ruth ellen hasser wedding officiant

A Day in the Life…of this Celebrant

So, what does a wedding officiant do all day? Isn’t it just a matter of showing up and officiating? Well, I cannot speak for all officiants, but I can speak for myself and for others who are trained and certified Life-Cycle Celebrants®.  Before the actual ceremony day, I have spent hours writing and re-writing the ceremony script so that it is just the way the couple wants it to be. For many couples, I have also planned and run their rehearsal, sometimes alone, and other times in coordination with an event planner.

Jaymie & Kyle,  Cody Krogman Photography

Jaymie & Kyle,
Cody Krogman Photography

Of course, not every ceremony day looks the same for me. Sometimes I am officiating at two weddings in one day. In that case, I do not put other things on my morning schedule. Other times I spend Saturday morning in meetings with couples whose wedding ceremonies we are only beginning to plan.

Just for fun, I listed my activities on October 28, 2017, in order to compare schedules with the bride and groom. Thanks to Simcha’s Events for these excerpts from Hanna and Tim’s Graham Chapel wedding itinerary.

Itinerary for Bride and Groom

9:45 Bride and Bridesmaids meet for hair and make-up in the bridal suite.

11:00 lunch for Bride and Bridesmaids arrives (Panera).

12:00 Flowers arrive.

12:30 Groom and Groomsmen arrive at Knight Center.

1:00 First look with Father of the Bride and Bride.

1:05 First look with Groom and Bride.

1:10 Couple photos taken.

1:30 Wedding party heads to Forest Park for pics.

3:45 Family photos at Graham Chapel.

4:30 Photos complete.

5:20 Ceremony begins.

6:30 Cocktails and Reception begins.

Itinerary for Celebrant

9:30 Ruth meets her sisters for breakfast at the London Tea Room. Runs errands.

12:00 Back home. Adds notes from yesterday evening’s rehearsal to final copy of today’s ceremony. Prints final copy.

12:30 Practices delivery of today’s ceremony out loud.

1:00 Lunch at home (leftovers – yes!)

1:45 Puts final touches on Sunday’s Jewel Box wedding and prints final copy.

2:00 Practices delivery of tomorrow’s ceremony out loud, with one more run through of today’s.

2:30 Sends review requests to recent couples for The Knot and Wedding Wire.

3:30 Hair, make-up, get dressed.

4:10 Leaves home for Graham Chapel.

4:45 Checks in with Bride, Groom, Reader, Planner, and DJ. Mic/sound check.

5:20 Ceremony begins.

6:30 Greeted at home by hubs who has dinner ready for us to eat. Life is good!

 

 

 

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“Totality”8-21-17 eclipse

August 21, 2017, the Great American Eclipse! And I have the good fortune to live in what was referred to as the “Path of Totality.” For one minute and twenty-seven seconds, give or take a few, the moon completely blocked out the sun. We were able to take off our viewing glasses and – WOW. Words cannot describe. There are plenty of pictures. And they sort of capture it. But there was this feeling that came over me. And I just had to give a couple of full-throated “Yawps” and “Whoo-hoos” to the world.

Later that same day, I met with a couple from Chicago who had come to St. Louis for the eclipse. They wanted to get married on this auspicious day, and so we met in Lafayette Square Park for a simple, quiet and lovely ceremony. They had written their own vows. And although I do not remember everything that they said, it was clear they understood that the commitment they were making to each other was about “totality.” They are all in, 100%!

Sometimes people wonder: Why have a marriage ritual? Because even the best of words are not enough to express totality.

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500 Weddings

Amazing. Since becoming a Celebrant in 2007, I have now officiated at five hundred wedding ceremonies! OliviaWeston 101715B

Have I become cynical or jaded? No, absolutely not, because I keep my focus on the unique qualities and the true beauty of each couple whose love and best intentions have led them to a decision to marry. Whether the ceremony takes place in a park, a chapel, the couple’s backyard, or the hottest wedding venue in town, it does not matter to me. The wedding ceremony is always about celebrating the commitment to love each other as spouses for “as long as we both shall live.”

So, from Paula and Tom, the first couple to take a chance on me as a novice Celebrant, to Patrice and Melvin, who have just asked me to officiate at their elopement later this month: Thank you, one and all, for trusting me with your marriage ceremony, the heart of your wedding day!

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Unity Rituals

One of the ways a couple can put their own unique stamp on their wedding ceremony is to perform a meaningful unity ritual. So, what is a unity ritual? At a wedding, it is a symbolic movement or set of movements which expresses the unity of the couple. The most common unity rituals seen at American weddings include the exchange of marriage vows, the giving of wedding rings, and the first kiss as a married couple.

Other cultures and religious practices have unity rituals which are included in a wedding ceremony, some of which we are seeing more of here in the United States when people bring their treasured traditions with them as them emigrate. Some of these include the lasso ceremony, circling rituals, hand washing, or a garland ceremony.

Some of the unity rituals you may be more familiar with include lighting a unity candle, blending sand, Celtic hand fasting, or tree planting.  Some unity rituals can be created or adapted to include children, if the couple is bringing children into the marriage.

So how do you decide what, if any, additional unity rituals to have at your wedding ceremony? And I say “additional” unity rituals because most people will have already decided to include marriage vows, wedding rings, and the first kiss. And for some couples, those traditional unity rituals are enough.

But if you think that you would like to explore other possibilities, ask yourselves if you want to say something more, express another aspect of your commitment to each other, or feature something about your relationship as a couple to the wider community. If you are easily creative, you may come up with an original idea. However, most of us need help coming up with ideas, so rest assured that there are plenty of options posted on Pinterest, WeddingWire, and The Knot every day.

SueEric 062015B

As a couple who enjoy exploring new craft beer together, Sue and Eric knew that they wanted to share a glass of beer for their unity ritual (see photo). Sometimes it can be that simple!

An experienced wedding officiant should be able to discuss options with you to help find just the right unity ritual to enhance your marriage celebration. Contact me to talk about your wedding ceremony today!

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“Off Season” Weddings

My husband and I were sitting with our coffee over a leisurely breakfast this morning. About half way into it, he looked at me in disbelief. “What? No weddings today?” As I look back at my 2016 calendar, the last Saturday I was not officiating at a wedding, attending a family wedding, or out of town for travel was April 16. Yep, my 2016 “wedding season” is over. This does not mean that I will not be officiating at any more weddings this year. There are still a few more on my calendar. But it does mean that the pace has slowed down dramatically!

For most couples planning a wedding, “wedding season” is a new expression. I know it was for me, before I began officiating. It did not occur to me that there might be some times of the year that are more likely to interest couples than others. I had assumed that June would be my busiest month. It’s not!  But I have learned that, at least in the St. Louis area, many couples are leaning more and more toward Spring and Fall for their ceremonies.

Lauren and Tom, at their "off season" wedding ceremony, November 5, 2016, at Silver Oaks Chateau.

Lauren and Tom, at their “off season” wedding ceremony, November 5, 2016, at Silver Oaks Chateau.

Off course, the process of deciding when to have a wedding is distinct for each couple. Whether your determining factors include getting some great outdoor photos, your favorite time of year, the travel needs of family, the availability of your preferred venue, astrological data, or any other considerations, you may be more or less tied to having your ceremony at a particular time.

However, if you are not tied to a particular date and time, and if you would like more options for just about everything (from flowers to DJs to Officiants), you may want to look at some off season dates. Off season in the St. Louis area tends to run from November through March, with a few variations, depending on the wedding vendor. Since fewer people get married during these months, more of the excellent wedding professionals whom you may want for your wedding day are likely to be available.

So, make any season your wedding season! Text, email, or call me to see if I am available for your date. If it is November through March, chances are pretty good that I am!

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BrittneyChris 071815M2“Presentation of the Bride”

When discussing the various aspects of a wedding ceremony with a couple, it is always interesting for me to see how they resolve the questions raised by the old tradition of “presenting” or “giving away” the bride. As a wedding officiant, I have never felt comfortable asking the question, “Who GIVES this woman to be married to this man?” I mean, REALLY? Although it sometimes still happens in other countries and cultures, most people here are way past GIVING women away; treating them as property owned first by the father, and next by the husband.

THANK GOODNESS! So I encourage couples to think about the real value this moment in the ceremony holds for them.

The tradition of the father of the bride escorting her down the aisle to a waiting groom is still loaded with meaning for most who choose this ritual. And, if not the father, sometimes both parents, sometimes the mother (if the father has not been an active presence in the bride’s life), a brother, a step-father, etc. will walk with the bride. In a broader sense, this ritual shows the support and blessing of the families for the marriage. The strength and power of the tradition seems to be in its marking a moment of transition from the families in which the couple were raised, to the new family which is created by the very act of the marriage.

And so in the spirit of showing such support from both families, more and more couples are choosing to do a makeover of this ritual by including all of the parents, none of the parents, friends, godparents, adult children, or others who accompany the bride and sometimes the groom, as well. Many same-gender couples have led the way in making this old ritual more relevant. When you have two brides or two grooms getting married, there tend to be fewer assumptions and traditions by which couples feel bound.

In addition to the various options around who escorts the couple getting married at the opening of the wedding ceremony, what words to say?  Well, many of my couples are choosing to forego words altogether. So the “transition” takes place with no question being asked, or statements being made by the officiant. When the bride arrives with her escort, hugs, kisses, and handshakes are exchanged, the escort goes to his or her seat, the couple stands with the officiant, and the ceremony continues. The actions speak for themselves.

Other times, the couple may have me say something like, “Who has the honor of presenting this woman who has chosen to marry this man?”

And then there is the choice for me to address all of the parents, with one or more questions like,

Do you bless your daughter, and your son, who have chosen to be married this day? Parents:  We do.

Celebrant:  Do you celebrate with them the decision they have made to choose each other? Parents:  We do.

Celebrant:  Will you continue to stand beside them, support them, and encourage them with each passing year? Parents: We will.

These are but a few examples. The bottom line? Make sure that whatever happens in this opening ritual reflects your beliefs about the transition you are making from your families of origin to your life as a married couple.

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Who Needs a Professional Wedding Celebrant?

This year, three of my nieces have announced their engagements to be married in 2016. I am thoroughly delighted for each of them, and I look forward to getting to know their future spouses as the years go by.

Many people who know that I am a Professional Celebrant who officiates at over sixty weddings a year simply assume that I will be officiating at my nieces’ weddings. But, in fact, it looks like I’ll be officiating at just one. Two out of my three nieces are active participants in a house of worship and they prefer to have someone from their pastoral leadership officiate. This is no surprise to me. Couples who are part of a faith community usually want their wedding ceremony to be a clear articulation of their community’s beliefs about marriage, and they often look to their pastors to help them to do just that.

Ruth with her niece, Rachel, in October 2007

As a Professional Celebrant, my role is similar to that of a pastor in that I work with couples to create a ceremony which is a clear expression of their beliefs about their marriage. The biggest difference is that, because I do not represent any singular religious creed or faith tradition, I am free to focus exclusively on the couple and on how they see their relationship with each other, as well as their relationships with their families and with the world around them. They may choose to use symbols and rituals from the culture or religious traditions in which they were raised. Or not.

With other couples, the choice may be to have an exclusively secular ceremony. But in every case, the key is to personalize the ceremony in such a way that we tell the story of the couple as they see themselves at this significant moment in their lives. The question I return to again and again with couples as we prepare their ceremony is this: Does this ritual / symbol / reading / action hold meaning for you? If so, then we consider using it in the ceremony. If not, it usually gets put aside.

Why not just have a family member or friend get “ordained online” to be your officiant? Lots of people are doing it. If you are just needing to get legally married, and have only a few people involved, this might be a way to go.

But if you are inviting guests and planning for a twenty to thirty minute meaningful ceremony, and if you believe that the ceremony is truly at the heart of your wedding day, then you would benefit from hiring a Professional Wedding Celebrant. Look for one who has training, experience, good reviews and excellent references.

Yes, I am totally biased in favor of those of us who are certified Life-Cycle Celebrants®, graduates of the Celebrant Foundation and Institute!  Of course, I know that we are not the only good officiants out there. But the certification and training we have is exceptional, our reputation is growing, and we deliver for our couples, time and time again.

So, who needs a Professional Wedding Celebrant? In 2016, only one out of my three nieces. And what about you? If you do not already have an officiant through a house of worship; if you want someone you can count on, with training and experience; if you want your wedding ceremony to be something meaningful and positive that your guests will talk about long after your wedding day: CONTACT ME TODAY!

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Vows to Children

When two people decide to marry, the impact on them and their families is profound. When one or both of those people have young children they are bringing into the marriage, even more so. It both complicates and enriches their lives. As a Celebrant, I always offer the couple the opportunity to include the child or children in the ceremony. Often this takes the form of including the child as a Flower Girl or Ring Bearer, or as a participant in a Unity Candle or Unity Sand ceremony.

But one of the most moving moments often occurs when the new parent chooses to offer vows or promises to the children. Whether they have written original vows or borrowed vows from samples I make available to them, witnessing the new parent attempt to put into words the love and commitment they feel for the child is powerful beyond words. And so incredibly important is it to the child that this new parent clarifies what his or her role is in their new family!

New Parent:  Sally, I want you to know that I love you and your father very much.  Even though I am not your mother, I promise to protect and care for you as my own daughter.  I promise to do my best to guide and support you, and to respect you enough to allow you to see the world through your own eyes.  I will always try to offer you words of kindness and love each day.

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Choosing Your Officiant 

Most engaged couples have had little if any experience in choosing their wedding officiant. If they have been married before, the ceremony was often in a house of worship where their officiant was a given. The vast majority of the couples I work with have not been married before and quite often, I am the first officiant they are meeting with to discuss their ideas for their wedding ceremony.

If you believe that your ceremony is the most important part of your wedding day, then you want to be sure that your officiant is someone who takes the time to get your story right. The Celebrant Foundation & Institute   recommends asking these questions before hiring your officiant:

How do you create the ceremony? “Do we have final approval over the script?” Ideally, the officiant should collaborate with you every step of the way so that the ceremony is tailor-made for you. Don’t let a boilerplate ceremony be imposed on you.

When will you arrive? The officiant should be available at least 45 minutes before the ceremony in order to run through any last minute changes, and to coordinate details with readers, musicians, photographers and videographers.

Does your fee include a full rehearsal at the wedding venue? Many officiants don’t rehearse, but a full rehearsal may be essential for a beautifully choreographed ceremony and for calming last-minute nerves.

Can we vary the traditional choreography of a wedding? You may wish to face your guests rather than the officiant, or have the officiant stand to the side instead of between you and your spouse. Make sure your officiant is open to these suggestions.

What training do you have in creating and officiating at ceremonies? Many officiants have no specific training. Look for those who have a sound background in the history of ritual and ceremony, knowledge of wedding traditions around the world, the ability to manage and choreograph a wedding party, and experience in public ceremonial speaking.

Will you work with our other wedding professionals? The officiant should coordinate as needed with musicians to provide music cues for the ceremony, with photographers and videographers to assist them in getting the best shots, and with the staff of your venue to ensure that the ceremony will not conflict in any way with their requirements.

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This time of year I always get questions from curious friends about how many weddings I am scheduled to officiate on or near Valentine’s Day. My answer usually surprises them: Not many, and some years, none! From what I have seen, Valentine’s Day is a much bigger day for engagements than it is for weddings.

Jeffrey & Stephanie, Valentine's Day 2013

I have had a few, though. My favorite was on Valentine’s Day, 2013. With lots of work and careful planning, the bride and groom had turned their home into a beautiful wedding chapel, decorated in red and white. Surrounded by the love of family and friends, Jeffrey and Stephanie pledged their love to one another. It could not have gone better.

The most unusual Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony  for me was in 2010 when I was asked to officiate at a group wedding, co-sponsored by a local radio station and Windows Off Washington. When I received the phone call asking me to officiate I thought it was a friend playing a joke, at first. Then I figured out that the request was legit, but I hesitated. I did not want to be a part of a ceremony that was more about laughs and less about a meaningful celebration of marriage. But the more I talked with the event coordinator, the more I became convinced that the sponsors wanted to create an opportunity for the couples to truly and joyfully celebrate their love on Valentine’s Day. So I agreed to officiate. Forty-seven couples pre-registered for the wedding, but only seven showed up that day. Why? At least one reason was the weather. St. Louis woke up to a couple of inches of snow that Sunday morning. And you know how we are about snow…

Why not more weddings on Valentine’s Day? Well, the most obvious reason would suggest that the dicey weather in our northern hemisphere this time of year makes planning for anything that involves travel (wedding party and guests to the venue, the couple to their honeymoon, etc.) a huge gamble.

Valentine’s Day 2015 St. Louis weather forecast: Windy, clouds, snow flurries, high of 34F, with the temperature dropping throughout the day. And so, as I plan my wardrobe for tomorrow’s outdoor “short and sweet” wedding, I think warm thoughts about the other couples whose weddings I’ve officiated on this day in years past. I wish for them a truly happy anniversary, and an even happier life together!

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