Friday, July 13, 2007

I now pronounce you...our officiant

So, the whole Seattle thing has distracted me from blogging, and a regular reader has chided me for not blogging about our search for an officiant.

Looking for an officiant was a somewhat intimidating proposition for me, so I put it off for quite a while, until I started to have little panicky thoughts like, “What if I put it off so long that we end up with no one to marry us???” I am sure all of the officiants I contacted after this panic attack would laugh if they knew about it: more than one commented on how early I was, at eight months out!

I guess looking for an officiant is not something a lot of couples need to do: more than a few acquaintances were puzzled when I mentioned it. If you attend a church or temple or mosque, I suppose you would simply have the pastor or rabbi or imam marry you. Or, if you are marrying interfaith, you would be specifically looking for a religious leader who would be willing to bend the rules. But my sweetie and I are atheists, and so we were looking for a nonreligious ceremony, which made things a bit more difficult.

Of course my first thought was a judge or justice of the peace, but I couldn’t find any leads to such a person. Having a friend get ordained on the internet is not an option in New York state (and, after we attended a wedding recently which was officiated by a friend of the groom, we decided it wasn’t a nice option anyway). So I searched for nonreligious officiants.

I was a little unnerved by how “nonreligious” seems to be used interchangeably in this context with “interfaith” or “nondenominational.” I do not consider these synonymous at all. As atheists, we did not want any god in our ceremony, even a generic one. We also agreed that we did not want a minister or rabbi who was simply willing to do a ceremony without god: it seems wrong, to us, that any religious leader would be willing, essentially, to be an atheist for pay.

This narrowed the field considerably to the following:

Ethical Humanists: I contacted a couple humanist ministers and also the New York Ethical Society.

A “civil celebrant”—the organization Celebrant USA ordains “civil celebrants” to perform nonreligious rituals such as marriages, baby namings and funerals. In New York State you still have to call yourself a minister in order to be legally licensed to perform weddings, but their platform is secular.

In the end, after all the angst, the search proved easier than I expected.

We met with two officiants—the first was very affordable, a member of the American Humanist Association. She was very sweet, and we had a nice long discussion in a cafĂ© about weddings, Humanism, and politics—she is an activist in numerous liberal causes. When we parted, she gave us several brochures to read about Humanism.

We had mixed feelings about her. On the one hand, she was very inexpensive ($250), but on the other she would provide only the very basic service. We would need to write the ceremony ourselves (she did give us some samples for inspiration), and unfortunately neither of us has a real idea of what we want to ceremony to look like—another problem with having no religious tradition to lean on. And, to be frank, we were a little put off by her very liberal politics (we are fairly liberal but not radically so), and I wasn’t sure I liked that Humanism feels very much like any other religion when she speaks of it. Though many of my beliefs align with Humanism, I’m wary of evangelists of any stripe.

The second person we met was a “civil celebrant.” She is on the opposite end of the cost scale, pretty expensive ($800). She arrived with her husband (who chauffeurs her) in tow, and the two of them were calm, organized, and funny. When we discussed our religious backgrounds, my sweetie asked for hers, and she said, “I believe in ritual.” She said she became a celebrant because she felt the important events in our lives should be marked and celebrated, even if you are not religious. Her service works like this: we fill out a detailed questionnaire, about our beliefs, how we met, any personal details we want included, etc.; she writes a ceremony based on this, personalized to us and our story; we edit as much as we like. Then, on the day of the wedding, she shows up early, makes sure we sign the marriage license, coordinates the ceremony with the DJ and the photographer, and, she promises, gives us cues throughout so that we do not need to remember a thing. She also said that, if we choose to write our own vows, she will be sure to bring backup vows, in case we never manage to get anything down on paper (“You would be surprised how often this happens.”). The day after the ceremony, she files the license with the city.

Can you tell we liked her? In particular I loved how careful she was to let us know that she would direct everything, that even if we showed up on the day in t-shirts, barely recognizing each other, and stressed out of our minds, she will make sure the ceremony is beautiful and meaningful. I think on the day I will be incredibly grateful to have someone calm and in charge. It will be totally worth $800 to me.

So it was easy after all, and I’m very happy to have it done, especially now that my sweetie is about to leave town—this was really a task we needed to do together, so my panic attack was perfectly timed :-).

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