Choosing a wedding officiant is sometimes challenging for couples, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several things to keep in mind when interviewing officiants, and it’s important to remember that most wedding officiants allow at least some degree of customization for the ceremony. Here’s how to select the right wedding officiant for your upcoming nuptials.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. 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 Reverend Sue, an Interfaith Minister and Wedding Officiant from Rockport, Massachusetts.
Reverend Sue: Hi John. Thank you so much for having me today
The Wedding Officiant’s Approach
John: Sure. Can you tell me a little bit about your approach to officiating weddings?
Sue: John, great question. Thanks so much. I love to officiate weddings.
John: They’re really fun, huh?
Sue: They are a blast. My approach to officiating weddings is really based on a desire for the couples I work with, to not only have the best ceremony ever, but to have the best marriage ever.
John: That’s important. Sometimes brides and grooms lose sight of that a little bit, because there’s so much [wedding planning] and so much to do to get ready for that one big day. They forget that it’s only one day and the rest of their life is coming after that, right?
Sue: That’s exactly right. When I meet with couples, I really try to get to know them and create a ceremony that is based on their uniqueness as a couple. [It can be] based on the family backgrounds of each one of them, and provides them some wisdom and guidance going forward.
The wedding day really is a turning point for two people and for their families. Yes, let’s have a great party, but let’s pause for a moment and really consider what it means to have a strong married life.
Choosing a Wedding Officiant for Couples of Different Faiths
John: Have you been the officiant at weddings often where the bride and groom have different faiths? I think you started to get into that topic, right?
Sue: Yes, many couples who find me do so because they want to have their wedding and the reception in the same place. They want a personalized, custom ceremony. They often come from different religious backgrounds themselves. Let’s face it, many folks in their late 20s or early 30s may have grown up in a tradition, but it may not be as important to them as it is to their families.
They are looking for someone who can really speak to who they are. At the same time, and this is something that I really try to bring to them, is a deep respect and inclusion of the traditions and the cultures that they are coming from.
John: I think that must be much more common now, like you said, than it was years ago. Years ago, if you were Catholic, you pretty much married another Catholic. If you were Jewish, you married another Jewish person. These days it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. You find somebody that you fall in love with and then you figure out how to do it.
Sue: That’s exactly right. I have officiated weddings where one person is Catholic, the other is Jewish, one person is Protestant, and the other is Hindu. Where one is Agnostic and the other is Evangelical. So [it’s important to create] a space where every single person who’s there celebrating with them feels welcome, and we include the traditions that they come from. Part of my approach is to try to bring forward those parts of their traditions that fit who they are and fit their family.
For example, it wouldn’t be uncommon in a ceremony where there is a Catholic bride and a Jewish groom that we might have scripture readings that are in both traditions. Something from the Psalms would be a [good] example, or even [something] from the New Testament like the great reading on love.
John: It’s about love. It’s not about Jesus.
Sue: Exactly, exactly.
Sue: At the same time we can include the breaking of the glass.
John: Which is part of the Jewish ceremony?
Sue: Exactly. I try to find out from the couples what’s most important to them. What do they want to celebrate? What is it from their culture that they want to bring forward, whether that might be an Irish ring‑warming ceremony, or from the Brazilian tradition, a rose ceremony, or the Ukrainian tradition of standing on a rushnyk together? There are a lot of things that fit perfectly well even when the couple isn’t from the same background.
I work with a lot of Catholics who are disappointed when they find their priest can’t perform a wedding at the venue. They’re looking for someone who understands their tradition. For example, I recently officiated a ceremony where one of the members of the couple was Polish and the other was Italian.
We did a ceremony that included a Polish tradition of sharing bread and wine together and then we also included something that would be more commonly done in an Italian ceremony. They were both Catholic, and yet they still had unique cultural traditions that we were able to bring forward. It’s a lot of fun to try to be creative and to adapt these very important traditions in ways that are truly meaningful to the couple and to their guests.
Weddings in Unusual Places
John: Have you done a lot of weddings that are in unusual places as well, like on the beach or something like that?
Sue: Here on the North Shore, we have so many beautiful wedding venues, including bride on the beach. I’ve done weddings in the woods, I’ve done weddings in backyards, [and ] I’ve done weddings at the Shalin Liu — which is an unusual place — and actually I have done two weddings there, and in each case, the bride and groom were musicians.
John: That’s a concert venue in Rockport.
Sue: Yes, in Rockport. One of the nice things about working with someone like me is that I can pretty much go wherever the couple wants to have their ceremony.
Discussing Your Preferences with a Wedding Officiant
John: How do you start having this conversation with the couple when a couple comes to you, and they are interested in having you be their wedding officiant?
First of all, what are some of the questions that you think that a couple should ask of their wedding officiant when they are trying to decide who should officiate at their wedding? Then, what are some of the conversations that you have with them as it leads up to their wedding?
Sue: Great. That’s a great question. Here in Massachusetts, anyone can get a one day license and it’s very common today for couples to say, “I’m going to have my friend marry me or my uncle is going to marry me,” and the question that I would ask a couple if they are going down that road is, “Are they going to know what they are doing?”
In some ways, it seems like weddings are simple, but given the investment of energy and money that folks put into this very special day, and the fact that the ceremony is what starts off the whole day, I would encourage couples to ask potential officiants — whether they’re family members, adjustors of the peace, or an interfaith minister — “How many weddings have you done? Do you know what you are doing? Have you worked with couples like us? Are you willing to . . . .?”
John: This particular combination of faith, or something like that.
Sue: Faith, right. Or are there some people saying, “You know, I don’t, faith is uncomfortable for us right now, and we want to celebrate love. Are you comfortable with that?” Just making sure that whoever is going to stand with you on that day really knows what they are doing and is able to create the ceremony with the couple that is truly reflective of who they are and what their hopes are for their married life.
It’s also important if they are going to hire a professional wedding officiant, to see, “Does this person have a website? Do they have reviews? What of other people had to say about them?” That’s really easy to do today with WeddingWire and the Knot. Those are just two places where people can read reviews, and then ask the potential officiant, “What’s your process? How do we get from our first meeting to the wedding day? What are you going to do?”
John: “How many times are we going to meet? What’s involved?”
Sue: “Will you be at the rehearsal? What are your fees? What happens if, heaven forbid, you are not able to be there? If you have an emergency, what’s your backup plan?” Those are all questions that I would encourage couples to ask the person who is going to marry them.
How Weddings Have Changed in Recent Years & Premarital Counseling
John: How do you think that wedding ceremonies have changed in recent years? Do you see that brides are kind of customizing their ceremonies more, or in attending mode opt for sort of traditional ceremony?
Sue: I definitely see a trend towards more personalized ceremonies, especially for people who are looking for me. People who are looking for a traditional religious ceremony will often stay within their own religious community. But people who are getting married at places like Woodman’s are often, looking for that personal ceremony.
That’s certainly a trend, and it’s also a trend I think like you mentioned earlier John, that people spend a lot of money on weddings and can become very stressed out from all the decisions they have to make. Because more and more people are getting married outside of religious institutions.
One thing that I see that’s missing is if you went to your priest or rabbi, they’d say, “We are going to get together a number of times for premarital counseling, and we are going to make sure that you have the tools that you need for a successful marriage.”
That doesn’t happen so much today and it’s one thing that working with someone like me who is a minister, [can provide.] I’m going to say to you, let’s really consider taking some time to pause and reflect about your relationship, about what your strengths are? What we can really affirm? And where you need to grow as a couple?
One thing that I do is I offer premarital counseling for couples. I don’t require it, but I do strongly encourage it, because today in our really fast paced and busy world, I’m amazed at how often couples will say, “Wow. We never stopped to think about that. Whether it’s how we share our household chores, or how we budget, or the ways we communicate together, what we want for our family life going forward, all these things.”
Being able to pause and have conversations with someone who you feel safe in having these conversations with can give you some guidance and help you really consider what’s most important for your marriage. [You want] to be happy and successful over the long term, because that’s not happening so much anymore.
Because that’s a new trend, I’m really hoping that couples will rethink just having the friend marry them and really find somebody who can have these important conversations. Again, because it’s just not about having a great day, it’s about having a great life.
John: My wife and I got married in the Catholic Church, we did something that was called the Pre‑Cana. It was not as one‑on‑one as what you’re talking about, because we were in sort of a class with other couples. Although that was nice in and of itself, because we were able to meet other people and find out, “Oh, those two people are interesting together.”
We got to find out where they are in their relationship, and then almost compare that to ourselves. We had workbooks to go through. We had discussion groups where we had to talk about things. We found it a very rewarding experience.
Like you said, we had some conversations that maybe hadn’t come up in the couple of years that we had been dating. We found it good. For us, we found that we were on the same page a little bit on a lot more things than maybe we even thought that we were, which gave us a lot of hope going into our wedding.
Sue: I’ve never had a couple say to me, “Oh, Sue. I’m sorry we did this.” Every couple who takes the time to do the premarital work is glad they did it. Just like the experience you had, I give them exercises to do at home, so that they’re having those conversations together.
Then we get together as a threesome. I give them feedback. It’s a really helpful process. Some of the work that I do is based on the Seattle Marriage Project. It’s actually the same kind of work that happens in the Pre‑Cana process in the Catholic Church. I use some of the same tools.
Then I also do something like a marriage visioning process to help couple really think about, “What, for us, would make a successful marriage?” Because what a number of studies have shown is that when couples are disappointed in marriage, often it’s because they never stop to take the time to consider what will make them happy in marriage. What will make this a strong, solid marriage?
A few years down the road, they’re going, “Huh. Something’s not right. This isn’t working.” But they never took the time to say what it is that they expected and hoped for in a marriage.
I find those two pieces to be really helpful, and really often very moving for couples to take the time, and pause, and say, “You know what, we really are a good team together. We can learn to do a few things differently to help us grow.” To have that confidence going into marriage. “Yes, there’s a third person who’s also saying that we’re on the right track.” That’s nice.
John: Little vote of confidence for you.
Sue: Yeah, absolutely.
Writing Your Own Vows
John: That is good. Going back to the ceremony itself, do you find that a lot of couples choose to write their own vows now and if so, what tips do you have for couples as they’re trying to prepare their vows?
Sue: From my perspective, the vows are the most important part of the ceremony. It’s the moment in the ceremony where the couple marries each other. What people say matters ‑‑ it really does become a charter for your married life together. One thing for example, my husband and I do on every anniversary, we reread those vows.
John: That’s nice.
Sue: We’ve printed them up. He’s an artist, so it was an easy thing for him to do We have them printed and framed. They’re our touchdown. In those moments where we’ve felt out of sorts, we go back and reread the vows. What two people say to one another in that very sacred moment, matters.
For some people, saying the traditional vows can be meaningful because, their mom and dad said them and their grandparents said them. That carries a certain meaning for some people. But more often, people are choosing to write their own vows. Sometimes people are scared about doing that.
The couples that I work with, I coach them on how to do it. I give them some samples. I even give them a template if they want to use it. Oftentimes when people write vows, they end up going something like this, “Ever since I met you . . . you are the most wonderful, fabulous . . . and because of you, I am a better person. Now I promise. I promise, I promise, I promise.”
That’s how vows often end up getting structured. What I do and what I would encourage couples who want to write their own vows to do is to consider, “Are we going to write the same vow and say the same thing to each other? Are we going to do them totally separately? Or maybe we’ll do a 50‑50. We’ll write the first part individually, and then we’ll write the same promises.”
John: Then add a little personalization to it.
Sue: When I work with couples, I like to get a draft of their vows ahead of time. I give them feedback and coach them through the process. At the end, they feel confident that they’ve created vows that really reflect their hearts and are meaningful to them. Even for someone who might be nervous about writing them, usually if they know that they can send me a draft, [they’ll feel better about it].
John: [They’ll ask] “What do you think about this?”
Sue: Yes, exactly. I’ll say, “That’s really great. But you might also want to add this.” Because the other thing that I found, is if one person in his or her vows talks about what a great person the other one is, but the second person doesn’t say that . . . .
John: It can feel a little one‑sided.
Sue: It’s a little one‑sided. By reading them myself, I can give them private feedback, so that at the end, neither one feels like, “Oh, my gosh! How come my loved one didn’t . . . .”
John: “I’ve written these great vows for him and all he said was, ‘You’re nice.’ That’s all you could say about me?”
Sue: Right, exactly.
John: That’s not what you want to feel after you’ve just got married, it’s a little disappointment, exactly.
John: In that case, you’re saying that the bride and the groom want to keep their vows private and keep it a secret from each other before the wedding. But by running them through you, you can make sure that they’re on par with each other.
Sue: Exactly. I can see the big picture. Let’s face it. In a couple, sometimes there’s one who might be more talkative and the other who might want to keep it brief. That’s perfectly fine. They don’t have to be exactly the same length, but they ought to be in the same ballpark of intent and depth. Again, too, sometimes people are just naturally funnier than the other person. Part of what I do when I read them is encourage folks to give very specific examples. If they’re going to write about the first night we met, where was it? When was it? What were you feeling? To really try to make their vows come to life.
John: Add specifics.
John: That must be good for you, especially if you’re doing some of that premarital counseling, you get to know the bride and the groom pretty well. I would imagine that you’d be able to guide them in those vows to a certain extent, because you know a lot about their relationship, how they met, and what their values are. You could say, “Hey, you know, in one of our sessions, you told me about this. Wouldn’t that be a nice thing to add into your vows?”
John: So you could help to guide them in a more personal way than somebody who doesn’t really know them very well, might be able to.
Sue: From the first moment that I meet a couple, I send them a questionnaire that asks them some reflective questions like, “What do you most appreciate about your partner? What makes your relationship work? What are your dreams for your future? Are there any challenges in getting married?” They fill out this questionnaire together. We sit down and meet, and then I have an opportunity to ask them, “Well, tell me about how you met, when did you know, and tell me about the proposal.”
It really is a wonderful chance from the very beginning of our interactions to get to know them. Then, over time, it gets deeper. They have deeper understanding of themselves as individuals, and they have a deeper understanding of themselves as a couple. By the time we get to the vows, most couples would say that they’re much more aware of how blessed they are by the person they’re marrying, and how excited they are about their future together.
Remember to Have Fun
John: Is there anything that you’d like to add?
Sue: The other thing that I’d like to say is that in creating a ceremony and in helping to build a married life, I like to have fun. I hope that creating the ceremony and doing the premarital counseling is meaningful, but also joyful. Because of how much money gets spent, and all the decisions that have to be made, and people are very busy, it can be stressful planning a wedding. But my hope and desire is that this part is so sacred and so special can be a chance for the couple to pause and enjoy the process.
John: To really enjoy the ceremony itself as well, people are so caught up in preparing all of the things to do with the reception that, sometimes, the ceremony itself gets a little bit overlooked. It’s nice to take that extra time to make sure that, as you said, the ceremony is the first part of that day when people are all getting together. It would be really nice to start it off really, really well with a fun and very personal and beautiful wedding ceremony.
Sue: Yes. I had one couple say to me, “You know, we were so focused on the party, and it wasn’t until we sat down with you, we never even realized. Wait a minute.” It’s about more than a party. It’s about a lot more than a party.
John: How can couples who are interested in consulting with you for their wedding get in touch with you, Sue?
Sue: The best way would be to go to my website which is revsue.net.
John: It’s R‑E‑V‑S‑U‑E, revsue.net.
Sue: There’s a contact form there, or they can email me directly. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
John: That’s easy to remember. All right. Well, Reverend Sue thanks very much for speaking with me. I appreciate that.
Sue: Thank you, John. Have a great day.
John: For more information about the Essex Room and tips on wedding planning, you can visit the Essex Room’s website, at essexroom.com or call 978‑768‑7335.