A few times a year, I am contacted by a couple looking to find two officiants to marry them, usually a rabbi, and a priest or minister of some stripe. The idea is such a complicated and multi-faceted one, I have written this blog post as a way of offering a fuller, “all you could ever want to know” on this topic.
If you are thinking you want two officiants for your wedding, let me start by asking a question back. Why? Why do you want TWO officiants? Your reasons matter, because they determine whether it is really worth the extra effort and expense of having two officiants.
A few things to consider:
* Hiring two officiants is going to cost you double the price of hiring one officiant. Why? Because you are hiring the time of two people, not one. Unless Daddy Warbucks is financing your wedding, this probably means you are going to try to negotiate prices with both of your officiants that is considerably less than what he or she would be earning if they were doing the ceremony on there own.
* From the officiant’s perspective, this creates a quandary, for both of them! Leading half of a wedding is actually MORE work, not LESS work, because it involves trying to coordinate with an unknown other person who may or may not be easy to work with. The officiant’s travel time is the same and their monthly marketing costs are unchanged. (Mine are over $300 a month, in case you were wondering!) It especially creates a dilemma if your wedding date is in a busy month, like May.
If, for example, I were to accept a co-officiation gig for May 8, at half my normal fee because I’m one of two clergy — and then I get a call for a typical one-officiant wedding on the same day — I’ve suddenly missed out on hundreds of dollars! This is very painful for your officiant because weddings are a hugely cyclical business. There are about 6 months out of the year when we don’t officiate any weddings at all (but we’re still having to pay our website advertising fees.)
* Fortunately for me, I don’t truly have this dilemma because the rabbinical assembly I belong to does not allow me to co-officiate. So, my short answer when people call and ask me to co-officiate is to say: “Sorry, I can’t. I’m not allowed to.” You will find this is true for a majority of rabbinical school graduates. This is why people often have a hard time finding the rabbi-half of a co-officiation equation.
Rabbis ordained in the Reconstructionist, Reform or Conservative movements are prohibited by their rabbinical assembles from co-officiating. (The reasons for that decision are another story). Such grads make up perhaps 80% of all rabbis in America. Orthodox rabbis make up another 15%, and they definitely won’t co-officiate (they won’t even allow intermarriage.) That leaves you with about 5% of ordained rabbis who even have the permission of their ordaining institutions to consider your request (regardless of their personal feelings on the matter).
Also, buyer beware. Every “rabbi” is not created alike. There are handful of rabbinical groups out there that are not respected in the field. They aren’t quite as bad as “Internet ordination” but their programs demand about 2% of what a traditional rabbinical college demands of its students.
Legitimate rabbinical programs to look for (which DO allow co-officiation) are Aleph (Renewal movement) and IISHJ (International Institute for the Society of Humanistic Judaism). Aleph and IISHJ grads are allowed to co-officiate and I can personally vouch for the legitimacy of their training programs. Contact the colleges and ask for a list of their graduates and their locations.
Let me pause here and clarify a few terms: Co-officiation means having two clergy of two different faiths jointly conduct the ceremony. This is different from a simple interfaith ceremony, which has only one person officiating, but has both faiths being honored and incorporated in some way. Only about 5% of all ordained rabbis are allowed to co-officiate.
But many many more can officiate an interfaith ceremony (as the solo clergy member). Conservative rabbis still cannot officiate interfaith ceremonies (weddings with a Jew and a non-Jew), but Reform and Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Secular Humanist rabbis all can do so (their rabbinical assemblies leave it up to the individual rabbi).
So, in other words, you have many more rabbis to choose from if you are looking for a straight interfaith ceremony with only one officiant, versus trying to orchestrate a co-officiated two-clergy-person ceremony.
All that said, let’s get back to what you said you want: co-officiation. Let’s say you DO find a rabbi you like, willing to co-officiate. Now let’s get back to my question: Why do you need two people? If the goal is to have some Jewish elements in your wedding, then a savvy minister or priest, educated in pluralistic values, can create a genuinely interfaith ceremony w/o a Jewish clergy present. Alternately, if your goal is to just have a Jewish “figure” as part of your wedding, you can invite an elderly grandparent, for example, to come up and recite the Kiddush over wine. He would delighted by the honor, and you don’t have to pay him anything.
It works the same way in reverse. If you hire a rabbi to do your interfaith wedding, the right rabbi knows all the things to do to make the service comfortable and meaningful to both Christians and Jews. And, to compensate for the “official Christian presence” issue, you can invite a family member to come up and do a reading from Apostle Paul, Book of Corinthians, for example, to add a specifically theistically Christian flavor to your event, if that matters.
Why is Co-Officiating Difficult?
Co-officiating a ritual is tricky because you basically have two people trying to jockey the job of one person. It is the role of the officiant to meet with the couple, present you with a variety of readings and ritual options, and then to let you, the couple, come back with your decisions. The variety of readings and options that I, for example, would give you to review contain BOTH Christian and Jewish traditions — as well as many secular readings on love and life. This is standard practice for any interfaith officiant who knows what she is doing.
In the end, this is what you are paying for when you hire an officiant — you are paying for someone who has combed the world’s literature and can offer you a wide range of options; you are hiring someone’s expertise and experience working in interfaith groups. You’re hiring a person who will be able to make every person in the room, no matter their faith tradition, feel “heard” and “represented”.
By adding another chef in the fire, you then have two people basically playing tug-of-war over who writes what section, who reads what section, etc.
* What happens if one clergy wants to do or say something that the other clergy believes will make part of the audience uncomfortable?
* What if one of the pair refuses to show their half of the ceremony to the other officiant?
* Who gets the final “read” or “say” on the whole ceremony? Do you really want to get involved in that, and NOT have the words and blessings of the ritual be fresh and be a surprise on your wedding day? (Most couples like that element of surprise and mystery.)
* If you ask each officiant to do a part, how do you ensure it flows together? How can you be sure that the ritual has a range of quiet, speaking and ritual, and that it doesn’t come across like chopsticks, words and rituals just piled on top of each other?
Conducting a wedding is like conducting a theater show. Would you hire a director to do Act I and another director to do Act II? Of course not. That would be just … odd. It could potentially be disjointed and jerky. … That’s often what it’s like to have two ceremony officiants.
Yes, a wedding can be done with two people and, sometimes it works, depending on the officiants involved. And, I’ll be honest, I’ve heard stories. Sometimes, it’s a nightmare.
Let me leave you with two ideas, which may or may not be provocative to you:
1) Trying to hire two people for a job that can easily be done by one person might be an indication that you don’t have faith or confidence in any one person you spoke with to do it right. If that rings true to you, then I encourage you to keep looking. There are people out there who are masters at weaving multi-faith ceremonies; I’ve seen it done, and I’ve done it myself.
2) Your desire for two officiants could also be an indication that you two, as a couple, have not fully processed how you are going to live a blended faith home together. If any part of that idea rings true to you, I implore you to go back and start talking about it, perhaps with a clergy person or a couple’s therapist, to facilitate the conversation. Your feelings need to be aired NOW, before the wedding day, and before the first baby comes! If you are both really solid and confident about how your family is going to blend your faith traditions, then I think you will feel much more comfortable hiring just one officiant.
One final thought to consider: Interfaith weddings are about much more than just who does the officiating.
When I get a call asking me to co-officiate — and then I find out the wedding venue is in a CHURCH, I confess, it leaves me slack-jawwed. A church? Are you kidding? Could you really not find a more neutral wedding venue than that?!? If your wedding is in a church, you’ve made the decision that your family’s primary religious identity (as a unit) is Christian — which is fine — but it also means you should hire a Christian to officiate your wedding.
The same thing applies to a synagogue. If you goal is to create an interfaith home, you should avoid having it at a synagogue. If you book in a synagogue, I would say your goal is not to raise an interfaith family. Your goal is to raise a mainly Jewish one, maybe with a few Christian holidays sprinkled in here and there that “Daddy” (or whomever) is technically celebrating. That’s OK, that’s your choice, but be courageous and acknowledge it from the get-go by hiring a rabbi to officiate! Don’t begin your married life with a bunch of mixed, contradictory messages.
Create a wedding ritual and wedding day that reflects the future home you intend to build together.
Here’s another way of framing the question: Are you sending your future children to Hebrew school or Sunday school? Because they both happen on Sundays, and you can only chose one. How you answer that question might help you answer what kind of officiant you hire for your wedding.
I hope some of this helps! Good luck!
And, if you have any questions, I’m always happy to talk these ideas over with people (at no charge), so just drop me a line.