When it comes to weddings, as much as we love designing them and personalizing the look, feel, and details—what’s essentially at the core of the event is the start of the marriage. And we tend to leave that to the pros—the talented officiants that help a couple actually get hitched.
Back when Alison did her first wedding in 2002, she worked with Hank Basayne, a sweet man with a very gentle disposition. A man who would walk into the room and make you feel at ease just by his presence. Someone who thought before he spoke, said nice things about everyone around him, and was so calm when things went hectic. And earlier this year, over a decade later, when it came time for Alison to actually be the bride herself, she turned to Hank’s daughter, Lisa. “Lisa is the exact same way as her father. She really listens,” Alison said. “She listens to your story and navigates through everything that is important to you and then she customizes the ceremony to work for you. If you want God in the ceremony or if you want a more spiritual service she caters to your wishes. Markus and I spent about an hour with her on two occasions and she wrote the most beautiful ceremony that was so reflective of my husband and I. She suggested several readings as well that were so on point. Lisa is very special to me and to many of our clients.”
Now that Alison has worked with Lisa as both a planner and a bride, it’s only fitting to shed more light on her ability to create a ceremony befitting of each and every couple she encounters. But first a bit more background…
Lisa Francesca got a voice mail from her father around the time that Alison and Hank started working together. Hank, a humanist minister, left a message saying that he had ordained her online. It came as a surprise to Lisa, though she had shown an interest in ministering and he had trained her over the years, it wasn’t something she expected. After Lisa married a few couples she really grew a passion for it, and the way in which she could bring her writing and poetry skills to the forefront, completely tailoring each service. Now, 80 weddings later, she’s written a book, The Wedding Officiant’s Guide, which will be published by Chronicle at the end of the year! You can pre-order it right here!
Here, some tips to consider whether you’re the bride, groom, or helping out by officiating for a loved one. Certain ceremony milestones, such as the ring exchange and the recessional when the wedding party walks back up the aisle, tend to stay pretty much the same from wedding to wedding. But you and your officiant or celebrant can often craft a ceremony that is really unique. You can make the most significant changes in these three areas:
Write Your Own Vows
It’s not difficult to write meaningful vows. First, take some time to talk through the vow exchange as a couple: Will both of you recite the same vows, or will you each write your own? If you do the latter, will you show them to each other before the ceremony, or keep an element of surprise? Once you decide, it’s time to sit and reflect with a pen and a piece of paper (and maybe a mug of tea or glass of wine). Start with this simple pattern: think of a few things that you love about the other person. Jot them down. And then, think of a few promises you would like to make to your beloved. It can be very simple, and it must be from your heart. Later on, review what you wrote and see if you can polish it a little. That’s all there is to it. Print your vows once you have written them, and ask your officiant to hand them to you at the appropriate time during the ceremony. That way, since public speaking is a bit scary for nearly everyone, it will be a lot easier for you to simply read them and not have to memorize anything.
Many of us have heard the same classic wedding readings recited over and over. Consider choosing your readings from an unexpected source. In one wedding, a 12-year-old child stood and recited Edward Lear’s charming antique poem, “The Owl and the Pussycat.” All the guests agreed that the poem fit the couple perfectly. At another wedding, the groom himself recited a very modern poem to his bride that was written by NPR host, Garrison Keillor.
Finally, think about what kind of ritual you could add to your wedding ceremony that adequately communicates to your guests something about who you are. Not every couple needs to light a wedding candle. In fact, in many outdoor weddings, candles are not even allowed. Take the time to think about your own cultural background, your own tastes and desires, and those of your intended. Between the two of you, you may decide, for example, to have both a Jewish chuppa and a Chinese tea ceremony. Or you might bake bread that morning and share it with your guests. Sometimes a couple will leave the altar to embrace each other’s mother and give her a flower. That always draws smiles and a few tears from those assembled. Google “wedding rituals” to fire up your imagination.