According to The Wedding Report’s nationwide numbers, COVID-19 has pushed 41.5% of couples who planned a wedding in 2020 to reschedule to 2021. That shift could result in roughly 600,000 more weddings in 2021 than in an average year. As a result, there could be a lot more competition for wedding vendors. If you are planning to get married in 2021 you have probably already heard advice that recommends booking your wedding vendors very early. This post is not aimed to play into that fear. I’m not a fan of a scarcity mindset. There are plenty of great vendors to help you with your wedding in every market. This post is simply taking advantage of your increased sensitivity to planning ahead by suggesting that booking your officiant early, pandemic or no, may help you in ways you have not considered.
Whether you have more time to look for vendors because you are rescheduling your wedding out another year, or you are only hiring a few priority vendors, or just want to get a jump on your planning, you will be happy you booked your officiant early. Officiants like me (I call myself a Celebrant because I celebrate life cycle milestones, weddings being but one) are typically last on the vendor list to be booked. Often, I get called two weeks before a ceremony to see if I am available. Every so often I will take one of these jobs, but usually I send the couple a polite message saying that I am unavailable even if I have the day free. Why do I do that? The short answer is that such a last minute request tells me this couple probably thinks of the officiant, and therefore their ceremony, as a technicality, something to get through. I think of our lives as stories we tell ourselves and others and I see the ceremony as the setting in which to tell yourself and your loved ones the story of your relationship. The Celebrant, your storyteller, is integral to the whole process. The long answer: read on.
If you book a Celebrant early on in your planning process, you can have them create a custom ceremony, have help jump starting your imagination, gain an advocate, and clarify your priorities. The couples that I tend to work with know that they want to feel their emotions during their ceremony, not go through the motions of a generic ceremony. To build a ceremony that is grounded in emotional connection and leads to a moving and special experience takes time. Couples looking for a last-minute officiant are doing so, I believe, because they do not know the effects ceremony can have on them and their loved ones, or they relate ceremony with a religion with which they do not identify. It is not that they do not care, they simply do not know. What should they - you - know?
Create a Custom Ceremony - If I do agree to be your wedding Celebrant two weeks before your wedding day, you will not be getting a custom ceremony. It may be personalized, but the themes will be more general and you will only have time to make edits once or twice. However, if we have at least two months to work on your ceremony - the minimum I usually agree to - that gives me time to dive into your story, build a ceremony around your unique love story, and present you with readings and rituals that help support your story. I can integrate cultural traditions and reach out to family and friends to take part in special ways.
Jump Start your Imagination - I get to know most of my couples through a 30-45 minute free consultation before we decide to work together. They get to know me and my process, and I get to know them. I ask questions about what the couple has envisioned for their ceremony, what they would definitely want and definitely not want, traditions or people they would like to honor, and who might take on an important role. Many couples stare blankly or giggle nervously at these questions because they have been thinking about stationary and cake and place settings, but have not thought about the substance of their ceremony. They have few clear answers to give me. If this couple is meeting with me 6-7 months before their ceremony, they have plenty of time to think about their answers to these questions. They have the opportunity to open their minds to possibilities for their ceremony. Their new ideas can be discussed with me as much as they need to throughout the planning process. Here are some ideas that came up for some of my couples only after we spent some time working on their ceremonies:
We want to incorporate a live band and a sing-a-long, but where should it go in the ceremony?
We like this ritual you mentioned and we want to work in themes of this father’s religion and this mother’s culture to weave the families together, but how?
These close and important family members died recently and we want to honor them without bringing down the mood of the ceremony, can you do that for us?
Believe you can have a ceremony that feels and sounds as powerful, loving, sacred, or culturally appropriate as you had ever wished it could be. Know that it takes a little time and planning with your Celebrant to make that happen in a good way.
Have an Advocate - If you choose your Celebrant early, they can help you realize your dreams and build solutions where other vendors see problems and extra work. If you pick an officiant last minute, they may only be able to offer to show up at the appointed time, maybe 10 minutes before, and get directed to the altar to perform their part. When brought in early, a Celebrant like me can take a much more collaborative approach with other vendors and help them understand why, from a ceremonial perspective, certain adjustments may need to be made for your specific ceremony. Once you have your imagination flowing with ideas about your ceremony, there is no telling what you might want to incorporate into your wedding. Want to have your guests surround you in a loving circle of chairs rather than stare at you from rows like they are at a movie theater? Maybe you would like to sit down during your ceremony instead of stand. Want to include your dog as your flower girl or ring bearer? Once you share these ideas with me, I can reach out to vendors weeks or months in advance. And as an advocate, I show up on the ceremony day and hour early to check in with the venue, the sound crew, the photographer, the couple and any friends and family I need to go over details with. I find that this calms nerves, dials down egos, and helps focus everyone on collaboratively creating a memorable ceremony full of connection.
Help Prioritize - I don’t think we can have it all - not always. I definitely don’t think we should break the bank trying. You may not know what a Celebrant can do to help you create a ceremony that is uniquely yours until you talk to one or read this post. Seek one out early in your planning process, talk out some details, and decide if what they are able to offer is important to you. When you have all of the information, use a tool like the one my friend Beth Kramer, day-of wedding coordinator, has here on her website to help sort out what you really want for your wedding. If having the type of ceremony that a Celebrant can help you create is in your top three to five priorities, it is good to have the full picture before purchasing some lower priority items or services. We have abundance in this world, including an abundance of options at different price points. Spend your money on what you value and use your imagination and creativity for those details that are less important to you.
When couples were forced by the pandemic to examine their priorities and get creative with their ceremonies over this last year, they realized that the officiant suddenly popped to the top of the list because, well, they needed one. Some states do not require you to have an officiant to be legally married, but my state does. With so much else stripped away from the wedding, couples put more time and thought into their ceremony and looked for Celebrants, like me, who could help them with their vision. They took a look at what was truly important to them and so many of the couples I worked with liked the wedding they ended up with better than the one they had been planning pre-pandemic. As I said at the beginning of this post, I think of a ceremony as a time to tell the story of your relationship and these couples getting married during the pandemic are realizing or remembering that. Take that reminder with you as you plan for your wedding. Think about how you want to tell your story and start looking early for the Celebrant who can help you tell it.