Why I decided to become a wedding officiant (and what it taught me about relationships)
Some people knit, and other people play video games. My hobby is to marry people. It’s not my primary occupation, but I have been involved in the intimate contracts of others, intermittently, for nine years now, and my eyes have been opened considerably along the way.
The decision to become a wedding officiant wasn’t one that I had planned out for a long time. My mother was visiting, and we were discussing my husband’s newfound commitment to his hockey league. He’d met a group of great guys and rarely missed a game. “I just wish I had something besides work that I enjoy as much as he does hockey.” We were both getting ready for dinner, and I blurted out, “I know! I should be a wedding officiant!” My mother nodded: , “Oooh. You’d be good at that!”
When my husband and I were about to be married, we found ourselves without a pastor. He had grown up Methodist, but had too many questions and doubts to keep attending church. My father was raised Muslim, my mother was raised in the Church of Christ, and both had issues with organized religion. So I never went to church, and I was never baptized. This is not to say I didn’t have a spiritual upbringing, but it wasn’t one where I had a go-to choice for a wedding ceremony.
So,who to marry us? We discovered a Unitarian Universalist minister who had a menu of sorts: we chose the words of our vows, our ring vows, the declaration of our marriage, all of it. She helped us choose every word of the program, so that we knew them by heart before we spoke them to each other. It was lovely. I wanted to do that for other people. I wanted to ensure that couples had the most meaningful, most fitting vows spoken at their ceremonies.
I looked around and found the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, an organization that offers online coursework in the importance of ceremony. The Institute stresses a personal story—you interview couples to learn about their courtship, their wishes, their passions before writing their vows.
The process begins with an hour-long meeting, where I meet with the couple. It’s hard to describe how uplifting it is to meet with two people who are often so nervous and uncertain about the upcoming ceremony details, yet so certain about their love. I send the couple away to each answer a lengthy set of questions without sharing answers with their partners. I read what they say, let the words come together and simmer, and then craft the narrative.
After performing thirty-plus ceremonies, people want to know what “crazy” stories I have. The truth is, I have no horror stories. What’s shocked me is not the bad behavior of any of the wedding party, but the intimacy of these experiences and the deep, real goodness of people. These couples and their families trust me on one of the most important days of their lives, and they welcome me into the fold of their love. For two days—the rehearsal dinner and the ceremony—I begin by learning names, become guide and gatekeeper, seal a union, and then leave them to the rest of their future.
Deciding to marry seems, to me, to be about 60 percent knowledge of the other person and about 40 percent faith. The faith is put in so many different places: trusting that we will have our partners and weather any storm together. Faith that the other person will have our backs. And perhaps most importantly, faith that we, ourselves, will be the most honorable and trustworthy people we can be. It is saying, with all honesty, “You’re my favorite, and you will know by my actions.”
Few weddings are perfect in every way. I still get nervous before each ceremony. Regardless, as I drive away, I exhale, a little relieved that my part is complete and I’ve helped make a couple’s day special. What still surprises me is how deeply satisfying it is. I think about how they looked at one another, about the parents who quietly wept tears of joy, of the celebration afterward, and I am truly grateful that one-time strangers have entrusted me with their great leap of faith.
Kathryn McCalla is a teacher, wedding officiant, mother, wife, and writer living and loving life in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her passions include circuit class with her incredible pals and attending her breakfast book club.