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:
- 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.