I recently officiated a wedding for two of my dearest friends. I had never officiated a wedding before, but I was honored to perform this service for them.
To write a perfect ceremony, I worked closely with the bride and groom, but they also gave me a lot of freedom. I was tasked with balancing the ceremony between the faith of the couple themselves (who are Neo-Pagan) and their family members (who are Catholic) with a Tolkien vibe for the whole ceremony. It was not easy, but I'm proud of the result. I thought that some other first-time officiant may like to hear about my writing process.
1. Take yourself lightly
I was so overwhelmed by the task in front of me, when I started, that I couldn't even think of where to start. In my first draft, then, I let myself be silly in the extreme, throwing in mermaids and velociraptors as suited my fancy. It may sound counterintuitive, but it took off some of the pressure.
2. Talk to your couple about sensitive subjects
Early in the writing process, ask your friends what they would and would not like their service to include. Subjects that seem de rigeur in a sermon — such as having children, or the idea of eternal love — could be painful subjects for your couple.
3. Build off of one simple but resonant image
Instead of trying to juggle a lot of images or ideas, I picked a single, simple phrase to build my sermon around: “Life is a journey.” It's a bit cliche, but it's a cliche that has earned its use. I could develop this, defining marriage as choosing a partner to travel with.
4. In interfaith weddings, find emotional unity
I had never even attended a handfasting before I was asked to officiate one. I understood the idea: tying together the bride and groom's hands symbolizes their binding their lives together. But how to make that resonate with the Roman Catholic tradition?
Fortunately, I attended Catholic school for thirteen years. I had the idea to connect each cord with a virtue — after all, Catholicism likes to list out virtues, such as Fruits of the Holy Spirit. Julia had the idea that their family members would join them on the altar, and each would tie a cord, as a way to bring them into the ceremony. When I suggested my idea of listing virtues, my friends loved it, and began connecting virtues with the family members they wished to honor. My idea supported theirs with extra meaning.
5. Practice, practice, practice
For weeks leading up to the wedding, I went out every day to my garden and had my dogs sit at my feet while I read the ceremony aloud. Inevitably, after a minute the dogs would get bored, and they'd start to bite, squabble, and play tag. I never stopped my reading. I grew familiar with the material and practiced projecting and enunciating. By the time the wedding came, I knew the material inside and out — and I knew I could weather any distraction or interruption — including a sudden outburst of vampirism in the congregation.
Ultimately, my most important words of advice are: consult frequently with your couple, but trust yourself! There's a reason that your friends asked you to officiate. Let your love and esteem for them guide your process.
What are YOUR pieces of advice for when your friends ask you to officiate their wedding?