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Archive for the ‘WEDDINGS!’ Category


Their Secret Was
Jalal al-Din Rumi, 1207 – 1273

A married couple used to come see me once in
a while. Among the many I knew who were wed,
they appeared the most happy.

One day I said to them, “What marital advice
could you offer to others that might help them
achieve the grace you found?”

And the young woman blushed and so did her
husband; so I did not press them to answer.
But I knew.

Their secret was this: That once every day, for
an hour, they treated each other as if they were
gods and would, with all their heart, do anything,
anything, their beloved desired.

Sometimes that just meant holding hands and
walking in a forest that renewed their souls.

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It’s possible to be married under twinkling stars in the planetarium of The Franklin Institute! It is definitely one of the most memorable and ethereal wedding venues in metro Philly.

Should you write your own wedding vows? It’s a question only you can answer; it’s a challenge only about 1 in 10 couples whose weddings I officiate choose to take on.

Below is an example of a great personally written vow — it’s an ideal length and strikes the perfect tone.

I’m sharing it with permission; their anonymity was requested:

They say love comes to those who still hope after disappointment, who still believe after betrayal and who still love after they’ve been hurt. I know this is true because I found you.

Patrick – you are my best friend and I thank god he brought you into my life.

I love how tenderhearted you are toward me and when you show your sentimental side, the side that comes out when I am having a bad day and lifts my spirit.

I love how you love me, a pure love that I have never found in anyone else; the kind of love that is accepting of my flaws, knows my deepest insecurities and pain and continues to love me without judgment, but with acceptance and strength.

In this sometimes chaotic world, I know I can find peace with you by my side (and by that I mean binge watching Netflix and HBO Go).  I know with you beside me it will all be okay because of the love and friendship we share.

I promise my unconditional love for a lifetime, to listen and to hold your hand, to always kiss you goodnight and to do my best to always make you feel loved.

I promise to remember that although neither of us is perfect, we are perfect for each other.

I promise to fight for us, and to forgive quickly, no matter what challenges might carry us apart.

I promise to always find my way back to you.

Finally, (because this could be a deal breaker), I vow to love you when you are 65, retired and still playing Xbox.

I love your soul.

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Whenever a couple has a piece of literature, movie or music that they share passionately in common, it presents such a fun opportunity to try to work in some quotes or passages into the wedding ceremony. This week, by happenstance, I finally found a perfect excerpt from Star Trek, which could be used for a Trekkie-loving couple!

Here, in Season 6, Episode 7 of Deep Space Nine, “You Are Cordially Invited,” we watch the wedding ceremony between Worf and Jadzia Dax. Watching the choreography in the episode is much better than just reading the script, but I’ve typed up the exchange below, for anyone who might wish to adapt it in their own ceremony.

Acting out the batlyths and the drumming would probably be a bit over-the-top for most folks, but even just using some of the quotes, or passages, as spoken by the officiant, could sound completely beautiful in a ceremony. Obviously, the references to “Klingons” would be replaced with “human” – as in No one can oppose the beating of two human hearts. And you could skip the fable about destroying the gods. In other words, this scene could be adapted into a funny, yet touching, text for the vow exchange.

For all of you random Google-readers out there, who have happened upon this blog entry, I’m an officiant in metro Philly who writes about Judaism and weddings (and sometimes both!). If you want a creative Star-Trek inspired wedding ceremony, I AM willing to travel! 🙂

 

 

Prior to the ceremony, the Klingon Martok says this:

And yet I love her deeply.

We Klingons, often tout our prowess in battle, our desire for glory and honor above all else. But how hollow is the sound of victory without someone to share it with? Honor gives little comfort to a man alone in his home, and in his heart.

At the ceremony, his wife Sirilla speaks as the Officiant:

{Officiant} (drumming) With fire and steel did the gods forge the Klingon heart. So fiercely did it beat, so loud was the sound that the gods cried out ‘on this day we have brought forth the strongest heart in all the heavens’. None can stand before it without trembling in its strength. But then the Klingon heart weakened, its steady rhythm faltered, and the gods said ‘Why have you weaken so? We have made you the strongest in all creation!”

And the heart said {groom} “I am alone”.

{Officiant} And the gods knew that they had erred. So they went back to their forge and they brought forth another heart.

{bride enters} {batlyths presented} {Officiant} But the second heart beat stronger than the first. The first was jealous of its power.

{ceremonial clash} Fortunately, the second heart was tempered by wisdom.

{bride} If we join together, no force can stop us.

{Weapons set aside. Couple embraces}

{Officiant} And when the two hearts began to beat together, they filled the heavens with a terrible sound. For the first time, the gods knew fear. They tried to flee but it was too late. The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods who created them, and turned the heavens to ashes. To this very day, no one can oppose the beating of two Klingon hearts.

{Officiant turns to the Groom} Does your heart beat only for this woman?

{Groom} Yes.

{Officiant} And will you swear to join with her and stand with her against all who would oppose you?

{Groom} I swear.

{Officiant} (Bride), daughter of ____ , does your heart beat only for this man?

{Bride} Yes.

{Officiant} And will you swear to join with him and stand with him against all who would oppose you?

{Bride} I swear.

{Officiant} Then let all here present today know that this man and this woman are married.

{Then guests rush them with padded sticks and konk them!}

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On the summer day in 2015 that the U.S. Supreme Court finally legalized gay marriage, it was a day that 28 years earlier, I could never have imagined coming. That year, at the tender, naïve age of 16, I was deeply in love with a man, whom I chastely dated for 5 months. The chasteness didn’t bother me. In my mind, if I were him, I wouldn’t have wanted to kiss me either. So I could hardly blame him for all of those dates we spent laughing, talking and bonding — all the while remaining stoutly vertical in orientation.

Sometime as the six-month anniversary neared, he invited me to breakfast at a good home cookin’-type of place called Perkins, where he invited me to  the prom and told me he was gay in the same sentence. After I choked on my – whatever it was I was eating – I blurted out “Sure!” Then, after a more reflective pause, I said: “I can’t see any reason why not.”

Later … years later … I could think of quite a few good reasons “why not.” Such as the fact I would get all decked up and looking the best I had probably ever looked in my life, and proceed to spend h-o-u-r upon h-o-u-r slow dancing with the most beautiful man I had ever laid eyes on, and we would not even kiss. Not even once. Getting weak in the knees would not be an option, as fainting couches had gone out of style about a century earlier. Passing out was not an option either.

Or there was the simple fact I was desperado in love with a person who, for a simple fact of biology, (and me having the wrong version,) was incapable of ever returning my feelings. Yes, a great early lesson in the principles of equality, (and one might point to this experience as a crucial formative experience that helped me become a passionate advocate for equality issues however they might appear.) But an experience that would nurture and build confidence in a young girl with Zero confidence and maybe even Negative Zero confidence — it was not.

Then, there was the logistical question of what to do AFTER the prom, since, well, we obviously wouldn’t be doing THAT. Instead, we became that couple that all the teachers who planned and staffed the After the Prom Party drooled over because we didn’t just go to the After the Prom Party. We stayed at the After the Prom Party. And by stayed, I mean we STAYED. The entire night. Until sunrise, at 6 a.m.

There were so few people left at the After the Prom Party by the time we left, my date even won the Top Prize at the raffle! Yup, that’s right! Mr. No- Kisser won an honest-to-goodness, bona fide color TV, and let me tell you, in 1989, that was still a pretty damn cool thing.

Ohhh, was I jealous. But what an unfair injustice this was! Mr. No-Kisser didn’t even like TV, and wasn’t I the one who had just spent my entire junior prom at a sans-kissing junior prom? It seemed like the powers of the universe could have at least given ME the 20-inch TV. You know, as some sort of consolation boobie prize or something.

***

Fast forward, and it is now 2015, and I officiate weddings. Once word got out that Pennsylvania would allow gay marriages – slightly before the national referendum was issued – I was the first in line to make sure that the world knew loud and clear that I would be not just happy, but honored to officiate such a wedding.

I didn’t so much as pause before forking over thousands of dollars in advertising, adding my name to the “LGBT special sections” that were being added into all the wedding magazines and wedding websites, letting people know who the “LGBT-friendly officiants” were. Had I not, after all, been an “ally” for well over two decades? I figured Wow, a chance to finally live my values. A chance to prove to all the people who weren’t looking and didn’t care one way or the other that Yes, I went to the prom with a gay man, and 25 years later, I’d do it again too!

Thousands. Of dollars. It’s been nearly two years and my phone has not rung even once. (At least not from any LBGT couples. The other uber-liberal, pro-LGBT straight people are still calling me all the time.)

Doesn’t the great entity that balances those scales of justice up in the astral archaepolego remember that I have been advocating for gay rights for 25 years? Shouldn’t that knowledge somehow enter the subconscious of gay and lesbian couples looking for an officiant, that they might somehow, just in their kischkes, intuit that I really am the perfect officiant for them?

Maybe this is why I found so much solace, so much endless, unbridled laughter, when the world’s greatest comedic writer, David Sedaris, recently offered up his take on the long-fought, newly won right to gay marriage. For reasons of copyright, I’m sure it would break all sorts of laws every which way to Sunday to reprint his entire article here, so I won’t do that.

Instead, I urge you to read the whole megilla by going to its source, The New Yorker, at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/28/a-modest-proposal.\ It appears in the Sept 28, 2015, issue under the title ‘A Modest Proposal.’

In the meanwhile, after the intro (to help set the stage), I offer a few excerpts that hone in on ONE of Sedaris’ hilarious observations about his newly found right to marry his boyfriend of 18 years. Here we go:

“A Modest Proposal” by David Sedaris
(an excerpt)

“London is five hours ahead of Washington, D.C., except when it comes to gay marriage. In that case, it’s two years and five hours ahead, which was news to me. “Really?” I said, on meeting two lesbian wives from Wolverhampton. “You can do that here?”

“Well, of course they can,” Hugh said when I told him about it. “Where have you been?”

Hugh can tell you everything about the current political situation in the U.K. He knows who the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, and was all caught up in the latest election for the whatever-you-call-it, that king-type person who’s like the President but isn’t.

Prime Minister?” he said. “Jesus. You’ve been here how long?”

It was the same when we lived in Paris. Hugh regularly read the French papers. He listened to political shows on the radio, while I was, like, “Is he the same emperor we had last year?”

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When it comes to American politics, our roles are reversed. “What do you mean ‘Who’s Claire McCaskill?’ ” I’ll say, amazed that I—that anyone, for that matter—could have such an ignorant boyfriend.

I knew that the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage was expected at 10 A.M.on June 26th, which is 3 P.M. in Sussex. I’m usually out then, on my litter patrol, so I made it a point to bring my iPad with me. When the time came, I was standing by the side of the road, collecting trash with my grabber. …

My iPad could get no signal at 3 P.M., so I continued walking and picking up trash, thinking that, whichever way the Supreme Court went, I never expected to see this day in my lifetime. When I was young, in the early 70s, being gay felt like the worst thing that could happen to a person, at least in Raleigh, North Carolina. There was a rumor that it could be cured by psychiatrists, so for most of my teens that’s where I placed my hope. I figured that eventually I’d tell my mother and let her take the appropriate steps. What would kill me was seeing the disappointment on her face. With my father I was used to it. That was the expression he naturally assumed when looking at me. Her, though! Once when I was in high school she caught me doing something or other, imitating my Spanish teacher, perhaps with a pair of tights on my head, and said, like someone at the end of her rope, “What are you, a queer?”

I’d been called a sissy before, not by her but by plenty of other people. That was different, though, as the word was less potent, something used by children. When my mother called me a queer, my face turned scarlet and I exploded. “Me? What are you talking about? Why would you even say a thing like that?”

Then I ran down to my room, which was spotless, everything just so, the Gustav Klimt posters on the walls, the cornflower-blue vase I’d bought with the money I earned babysitting. The veil had been lifted, and now I saw this for what it was: the lair of a blatant homosexual.

That would have been as good a time as any to say, “Yes, you’re right. Get me some help!” But I was still hoping that it might be a phase, that I’d wake up the next day and be normal. …

The fantasy remained active until I was 20. Funny how unimportant being gay became once I told somebody. All I had to do was open up to my best friend, and when she accepted it, I saw that I could as well.

… While I often dreamed of making a life with another man, I never extended the fantasy to marriage, or even to civil partnerships, which became legal in France in 1999, shortly after Hugh and I moved to Paris. We’d been together for eight years by that point, and though I didn’t want to break up or look for anyone else, I didn’t need the government to validate my relationship.

I felt the same way when a handful of American states legalized same-sex marriage, only more so: I didn’t need a government or a church giving me its blessing. The whole thing felt like a step down to me. From the dawn of time, the one irrefutably good thing about gay men and lesbians was that we didn’t force people to sit through our weddings. Even the most ardent of homophobes had to hand us that.

We were the ones who toiled behind the scenes while straight people got married: the photographers and bakers and florists, working like Negro porters settling spoiled passengers into the whites-only section of the train.

“Oh, Christopher,” a bride might sigh as her dressmaker zipped her up. “What would I have ever done without you?”

What saved this from being tragic is that they were doing something we wouldn’t dream of: guilt-tripping friends and relatives into giving up their weekends so they could sit on hard church pews or folding chairs in August, listening as the couple mewled vows at each other, watching as they’re force-fed cake, standing on the sidelines, bored and sweating, as they danced, misty-eyed, to a Foreigner song.

The battle for gay marriage was, in essence, the fight to be as square as straight people, to say things like “My husband tells me that the new Spicy Chipotle Burger they’ve got at Bennigan’s is awesome,” and “Here it is, Valentine’s Day less than a week behind us, and already my wife is flying our Easter flag!”

That said, I was all for the struggle, mainly because it so irritated the fundamentalists. I wanted gay people to get the right to marry, and then I wanted none of us to act on it. I wanted it to be ours to spit on. Instead, much to my disappointment, we seem to be all over it.

I finally got a signal at the post office in the neighboring village. I’d gone to mail a set of keys to a friend and, afterward, I went out front and pulled out my iPad. The touch of a finger and there it was, the headline story on the Times site: “SUPREME COURT RULING MAKES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE A RIGHT NATIONWIDE.”

I read it, and, probably like every American gay person, I was overcome with emotion. Standing on the sidewalk, dressed in rags with a litter picker pinioned between my legs, I felt my eyes tear up, and as my vision blurred I thought of all the people who had fought against this, and thought, Take that, assholes.

The Supreme Court ruling tells every gay 15-year-old living out in the middle of nowhere that he or she is as good as any other dope who wants to get married. To me it was a slightly mixed message, like saying we’re all equally entitled to wear Dockers to the Olive Garden.

Then I spoke to my accountant, who’s as straight as they come, and he couldn’t have been more excited. “For tax purposes, you and Hugh really need to act on this,” he said.

“But I don’t want to,” I said. “I don’t believe in marriage.”

He launched into a little speech, and here’s the thing about legally defined couples: they save boatloads of money, especially when it comes to inheriting property. My accountant told me how much we had to gain, and I was, like, “Is there a waiting period? What documents do I need?”

That night, I proposed for the first of what eventually numbered 18 times. “Listen,” I said to Hugh over dinner, “we really need to do this. Otherwise when one of us dies, the other will be clobbered with taxes.”

“I don’t care,” he told me. “It’s just money.”

This is a sentence that does not register on Greek ears. It’s just a mango-size brain tumor. It’s just the person I hired to smother you in your sleep. But since when is money just money?

“I’m not marrying you,” he repeated.

I swore to him that I was not being romantic about it: “There’ll be no rings, no ceremony, no celebration of any kind. We won’t tell anyone but the accountant. Think of it as a financial contract, nothing more.”

“No.”

“God damn it,” I said. “You are going to marry me whether you like it or not.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Oh, yes you are.”

After two weeks of this, he slammed his fork on the table, saying, “I’ll do anything just to shut you up.” This is, I’m pretty sure, the closest I’m likely to get to a yes.

I took another ear of corn. “Fine, then. It’s settled.”

***

So like I said in the beginning folks, if you are gay, or lesbian, and you are looking for a wedding officiant, you’re welcome to give me a call! No, I’ve never done a GLBT wedding before. But yes, I did waste thousands of dollars in advertising, which you apparently never saw, in an effort to find you and let you know that I happily extend my secular humanist, Jewish, interfaith and Irish handfasting ceremonies to couples of all gender combinations.

And, I don’t know what this has to do with anything, but don’t forget: I did go to my junior prom with a gay man! And 28 years later, I still remember him as the first person I ever fell in love with. He lives in San Francisco now, and me being in Philadelphia, we couldn’t possibly live farther apart and still be on the same continent.

But we are still friends on Facebook.

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Now, an artist has posthumously given Sendak the wedding he never had. Gay marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania in fall 2015.

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Maurice Sendak lived with his partner psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn for 50 years, though he never told his parents that they were a couple. Artist Ella German chose to posthumously give them the wedding they never had. What a lovely tribute to man who still makes children (and their parents) happy!

Born to Jewish-Polish parents, Maurice’s childhood was affected by the death of many of his family members during the Holocaust. Besides Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak also wrote works such as In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There.

Sendak described his childhood as a “terrible situation” due to the death of members of his extended family, which exposed him at a young age to the concept of mortality. His love of books began when, as a child, he developed health problems and was confined to his bed. He decided to become an illustrator after watching Walt Disney‘s film Fantasia at the age of 12. He spent much of the 1950s illustrating children’s books written by others before beginning to write his own stories.

Sendak mentioned in a September 2008 article in The New York Times that he was gay and had lived with his partner, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, for 50 years before Glynn’s death in May 2007. Revealing that he never told his parents, he said, “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.”[17]

Sendak’s relationship with Glynn had been mentioned by other writers before and Glynn’s 2007 death notice had identified Sendak as his “partner of 50 years.” After his partner’s death, Sendak donated $1 million to the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in memory of Glynn who had treated young people there.

Sendak was an atheist. In a 2011 interview, he stated that he did not believe in God and explained that he felt that religion, and belief in God, “must have made life much easier [for some religious friends of his]. It’s harder for us nonbelievers,” he said.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BM9EIbHRSh0

This is for you, all the dear couples I have met over the years — or whom I will meet over the next years to officiate your wedding.

For any couple looking for a little inspiration as they plan the wedding event of their dreams, I wanted to share this tear-jerking performance by a famous operatic singer and children’s choir in Israel. It is a photo montage of the whole wedding, but clues with dress and so forth can tell us this is a modern Orthodox wedding in Israel. (Such clues include separate gender seating; only male voices singing; the groom and bride’s father signed the ketubah, not the bride herself; and the bride’s dress gives at least a nod of modesty by having full-length arms and neck covered with lace.)

Before I go further, I should add one important caveat: This wedding appears to not be a bona fide wedding. It is a staged wedding, and the montage has been put together for performance and marketing purposes. It will warm your heart nonetheless.

(If you are planning a wedding in Israel and, I presume, have a generous budget, you can reach these musicians at muzickids@gmail.com.)

About the song’s performers: The “musickids” is a children’s choir conducted by Tal Vaknin and Yossi Yossi Azulay, two nationally renowned singers in Israel. This wedding performance was done in Havat Ronit (Ronit Farm) with a song called “Boi B’shalom“. The clip doesn’t share the name of who this incredible (adult) operatic performer is.

Now here, to me, comes the interesting part. What is this song exactly? What are its origins? Initially, I thought the lyrics to Boi B’shalom may be based on the 7th of the Hebrew blessings that are chanted or recited during a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, often by the rabbi. The blessings date back to the Middle Ages. If true, this song is an innovation on the melody of the traditional blessings; the blessings did not originate in operatic Italy after all!

The lyrics of the traditional 7th blessing are the following: “Boi b’shalom ateret ba’alah, gam besimchah uvetzahalah toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, boi, kalah; toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, shabat malkahBoi beshalom ateret ba’alah, gam besimchah uvetzahalah toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, boi, kalah; toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, shabat malkah.”

A translation: Blessed are You, God, who lights the world with happiness and contentment, love and companionship, peace and friendship, bridegroom and bride. Let the mountains of Israel dance! Let the gates of Jerusalem ring with the sounds of joy, song, merriment and delight – the voice of he groom and the voice of the bride, the happy shouts of their friends and companions. We bless you God, who brings bride and groom together to rejoice in each other.

————————–

Now, if you take the time to follow those words closely and watch the video simultaneously, you’ll see there is only a partial match. So like most Jewish questions, there appear to be multiple answers. Here is a second answer: I’ll leave it to you, readers, to compare the two possible source texts and draw your own conclusions.

(Also, I welcome any Jewish musicologists to weigh in right about now!)

Answer #2: The refrain in Boi B’shalom is the last verse of Lakha Dodi, which has also traditionally be sung at Jewish weddings. Here is the verse and its translation:

Boi b’shalom ateres baalah gam b’simcha uv’tzahala, toch emunei am segulah, boi challah, boi challah, (shabbas malkesa).

בואי בשלום עטרת בעלה גם בשמחה ובצהלה, תוך אמוני עם סגולה, בואי כלה, בואי כלה, (שבת מלכתא).

Translation:
Come in peace, crown of your husband, with rejoicing​ and with cheerfuln​ess, in the midst of the faithful of the chosen people: come, O bride; come, O bride (the Sabbath Queen).

Now … if you went back and did a lyric compare to the Youtube song, you’ll see this doesn’t really match up either. Well, the one sentence matches up. But where have the modern artists come up with all the other parts of the song?

In short: I don’t know. But enough high-browed thinking. Now it’s time to just sit back and soar with the music that must surely have come down on eagle’s wings.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

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imagesHow much can you expect to pay for a person to come to your location and officiate your wedding? What is a fair price ― a price that doesn’t seem like gross profiteering to you, and is a respectable wage to them?

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with people about the economics of officiating a lifecycle event. Most of these were about weddings in particular, but they have also happened around vow-renewal ceremonies, tombstone unveilings (a Jewish funeral tradition) and baby namings as well.

Some, but not all, of these people made it clear that they were taken aback to discover the “going rate” for wedding officiation. One person put it more bluntly, in a comment she posted on the wedding site The Knot. Her vent to fellow brides was along the lines of this: “How can a person charge $500 for a 20-minute service!? It’s outrageous!”

Hmmm. Well, actually, it isn’t. And I’ll explain why.

In this post, here is what I hope to share:
• How much does it cost to hire a wedding officiant in metro Philly (or the East Cost in general)?
• How much should it cost?
• How can you save costs on a wedding in order to be able to hire the talents of a good wedding officiant ― as opposed to someone just “dialing it in?”
• Lastly, for the truly budget-bound, I’ll offer some even more frugal ideas.

As you continue reading, I’d like to challenge you to think of these questions:
• What kind of a price do you expect to hear when asking for a price quote?
• Is your expectation reasonable?
• Do you believe a person engaged in a “religious” occupation should be taking a vow of poverty?
• If you extrapolate out your price expectation, would the person be living in poverty?

How you answer those questions might influence how you have, up until now, thought about the economics of the people you are hiring to complete various aspects of your wedding.

So How Much DOES It Cost, Anyway? (Your cheapest option)images 2

In the state of Pennsylvania, you can get married for $90. Literally. Go to City Hall, request a “self-marrying license,” pay $90, wait three days (that’s a legal requirement), and then sign the license in the company of two adults. The witnesses will sign it too, and provide their addresses. Mail the license back to the court. You are married.

People often express disbelief when I tell them this, but it is the honest to god’s truth. This is how I legally married. You can thank the Quakers for this; the state has very easy marriage laws because it was founded by a religious community that believed ardently against hierarchies.

If I take one issue with the “wedding chapel” type businesses propped up around the state, it’s the fact that not one them ever admit this fact. As someone who worked in journalism for two decades, I’m a big believer in “full disclosure.” You can get married in Pennsylvania for under $100, and you don’t need anyone else to do it.

So, if you really can’t afford a wedding, don’t have one. Use a Quaker s elf-marrying license, and go on a honeymoon instead!

Your Next Budget Option

23987225_007_aNow let’s assume you do want to have SOME kind of ceremony with either NO guests or even just a handful of guests. Now you have entered the realm of Option 2. To save money, you will want to get your license at a county courthouse (Montgomery County is the one I’m most familiar with) rather than at City Hall in downtown Philadelphia. Philadelphia County charges $100 for their license but Montgomery County only charges about $55. Other counties also offer lower rates.

You can use a county license from any county in Pennsylvania anywhere else in Pennsylvania (as far as I know — you should always double check that at the courthouse!) In other words, bride and groom must go in person, to a courthouse somewhere in the state, pay the fee, show the right paperwork, and then use the license within the next few months, or it is voided.

Once you have your license, you need a place to get married and someone who can sign it. You can hire a freelance minister / rabbi / chaplain who will meet you at your home, in a restaurant or in a park (etc) and hold a short, simple ceremony. The cost of this depends on whom you hire, how far you want them to travel, and how much time they are going to spend writing the kind of ceremony that is just right for you. (I’ll come back to this option later).

But that option will not be as cheap as your next-lowest price alternative, which is to go to a place like the Philadelphia Wedding Chapel. They are located off City Avenue, about 20 minutes outside Center City, and their “standard package” is $375. They will recite a prewritten ceremony (just changing the names of the two people), between 10 am and 3 pm on Mondays through Thursdays, and limit the number of guests who may witness. However, their rock-bottom cheapest rate is $150. That ceremony is called their “elope” special and no guests are allowed. You are limited to the same times and days of the week.

Now, I have not seen them do their work, so I cannot comment on the quality. Since no one is spending any time getting to know you or talk to you in advance, you probably do not have any say in what kind of readings they do, whether they use “God language” or not, and they certainly aren’t spending time sharing aspects of your love story, or who you are as individuals. They are simply a business I have found online, and there are probably other budget options like them out there.

But I can help you calculate the math. Your total price for a basic legal wedding ceremony with no guests is the price of the license (which, remember, you got prior to the ceremony from a county courthouse for $50 to $95) + $150 at the wedding chapel = for a total of $200-$250.

If you want this kind of simple “justice of the peace”-style of wedding but want to have a handful of guests and perhaps some champagne in a clean, attractive venue — and you still are okay with getting married at 1 pm on a Tuesday — your bare bones budget price is going to be $50 + $375 = for a total of $450.

Having an Officiant Come to You

61If all of this is still too “bare bones” for you, you have now entered the realm of standard wedding officiation – where you are hiring someone to come to your event, wherever that might be, and deliver a heartfelt, meaningful ceremony before you and your guests. You plan in advance (in person or by phone), and you secure the officiant’s commitment at the time and place you have chosen.

I do see officiants sometimes advertise for this kind of ceremony for as low $350 for the officiant. For that price, an officiant will not hold any pre-meetings in person, will not spend a lot of time getting to know you or writing a personalized “speech” or blessing for your ceremony, and is probably not traveling too great a distance to the venue site.

However, one would hope they are still taking the time to customize a ceremony with readings, sentiments and God-language (or lack of God language) that matches who you are as people. (Again, one would hope). At that price, I can tell you that they are not really making a living at what they are doing. They are probably giving up a weekend or evening family time, they are probably spending most of what they earn covering the costs of online advertising, and they probably have some other vocation that is paying their bills.

A more typical price range for what I will call a truly customized service is $800 to $1,500. Factors affecting the price are: who is offering the service, where the event is being held (travel time), and perhaps even what season it is. This is the price range you can expect for a full-on, traditional half-day wedding. (Oh wait, you say! I only want a ceremony that is 20 minutes long!) That’s fine … but it will, in the still, still basically be 10 to 15 hours of work for the officiant, from start to finish, to pull off your ceremony, and your wedding itself will probably book a venue for 5 hours of time.

In this price range, you can expect to meet with the officiant beforehand. You and the officiant will communicate another half-dozen times shoring up details of your ceremony. The officiant will spend several hours on-site on the day of your wedding, plus however many hours traveling.

If the distance traveled is more than a few hours, it would be customary for you to offer to pay the cost of a hotel room for the officiant. I know I’m always grateful when people hiring me extend this option; I don’t always accept, because I have small children at home, but I appreciate simply having it as an option.

Couples also usually invite me to attend the reception. How officiants respond to this varies. Personally, unless I know the couple outside of this event, I usually decline. I’m touched and grateful that they have offered, but personally I feel like it’s a simple way for me to save the couple $100 by not going. Plus, couples are totally engulfed by people they have loved and often not seen for many years at their wedding receptions. It’s not a great time for me to try to get to know them anyway. If a couple really wants to have a more long-term relationship with me, I would suggest a fun outing with our families to Longwood Gardens or some other locale sometime after the event.

Here are three factors that influence officiants’ price:

print 61• The officiant’s educational investment. As in all professions, people who have invested tens of thousands of dollars into their learning tend to charge more than someone who, for example, was ordained on the Internet. (And all the shades in between).

This is why rabbis tend to charge more than ministers. Why? Two reasons.

One, because the length of our education is often five or six years of full-time post-graduate coursework. Most Protestant programs take about two years. Priests don’t pay anything for their training and are guaranteed lifetime employment. Hiring a rabbi is akin to hiring someone with a doctorate degree.

Second reason: Christian and Jewish communities are structured differently economically. Priests are paid salaries by a huge, wealthy, international corporation (the Vatican). Certain types of ministers are “appointed” to churches, which pay their salaries through a nonprofit, tax-free structure. Other types of ministers, as well as rabbis, are freelance agents who must constantly find work, negotiate and renegotiate their wages, and have no umbrella organization or nonprofit assuring they make a living.

• The season. Why is this? Well, there are a LOT of weddings in the spring. If you are struggling with a budget, you can negotiate better prices among all your vendors if you schedule in the off-season. I’ve never gotten a call to do a wedding in February! I’ll give you a great price in February! (LOL).

This spring, I got a call from someone pressing the price-panic button. I was very sympathetic until I learned their wedding was on a Saturday night in mid-May. I’m happy to give discounts to people in financial distress, but my Saturdays in May are going to be booked solid; can I really afford to take a huge cut in my usual fee when this means I will probably turn away another wedding that would have paid me full price? Especially when the wedding business (and hence my income stream,) is so erratic?

If you’re hoping to negotiate with your vendors, think about your timing. November weddings are much easier to negotiate than June weddings.

• Lastly, distance. If an officiant is traveling 4 hours to and from your wedding, versus 30 minutes, that’s a big difference. Not just in miles on a car and time in a day, but in my case at least, in the cost of child care! In my early years of officiating weddings, I actually lost money on several weddings because I failed to take travel time (and all its associated costs) into consideration.

Hiring a Wedding (or Ritual) Officiant: What You Are Paying For

So if you aren’t hiring a ritual officiant for the legal aspects of getting married, why hire one at all? And how can you weigh a “good” one from a “bad” one?

What you are paying for when you hire an officiant, is the skill, knowledge and heart of the person who is creating the ritual for you. Even if what you want is “very simple,” no officiant worth their own dignity is going to show up with some canned, pre-scripted script with just your names inserted inside.

But alas, some people actually would. When I see people advertising a “customized” wedding ceremony for only $250, all I can think is: “Well, it must not be very customized.” It’s just not possible to write a customized wedding, spend 3-6 hours on the day of the wedding getting there, doing your job and getting back — and then charge $250! When you compare ads and officiants for weddings, we all use words like “customized,” but we don’t necessarily mean the same thing.

Ask questions.

Get details.

Most people getting married think: “Oh, I don’t want anything fancy. It’s simple.” Well, it may be simple in how it looks on the outside, but in the details, there are a million different ways that I can stand up and marry two people.

• Do you want someone standing up in front of your guests, quoting passages from the Old Testament and talking about the role of wife as a “helpmate”? If you do … that’s fine! But you don’t want to hire me.

• How do you feel about the audience saying “amen”?

• How “spiritual” do you like to get? Is it okay if your officiant wears a big bright hat and flowing robes? Or do you prefer a more demure or formal presentation?

• Would you like your officiant to crack a few jokes, or do you think a wedding ritual should be more serious?

• Does 10 minutes sound about right? Or more like about 20? Or even 30? Does your officiant ask you what you want!?

• Would you like a guest or two to come up and do a reading?

• Do you know what readings you like? How many hours do you have to find some? (I have a PDF file 25 pages long of readings I’ve assembled over the years; some officiants really strive to give you all the options; others leave you to figure it out on your own. That’s why they are only charging you $250!)

•  Do you want to write you own vows? Do you need guidance on writing them? Will the officiant offer it?

Even though we wedding officiants DO recycle parts of ceremonies and readings here and there, there is no such thing as a “canned script.” At least not one that is going to do you or your guests any justice.

Without spending at least some time talking to the officiant, explaining who you are as people and what your preferences are, we have no way of knowing what is the “right” thing to say.

alanah and scott, ketubahIt Just Takes Time

Beyond this ephemeral thing called “skill” you are paying for in an officiant, the other thing you are paying for is his or her time.

It takes time for an officiant to field calls and return calls (some of which won’t yield work). It takes time to:

* think about the couple and all the ways something can be said;

* get to know both partners, outline the many ritual choices, sometimes even meet with their parents;

* plan ahead for their date and not schedule vacations or personal events on the day of their wedding;

* give up time with our own family, usually on a weekend and often in an evening;

* possibly hiring a babysitter;

* travel each way to the venue site, which often takes more time than the wedding ritual  itself.

In short, we are investing way more than the “20 minutes” presumed by that blogger on The Knot ― even for a “simpler” lower-budget wedding. We are investing many hours for that magical 20 minutes that looks easy and came off seamlessly. And hey, don’t knock the importance of “magic”. A wedding ritual should be magical, and it is worth way more (in my opinion) than having high-end napkins on the table, or having 2 buckets of flowers instead of one.

One other thing to keep in mind: How many people you have in attendance at your wedding or vow renewal has virtually no impact on how much time we spend working for your wedding. Caterers use a price based on head count, but for officiants, we factor based on time. The prices people quote you will be an indication of how much time, thought and energy they are planning to spend creating the ritual of your wedding.

Is it okay with you if your officiant shows up five minutes before the ceremony, reads a canned script that takes under 10 minutes to declare you married, and then dodges out the door the minute it is over? If you are okay with that, then go for the $250 offer.

But, if the ritual part of your wedding is more important to you than that; if you want to be more involved, have a choice of readings, perhaps even meet in person first; if you want your officiant to show up early and stick around a little bit afterward – you’ll need to anticipate a higher price.

So just what kind of price quotes will you get in the officiant bidding process? Assuming your venue is within one hour of the officiant’s home, a typical price for a full-on wedding, with meetings, ketubahs and interfaith discussions (which take longer), I would be surprised by any price below $800. Some rabbis are willing to bend on their price (I am, depending on hardship, and depending on location). And again, a wedding in the low seasons of February or March are easier to down-negotiate. A full-on customized wedding in the months of May, June or September, a standard price would be $1200.

Lastly for very small home weddings, esp. second marriages, with 10-15 guests, in a non-peak season, $600 is a fairly universal fee.

I hope this helps!

Kim&Ryan3581***
For more on weddings, please see some of my other posts:

“How can I make my Jewish or interfaith wedding unique, funny or even funky?”

Mainline Philly’s best-kept outdoors wedding venue secret (and it’s free!)

“We are an interfaith couple. Should a rabbi or minister marry us?”

Is it possible to be a religious atheist? Can a Jewish ‘atheist’ have a Jewish wedding? Short answer : Yes.

Interfaith rabbi for secular, interfaith or Jewish weddings, baby namings and funerals

Secrets to finding a wedding officiant you’ll love

Best place to get married in Philly — and the world’s best wedding dress website!

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