At one wedding in Saratoga during my first summer of officiating, I started out with significantly less confidence than usual. For one thing, I had put on a new white robe at the bride's request. This thick, polyester garment had puffy sleeves, each large enough to hold a toddler, rendering me less of an attractive judge-figure and more like the Pillsbury dough boy.
Also, the bride's parents had flown in from the Philippines, and she was the only one of their nine children who had chosen to get married in a restaurant instead of the Catholic church. Her groom was a Methodist computer programmer from the Midwest, and he had an eight-year old son. The bride's parents were polite when I was introduced as the officiant, but frosty, and clearly distressed.
I went to find my quiet spot which, since the guests were already streaming into the restaurant, was the ladies' room. I rinsed my hands and gazed at my scared face in the mirror. Elaborate rituals lay ahead that I had only performed in my mind; there were more than twenty "aunties and uncles" to be named.
It was showtime. After a brother-in-law's several attempts, it appeared that the processional music would not issue from the CD player, so we proceeded anyway.
The bride appeared on her unsmiling father's arm, trembling and looking at the carpet. Once I saw her I ceased to care about the parents or my puffy robe or anything else but her comfort. She took her groom's hand, still trembling, and he gazed at her with palpable adoration. She must have sensed it, or perhaps heard the warmth in my voice as I spoke, because she stilled, raised her eyes, grew perceptibly taller and blossomed into a queen. The rituals proceeded smoothly: candles were lit, aunties and uncles ceremoniously bound and unbound the couple with lariats of white flowers, and we all listened quietly together as golden coins were poured from hand to hand.
"Promise never to take each other for granted," I told them using phrases my father had freely shared with me. "Remind yourselves often of what it was that drew you together. Take the time to make your partner feel special. . . a good marriage takes time and effort, courage and commitment." As they kissed, a sunbeam fell through the window. They were married. I gathered my witnesses' signatures and made my way to the door.
"Wait!" It was the bride's father, a statue of dignity and suppressed emotion. "I'll speak to you."
"Yes," I said, and we walked to the lobby. I faced him, wondering what would come next. Would this polite, stern gentleman frown and assure me that ours was not a valid wedding, performed outside of a church? He stood silent for a few moment, searching for something inside.
"When I come, I'm not sure about all this," he began, waving his hand to the crowded dining room behind us. I nodded; it must have been difficult to accept. "And the things you said, I did not ever hear those words before. Ever." I nodded again. "But," he paused, "I heard your words," and he put his hand on his chest, "and my heart. . . broke open." Then he smiled, and his eyes were wet. "My heart wept tears of joy."
He held out a warm hand and as I shook it, we beamed at each other. As he rejoined his family, I opened the door and slipped out into the sunny, quiet street.
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.
What about when it is your first time officiating at a wedding, and you are a parent as well? I think 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:
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!
There are certain mistakes that even smart couples might make while planning their wedding. Inadvertently making them can cause no end of anxiety and distress before the wedding and even during it.
For example, if you are planning your wedding, are you absolutely clear as to who financially owns the event? If you and your betrothed are covering the cost completely, you can call all the shots. If someone else, usually one or more set of parents, is footing the bill, you will need to gather all your diplomatic skills and negotiate so that both you and the "event owner" are satisfied with the wedding. This may mean saying, "Aunt Jane, as long as everything is buttercream yellow and I carry roses, I don't care who you invite or what we eat."
Or, "Dad, we are paying for this and it will remain a vegan, gluten-free, and alcohol-free wedding, so just deal with it." Just make sure you get this kind of clarity early in the process. There's no worse wedding guest than a festering family resentment!
In some ways, the wedding ceremony is the smallest physical part of the wedding day. It usually doesn’t go on past 40 minutes (unless a church service is involved), a far smaller allotment of time than the reception, the preparations, or even the picture taking with family. And in terms of financial cost, the ceremony itself is usually tiny compared to such things as feeding all your guests, hiring the band or the florist, or wearing that ultimate dress.
Despite its smallness in proportion, people agree that the wedding ceremony itself is the most magical and sacred few moments of your wedding day. Consider that you arrive at your wedding ceremony as two distinct individuals. The ceremony itself is a crucible for transformation, and after certain words and rituals you will emerge from the other side as two (still distinct) individuals who are joined in the eyes of their community, beginning to walk on the path of one life together.
Somehow, planning the wedding ceremony often gets lost among the shuffle of searching for your venue, tasting cakes, and calling up transportation companies. And that’s why even smart and conscious brides and grooms can easily overlook some important action items. Like setting aside time to think about writing your vows, or whether you even want to. And don't wait until the last minute to choose or book your officiant. Many couples have been unpleasantly shocked to find that officiants are already booked, and have been so for months.
When you don’t clearly think through these issues, a general miasma of anxiety begins to rise up around the wedding which makes planning not so much fun for anyone. Fortunately, you can settle these issues fairly quickly and release a great deal of tension from the planning process.
My grown daughter and I went to Macy’s to find her a dress for her cousin’s wedding. The guidelines were, “Nice, festive but not too formal, like you were going to a Sunday service or a garden party.” Peggy tried on three dresses, then three more.
She showed me each one, and also took pics of herself on her cell phone and sent them to Lorraine, her BFF, who was doing the same thing from another dressing room in a different city.
Peggy looked adorable in pretty much everything. But she couldn’t see it, at first. She grew anxious.
And that’s when this blog started to form itself in my mind. Because we are all, really, cute as a button, but when we get into that dressing room and look into the mirror, all we see are the jiggly parts, the pale skin, the hair that just isn’t working, etc. We don’t see the whole picture.
I remember trying on wedding dresses, in fact, and I couldn’t find a single one (in my price range) that I loved, and I came away that day feeling like a failure. Like I wasn't made for wedding dresses.
Silly girl! As Stacy and Clinton would say, “You didn’t fail, it’s the DRESS that failed YOU.”
Finally Peggy put four dresses on hold so we could go and think about it. Our blood sugar was around our ankles.
Over lunch we examined the photos on her phone. As the sandwich and salad went to work, Peggy realized that they all looked pretty good. Rather, she looked good. Then it was just a matter of deciding which image she wanted to portray. Miami beach babe, or elegance and pizzazz, or free spirit in a mini toga.
We went back to Macy’s. She narrowed the choice to two equally spectacular looks, and finally decided. I think she’ll feel like a million bucks at the wedding.
So brides, listen up:
You are beautiful and you are loved.
Sizes are arbitrary, cuts of cloth can be weird, and if it doesn’t work, it wasn’t you, there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just the dress. Cast that old thing aside and try another.
Here are some thoughts about weddings, writing, and the world. Enjoy.