Many of the couples whose Northern Michigan wedding ceremony I have conducted consider themselves more spiritual than religious, and a majority of them are dog lovers, just as I am. As such, they generally do not have deeply conditioned beliefs about a minister’s role, Even so, I am sometimes confronted with a more old fashioned notion which believes that because the minister trusts in God for his or her support, the minister should do their work for a very low fee, if any at all. So here are some things to consider as you prepare to hire the officiant who is right for you because you feel most connected.
My journey into ministry started with three years of taking classes at my local Unity church and Unity Village, our Unity movement’s headquarters. Then after two very intensive years of study, I graduated from Unity’s Ministerial Education Program. After ordination in 1989, I worked full-time as the minister of various lovely churches as a pulpit minister for twenty-three years. From the pulpit I had an opportunity to teach people about the spiritual principles I believed and experienced as life-changing and life-enhancing. I counseled, taught classes and workshops, christened and hugged children and babies, organized, comforted, married, buried, sang to, wrote about, and challenged people in good times and in bad.
As I started to get my footing in ministry, I also gained experience as a wedding officiant. At first, I didn’t really have the confidence to realize I was there for anything other than to make the marriage legal. As the learning curve swung upward, it was because I had to learn the simple things like where to stand, and how to move gracefully from aisle to altar, using the chalice or how to facilitate a sand ceremony. Should I speak up or lower my voice? I did not yet understand that my words could affect friends and family, as well as the couple. The wedding address I used was given to me while in MEP. I read the text from a little white three-ringed book.
I was willing to counsel people as part of my duties as a wedding officiant/minister, but I found out that not many couples wanted counseling before they got married. For the times I was asked to counsel, I found many couples gave the right answers to questions (yes we are best friends, yes we can talk about anything, yes we agree on how to raise our children, yes, we will get help if we run into snags in our relationship, no we won’t ever get enough sex). In other words, don’t try to point out anything we might do differently, or think about our decision to get married in a another light. I decided I would ask what I could, but for the most part, life together would have to teach them their lessons. There were no guarantees other than it would take them on a path only time would illuminate. Everyone deserved their chance to make their relationship last until death did them part.
Is there a guarantee of success?
Since those first years, I now realize there is no way to tell which couples will make it and which ones won’t. Some that I thought probably wouldn’t be able to handle the demands of combining households and decision-making and power, indeed made great partners. People who had dated for five years didn’t necessarily stay married longer, and sometimes people who knew each other less than a year were going strong years later when we reconnected on Facebook or email. Living together was the trial run of marriage and should have given people a good idea if they were compatible. But it too was also no guarantee they could navigate the changes that happen in any life.
These men and women I have joined in marriage have given back to me by unknowingly tweaking my ceremonies through their smiles and comments, or their quizical looks. They have shared their personally written vows, which in some cases, I’ve adapted for others to use. Consequently I can offer a variety of vows from the traditional to some that are more contemporary.
Heartwarmingly, I’ve been honored to work with people who have overcome great odds, like cancer, PTSD, war wounds, recent deaths, losses of jobs and status. My couples have brought families of all sizes, species, ages, lifestyles and persuasions together. What a blessing everyone has been to me!
Over time I have created a ceremony I love to deliver. I’ve found blessings I love to speak or sing, and inspirational readings I can suggest to couples. And I keep offering new ceremonies and readings. Now I feel so comfortable delivering the wedding address that I know most of it by heart. This means I can focus on the intimate connection I share with the two before me, a connection that will make a difference in the rest of their lives together.
Over the years I have received so much joy conducting weddings that I truly see them as a ministry that can inspire people to a greater experience of Love. And this is not just for the two I am marrying together, but for all who attend the ceremony. This realization prompted me to adopt a mission statement: Uniting Two, Inspiring All.
After all these years I have come to value the richness of content and consciousness that I offer to a couple. I take a stand for their commitment to Love that underlies their legal commitment. Time and experience has polished this once rough stone in to a valuable “holy” gem.
It’s been a gift discovering that being a wedding officiant is one of my callings. I feel more alive by officiating a wedding. A wedding reaches beyond my personal self and into the great cosmic Presence. A big plus is that I get to visit beautiful sites because people get married in their home, on beaches I didn’t know existed, in rivers, on tops of mountains, on balconies and living rooms of some beautiful hotels . In Northern Michigan, how could anyone go wrong?
Because I value and love what I do, I do not feel guilty asking to be paid a decent amount of money to do it. I bring a wealth of experience and love with me to my weddings. I want them to be fun as well as meaningful. I know where to stand, how to move, how to loosen tense moments, what questions to ask and when to say no. And a portion of my fee also goes to an animal rescue organization that focuses on ending the horrors of puppy mills, dog-fighting, abuse and neglect.
What you pay for when you hire a wedding officiant
I may be the most expensive wedding officiant in the area. The price you pay is for my experience. You get the best of what I have learned, what I have refined through years of talking with couples and their guests. When I lead you in your wedding vows, you are joining the ranks of almost 500 couples I have pronounced husband, wife or a non-combination of the two. While those who have come before you may not know it, but they effectively wrap their cosmic arms around you and love you onward because they are in my heart when I stand with you on your wedding day. What I know blesses and multiplies your joy and connection with other human beings. I trust what we share together is well worth the price. The light I see moving in your Love for each other, and my following my calling, well, that’s free.
So tip #4 is, the price you pay for your wedding officiant is a reflection of her or his experience. While the two of you are making a commitment to enjoy and tend to the growth of love in each other, I also make a commitment to stand in that tender place with you where Love is palatable and It reaches out to make the world a better place.