Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Costume Party Weddings, etc.

Many officiants welcome the opportunity to dress in tights or don a "Star Wars" outfit. Some even struggle into scuba gear and marry couples in aquariums or in coral reefs.

The closest I come to entering the madcap world of "theme weddings" is helping couples tie the knot on Halloween. Since I usually wear black when I officiate, it doesn't seem to be much of a stretch.

Within reason, I am happy to accommodate whatever requests a couple makes that they feel will enhance their celebration. Within reason. I am not comfortable making a mockery of vows or rituals, and I don't like to be strong-armed into being the "straight man" for a wedding that is really a stand-up routine.

A wedding is also a contract between two people, and a pretty serious one at that. I don't ever want the impact of what is being done to be blunted by snickering, or guffaws. An occasion can be happy -- even playful -- without being crass.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

9-9-9, The Next Day

Natalie Stahl of Virgnia's House and I decided that we would offer a complete wedding for $99.90 on September 9, 2009 (9-9-9) just for fun. We knew that all the chapels were slammed in Vegas, and the Elvis impersonators were booked solid.

What we offered for less than a hundred dollar bill was a genuine Victorian house as the setting, a talented and gifted harpist playing real music, and an officiant with a customized ceremony reading from a custom-made booklet that would be given to the couple afterwards. We decided to allot an hour for each wedding, from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m.

We got exactly one couple who suspended disbelief and took advantage of our whimisical offer. They had a lovely wedding on a gorgeous evening for less than what it costs to take the family to the zoo.

We will absolutely do it again next year on 10-10-10, and probably 11-11-11 and 12-12-12. But to all the cynics out there saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" -- this time it wasn't. And by the way, congratulations to Tracie and Charles Inman. Have a long and happy life.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

'Civil' Ceremony

There is something about a wedding that creates an emotionally-charged atmosphere. Large or small, weddings generate energy. Whether that energy is positive or negative depends greatly on how people conduct themselves.

Maintaining a polite demeanor is always appropriate, regardless of the situation or the occasion. However, when navigating the potentially choppy waters of a wedding, it is imperative to say everything with an ear towards tone of voice, and a watchful eye on body language.

As an officiant, I have one firm rule: Nobody harasses the bride and groom on their wedding day. What they are getting ready to do is life-changing. If you have a bone to pick with somebody about something, wait until another day.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Get Real

It's no secret that it's hot in Phoenix in the summer. It's a tradition with us on the low desert. Despite the sizzle, many couples being married still opt for outdoor weddings, usually in the very early morning or the late evening. The vast majority of these ceremonies are more casual than their bib and tucker winter counterparts. However, there is the occasional couple who refuses to believe that their love can't fend off 110 degrees in the shade.

Believe me, it can't. And won't.

I quite willingly wade into the sunlight at all times of the year to officiate weddings. However, I appreciate the common sense of the summer couple who does not insist that their attendants be dressed in very formal attire, and that their guests not bake in the sun like popovers during the exchange of rings. Insider's tip: The unity candle should not flame up by itself.

I recently had the pleasure of marrying a couple who married poolside at their home at about 10:00 a.m. The guests were all quite comfortable because they were dressed in lightweight, comfortable clothes. The ceremony was long enough to be touching, but not so long that it was a trial.

The little ringbearer hid his floaties by the pool pump and said to me, "I get to go swimming later on if I don't make noise."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Writing Your Own Ceremony: Some Game Rules

Few things bring a chill to my heart any more quickly than the words, "We've already written our own ceremony."

When a couple's first encounter with me begins with this phrase, I can't help but wonder if I am being approached to be a sort of bureaucratic hand puppet. If the couple is willing for me to edit to allow for logistics, smooth ritual transition, and clarity, then I will usually agree.

However, I have recently been handed a script that jars me. It is ponderous, badly executed, and smug. It also puts words in my mouth that I would never utter, even at gunpoint. I have not decided how to handle the situation. It is too late for the couple to procure another officiant, so I am quite sure that in the end I will probably cave in and suffer through it. But just the thought of actually reading some of the lines the bride has written for me literally makes me shudder.

It's not a matter of ego on my part. It's a matter of professional ethics. I have performed hundreds of weddings, and have taken great pains to make them occasions of dignity, and skillfully created celebration. I also studied for several years so I would know what in the heck I am doing.

If you are determined to DIY regarding your ceremony, may I suggest the following?:
1. Ask the officiant if he/she minds working from a script.
2. Decide if you would be willing for the officiant to edit the ceremony so that his or her comfort level is sustained.
3. Determine if you are willing to take suggestions as to how the ritual action might be enhanced.
4. Finally, ask the officiant if he or she objects to speaking dialogue that has been written for him or her. And, determine if you are willing for the officiant to have some say so over what is being said.

I haven't felt this queasy since I had a really stupid piece I had to play at a piano recital. In an attempt to comfort me, my mother said, "When it's over, you'll never have to see these people again."

Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Commitment Ceremonies -- They're Not Just for Same Sex Couples

I have presided at many commitment ceremonies where couples celebrated love and dedication. A number of them were held on behalf of same sex couples, who are prevented from marrying legally in our state. However, quite a few involved men and women who were moved to make public proclamations of their intent to remain together. One couple was engaged, and wanted a private observance of their promises to each other. Another couple was elderly, and could not afford the financial hit that marrying legally would deal them in terms of Social Security. One woman was quickly losing her father to cancer, and he wanted to hear with his ears that his future son-in-law planned to sign on for the duration with his daughter.

Whatever the reason, commitment ceremonies are intensely personal -- sometimes seemingly more so than many weddings.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Paper Trail

Many of the weddings I officiate are held outdoors. The very nature of an outdoor wedding is, well, nature.

I do not understand why a bride in the outback (or on the golf course, in the garden, or by the ocean), tries to put down a white paper aisle runner. These runners are all doomed to either fly up in the air like a roll of Charmin gone wild, or worse yet, wrap around the shoes of every bridesmaid trying to make her way to the front. I have had little flower girls lifting their feet high like ponies in the snow, trying to keep from tripping.

Please, brides, save yourself some trouble and just say no to paper aisle runners. They are at best a source of comic relief, but they can actually pose a hazard.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nerves Know No Gender

Plenty is said about bride's nerves, bridezillas, and wedding jitters. It has been my experience that many grooms are just as susceptible to stress as brides.

I have had several weddings with a cool as a cucumber bride, and a completely torqued groom. Recently, one young man was so certain that it was going to rain on his garden wedding (it didn't) that he hyperventilated. Another worried about the color of the linens for the reception until I finally reminded him that the entire affair would be by lowered light, and if there was a faint discrepancy, nobody would notice.

I do whatever I can to get both halves of a couple delivered into marital bliss. As one groom-to-be told me, "I have no doubts about marriage. It's the wedding that's scaring me."

An hour later, he was the proud owner of a new ring, and he was fine. However, I was ready for a nap.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Outdoor Wedding Alcohol Etiquette

I officiate many outdoor weddings, and the level of formality ranges from none at all, to "cathedral under the stars." In general, I leave the tone and environmental attitude of the occasion up to the couple. As long as everybody is comfortable, then I'm happy.

However, it is imperative that the bride and groom not be sabatoged by their own vendors -- particularly their bartenders. At a recent garden wedding, the professional bartender plied the waiting wedding guests with mixed drinks and alcohol before the ceremony began, and within seconds of it actually starting. The groom, who was nervous anyway, wasn't happy that so many of the guests were feeling little pain by the time the bride made her way to the gazebo. Fortunately, everybody in attendance was relatively well-behaved, and we got through the wedding ceremony without serious incident.

If you are planning an outdoor wedding but want to prevent the time before the ceremony from becoming a tailgate party, instruct the bartender to serve only water and non-alcoholic beverages until after the ceremony. You have the right to establish some ground rules. It's your day. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

eBay is Okay

Times are tough, but the tough are shopping eBay for wedding necessities.

As an officiant, I have made good use of eBay's offerings for such items as stoles, robes, and supplies for booklets. During my shopping forays, I have also taken the opportunity to see what other wedding-related items are available. What I found is that almost anything and everything you can imagine is available on eBay.

In my opinion, the best bargains are frequently found with non-professional sellers, or individuals who are selling personal items are not running an online store, per se.

However, rings, dresses, centerpieces, arches, decorations, beauty supplies -- EVERYTHING -- is there. So make a shopping list, set a budget, and give yourself enough time to hunt down what you need.

Outdoor Weddings -- Expect the Unexpected

I love outdoor weddings. They are almost always more personal and relaxed, less intimidating, and good natured -- unless nature isn't good.

Some brides and grooms can't handle rain, wayward birds, golfers who have been to the drink cart too many times and insist on playing through, and curious bees. Depending on the venue, there may be a number of factors over which you have no control if your wedding is under the open skies. Weather is the obvious bugaboo. And so is ambient noise. It's not always man-made, either. I officiated at one wedding where the birds were so excited about the music being played that they joined in and nearly drowned out all other sounds. I also had to delay a wedding for almost a half hour when an enormous flock of birds landed in a tree under which the ceremony was to be held. The birds weren't moving, so we had to.

However, I will repeat my first statement: I love outdoor weddings. I would just urge you to consider your own likes and dislikes before you opt for the great outdoors instead of the relative safety of a hotel, chapel, or large living room. If you need every detail to be perfect, get married inside. If you don't, you may feel like you are on a camping trip wearing prom clothes.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Etiquette -- It's Not the Law

My mother wrote etiquette books and was considered a true expert on the subject. Believe me, I know the proscribed manner for doing almost anything -- including when to set the book aside.

Etiquette came into being to help make interaction between people less stressful, and to give everybody a sense of security in knowing that as long as certain dos and don'ts were followed, everybody could be more comfortable.

Or, that was the general idea...

I have seen fistfights almost break out over what should and shouldn't go on at a wedding. Please take my word for it, no rulebook or tradition is as important as preserving the J-O-Y that is supposed to be the centerpiece of the occasion. If a bride wants her mother and stepmother to walk her down the aisle and all are in agreement, then that is what should happen. If a groom wants to walk his bride up the aisle, with the bride's father on the other side, then just be quiet and take in the smiles.

The bottom line is this: whatever is meaningful to the couple, short of a live sacrifice, should be absorbed with grace and good humor by everybody else. Moms, I'm looking right at you now, and I want you to repeat this mantra: "It's not my wedding, it's not my wedding, it's not my wedding."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Candle In the Wind

The unity candle has become an integral part of weddings. It has assumed a ritual action of its own, and is most frequently lit after the exchange of vows and the exchange of rings.

Outdoor weddings are also immensely popular, and becoming more so as couples being married look for ways to trim their budgets. Therefore, the trusty unity candle is being called into service in settings that are not completely stable in terms of wind velocity.

How can you be more certain that your flame doesn't flicker and die right there in front of your family and friends?

Replace the wick with one of those trick birthday candles that won't blow out. You may need to drill out the old wick of your candle, and please practice on an old generic candle before you wield either power or hand tools. But once you have replaced the wick, you are almost assured a constant flame, even if conditions are on the breezy side. If a full force gale or tornado arises, you've got more problems that a lit candle can help and you need to seek shelter -- where the candle will burn quite nicely.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wedding Rose

If white surrounds us on this day,
then let the rose be red.
It speaks the truth:
Pure love from passion’s heart.
Petals soft and folded 'round
beauty left inside,
a miracle tomorrow.

May this day bloom as roses do,
when sun is
free of ice and fire.
And let the rose be red.
Sweet perfection in your hand,
flower holding flower.

© 2007, Jody Serey

Prayer for New Angel

Loving God, into Your tender hands we place one tiny child.

Her spirit has been Yours since the day she left the dark,
glimpsed the light, and knew the dark once more.

We honor her with what is ours to offer,
and remember that Your son was laid to rest in a borrowed place.

We look now to You to raise her up beyond all anger and despair.

Keep her ever in Your sight, a treasure for all times. She is Your pearl above price.

Surround her with love that never ends. Keep her in beauty and in peace, away from pain and fear. Be her guardian, her guide, and the comfort denied her on this earth.

Cherish her as we could not. Let her find in You a mother’s love and father’s joy.

Innocent and perfect, she is Your angel now.


copyright 2005, Jody Serey

A Prayer for Miss Pokey

If the last is first,
And peacemakers are blessed,
Then your place is at the foot
Of whatever angel meets us all
When we climb the stairs to
Where you’ll be.

Cherubims aside,
There is no heaven without friends
Whose four legs have walked
The rocky roads
That we have known, and
Stumbled on.

Let the saints
Do their work as well
As you have done yours.
Rest deep in the hearts
Of the ones who knew
Your soul.

copyright 2005, Jody Serey

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Don't Ask

As an officiant, there are certain things I will not do. I am happy to perform both religious and non-religious ceremonies, but I will not participate in anything negative. If a ritual action is requested of me that pushes my "creepy button," I will take a pass on doing it. Scented smoke is one thing. A goat's head or any effigy with pins is a whole other story.

I will also not put a signed and witnessed marriage license through the shredder instead of in the mail box because a groom had too much to drink at the reception and got overly friendly with a bridesmaid. I am happy to help a couple celebrate a commitment ceremony (one-sex or two-sex partners), but I will not "pretend" to legally marry somebody who can't actually tie the knot in the eyes of the state. I will also not impersonate an elected official, Elvis Presley, or any of a wide range of prophets and dieties.

If none of these "won'ts" interfere with your plans, I will most definitely be happy to help with your big day.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Regarding Robes and Riches

Most conversations these days soon turn to money, and couples planning weddings hear all kinds of talk. Perhaps the most difficult entity to evaluate in terms of fairness of fees is the officiant. Other goods and services are far easier to evaluate. However, the person actually performing the ceremony is not so easy to pin down.

As an officiant, I hold the personal view that one should not look at couples being married as merely an income stream. Even the most sophisticated of bride or groom is vulnerable to the whims of the celebrant conducting the ceremony. I am not suggesting that the service be considered a charitable donation, or a love offering. However, I do hold that even the couple in very modest circumstances deserves an articulately crafted and presented service, that respects their particular beliefs and cultures, and resonates with their preferences. A cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all, fill-in-the-blanks wedding ceremony is unacceptable -- especially if it comes with a price tag in the hundreds of dollars (or more).

When asked why my rates are low, I reply that it's a matter of ethics with me. Just because I could charge more does not mean that it is right -- or necessary -- to do so.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Cure for the Wedding Bell Blues

It's no secret that it's rough out there, and many couples are settling for a quickie civil ceremony at city hall -- which offers about as much sentimental substance as buying a trout stamp for your fishing license.

My friend Natalie Stahl -- who is the owner and proprietor of the lovely Victorian-era Virginia's House in historic Glendale, Arizona that is the site of many lovely weddings -- has come up with a package that can only be truly appreciated if you know the quality of the offerings involved:

Natalie says:

Virginia’s House is now offering “mini” weddings and receptions for around $1,600! It’s our chance to help people have a great wedding for up to 25 people without breaking the bank.

Here’s what it includes:

Three-four hour time block with all the features of a full-sized wedding (see “features” at www.virginiashouse.com)
Celebrational ceremony officiated by Jody Serey of Spirit and Light (
Fabulous catering by amici catering (
Delicious cake by Truffle Trolley (
www.truffletrolley.com), complete with 6-inch anniversary cake
The comforts of a "home" wedding without the headaches!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th(s)

What else can you say about a year that has three Friday the 13ths in it? February, March, and November 2009 all contain the day that is secretly dreaded and publicly poo-pooed by most of us.

I'm neutral on the topic, but will admit that last month I had a spectacularly horrible day, and didn't even realize it was Friday the 13th until I glanced at the calendar. Suddenly, it all made sense. It was also the week of the full moon, as it is again this month.

I'm halfway through this Friday the 13th and so far the day has been uneventful. Even my phone calls from brides have been routine, and devoid of emergencies.

So, I've got my fingers crossed. And my lucky coin on my desk. And a couple of purple candles lit. And not a ladder in sight to walk under...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Recession: Don't Take It Personally

These are strange days. The economy has brought out many different traits in people that were less obvious in more rosy times. However, many folks insist on pushing forward as if nothing has changed, when in fact everything seems a bit "off," if not downright scary.

All things wedding have been impacted, too. Bridal budgets are strained, and couples are planning honeymoons with an eye not only on location but also on timing, as in, "If I take time off now to go, will it jeopardize my job?"

I have noticed that brides and grooms -- who for the most part used to be an exceedingly polite demographic group -- have gotten far more budget sensitive than in former days. I have always prided myself on being affordable, as I treat my officiant work more as a public outreach and less as hard-nosed business. However, I think that if I quoted a quarter somebody would try to negotiate three nickles plus a table grace.

An unwelcome trend has been the occasional hijacking of my work. Asking to see samples of past ceremonies is acceptable. Asking for samples, then having a friend or relative use one to marry you is not.

The irony is, I have always been generous about permitting my work to be used free of charge. All one has to do is ask. I also keep some basic ceremonies posted on my website which are there for general use by whoever wants to print off a copy.

It would be easy to get thin-skinned about the shift in the air temperature even in a wedding climate. However, it would also be a mistake. The public is simply extremely uneasy about the current state of affairs. Their periodic forays into bad behavior are not personal attacks.

When dealing with the public, it is important to remember that you are just a blip on their collective radar screen, and right now it all looks like incoming.

Try to gracious, patient, and magnanimous. Fake it if you have to.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Flower Dogs and Ring Kitties -- Pets in a Wedding

I couldn't help but notice a recent advice column that was approached for advice by a young woman who was being married, and who wanted her long-time companion beagle to be included in her ceremony. Her rationale was that the beagle had been there for her -- and with her -- for almost every important occasion of her life, and the bride-to-be didn't see why she should lock away her best friend on such a big day.

The advice columnist suggested that the bride ask her wedding officiant whether or not he/she would have any objections to the presence of a bridal beagle.

As an officiant with hundreds of weddings behind me, I can say in all honesty that I have seldom had a poodle get tipsy and pass out in the lobby of the hotel right before the pictures were to be taken. Not once has a Persian cat exposed a risque tattoo with her low-cut gown, and I have never, ever had to retrieve a retriever from the back of the altar where he was playing with the matches meant to light the unity candle.

My advice to any couple wanting to include a pet in their wedding ceremony is to ask these questions: 1. Has the fur baby had his or her shots, and is he or she in reasonably good health? 2. Does the fur baby mind crowds, and is he or she friendly? 3. Can somebody else assume complete responsibility for your fur baby after the ceremony, or is there time enough between the wedding and the reception to take the fur baby back home again? 4. And probably most important of all, will the venue you have selected for your wedding permit your fur baby to enter the premises?

If most of your answers are "yes," and I am the one being asked, then this officiant has no objections whatsoever to including Mittens or Rowdy. In fact, almost any pet at all is easier to fold gracefully into a ceremony than a two-year old ringbearer with jet lag, no nap, and a loaded diaper.

Friday, March 6, 2009

One Wedding, Many Cultures

I received the call in the middle of the afternoon. A man's voice said, "My children want to be married. Can you help me?"

After some gentle questioning, I learned the following: his children were his daughter and his daughter's sweetheart. His daughter was Muslim, his future son-in-law was Christian. He had given his blessing to them both, because as he told me, "They are in love. They are good people. We are all good people. But nobody will marry them. We have the license."

I said to him, "I think I can help."

I talked to the father about what his family envisioned for a ceremony for the young woman and young man. They said it would be held at home, and then there would be a big dinner for everybody.

When I arrived, there was a blur of activity. The bride was told to stay in her room so that nobody would see her, but she kept opening the door and peeking out. The families of the bride and groom were still arranging flowers, and food was piled on plates in the kitchen -- ready for the celebration.

The father of the bride introduced me to the groom with the words, "This is my son, Mario."

We performed the wedding on the back patio, which had been decorated with potted plants and lights. About a half dozen very tiny little girls proceeded up the make-shift aisle ahead of the bride, sprinkling rose petals. Everywhere the couple walked after the wedding, a little girl in a very fancy dress proceeded with petals. The guests included Muslims, Christians of several denominations, and every neighbor within a block radius of the house.

Everybody cried, everybody cheered, and everybody ate and drank and celebrated. For several hours there was no recession going on, there was no talk of politics or war, and there was nothing at work but hope and happiness.

It was a wonderful afternoon. It was glimpse into how things could be.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hiring Me

When a couple secures the services of an officiant for their wedding, renewal of vows, or commitment ceremony, the primary consideration should be how good the chemistry is between them and the man or woman who is going to be entering their lives for a brief but very important period of time. Too often, the first question I field is, "How much do you charge?"

It's a loaded question for me, because my rates are very low compared to what is the average going rate here locally. To some, my affordability seems to imply lesser quality. This does not happen to be the case. I am not only a skilled celebrant, but I am also a professional writer by trade. I just happen to think that every couple should have the highest quality ceremony possible, and that price should not hobble what I consider to be my "calling."

For others, any fee quoted above $25 isn't welcome news, and it wouldn't matter how good my work was, the dent the fee put in the beer budget would be of major concern.

My fee is also inclusive -- meaning everything is covered with one figure. I don't bill extra for the rehearsal, mileage, or overtime. I know most officiants have line items that can appear on an invoice, but I do not. I try to select my weddings carefully, based on what will be needed of me in my capacity as officiant, and what the expectations are of the couple.

I try to give a couple as much creative leeway as possible with their ceremony. As a longtime liturgist, I understand the importance of engaging (at least emotionally) the gathered family and guests in what is going on. Therefore, I try to listen carefully to what the couple tells me about what they want, what they may want to do themselves, and what they may want members of the community to do. And, if they simply want to stand quietly while I lead them through some carefully selected words, that's fine, too.

Nobody has to get married or make a public commitment these days. Nobody. So when a couple reaches the point in their lives that they want to say out loud what they have been saying to each other, it's my privilege to be there to help.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Getting Married at Home, 1

Home weddings are my favorite. They range from simple to absolutely splendid, but to me they all share a common feature -- they feel "real."

I have never walked back to my car after a home wedding and felt that the newly joined couple waving goodbye in the doorway didn't understand what had just transformed their existence. I have tipped a valet and left many a quasi-coronation and wondered if the newlyweds at the reception in the grand ballroom had a clue in the world.

Disasters seem smaller at home weddings, and schedules are more relaxed and fluid. There is a hospitality factor possible that can't be duplicated at an outside venue, and a coziness (even at the fanciest of at home celebrations) that is impossible to match.

I will write often about home weddings, because they are being rediscovered and deserve their rightful place on a couple's list of options.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why Get Married?

I hear myself say quite often, "Nobody has to get married these days."

Almost any of us can name at least one couple who has been happily together for years without the assistance of paperwork declaring them "married." this does ot necessarily mean that the companions do not rely on other forms of documentation to maintain their lives -- living wills, durable power of attorneys, guardianships, etc.

However, because nobody has to get married, I think that almost any two people who want to be married to each other, should be. There are exceptions, of course. I also believe that love, however it is defined by the couple involved, should be the centerpiece of the marriage. And I always hope that the strength of a committed relationship is measured in trust and genuine affection.

Why get married? Everybody's reasons are different. However, one young man summed up his decision by saying, "I just want her to know every day that I am really serious about being there for her always. And I want everybody else to know it, too."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Weddings In a Recession, Part 1

Much like Valentine's Day, the contemporary wedding has been hijacked by retail establishments intent on cashing in on somebody's magic moment. Fueled by reality shows and bridal expos, the madness reached a crescendo with nuptials resembling a cross between a coronation and a prom on steroids.

As a long-time wedding officiant, I am secretly grateful for the reality check that has come calling on the wedding industry. I am also relieved that the average bride is beginning to understand that one can go down the aisle in a dress that costs less than thousands and still be legally married at the end of the process.

Budget-sensitive does not have to mean cheap, and economical does not have to equal tacky. A wedding can be everything a bride has ever hoped for, and still be affordable.