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Your First “Date” With Your Officiant

howardThis coming weekend I’m going to be at Gay Vanity Fair, which will be a huge LGBT wedding expo. It will be at a fancy venue with lots of top-notch vendors. Even a fashion show will take place up and down the aisles.

With so many vendors, how can you choose among them? How do you go about selecting the “right” person to capture the real you in pictures, and the “right” person to bring nature to your wedding through flowers? How do you choose the best venue, cake, music, musician and clothes? And, of course, I am most interested in how you choose the officiant who is right for you. I believe the answer is the same for all questions involving your wedding: choose services and individuals with whom you feel a connection.

I liken my first meeting with a couple to a first date. I encourage them to get to know me whether it’s face-to-face, via FaceTime or Skype. I suggest that they think about whether they’ll feel comfortable with me in front of them on one of the biggest days of their lives.

I typically start the first meeting by asking a couple how they met. This allows them to share something special about themselves. This also allows me to start learning about each couple’s personalities and unique experiences.

I’ve officiated numerous, diverse weddings for a wide variety of couples. In all the years that I’ve been doing this, there was only one couple for whom I felt I couldn’t meet their needs. They were looking for a sarcastic, caustic officiant a/la Rodney Dangerfield.

I want couples to know that I enjoy customizing ceremonies to reflect their style and tastes. Additionally, I can be the stable force if they’re feeling untethered during their wedding day.

Once a couple decides they want me as their officiant, we continue discussing the process. To book their wedding date, I require a 50% deposit. Then I move forward in crafting their ceremony with as much input as the couple cares for me to provide.

Over the years it’s been my experience that, no matter how much planning goes into a wedding, something is bound to go not as expected. While I’m not a wedding planner, my calm demeanor allows me to handle the unexpected. I usually tell couples half seriously and half jokingly that, like the Allstate commercial, they’re in good hands with Howard!

I’ve had a father of the bride interrupt me not once, but twice, during a ceremony. At another wedding, the on-site coordinator forgot to take the ribbon off the last row seats so that the first couple in the procession had to climb over the ribbon. I wished that I’d had a pair of scissors!

I always mention to couples they only need to say, at a minimum, two words during the ceremony: “I do.” While I invite them to read their vows or anything else they might want to say, many people recognize that they’re extremely uncomfortable as public speakers and choose not to go beyond the two needed words.

I encourage couples to choose traditions and rituals that are meaningful for them and that were not selected just because “Aunt Gladys” wants something included. I let my couples know that I’m their advocate. This is their day, and not that of their parents, grandparents, best friends and more. And, if they choose to include something to make someone else happy, I encourage them to make that ritual meaningful. I facilitate by sharing the tradition and history around the ritual, as well as investigating how other people have imbued the ritual with contemporary meaning.

My goal is to craft meaningful experiences that reflect the couple while creating a warm and welcoming space for their guests.  If you’re attending the expo, please stop by and say hi!

Gay Vanity Fair: February 9, 11 am- 4 pm, The Bently Reserve, 301 Battery Street, San Francisco.

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Howard M. Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit www.SFHoward.com.