Once the dress has been chosen, the venue selected, the cake ordered, and floral arrangements figured out, you’re closer to the decision that should be at the literal heart of a wedding—finding the appropriate officiant to create the ceremony that best fits you as a couple. Most wedding literature provides minimal guidance for finding an officiant, especially when compared to the focus given to the more glamorous aspects of the wedding. But finding the right person is crucial: It sets the tone of the entire celebration and ensures that the words spoken and promises made are tailored to your feelings and beliefs.
Before you begin looking for an officiant, sit down with your significant other to discuss your expectations and what type of ceremony you both envision. Consider your backgrounds—will you be bringing a strong religious or cultural foundation to the wedding, or are you planning a service to include two faiths? Do you want to acknowledge a spiritual union without prescribing to a specific belief system? Or would you prefer a civil or nonreligious ceremony? The answer to these questions will be the first criteria to narrow your search. From there, reflect on the people you know who may be a good fit or begin a search. The Internet has many resources for local options, including a search for clergy and ceremony officiants within the vendor section of www.hudsonvalleyweddings.com and the Hudson Valley city guide on The Knot’s website.
Once you’ve found a few choices that seem promising, get in touch. “Take time to discuss ahead of time what the vision for your ceremony is and what your values are and prepare questions to ask an officiant,” says Puja Thomson, an interfaith minister from New Paltz who has been performing ceremonies for 13 years. “Then, after selecting a minister or two to interview, go with an open mind to meet with your first choice. Ask your questions. Notice what questions he or she asks you. Tune in to what you sense; whether you feel comfortable and trusting with the officiant. Do you feel heard? Is your point of view respected? Are you on the same wavelength? You’ll very quickly find out if you’re compatible or not.”
If you’re going the traditional route with a religious wedding, do your homework if you’re not using a clergy member that you or your partner knows. “If [the couple is] looking for a sacred moment, they should be very careful to find someone who is genuinely religious and will approach their wedding with the care that it deserves,” says Father Richard Haselbach, an ordained Catholic priest from Carmel. “I would look for seminary training and somebody who approaches you, not like [you are] a business client, but [instead as] someone who cares about your spiritual wellbeing.”
Make sure that the candidate takes a sincere interest in you and your significant other, your wishes, and your story as a couple. Ask the officiant to also share their own story to further investigate your compatibility. Through these talks, you may discover more flexibility than you thought possible. For example, though the Catholic religion says couples must marry within the church, Father Haselbach agrees to do weddings at most any location, frequently participates in interfaith ceremonies and says he is about to help his first gay couple in a ceremony. He is also part of a growing number of priests who have become married themselves—and since leaving what he calls the “corporate” church, is now working with CITI Ministries, an organization that promotes the spiritual services of married priests. While perhaps not the right option for those with certain beliefs, Father Haselbach’s policy of nonjudgment and willingness to help anyone on their path to God has brought him to officiate more than 100 ceremonies per year.
Couples may also find themselves charmed by the explanation of how the officiant came to help couples celebrate their marriages. Thomson, who was given the first name “Puja” by the spiritual master Osho in India in 1974, received her name well before she ever performed a wedding. The name means ceremony, worship, or offering—and was a hint of the destiny she would later fulfill as an interfaith minister.
Zoe B. Zak, a rabbinical assistant for the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, has another kind of story—she was moved by a couple she met at a Toronto music festival a number of years ago who were very much in love, but the groom was Jewish and his Polish bride was Catholic. “In all of Canada there wasn’t one rabbi who would marry them,” Zak says. “They desperately wanted a Jewish ceremony and were very hurt not to be able to find someone to support their marriage. I learned everything I could about a Jewish wedding ceremony and I went to Toronto and performed this wedding, and it was an incredibly moving experience for me [to be] standing under the chuppah with this couple at this sacred and amazing time in their lives.” Soon after, Zak began receiving requests to do more weddings and began specializing in interfaith weddings. Some rabbis, who cannot traditionally perform interfaith weddings, began referring couples to Zak for their ceremony. She is currently in rabbinical school and has halted her officiating until she is finished.