Officially official!

jbgcelebrantSince I became a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant in 2008, I have officiated at over 500 wedding ceremonies… because I was a minister.  Even though I am trained as a Life-Cycle Celebrant, there just isn’t an easy way for a lay person to marry people here in New Jersey – we don’t have a justice of the peace option here.

So I was delighted when NJ recently passed a new law that allowed those who have trained at organizations like the Celebrant Foundation to legally solemnize weddings!  CF&I’s program is an eight month long, intensive program that covers everything about being a Life-Cycle Celebrant – ritual theory, open communication, marketing, and it was frustrating to go through this extensive training, and then still have to jump through hoops to take care of the legal part of the ceremony.

I am proud to say that I am officially registered with the state department, and I can’t wait to sign my first marriage license as a “Civil Celebrant” on Tuesday!

Wedding: Eric & Courtney


Courtney and Eric were engaged on the Brooklyn Bridge – a place that holds a special significance to Courtney, and now holds a special meaning for both of them. Their ceremony was held on the stunning Pebble Beach within Brooklyn Bridge Park, behind the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. We included a handfasting, and they said there, “I do’s” while they were bound together.

Their personal vows were heartfelt and lovely, and the whole celebration seemed to capture them well – it was thoughtful, personal, meaningful, and unique.  Their reception was held at reBar, in DUMBO, and the couple lead a parade of their guests through Brooklyn, to make their way to the celebration.  Courtney wrote a really eloquent post on her blog about it, too (she has her first novel coming out soon!).

Thanks to Courtney for sharing these stunning photos with me.  Just look at the bride and groom’s faces! They really say it all, right?

LOVE this breaking of the glass shot!

 

A Life-Cycle Celebrant’s Worth

I am often asked, “Why do you charge so much?” Professional officiants and independent ministers in my area (New Jersey and New York City) have wide range of prices – you can find an officiant who is advertising “fully personalized wedding ceremonies” with fees from $100 to over $1000.

 

How can this be? Why would you even consider paying $1000 for an officiant when you can get the same service for $100?

Because you are not getting the same service from a $100 officiant, no matter what their website says or what they are telling you.

My average fee, for a full, custom, Celebrant ceremony is $800. This fee takes into consideration many factors, such as my training and expertise, as well as the literal time that goes into creating, writing, and officiating at your wedding ceremony.

Training: I completed an eight month intensive course through the Celebrant Institute and Foundation. These courses teach you the building blocks of ceremony, through studying ritual theory, and the works of people like Arnold Van Gennep and Joseph Campbell, as well as wedding case studies, ceremony writing, and more. My certificates are in their Weddings course, as well as their Family & Children’s course. I now teach Fundamentals of Celebrancy and Weddings & Other Ceremonies for Couples at CF&I, and have developed my own course for them, too: Tech Tools for the Savvy Celebrant, showing Life-Cycle Celebrants how to best use iPhones, Kindles, and other tech tools in their celebrancy practice.

Experience: I have officiated at nearly 500 ceremonies, and been a Life-Cycle Celebrant since 2008. My real world knowledge of how wedding ceremonies run and work is invaluable to my clients. I am calm, collected, and work well under pressure. I will never stress you out on your wedding day, and will do my best to make sure that everything I can is taken care of.  I arrive early, look presentable, and make myself available to answer any and all questions on your wedding day – I want this process to be as easy and simple as possible for you!

Time: There is a lot of background and prep that goes into creating unique ceremonies. Each ceremony I write for my clients is original, and highly personalized towards them. The elements, rituals, and vows have all been written by me or hand-picked and carefully edited by me. So, before you even send me an email or give me a phone call, there is hours of work that has gone in already – hours of training, hours of experience, hours of research and writing.

Also, it’s important to remember that Eclectic Unions is my full time job, and primary income source.  Many cheaper officiants out there will charge less because they are doing this on the side, or as a supplement to their income.  I feel so lucky that I am able to support myself and my family with a vocation I am so passionate about, and being a full-time Celebrant also enables me to make myself more available for last-minute weddings, rehearsals, meetings, and other commitments.  You and your wedding ceremony are my number one priority, the entire time that we work together.

So let’s start from the beginning – how did you find me? Advertising and website costs are a portion of my fee, too. I want to be sure my awesome clients can find me! I make sure my gallery and testimonials are updated, and will also frequently edit my copy, to keep it fresh and relevant.

Once you contact me and we set up a consult, I spend at least half an hour answering emails and calls, and prepping material for our meeting. Our meeting will take about an hour, but I always arrive half an hour early, because I know your time is valuable, and I don’t want to be late!  I don’t count travel time here because I meet at a Starbucks very close to my home. Time spent: 1.5 hrs

 

Hopefully, we have an amazing meeting, and an instant connection. I spend some time after our meeting making extra notes. You decided the next day that you’d like me to officiate at your wedding, so I prep a contract and email it over to you. A few days later, I receive the contract and retainer in the mail, and I email your homework and all of my carefully crafted and written material over to you. I add all of your information to my calendar and client file, and file your contract and information. Time spent: 1 hr.

 

In the months before your wedding, I am always available for phone calls and email conversations. You email me a few times with some ideas, and we chat back and forth, staying in touch as your ceremony gets closer. I send you a reminder two weeks before the homework is “due,” (about three months before your big day!). Time spent: 2.5 hrs.

Now I get to work. I take out the notes from our meetings, compile all of the information you’ve sent me, and begin working on your ceremony. I have a few questions as I go, and we email or chat on the phone to clarify. I research and write any new rituals that are to be included, or edit and personalize the existing rituals I have, so they really express the meaning that my client is looking for with their ceremony. A ceremony will take me an entire day of work to complete, usually spread out over two or three days. Time spent: 8 hrs.

I email the draft over to you, and we collaborate. You make a few edits and corrections, and soon we have the final draft of the ceremony. I send information to you on how to apply for your marriage license, and help to edit the personal vows that you and your partner will plan to exchange. If you are having a program printed out, you may send it to me to make sure it’s all correct. About two weeks before the ceremony, I remind you that your final payment is due, and confirm the rehearsal. Time spent: 5 hrs.

It’s wedding week! I check in early in the week, to make sure that everything is going well, the ceremony is set, the vows are ready, and the marriage license has been acquired. I prep my ceremony script to read from on the day off. I prep all of the readings and vows you’ll be using in your ceremony, and print them for you on beautiful card stock, so it’ll look good in your photos, and you’ll have a lovely keepsake of your wedding day. I prep a cue sheet to bring, to make sure the venue coordinator has all of the information about the processional. And, of course, I am available via phone and email to assuage any last minute nerves, and help you in any way I can! Time spent: 2 hrs.

The day before your wedding, I attend the rehearsal. I arrive at least fifteen minutes early, because I don’t want to be late. The rehearsal takes about forty five minutes, and we go over the whole ceremony, start to finish, mostly concentrating on the processional and the recessional. I go over any details and information for the wedding day, meet the bridal party and venue coordinator, and collect the marriage license. Time spent: 1 hr plus travel time.

It’s your wedding day! I arrive at least half an hour early, but the truth is I’ve been sitting in the parking lot for half an hour beyond that – being on time to your wedding is so important to me, and I leave a lot of “buffer time” in case of traffic. I find you and your partner, and go over any last minute details or changes. I get the marriage license signed, and coordinate with the venue and your other wedding professionals to make sure we are all on the same page. I problem solve, if anything is going awry (Musician didn’t show up? Let me get my PA system from my car and plug an iPod into it. Venue coordinator doesn’t have the processional order? Hand them a cue sheet. Is your unity ceremony set up and ready to go? Do we have tissues in place?). And then, we start the ceremony! Time spent: 1 hr plus travel time.

Here’s the part that your guests see – a beautiful, unique, and personal ceremony, twenty to twenty five minutes in length. I guide you, your bridal party, parents, and anyone else involved with the ceremony through all of the steps, and make sure that everyone knows where they need to be and what they need to be doing. We’ve put so much time into planning this whole thing that the ceremony seems effortless. Time spent: ½ hr.

 

After the ceremony, I swing by the bridal suite for a hug and a goodbye, go over the information for your marriage license, and head home. I sometimes will stay for cocktail hour, but never stay for the reception. Time spent: Travel time.

The next day, I prepare and mail your marriage license, and email you a quick note of congratulations, along with the information on how to receive your marriage license. Time spent: ½ hr.

All in all, I spent at least twenty two to twenty three hours on each ceremony (depending on if you have a rehearsal or not), not including my travel time. And this doesn’t take into consideration the time I spend getting ready for the meetings, rehearsals, and weddings – I ask if you have any preferences for what I wear on your wedding day, and do my best to accommodate any requests.

So, if my base fee is $600 (not taking into account travel time or a rehearsal), this amounts to about $27 per hour. For a highly trained professional, this is a very reasonable hourly fee. You are not paying $600 for half an hour – you are paying $600 for twenty plus hours of work, and years of experience. I really think my testimonials speak for themselves here – my couples love their experience and love their wedding ceremonies!

When you are considering who to choose to officiate at your wedding, please don’t be scared away by high fees. Consider all of the time, training, and expertise that goes into creating a beautiful and unique wedding ceremony, and hire someone who will care about your wedding ceremony as much as you will. Your wedding day is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I want it to be as absolutely perfect as it can be. A Celebrant ceremony is truly an investment in your marriage and your memories.

Wedding: Heidi & Ryan

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Heidi and Ryan’s ceremony was one of the most unique weddings I’ve had the honor of officiating at.  Heidi is Jewish, while Ryan is from Trinidad.  Both are incredible, amazing, politically charged individuals who bring out the best in their partner.  I feel like Heidi and Ryan are true partners in life, always supporting and encouraging the other.

It was one of the most colorful weddings I’ve ever done!  I loved Ryan’s attire (his shirt combined with the yarmulke pinned on his dreadlocks just said it all!), and Heidi was stunning in her custom made red dress.  I remember, in our first phone call, when Heidi told me she was wearing a red dress, and all of the Jewish elements, I thought to myself, “I would LOVE to do their wedding!”

They were married under a chuppah, the traditional marriage canopy – the prayer shawls of all of the men in Heidi’s family were laid on top, to form the shelter that they were married under.  At the beginning of the ceremony, the bride recited a Hebrew prayer, called the Shehechayanu, which is recited whenever something is done for the first time – this was the first time that all of their family and friends had gathered together.  I echoed with the English translation:

Baruch ata adonai elohenu melech ha olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh. (Blessed is the Eternal, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and bringing us to this time.)

Heidi’s brother, one of the groomsmen, recited the Kiddush, the prayer and blessing over the wine that Heidi and Ryan shared during the ceremony.  Ryan also broke a glass at the end, another Jewish tradition.

Their personal vows were sweet and poignant.  All in all, it was a beautiful ceremony, honoring both cultures and traditions of the bride and groom, along with the personalities and individuality of the couple themselves.

Photos courtesy of their lovely wedding photographer, Sarah Postma.

For more details and photos, check out the blog post by their photographer, Sarah Postma!