I have found (through my own observations) that the most difficult search, after the wedding venue, for engaged couples is the officiant. If you don’t have the family minister or priest who baptized you, confirmed you, etc. etc. etc. then finding someone with whom you can share your story and trust them to bless your marriage is hard work. Some couples give up and head straight to the marriage license office for a civil ceremony, but have you seen the DC marriage license office? Fortunately, there’s another alternative: Meet Michelle Hilburn. Michelle came to me as a bride early in 2008. She was interviewing me as a potential wedding planner and I ended up interviewing her as a potential wedding officiant for one of my couples. In the end, it all worked out and Michelle is now on my shortlist of DC wedding officiants. Michelle is a practicing Conservative Jew.
Do you marry people of different faiths and cultures?
In the Jewish community, there is the expression that “every marriage is an inter-faith marriage” because we each bring to our weddings our unique background, history and traditions. I love doing weddings where I can incorporate elements from both parties, being sure that the experience is respectful and supportive of ever yone involved. I am happy to perform ceremonies for any couple, regardless of faith, background, gender or sexuality, so long as it is a consentual and respectful relationship.
Do you think rituals are important in a marriage ceremony?
Rituals are a very important part of a marriage because they take our heightened emotional experiences and tie them to a specific act, making the memory stand out in our minds. For example, I drank many glasses of wine before my own wedding, and had enjoyed many toasts, but none were quite so meaningful as when my husband and I shared our second glass of wine in our Jewish wedding ceremony. The wine was that much sweeter, the memory more lingering, because of the ritual with that moment. This said rituals do not have to be religious in nature. Many couples that I work with borrow from other religious traditions, cultures and moments in history to create the experience that will be most meaningful for them.
What rituals have you seen or suggested to couples?
I love it when couples come to me with an idea of a ritual, and then we work together to make it unique for them. For example, one couple I’m working with now enjoys food and cooking together. They wanted to incorporate the idea of the gifts of wine, bread, and salt into the wedding (in short, to wish that the couple will never thirst for friendship, will never have hunger for want or desire, and that while0Alife may present challenges, these challenges will make us better). So for them, we took it one step further and incorporated specific wines, breads and spices prepared by friends, which allowed them to share this moment in a different way with those they are close to.
What advice would you give to couples planning their wedding ceremony?
While I have had many couples disagree with me on this one, I believe that weddings are not just about the bride and groom, but about the community recognizing the couple as one family unit. This slight difference in perspective means that it is very important to me that the families (biological or spiritual) are supportive and engaged in the process, as well as the happy couple. Sometimes this means making an extra effort to be inclusive of traditions from both families, other times this means being more careful in word choices so as not to offend either party. And of course, the couple has to be happy, too. But to spend this extra effort now buys years of good will later, and ultimately, the wedding is just the beginning of a marriage, not an isolated event.