word that kept coming up over and over again was “Adventure”. Together you have enjoyed beer all over Europe, climbed Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, and experienced Totality in Oregon. The most significant trip you took together – the one that brought us all here today – was to El Potrero Chico, in Mexico.
El Potrero holds a special place in Hexar’s heart, and now in Natalie’s as well. I can attest to the magic of this place, having helped Hexar pack up his worldly possessions to move there in 2010, then going down to visit him with a group of friends over Thanksgiving in 2011. He took Natalie there in November of last year, and after a campfire, Hexar put lantern lights in the shape of a heart and asked Natalie to spend the rest of her life with him. She said yes.

6. Solicit feedback from friends & family. I knew I wanted to incorporate well wishes from friends and family into the ceremony, so I asked both Natalie and Hexar to send me contact information for five people who would be willing to answer a few questions:
  • How do you know and how long have you known the bride/groom? 
  • If you had one word to describe her/him, what would it be? 
  • How have you seen the bride/groom change as a result of this relationship? 
  • If you had one wish for their marriage, what would it be? 
  • Anything else I should know?
I wish I could have used every answer, but I was able to incorporate a few and I think they really added to the ceremony.
You two will forever be changed as a result of this relationship. 
Natalie – your family and friends said that Hexar has helped you become more relaxed, flexible, and open. They’ve seen you embrace your adventurous side since being with Hexar, and your friend Andrea said that you’re glowing, clearly having the time of your life. You’ve said Hexar makes you feel grounded and has shown you what it means to be a good listener. You admire his patience, even though his driving can be a little grandma-ish for your taste. Thank you for loving Hexar so unconditionally. 
Hexar – your family and friends said that Natalie has helped you become more centered, vulnerable, and calm. They’ve seen you gain stability and a more positive outlook on life. Your brother Chris said this relationship has proven what he’s always known to be true: that with a partner in crime your potential is exponentially great, and he’s never seen you so driven, happy, and alive. You’ve said Natalie has shown you what a positive and healthy relationship can look like. You admire her deep compassion and loyalty to those she loves. Thank you for loving Natalie with your whole heart.

7. Get even more personal. Now that I had general feedback from the couple and personal feedback from their family and friends, I wanted to dig even deeper into the relationship of the couple. I knew Natalie for 15 years, and Hexar for 7, so I had my own ideas about their relationship, but it's always good to hear directly from the source. I sent them the below questions in advance, then sat down over a drink to discuss.
  • If you had to write an online dating profile for the other person, how would you describe him/her?
  • What was the first impression you had of the other?
  • When did you realize you were in love with the other person?
  • What are some of the most important things that you have learned from the other?
  • I am most excited to spend the rest of my life with my partner because...
  • If you could have one wish for the other, what would it be? (This question is especially great, because you can work it in later before the vows)
  • What are some of your best memories that you've shared with the other person? 
I used these answers to help tell the overall story, and also when putting together the vows:
Hexar, do you take Natalie to be your lawfully wedded wife. Do you vow to always keep her in mind, rely on her, and trust her? Do you promise to always make her feel loved and provided for, respected and listened to, and supported to be her own strong, independent person in all of your endeavors? Do you vow to always approach life together with wonder, silliness, and a sense of adventure? 
Natalie, do you take Hexar to be your lawfully wedded husband. Do you vow to always keep him in mind, rely on him, and trust him? Do you vow to always remember that you’re on the same team, while supporting him to be his own strong, independent person in all of your endeavors? Do you vow to always approach life together with wonder, silliness, and a sense of adventure?

8. Start writing already! Have you procrastinated enough? I sure did! I am the type of person who wants all of the information before diving in, so it was only two weeks until the wedding when I finally started writing. All of the pieces were in place: we knew which elements to include, we had the readings (and readers!) finalized, and I had answers to all of my questions. I will admit it took me a while to put words on paper. I had high hopes for the ceremony - plus the couple agreed to keep my convocation a surprise until the big day - and I wanted everything to be perfect. Don't let perfectionism hold you back. Start writing. Plagiarize if it helps you get started, then personalize it once you are feeling better.

9. Practice, practice, practice. Once you have a really solid final draft (and it's been approved by the couple), read it outloud. This will give you a sense of a) how long it is, and b) if anything needs to be reworded for speaking. Make your final changes, print it out (and print extra copies), find a fancy binder of some sorts to put it in, and practice some more. Stand in front of a mirror and read it to yourself. Read it to your friend on the way to the wedding. The day of the wedding, see if you can practice once in the ceremony location to get a sense for the space. Practice makes perfect, and you want to nail this!

10. Have fun! You've put in all of this work, and now is the time to give it your best. Remember to have fun! People will enjoy your ceremony that much more if you're relaxed, energetic, and smiling. Go out there and break a leg! And don't forget you need to sign the marriage certificate after!

Bonus: Wedding Video

Officiating this wedding was such an amazing, wonderful, humbling experience. I feel so blessed to have these two individuals in my life, and to have shared in their special day. For all the feels, including a listen to some of their personal vows, check out their amazing wedding video!

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