Saturday, June 29, 2019

Professional Officiant vs. Your Facebook Friend "Who Got Ordained"

There's a variety of opinions regarding having a friend officiate at your wedding. As a professional wedding officiant, of course I want to maximize my own business, so my opinion that it's generally not a good idea is a bit self-serving, but nonetheless, it's generally a bad idea!

Each state, and sometimes cities or counties within a state, has their own rules and requirements for who can solemnize a marriage, i.e. officiate at a wedding ceremony. Most jurisdictions, however, delegate only to judges and ordained clergy the privilege of being wedding officiants. Most of those make no determination regarding whether an ordination is valid. Any organization can declare itself a church within the meaning of the law and set its own guidelines for ordination. This has resulted in a proliferation of clergy who received their ordination online, and the subsequent belief that all of those so ordained would make good wedding officiants. (In the interest of full disclosure, my ordination was received online thirteen years ago).

Does having an online ordination, or for that matter a traditional ordination from an established church, qualify you to be a wedding officiant? Legally, yes, in the same way that the fact that I own a camera technically qualifies me to be a wedding photographer, or that the harmonica in my sock drawer qualifies me to be a musician. I know how to take pictures, and I'm not half bad at it, but photographing a wedding requires experience and skill that being in possession of a decent camera doesn't bestow. Officiating at a wedding also requires experience and skill that simply having been ordained doesn't bestow.

Most people start out with, at best, a vague idea of what they want their wedding ceremony to be like. A lot of thought, a lot of detail, a lot of planning has gone into the reception, the wedding dress and tuxes, the food, the music, the rings, the wedding party, the limo...but seldom the ceremony itself. If I had a nickel for every time a couple told me that they want a "short & simple" ceremony...well, I'd have a lot of nickels! But "short & simple" covers a lot of ground. A professional officiant can translate your vague idea into specifics and craft a beautiful & meaningful ceremony. If cousin Frank, who has an online ordination but no experience, is going to be your officiant, what is your ceremony going to look like?

One benefit of having an experienced officiant is that in those years of experience, he or she has seen what works well and what doesn't. Look at the idea of "short"; what does that mean? Participate in close to 600 weddings and you get a good feel for the right time frame. Go too long and the guests start losing interest and getting fidgety; on the other hand, too short of a ceremony can leave guests feeling "cheated", although they're probably too polite to say anything!

A recurring theme in 12 years of officiating weddings is the desperate phone call two weeks before the wedding day, frantic that the friend or relative who was going to officiate has bowed out. We get a few of those every year. Your college buddy, or your cousin may not have thought it through before agreeing to officiate. What seemed like a lark, a cool thing to do, has now become a stress-inducing commitment.

I've seen two Facebook posts in the past week looking for recommendations for an officiant. Although in both cases people for whom we have officiated their weddings recommended us, the comments were full of "I'm ordained" or "my brother can do it" by people with no experience. If the ceremony itself isn't important to you, or if your wedding will be a quick exchange of vows with just a handful of family & friends, then it probably doesn't matter. But if you've invited guests and booked a venue, you probably want to avoid three-minutes of quick "I-Do's".

A somewhat taboo topic is money. There are situations where the bride and groom really don't have any money to spend on a wedding, and a friend who will officiate, or simply make it legal, for free, is the only option. But the reality is that many people have spent thousands of dollars on the various aspects of the wedding day, yet balk at spending a couple of hundred dollars on a professional officiant. What? $200 for 15 minutes work? But is it just 15 minutes work? What work & preparation go into putting together a wedding ceremony and what value does having a professional officiant add?

The value of experience cannot be overstated. 600 weddings that Beyond Illusion Wedding Officiants has done, or even 25 weddings, give an officiant a perspective on what kinds of things work well and what detracts from the ceremony. An experienced officiant knows how to conduct a service that flows well and balances the possibly different religious perspectives that are present in some families. The professional officiant knows how to write a ceremony that fits in with your vision of your wedding day. The rehearsal is also an important part of the service that a professional officiant offers. Someone has to be ready to take charge, make sure everyone knows their places, and even offer instruction on seemingly simple things like how a groomsmen and bridesmaid should walk arm-in-arm. On the day of the ceremony a professional will touch base with your photographer, your deejay and the venue coordinator to make sure everyone is on the same page, including a sound check for the microphones. He'll get all the parents and wedding party together and lined up so that we can start on time.  Your professional officiant will verify that the best man has the rings and that the sand for the Unity Sand is where it needs to be. And then once the ceremony starts, present a ceremony that balances dignity and good humor, keeping the bride & groom central while acknowledging the family and friends in attendance.

The bottom line in all of this is that your wedding ceremony should be what you want it to be. If what's important to you is to have a friend or family member officiate, then that's what you should do. If you just need to make it legal and don't really want a ceremony other than an exchange of vows, then you don't really need a professional. But if you want a meaningful ceremony, even if it is short, take the time to at least interview a professional officiant, it will be worth the time.

Professional Officiant vs. Your Facebook Friend "Who Got Ordained"

There's a variety of opinions regarding having a friend officiate at your wedding. As a professional wedding officiant, of course I want to maximize my own business, so my opinion that it's generally not a good idea is a bit self-serving, but nonetheless, it's generally a bad idea!

Each state, and sometimes cities or counties within a state, has their own rules and requirements for who can solemnize a marriage, i.e. officiate at a wedding ceremony. Most jurisdictions, however, delegate only to judges and ordained clergy the privilege of being wedding officiants. Most of those make no determination regarding whether an ordination is valid. Any organization can declare itself a church within the meaning of the law and set its own guidelines for ordination. This has resulted in a proliferation of clergy who received their ordination online, and the subsequent belief that all of those so ordained would make good wedding officiants. (In the interest of full disclosure, my ordination was received online thirteen years ago).

Does having an online ordination, or for that matter a traditional ordination from an established church, qualify you to be a wedding officiant? Legally, yes, in the same way that the fact that I own a camera technically qualifies me to be a wedding photographer, or that the harmonica in my sock drawer qualifies me to be a musician. I know how to take pictures, and I'm not half bad at it, but photographing a wedding requires experience and skill that being in possession of a decent camera doesn't bestow. Officiating at a wedding also requires experience and skill that simply having been ordained doesn't bestow.

Most people start out with, at best, a vague idea of what they want their wedding ceremony to be like. A lot of thought, a lot of detail, a lot of planning has gone into the reception, the wedding dress and tuxes, the food, the music, the rings, the wedding party, the limo...but seldom the ceremony itself. If I had a nickel for every time a couple told me that they want a "short & simple" ceremony...well, I'd have a lot of nickels! But "short & simple" covers a lot of ground. A professional officiant can translate your vague idea into specifics and craft a beautiful & meaningful ceremony. If cousin Frank, who has an online ordination but no experience, is going to be your officiant, what is your ceremony going to look like?

One benefit of having an experienced officiant is that in those years of experience, he or she has seen what works well and what doesn't. Look at the idea of "short"; what does that mean? Participate in close to 600 weddings and you get a good feel for the right time frame. Go too long and the guests start losing interest and getting fidgety; on the other hand, too short of a ceremony can leave guests feeling "cheated", although they're probably too polite to say anything!

A recurring theme in 12 years of officiating weddings is the desperate phone call two weeks before the wedding day, frantic that the friend or relative who was going to officiate has bowed out. We get a few of those every year. Your college buddy, or your cousin may not have thought it through before agreeing to officiate. What seemed like a lark, a cool thing to do, has now become a stress-inducing commitment.

I've seen two Facebook posts in the past week looking for recommendations for an officiant. Although in both cases people for whom we have officiated their weddings recommended us, the comments were full of "I'm ordained" or "my brother can do it" by people with no experience. If the ceremony itself isn't important to you, or if your wedding will be a quick exchange of vows with just a handful of family & friends, then it probably doesn't matter. But if you've invited guests and booked a venue, you probably want to avoid three-minutes of quick "I-Do's".

A somewhat taboo topic is money. There are situations where the bride and groom really don't have any money to spend on a wedding, and a friend who will officiate, or simply make it legal, for free, is the only option. But the reality is that many people have spent thousands of dollars on the various aspects of the wedding day, yet balk at spending a couple of hundred dollars on a professional officiant. What? $200 for 15 minutes work? But is it just 15 minutes work? What work & preparation go into putting together a wedding ceremony and what value does having a professional officiant add?

The value of experience cannot be overstated. 600 weddings that Beyond Illusion Wedding Officiants has done, or even 25 weddings, give an officiant a perspective on what kinds of things work well and what detracts from the ceremony. An experienced officiant knows how to conduct a service that flows well and balances the possibly different religious perspectives that are present in some families. The professional officiant knows how to write a ceremony that fits in with your vision of your wedding day. The rehearsal is also an important part of the service that a professional officiant offers. Someone has to be ready to take charge, make sure everyone knows their places, and even offer instruction on seemingly simple things like how a groomsmen and bridesmaid should walk arm-in-arm. On the day of the ceremony a professional will touch base with your photographer, your deejay and the venue coordinator to make sure everyone is on the same page, including a sound check for the microphones. He'll get all the parents and wedding party together and lined up so that we can start on time.  Your professional officiant will verify that the best man has the rings and that the sand for the Unity Sand is where it needs to be. And then once the ceremony starts, present a ceremony that balances dignity and good humor, keeping the bride & groom central while acknowledging the family and friends in attendance.

The bottom line in all of this is that your wedding ceremony should be what you want it to be. If what's important to you is to have a friend or family member officiate, then that's what you should do. If you just need to make it legal and don't really want a ceremony other than an exchange of vows, then you don't really need a professional. But if you want a meaningful ceremony, even if it is short, take the time to at least interview a professional officiant, it will be worth the time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Are You Nervous?

"Are you nervous?" - This is a question that I hear people ask brides and grooms on wedding days fairly frequently.  Why? Is it really that common for people to question whether they actually should be getting married? In my experience brides and grooms are pretty confident that they are making the right decision, at least by the time wedding day rolls around. (This isn't to say that people are always making the right decision!) And it's evident that many people are nervous on their wedding day, so what's the reason? Let's look at it:

Even the simplest weddings are performances. The bride and the groom, the best man, maid of honor, groomsmen & bridesmaids, the parents, even the flower girl and ring bearer are playing parts. The guests too, are on stage. People are often dressing up at weddings, wearing what for all intents and purposes are costumes. The wedding party parades down the aisle; the bride & the groom have speaking parts and the little kids are expected to follow instructions, even though oftentimes their parents haven't done anything to prepare them for being "on stage". For ordinary people, being the center of attention isn't part of day-to-day life.

In addition to the ceremony, there's even more details involved in the reception. There's flowers, music, food and dancing. Did the flowers arrive on time? How about the cake? Is the food hot? Is the deejay keeping things moving? How about the photographer? In a lot of weddings the reception is highly choreographed. All of this is nudging the bride and groom in the back of their brains while they are getting ready for the ceremony.

So what can you do to be less nervous on your wedding day?

  • Plan: don't leave things to the last minute - that's a sure way to be nervous!
  • Prioritize: make a list of your chief concerns, decide what is most important
    • Be honest about what terrifies you - if you just can't get through your vows without sobbing uncontrollably, tell your officiant that you just want to say "I do"
    • There is not one thing that you have to do in your wedding ceremony or reception, cut out the things that you don't want
  • Budget: set your budget and stick with it
  • Delegate: ideally, hire a wedding planner who will take responsibility for all the little details, otherwise a friend or family member that who you can trust implicitly to handle it all for you
  • Surround Yourself With Positive People: keep your circle of confidants clear of complainers and "Chicken Littles" - no matter what, the sky isn't falling
    • Watch out for the friends and/or family who are full of suggestions, it's your wedding!
  • Schedule: set up a reasonable timeline for all the things that you have planned in steps 1 and 2
  • Rehearse: definitely rehearse the ceremony itself, but a walk-through with the deejay and the photographer would go far in calming the jitters - make a list of questions to ask your officiant and other vendors so that there's no surprises
  • Communicate: If something is a non-negotiable item, make sure that the people responsible know how important it is to you
  • Relax: everything doesn't always go 100% according to plan!
  • Laugh: sometimes the little things that go wrong make for hilarious stories!
The bottom line is that at the end of the day you'll be married - which was the goal - you achieved your goal! You get to have a party with your family & friends and you're not the one who has to clean up!











Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rehearsals - Redux

There was a time when I didn't emphasize rehearsals. Mainly because I looked at my job as walking to the front, turning around, and reading. I've come to believe that it's much more than that. A rehearsal gives me the opportunity to reassure the couple that every detail of their nuptials will proceed according to plan, whether that plan is simple or elaborate.

While I prefer to conduct a rehearsal at the same site as the actual wedding, even a run-through off-site has value. It gives the wedding party the chance to find out who they are walking with, where they will be standing, assignments (Who has the rings? Who takes the bouquet? When do you give it back?) and get an idea of how the ceremony will proceed.

Having the rehearsal at the same location as the wedding ceremony gives everyone the additional benefit of seeing exactly where they will be standing, how far they will have to walk during the processional, and little details like where does the best man step to hand the couple their rings? (Answer: behind the bride and groom - in front of the officiant - and take the rings out of the box!). I usually get everyone lined up at the "altar" first, practice the recessional, then turn right around and do the processional followed by a walk-through of the service.

As part of the rehearsal I also spend time instructing the bridesmaids and groomsmen on minutia such as how to line up (in an angled or slightly curved line so that everyone can see the bride & groom; standing at an approximately 45 degree angle); how to walk (woman with her hand in the crook of the man's arm, not linked at the elbows - this makes it easier to walk, especially if there is a big height difference); and how far the couple ahead of them should get before starting to walk; also where the bride & groom should stand during the unity ceremony (behind the table, or at least on the side, so their guests can see what they're doing).

The rehearsal is also a good time to talk about staying relaxed and not getting stressed out about small details. The behavior of ring bearers and flowers girls is often cause for concern. "Kids will be kids" I usually say; whatever they do, your guests will think it's cute. It's usually a good idea to have a plan for where the youngsters will go after they have delivered the pillow with fake rings (DON'T ever give the real rings to a three year-old!) and the flowers.

If the bride and groom will be saying their vows (rather than just responding "I do") I like to make sure that I talk about how the microphone will be handled. I prefer to have a mic on a stand or a boom where I can simply tilt it toward them when it's their turn to talk, so that they don't have to lean in to speak. The deejay can usually adjust the gain to allow the mic to pick up their normal speaking voices.

Once we've run through the ceremony itself, I ask the bride and groom if they would like to do a second run-through. More often than not they are comfortable with once. An exception to this might be if there is an unusual or complicated processional arrangement. Finally I ask the wedding party if they have any questions. There have been times where attendants have asked very good questions, causing me change my thinking on something we were doing, but it's important to stay focused on what we're there to do and not get distracted by aspects of the wedding day, like limo rides and the reception. Before I leave I make arrangements with the two witnesses to meet with me get the license signed.

And that's it. A well-run rehearsal with a cooperative group will take a half hour or less. See you all tomorrow for the wedding!







Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Deejay: Not Just For The Reception

When people talk about deejays at their wedding, they're usually thinking about the reception. A deejay can make or break the the atmosphere at a reception, the good ones know the right mix of music to get everybody up and dancing, yet keep the music at a background level during dinner. But what about the ceremony itself? Your guests have joined you for this pivotal moment in your life - they may be thinking ahead to the wedding cake and the open bar, but you want them to hear what's going on! Most deejays, in addition to providing music and master-of-ceremonies services during the reception, will also take care of processional and recessional music and will set you up with microphones so that your family and friends can hear the officiant, as well as the bride and groom when it's time for vows.

In our early days as wedding officiants we would often have a deejay hand us a wireless microphone just before the ceremony. A handheld mic is very helpful if the officiant has memorized your ceremony, but we seldom do, since each wedding is unique, and we try to avoid going off on tangents, which is a strong possibility when operating without a script. So for us, a handheld is a little awkward. We've also used clip-on or headset microphones, which are ideal if the vows are going to be in the "I Do" format, but not so ideal if the couple will be reciting their vows. The clip-on or headset may not be able to pick up the vows. We have taken to recommending a mic stand with the the stand equidistant between the officiant, the bride and the groom. We then do a pre-ceremony sound check to verify that the mic placement will be able to pick up all three. Sometimes this requires some on-the-fly volume or gain adjustment by the deejay, but if done right, no one has to touch the microphone, or change position in order to be heard. This has worked well every time we've done it.

One item on our pre-ceremony checklist is to check in with the deejay, not only to arrange for a sound check, but also to make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to music. Making sure that everyone can be heard, even in the back row, is an important part of your wedding ceremony.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Religious Affiliation

From time to time we are asked whether or not we are "real" ministers, or what church we belong to, or even specifics about our religious beliefs. We always decline to answer questions like that, not for any nefarious reason, but because we strive to maintain an openness to couples of all faiths (or no religion at all).

The State of Nebraska has designated several categories of people who may legally officiate at a wedding in the state. One of these categories is "ordained minister". The state does not presume to decide what determines a valid ordination and leaves that up to the individual religions, denominations, seminaries etc to set their own standards.

Couples who are active in their respective faith usually have their own minister, priest, imam or rabbi solemnize their marriage ceremony. For those who desire a wedding minister who shares their religious beliefs, or are looking for someone to spiritually "bless" their union, there is usually someone close at hand who is in that category. We at Beyond Illusion Wedding Officiants do not attempt to meet that description!

One of our goals is to work with you to create a wedding ceremony that reflects your beliefs and what is important to you. We feel that our own views of spirituality are irrelevant; what is relevant is what you want. And because we make your wishes the priority, our policy has always been to keep our own religious opinions out of the process and put the spotlight on the bride and groom. We do not discuss our personal religious opinions or affiliation in order to maintain an openness to couples of all backgrounds.

We always encourage a couple to schedule a face-to-face meeting before committing to our services.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Thanks for Choosing Us!

As we move into a new year, our twelfth as wedding officiants, we at Beyond Illusion Wedding Officiants would like to express our gratitude for all the couples who chose us as their officiants. A special thanks to those who recommended us to their friends and relations, as well as the vendors who tell their customers about us; and, of course, those of you who took the time to write reviews.

We started in 2007 by performing eight ceremonies, advertising in the yellow pages with no online presence at all. We kept track of our brides and grooms on a paper calendar stuck to a clipboard and returned your calls via a landline. Eventually we realized that it was the 21st century and there was this thing called the internet. Today, other than word-of-mouth referrals, most people find out about us through our website beyondillusionweddings.com, as well as our Facebook page. This past year we've added a Twitter feed and of course, this blog. We also purchased a small amplifier that can be utilized at no extra charge for those noisy venues! 

Beyond Illusion Wedding Officiants has also changed our pricing structure to better serve the diverse needs of the community of soon-to-be brides and grooms. Our standard wedding, which has always been semi-customized, now tagged as The Silver Package, continues to be couples' most popular choice. We've added a Gold package, which will be 100% customized, designed from scratch, as well as more affordable options for people who want to elope, or just need someone to "make it legal" by signing the marriage license. For those who would like to be united in marriage by a close friend or relative, but that person lacks experience, we will help you write the ceremony that your chosen officiant can use.

No matter who you are, where you're getting married, no matter how simple or elaborate, it's your day, and we, as always, will help make special for you!

We look forward to another great year working with many more happy couples!

Happy Holidays!

Revs. Tom & Susie Joyce