Your wedding officiant is one of the most important people in your wedding, apart from you and your spouse. Without them, you’re just not getting married. Getting to know your officiant before the ceremony is critical. Here’s what to expect.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and welcome to our series of podcasts with “Wedding Vendors for the Essex Room,” Woodman’s wedding and function facility on the north shore of Massachusetts.
Today I’m here with Marty Abrams, a wedding officiant from Sharon, Massachusetts.
Marty Abrams: Hi, John. Thanks. Glad to be here.
Officiating Interfaith Weddings
John: Sure. Marty, can you tell me a little bit about your approach to officiating weddings, and in particular, interfaith weddings?
Marty: Certainly. My wife and I work together as officiants. We both meet the couple and go through the preparations for the special day, but when it comes to officiating, it’s just myself. I stand up as the officiant. Our feeling is that it’s crowded enough up there with the bride and groom, and sometimes their parents are standing up, as well. That’s one part of our approach.
What we’ve become over these last many years that we’ve been doing this, is something of a specialist, actually, in the area of interfaith weddings and particularly when one of the wedding couples is of the Jewish faith. But having said that, I have officiated weddings where the bride and the groom, neither of them were Jewish, so we are able to accommodate in that direction, as well.
When we are preparing for the ceremony, what we do is literally customize the ceremony to meet the interests and desires of the wedding couple, so they can decide how much religious content they want, or not, of whatever faith, and that’s how we go about putting together the ceremony.
I’ll mention one other thing. We’re also open to co‑officiating a ceremony with a clergy member from any other faith, as well.
John: What do you think are some of the key things involved in putting together an interfaith ceremony, like you said where you happen to be co‑officiating with a clergy member from another faith? What’s involved in putting a wedding together that respects the traditions of both of those?
Marty: Again, that’s always going to be drawn from the desires and interests of a couple. Sometimes, one of the couple is more concerned and affiliated with their faith and wants to see their faith represented in the ceremony. Sometimes, both couples even coming from different faiths, so each want their faith represented, and that’s fine.
We’re willing and able to move in either direction and have, like I said, as much or as little of a religious overtone content as what the couple is comfortable with.
What to Ask Your Wedding Officiant
John: What are some of the questions that a couple should ask their wedding officiant before the big day, and do you see brides really like you said, customizing their ceremonies, or tending to go a little bit more traditional?
Marty: Probably the most common question, and the first one that comes up is that couples will ask, “How long will the ceremony take?” They’re trying to coordinate the ceremony and reception party to follow it, to have an idea of flow.
The answer to that, the duration, is typically it runs a half an hour, give or take 5 minutes, 10 minutes at most. Sometimes that’s dictated by, “Well how many people are in the procession walking down the aisle while music is playing?”
Looking at the ceremony as a whole, a lot of times couples will tend to know what wedding ceremonies are like from movies. Then, of course, there’s always the focus on the “I do’s,” and “I will’s,” and certainly that’s there and a part of it, but the rest of the ceremony is what I call “the meat and potatoes.”
My wife and I have put together an outline of different parts of the ceremony, and we present that to the wedding couple. We present that to them in advance of meeting with them, so they have a chance to look it over and discuss it.
When we come together and meet, they’ve had their chance to think about it, sleep on it, and talk about it, and then have a meaningful dialogue with us of putting together what parts they want in, and what parts they want to be excluded, and maybe even some parts that they have thought about modifying.
I’ll clarify some of these choices that the couples have to make. One example would be, some couples we’ve done a unity candle. It’s become somewhat popular in recent years.
Something that’s very similar is a sand mixing ceremony. We did one where the couple each came from different beach communities, geographically distant one from the other, so they each came prepared with sand from their personal beaches, and had a nice, decorative container that the sand was mixed in.
Then there’s words that are expressed, that I’ll say as the officiant, that explains to the gathering of people what they’re doing and the meaningfulness behind it, and how it represents unifying this couple going forward in their lives together.
Another example of choices is the actual language used in the ring ceremony part. There’s different options there, of verbiage before the bride or the groom says I do or I will. Here, too, with regards to interfaith, some of those choices of language might have more religious overtones, and others can be very nonsectarian language, and the couple makes their choice.
One more area, specifically, when it’s a wedding where Jewish style faith‑based parts of the ceremony are included, is the choice of having the huppah. That’s the canopy that a bride and groom stands under. The couple can choose to have that, or they can choose not to have it. It’s not our decision. It’s what they’re comfortable with.
A sanctification prayer over wine can be a part of the ceremony, or not.
Something that’s probably very popular, and most people know about, whether they come from Jewish faith or not, is the breaking of a glass at the conclusion of the ceremony.
The couples can choose to include those parts, or to not, or to have one or the other. Whatever floats their boat is fine with us. We are not bound by religious dogma, and we’re not bound by compulsory rules. We’re able to go with the flow and accommodate what works for the couple.
John: That’s great.
Marty: Two last things I’ll say about that is, and you asked about that, the traditional ceremonies. Where we are leaning towards more traditional, what my wife and I have done together is we’ve modernized some of the language of traditional religious service parts, within mind particularly to make the language more egalitarian.
Most religions tend to lean heavily toward everything being referenced to men, the male gender, so we’ve tried to make it more inclusive and more modernized in that regard.
One last thing is to say that with all of the outlining parts and things that we’ve done, we’re always open to creative suggestions from the wedding couple. If they have an idea or a vision of something that they’ve seen or dreamt about or whatever, then we’re certainly willing to discuss that with them and do our best to accommodate them.
John: I’ve been to a lot of weddings where they’ve done that, the candle lighting ceremony that you mentioned. More recently I did attend a wedding where they had the sand ceremony that you mentioned, where in particular here in the Boston area, one, I think it was the groom came from a North Shore community and grew up near one of the beaches on the North Shore.
Then his bride was from the South Shore, down in Saguache area, I think, and went to the beach down there, so they, as you said, they gathered the sand from both areas and mixed them together. I thought it was a very nice ceremony and something that I hadn’t seen before.
Marty: It’s lovely, and it’s creative. When it’s meaningful to the couple, then it’s going to be meaningful to everybody, and they’re going to understand what it’s about, and it just lends a nice touch.
John: That’s a nice idea, and as you said, you can work with the couple on whatever types of ideas they might have. So depending on whatever they have in common they might be able to find a joining together ceremony like the sand ceremony, but maybe that has something to do with the places where they’re from, or the activities that they do together, or something like that, you’re willing to work with them?
Marty: Absolutely. It makes it fun for us, and it’s nice to breathe new life into old traditions.
Your Wedding Vows
John: You mentioned the “I do’s,” and that part of the ceremony. What about the vows? Do you find that a lot of couples choose to write their own vows now, and what tips would you have for couples who want to do that?
Marty: My wife and I actually, we encourage our couples to write their own personal vows. The rationale for that is that’s something that certainly makes their ceremony special and unique to them, and I think they’re meaningful.
The thought we had, and from our own personal wedding which goes back quite a number of years now, is that that part of the ceremony is perhaps the most cherished and most memorable.
At the end of the day, when you look back, OK, everybody walks down the aisle, and everybody says “I do,” but when you speak personal vows, that’s coming from the groom’s heart and from the bride’s heart, and no one else can write those vows for them. It’s their own personal expression and statement.
When a couple might ask for a tip of how to approach, my answer is always as I just said, “Speak from the heart. That’s all you need. It doesn’t have to happen in a day. You can sleep on it, think on it, and the creativity and the heartfeltness will rise to the surface.”
I’m thinking back and having said that there is another real factor. Some people are hesitant or uncomfortable speaking in public, so we have in fact a ceremony where, and I don’t remember which of the two, one spoke and the other did not, and that’s fine. The one who was uncomfortable speaking in public, I suspect he or she agonized about it for some time.
Then I said, “OK then. It’ll be what it will be. If one of you is comfortable speaking, let him or her speak, and the other one can just speak with their eyes, and speak with the expression on their face, and that will be fine.”
John: Right. How can couples who might be interested in consulting with you for their wedding get in touch with you?
Hiring a Wedding Officiant
Marty: We have a website, and the website is www.mitzvahtogo.com.
John: That’s because you and your wife do Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs, things like that, as well?
Marty: Correct. We also officiate Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We have officiated a couple of funerals. Those are not as much fun, but part of life’s cycle of events. Baby namings, that’s a fun one.
On the website, there’s lots of details and some pictures, and some testimonials from people that can be read, perused, and you’ll find certainly our phone number and email, but I’m happy to give you that, as well.
Marty: A phone number to reach us is 781‑784‑3867, and our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
John: That’s great. All right. Marty Abrams, thanks for speaking with me today. I appreciate it. It was a lot of fun.
Marty: It’s been a great pleasure.
Marty: I enjoyed doing it with you, John. I appreciate your making this happen.
John: For more information about the Essex Room and tips on wedding planning, you can visit the Essex Room website at essexroom.com, or call 978‑768‑7335.