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.