Posts Tagged ‘Co-officiate weddings in philadelphia’

woman wearing red and gold dress holding up handsA 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.

The short answer is “Yes, I will co-officiate” but if feel like I would be shirking my ethical obligations by not inviting these couples to think more deeply about the question. Because having co-officiants will definitely cost more money, and it has the potential of becoming a very complicated and unhappy process (although I have not personally experienced that, thankfully. But I know people who have …). So, here are the issues:

If you are thinking you want two officiants for your wedding, the first thing to ask yourselves is: 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 may incline you 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 their 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 for your officiants 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 $500 a month, in case you were wondering.) It especially creates a dilemma if your wedding date is in a busy month, like May or October.

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 online advertising fees.)

* Some rabbis are not allowed to co-officiate, based on the rules of their ordaining religious organization. This is why people often have a hard time finding the rabbi-half of a co-officiation equation.

Rabbis ordained in the Reconstructionist 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 60% of all rabbis in America. Orthodox rabbis make up another 15%, and they definitely won’t co-officiate (they won’t even officiate at an intermarriage.) That leaves you with about 25% 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 5% 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. The Reform movement allows its rabbis to decide whether they would like to co-officiate.


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 o

nly one person officiating, but has both faiths being honored and incorporated in some way.

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 who is 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.

In other words, it is completely possible to have one officiant conduct an interfaith ceremony where both religious traditions are honored and represented. You just have to hire the right person.

Why is Co-Officiating Difficult?

bride and groom walking down the aisle

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. (At least, that is how any officiant who is worth the money you are paying them conducts the process. There are people out there who just use the same canned script for everyone, but that is never how I would prepare a ceremony.)

For example, I give couples a 38-page file of poems and readings to choose from, many from explicitly Christian and Jewish traditions — as well as many more from secular sources. I also offer the same array of rituals to choose from. There are 8 elements in a typical Jewish wedding, so we review and discuss all of those.

Then we look at rituals from Christian tradition, such as a unity candle, sharing from wine, the Greek Orthodox crowning ceremony, and the handfasting ritual. Then we look at rituals from secular American culture, such as the sand ceremony, the time capsule, and the tree planting.

Lastly, we look at rituals borrowed from other cultures and still other religious traditions such as jumping the broom, a Quaker minute of silence or the Quaker “minute of joyful noise”, the Celtic ringwarming, and the Swiss log-cutting ritual.

These are the kinds of things the right officiant, schooled in interfaith weddings, can offer you. And none of them require two people to do them.

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 potentially have two people basically playing tug-of-war over who writes what section, who reads what section, etc. Here are some conflicts that sometimes arise:

* 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 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, so I don’t recommend the couple “proof” their ceremony in advance.)

* If you ask each officiant to do a part of the ceremony, 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 piece. 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.

My Own Experience


Most of the time when couples first contact me saying they want two officiants, they end up deciding one will do just one, and not one of these couples has ever regretted their decision. On only two occasions has a couple decided that they really did need two officiants, and in both instances, they were couples who were not stressed about their budgets. 

Both of the ceremonies went fine, and I am still friendly with one of my co-officiants. I would be happy to recommend her to any couple and work with her again. I can also report that I probably spent 40% more time preparing that ceremony than I would have if she had not been involved. It wasn’t because she was hard to work with — to the contrary — but it simply takes time for two people to blend and meld their own distinct ideas and styles into one cohesive ceremony. We sent our ceremony back and forth probably 10 times before we came up with one flowing whole that we both felt happy with.

In the end, it was a beautiful ceremony and no one had any regrets. But the experience confirmed for me that the one thing dual officiants will never be is time-efficient! For this reason, co-officiated ceremonies is the only type of ceremony where I am unable to offer discounts on my fee.

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.

More Than Just the Officiant

anniversary birthday cake celebration

One final thought to consider: Interfaith weddings are about much more than just who does the officiating. They are also a statement, a reflection, of the kind of future you envision.

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? Really? Could you not find a more neutral wedding venue? 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 perfectly fine — but it also means you should hire a minister or priest to officiate your wedding!

The same thing applies to a synagogue. If you goal is to create an interfaith home, you should avoid having your wedding 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 choose 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.

Finally, I heartily recommend a nonprofit association called interfaithfamily.com. They have great resources for interfaith couples about not just wedding ceremonies but all aspects of interfaith family life. They are a wonderful organization with many great resources free of charge.

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