Here are some further helpful thoughts for the new officiant -- and the wedding couple. 1. The SHAPE of the ceremony How is a wedding like a crucible, and how is it like an hourglass? A crucible, for anyone not actively practicing chemistry or alchemy, is a container or a situation in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.
A wedding is like a crucible because you pour two people into it and they emerge transformed – not as one person, of course, but as a newly married entity.
For the wedding officiant, it can be a little confusing as to where to place all those alchemical elements in order to get the desired transformation. For example, why do the vows tend to come with the ring exchange? Why do some couples choose readings? Why does the kiss come last? That’s when it is helpful to think about the wedding as an hourglass.
In this digital age, I feel compelled to define what an hourglass is. It’s how we used to keep track of time. An hourglass is a glass vessel divided into two compartments by a very narrow waist. Sand pours down from one end of the vial to the other in the space of an hour. (If you happen to still own one, it can be an effective and quiet timekeeper for meditation sessions.)
As you can imagine, the wedding starts with a bunch of scattered elements (aka relatives and friends) arriving together at an agreed-upon place and time. That’s why we officiants start by acknowledging out loud why we are here, “gathered together,” so everyone can start on the same beat.
The rituals and readings slowly funnel everyone’s attention to the key spot, the narrow waist of the hourglass, which is when the crucible effect – the transformation – takes place. After that, we open things back up again, and generally end with a community gathering such as the wedding reception.
2. You CAN Write Your Own Wedding Vows Some couples just want to say “I do.” Others are happy to simply repeat the traditional, “For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” And still others want to write their own vows.
There is no wrong way or right decision; only what is most comfortable for you. If speaking aloud during your wedding is an unwanted load of pressure on an already full day, don’t do it. On the other hand, if you are comfortable reading a vow you’ve written beforehand, here is a sweet template to get you started. Once you’re started, feel free to throw out the template.
Lisa’s throwaway template: (Name), I love you because. . . . I love your . . . I love that you . . . And how you make me . . . I promise that . . . . And I promise to . . . .
A few more thoughts: At a minimum, try to write five or seven lines.. At maximum, anything longer than a page is a little rough on your guests. If you are a funny person, it’s OK to add a touch of humor. If you have gone through very difficult circumstances with your beloved, you can mention this, but overall, try to keep everything in the vows positive and upbeat.
Some couples feel better if they know what each other will say, so they write or review their vows together. Others prefer to keep them secret from each other until the ceremony. If you choose the latter, try to let each other know how long your vow will be for a better balance.
It’s best to jot them down. Trying to memorize them adds another element of risk, which might keep you from being fully present during your wedding ceremony.
Finally, don't be afraid to try writing your vows. If they come from your heart, there is no wrong way to write them!
3. Why the hanky is essential for all officiants When you officiate at a wedding, carry a handkerchief. It should be soft, with no scratchy embellishments. It should be small enough to hide in your sleeves or notebook. You might even consider carrying one to the wedding rehearsal.
Consider that the bride has (usually) just spent hours having her makeup carefully applied. Yes, it is romantic when tears come to her eyes; that means she is fully engaged in the process of the wedding, and something has moved her deeply. At the same time, she does not want her mascara running down her cheeks, nor does she want her nose to run. Help her retain her maximum photographic advantage. Whip out your hanky and let her delicately blot the tears away.
During my dozen years of officiating, I have also used that hanky to swish away enthusiastic bees from a bride's fresh-flower headdress, and to help a bride mop away the "glow" from marrying on a hundred-plus degree summer day.
The groom is just as likely to tear up. He often has a nicely folded handkerchief in his breast pocket, but yours is more convenient while he reads his vow.
Make sure you are not emotionally invested in the handkerchief, because in the ensuing chaos after the ceremony, it won't make its way back to you.
4. Self care, just before your wedding ceremony My father, Hank Basayne, and his writing partner, Linda Janowitz wrote these wise words below more than 30 years ago:
You have a choice. You can either be apprehensive, worried about all the last minute details, rushed, confused, tense, anxious - or you can be relaxed, savoring every precious moment of this rich experience, leaving yourself open to delight, joy, and happiness.
How you prepare for The Day and how you choose to experience it is entirely up to you. Here are some hints that may make your wedding day easier and more like the day you want it to be.
Decide not to let anything hassle you Sure there's too much to do. You may never have done this before, but there are many people who want to help you. Delegate! Make this a day when you start sentences with "Would you please do me a favor...?" Don't take on the anxiety of others-parents, your soon-to-be-spouse, jittery friends, anyone. Decide that you will be an island of serenity in the sea of chaos.
Indulge yourself! If you like to sleep late, have everything out of the way the night before so that you start the day in the best possible mood. Give yourself enough time for a long bath or shower, time to dress carefully, a chance to go for a quiet walk or eat a leisurely meal. Pamper yourself in the ways that you know best - get your hair just so or get an extra special shave, take time with the kids, have a telephone visit with your best friend, or just take time to be by yourself. Don't wait until the last minute to leave for the wedding: you have enough on your mind today and you don't need a speeding ticket. Be good to yourself.
Quiet Time You've selected someone you trust to oversee the details. Now give yourself the seclusion you deserve, before the ceremony. Choose whether you will spend this quiet time together or alone, and then find a quiet, private place where you can contemplate what you are about to do.
Expect the unexpected Every effective planner plans for the unanticipated: the humorous remark of a small child during a serious moment in the ceremony; a misplaced ring; a lost best man; a late wedding cake. These can try your patience and ingenuity. Face each unexpected occurrence with ease and good humor. Your guests are not critics. They bring tons of goodwill. They're with you to share your joy. Your mood will set the mood for those around you.
Let the wedding unfold! You've done the hard part. You've checked the checklists and delegated tasks to others; you've covered all the bases. From now on the wedding takes on a life of its own. There's a beginning, middle, and end. Let it happen. It's going to be great!
(Shared with permission from Weddings: The Magic of Creating Your Own Ceremony, 1999)
5. A reader wondered about how to be both officiant and Mother of the bride. What a great question!
My father was a Humanist minister and he taught me how to officiate at weddings. When I was ready to commit to Mark, a second marriage for us both, we asked Dad to officiate. We married in October, in a beautiful waterside restaurant, and then sat down with our 70 guests for dinner.
Most people knew that Dad was a wedding officiant, so it wasn’t surprising to the guests. Since he was already up at the ‘altar’ area, I walked down the aisle unaccompanied. That suited us both well.
I still have the ceremony he wrote for us in a red folder. When I reviewed it for this post, I was reminded that Dad had his private opinions about the existence of an Almighty, but because Mark and I requested a way to bring our faith to the forefront, he wove in phrases such as “With God ever present,” and “God, bless these rings,” etc. He wore a black judge’s robe during the ceremony and the removed it and became a dinner guest, and father of the bride, afterward.
It’s important to make it clear to the guests that your role of parent is different from your role as officiant. Here are some things to consider:
The officiant is often the first one at the altar, so that will be a strong first signal to the guests that you are playing an unusual role. A parent might have to give up the idea of accompanying her/his child down the aisle, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. What does your couple want?
As you write your homily, avoid adding stories about when your child was young. You are here to direct their future, not to reminisce (you can do that later, over dinner).
Avoid ad-lib jokes or opinions during the process of interviewing your couple, and during the ceremony itself. The couple is looking to you to be their anchor in a very overwhelming time. On the other hand, feel free to beam at them with love.
Try not to weep during the ceremony. The best way to do this is to rehearse your lines in front of the mirror, pretty much once a day until you feel ready. It doesn’t hurt to tuck a hankie in your pocket, though.
It would be very helpful for you to don a robe or a special jacket or even some kind of stole during the ceremony, so that it is clear that you have stepped out from your usual role. When you recess back up the aisle, go find a minute alone to collect yourself and breathe. You did it! Then remove that clothing item before you rejoin the party.
Remember to sign the license and get it witnessed!
A special word about rehearsal. It will be so very helpful during rehearsal if you can get Someone Else to orchestrate the practice processional and recessional, and line up the unruly and giggling wedding party. Let that Someone Else run around and holler, but not you. Once everyone is in line you can step in as the Officiant Authority, explain how the ceremony will go, and step away with poise and dignity intact. There, you have succeeded already as both parent and officiant.
I hope you will take a moment, actually several moments, to feel very proud. If your child has asked you to officiate at their wedding, your relationship must be pretty special.
6. Acknowledging the Deceased in a Wedding Ceremony It’s not uncommon for one or both of the wedding couple to have parents who have passed away.
L.R. recently wrote to me and asked if there is an appropriate way to incorporate the memory of deceased parents into the wedding ceremony. She went on to add, “We want this to be a happy moment and I want to be careful not to turn it into a memorial service.” At the same time, as she said, “This is a cherished moment when they should be present and it will give her comfort taking this big step in her life.”
When I thank people for coming to the wedding, after opening the ceremony, I often say, “We also want to acknowledge those important people who are not sitting with us today.” If someone couldn't travel for health or other reasons, or is serving overseas, this is a good time to name them.
Then I say, “And especially, (the deceased person’s name or names). He (or she, or they) ARE here in spirit, and in our hearts.” It is perfectly OK to have a poignant moment in an otherwise cheerful ceremony, and it allows everyone to welcome the memory of those people into the gathering.
As an alternative, the couple could place a photo or two of the parents or loved ones at the sign-in or gift area in the reception. The photos could be happy, so they are easily remembered with joy. Might there be a wedding photo of them?
In some ceremonies, I’ve seen the couple come down the aisle together before the ceremony started, and quietly light a votive candle in front of photos of the deceased parents. No words were spoken; some guests understood and others didn't see it, but it was a sweet and solemn gesture before a joyful occasion.
Finally, if there were particularly characteristic phrases or funny things the parents or loved ones were known for, your couple might like to have some of that woven into your celebrant's address. For example, you could mention that a sense of humor is critical to a long, good marriage (it is!), and thank goodness the bride got a boatload of humor from her dear parents.
I would choose 2-3 possibilities, then try to have an informal chat with your couple to see what sounds most desirable to them. My couples always appreciated knowing about that part long before the big day.