Monday, June 3, 2013

Who is That "Third" Person in Your Wedding Photos?

Your wedding ceremony is over, your photos are back, and you and your partner are sitting down to look over the photos, basking in the afterglow while reliving this once-in-a-lifetime occasion.  There you are in photo after photo, looking adoringly at each other—perhaps with tears of joy in your eyes—saying your vows, exchanging rings, and performing the special rituals you have chosen to include in your ceremony.  For sure, a defining moment in your relationship! 

As you look at the photos your focus, at least initially, is naturally on the two of you—after all, it was your Special Day!  But as you broaden you view you also notice that standing between the two of you in virtually every photo is another person—the individual you chose to officiate your ceremony. 

For some couples the “choice” of who performs this important role is not a “choice” at all … by default it is their pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, or other official affiliated with their religion.  But for many contemporary couples—those who are not affiliated with a religious order or simply don’t want a “religious wedding”—the officiant is a person they have hand-picked for the job.  The criteria will differ, but seldom is “cost” the determining factor—after all, Uncle Bob, the retired Baptist preacher, will probably officiate your ceremony free of charge … as long as you don’t try to tell him what to say and not to say!  After all, Uncle Bob is a former evangelical preacher and “saving souls” is what he is programmed to do … and he would not want to miss an opportunity to “witness” to a captive audience.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement about Uncle Bob, he may be a perfectly nice guy, but you get my drift.  You choose an officiant because that individual is the right person for the job.  In fact, if you were to ask me who provides the most important supporting role in a wedding ceremony, I would say “the officiant.”  Granted, I may be biased because I am one, but please hear me out.

As a minimum, a wedding requires the participation of three individuals—the bride, the groom, and the officiant.  But that alone doesn't make the case for why the choice of an officiant is critical.  After all, couples who choose the elopement route are often less concerned about who ties the knot than getting it done and done fast—they simply want someone to “make it legal.”  While there are valid reasons for wanting (or needing) to elope, most would agree that the courthouse is not a conducive setting for a romantic, heart-warming wedding.

So, if the conditions of “romantic” and “heartwarming” are added to the mix we are talking about a totally different kind of wedding, and consequently, a totally different set of criteria for choosing an officiant.  Why so?  For the simple reason that the officiant is the literal “voice” of your ceremony.  As a result, he or she plays a key role in setting the tone for your entire ceremony.  Furthermore, this individual should be more than a narrator who simply reads your vows.  She or he should exude an aura, a presence, a charisma that personifies the expression of love and joy you want your ceremony to be remembered for—the warm-tummy feeling you wish to stay with you (and everyone who shares this special day with you) long after the ceremony is over.  And I remind you again, this individual will be “front and center” in almost every photo that is taken during your ceremony.

But as important as they are, “romantic” and “heartwarming” are only two of a number of other criteria you will likely want and need to consider.  For instance, you will probably want to seek out and find an officiant who is sensitive to your personal beliefs and values—one who will not use the occasion (intentionally or not) as a forum for lecturing, or worse, as an opportunity to “sermonize” to a captive audience, a la Uncle Bob.  The latter is a fear that couples often express when they meet with us early on, sometimes citing with horror an instance they are aware of where this very thing occurred.

While there is no guarantee that the officiant won’t “go off script” and interject unwanted remarks during the ceremony—though I’m not suggesting you want an automaton either—there are some precautions you can take during the vetting process that may lessen the likelihood of this happening.  If, for instance, you and your partner do not consider yourselves to be “religious,” then you might want to steer clear of an officiant who identifies himself or herself by a religious title, such as “Reverend” or “Father.”  Or, if the two of you consider yourselves to be “religious” but do not share a common religious heritage, be aware that some religious orders take a dim view of interfaith marriages, and as a result their clerics may impose “rules and conditions” that may cut against the grain of one or both of you.  The officiant’s website may also have language that reveals a lot about his or her personal philosophy in areas that matter to you.  For instance, in our case we describe our officiating services as appealing to couples who might describe themselves as “spiritual, but not necessarily religious.”  This is a brief characterization that makes a statement about us, but it also hits a nerve with many contemporary couples.  Consequently, couples who want a traditional “church wedding” are not likely to seek out our services—and we are okay with that.  After all, no officiant should set herself or himself up to be all things to all people. 

Because of the special role performed by the officiant, choosing the person who is right for you is not a trivial pursuit.  My advice is that you place this important task at the top of your to-do check list.  In the mean time, if you’d like a helpful list of suggestions on what to look when selecting an officiant, check out this webpage: