At Great Performances, I meet brides weekly in the context of creating delicious and creative catering experiences. It is very rewarding to become a part of the family as the detailed planning progresses over the swiftly passing months. Hospitality and celebrating over a festive meal and toasts are the glue that binds, hopefully for a lifetime, and leaves me with the feeling that "I married them." But nothing prepared me for the overwhelming responsibility of being an actual wedding officiant.
It first came up about a year ago when a close friend and his fiancé asked if I would perform their wedding ceremony. They didn't want a religious ceremony and an anonymous officiant was not appealing either. I said yes. What are the next steps? To the Internet, where I applied to the Universal Life Church, and within a few weeks my certificate of ordination arrived. That is only step one. Next stop, 141 Worth Street, to register with the clerk at the New York City department of marriage licenses. Paperwork, $15, and presentation of my ordination certificate, and I was enrolled in the giant book of ministers/officiants. In an office filled with excited couples accompanied by their friends and families, no one was more thrilled than I was.
My friends ended up not getting married this fall. A month before the big day, things changed and the wedding was called off. Back to catering weddings and waiting for another opportunity.
I got another chance this spring, when my colleague Matt and his fiancée Lea asked if I would officiate along with our mutual friend Marcy Blum. We were both pivotal in encouraging their relationship (me on his side, Marcy on hers). The certificate was gathering dust and I jumped at the chance to exercise my marriage officiant skills. I asked Matt and Lea to meet with me to talk about the ceremony we would create together. I wanted them to take the time to express their personal feelings about what this giant step -- marriage -- meant to them. I confess, it was a serious moment for all of us, as it well should be. I am married since 1986, so I know the joys and the challenges of what it takes to make a relationship work. I wanted to know that they "had the stuff," as my Grandma Nelly used to say.
Lea and Matt had their homework -- to write the story of how they fell in love and then to craft their individual vows. This would comprise the ceremony along with a welcome greeting from me. More thinking -- what does one say when officiating a marriage ceremony? I would not evoke a religious theme, or talk about the sanctity of marriage. I woke at 3:00 a.m. a few nights before the wedding feeling inspired -- I would speak from experience, sharing with the intimate group of gathered guests the many reasons "we" marry.
The big day arrived. Not surprisingly, I felt very responsible and focused. We gathered in a tight circle. I read my thoughts and Marcy shared hers, peppered with her signature humor in contrast to my seriousness. And as it should be -- the spotlight was on the bride and groom. Below are their vows, heartfelt and individual. The grand finale consisted of us, the officiants, saying the time-honored phrase "By the powers vested in us by the City of New York, we pronounce you Wife and Husband!"
Matt to his bride:
Lea, I could go on forever, I really loved sitting down to write this; to look back on who we were, who we are, how we got here and why we are here tonight...
I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you, filling a library of our books, our children, our successes, our failures, our dreams, our lives.
To my dying day I promise:
To encourage your compassion
Because that is what makes you unique and wonderful
I promise to nurture your dreams
Because through them your soul shines
I promise to help shoulder our challenges
For there is nothing we cannot face if we stand together
I promise to be your partner in all things
I promise to you perfect love and perfect trust
For one lifetime with you could never be enough
This is my sacred vow to you, the love of my life.
Lea to her groom:
Matthew, I want to promise here today, that I will be your true partner in life, in every sense of the word.
A partner by definition:
From the archaic: one that shares: partaker. I promise to always share with you, my hopes, my dreams, my fears. I promise to always be a present partaker in your life, experiencing with you the good, the bad and the yet unknown.
One associated with another especially in an action: associate, colleague. I promise to be your colleague in this very tricky, very complicated business we call life.
Either of two persons who dance together. I promise to always be your disco queen, even when we can't hear the music.
One of two or more persons who play together in a game against an opposing side. I promise that we will always play, that I will always keep a young heart and we will laugh often.
A person with whom one shares an intimate relationship. I promise to never forget how important the human touch is.
One of the heavy timbers that strengthen a ship's deck to support a mast. I promise I will use all my strength in your times of need, so that you are able to raise your mast and carry on.
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