I met my friend Christina in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon. During one particularly boring discussion in “The Rhetoric of Science,” a seminar with all of 5 students, I couldn’t stop looking at Christina’s little boots. She has tiny feet and I just loved her shoes. It wasn’t long after that we became inseparable… we have a similar sense of humor, we both love crafts and reading, and we look so similar that people would ask us if we were sisters. I have spent Thanksgiving and many other holidays with her family, she was a big part of my own wedding, and we have shared so many experiences with each other. So having known her for 14 years, when she and her long-time boyfriend decided to get married, it seemed natural that I officiate the ceremony!
Uh, not natural at all! You know that “Friends” episode where Joey gets ordained as a minister via the internet? Yeah, that’s what I did! Yes, it is entirely possible, depending on the laws of the state in which you are married.
In fact, it’s far easier to get ordained as a minister online than to renew a drivers license. Really! I got my certificate (which my friends sent in with their signed marriage license), some blank baptism and wedding certificates to use, and some recommended script to use for those ceremonies. I even got a super-cool “Clergy” dashboard sign for my car. That last part cracks me up the most. It would have come in handy when I was in labor with our daughter and we were trying to park the car at the hospital.
The Universal Ministries is an independent nondenominational church that complies with the laws of all States. With members sharing in several denominations and faiths, it acknowledges that spiritual growth comes from finding the truth in our individual ways throughout life.
Part of the “vows” I took: I have been called to devote my life to be of service of humanity. (Sure that’s true… who could argue with that?) I recognize that each individual follows their own path to spiritual awakening and, as a member of The Universal Ministries, I vow to respect all paths and honor each person’s personal journey. (Again, a no-brainer for me.) I commit myself to doing what is right, and hurting no one within the laws of my God and man. (Check.)
Christina and Arch are not religious in any formal, organized religion sort of way. If you know Pittsburgh, you know its residents live and breathe the Steelers, and so my friends decided to pursue a dream and get married at Heinz Field. How cool! The tables were gorgeous… black tablecloths and chair covers, overlaid with shimmery gold on both. Their flowers were simple and elegant (and golden, of course). Everything was Steelers, down to the buckets the flower girls carried and the wedding party gifts. The food was absolutely delicious (a far cry from cold beer and hotdogs). It was awesome.
As the date approached, I actually began to feel like what any clergy person must feel about conducting a wedding ceremony… I wanted to make this brief service meaningful for my friends but also relevant for their 180 closest family and friends too, many of whom are Catholic. Their families were very light-hearted about it all, but I wanted to make everyone in the congregation feel that they got something from the ceremony.
I found surprisingly little online (or on my synagogue rabbi’s office shelves… not surprising) to help me write a nondenominational, non-religious service. And so I include here some bits and pieces of what I wrote so that it may be of help to someone else. Christina and Arch interspersed some readings they selected and had friends and family come up to read them. Skip to the end for some funny bits if you like…
Christina and Arch, today you celebrate one of life’s greatest moments as you join together in vows of marriage. You will declare before your family and friends that you have chosen each other as life companions to attend, care, and provide for one another. All those conversations you have had while riding in a car or over dinner or on long walks, planning for “someday,” … and all the unspoken promises and assumptions, all of those are a part of today. We are all thrilled to be gathered here to rejoice with and for you in this new life you undertake together.
Marriage is a supreme sharing of experience, and an adventure in the most intimate of human relationships. When we love someone, we see things other people do not see. We see beneath the surface to the qualities that make our beloved special and unique. And to be loved is to be seen and known, as we are known to no other. You give to each other a unique gift: a piece of yourselves, but a piece that only you could give each other.
To make any relationship work, it takes trust, to know in your hearts that you want only the best for each other. It takes dedication, to stay open to one another, to learn and grow, even when it is difficult to do so. And it takes faith to go forward together without knowing what the future holds.
Marriage is to belong to each other through a unique collaboration, like two threads crossing in different directions, yet weaving one tapestry together. Such is the privilege of husband and wife – to be each himself, herself and yet another; to face to world strong, with the courage of two. In football terms, you are each other’s quarterback.
(I know less than nothing about football… I am trying here, peeps!)
I want you to take a moment and absorb your surroundings. Turn around and look at the smiling faces of your dear families and friends. They are here to share with you this joy and hope, and to send you off on this path that you will continue to walk together. May it be a path of blessedness and peace, bright with flowers of prosperity, a path of ever-deepening love that you will travel arm in arm.
Since I have known Christina since before she met Arch, I can see the difference that he has made in her. Arch, Christina loves that you live your life in a way that makes you come alive. She loves your sense of humor and that you make her laugh. She loves that you don’t care about labels; just that you listen to your inner guru and exude a rockstar awesomeness. Christina, Arch loves your free spirit and creative expression, that you want to help almost everyone you encounter, and that you have a lot of love in your heart to share. You two are always laughing together. You celebrate each other’s milestones and accomplishments. You give each other space. You really SEE each other.
I hope you will remember to treat both yourself and each other with respect, and remind yourselves often of what brought you together. Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness and kindness that your connection deserves. When frustration, difficulty, or fear threaten your relationship, remember to focus on what is right between you, not only the part that seems wrong. In this way, you can ride out the times when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives, remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment, the sun is still there.
Before now, you have been many things to one another – companion, lover, dancing partner, teacher, friend. Now you will say a few words that take you across a threshold of life, and things will never quite be the same. After these vows, you can say to the world, “This is my husband,” or “I have to ask my wife.” I can tell you from experience, it’s both weird and cool at the same time.
They had written their own very personal and touching vows, which they said to each other, and then I did the “Do you take this person…” script for each of them. When I was asking Christina if she would marry Arch, he was crossing all his fingers and saying “oh please oh please” and had us all in stitches (see below right).
Christina and Arch, in the presence of your family and friends who have joined you to share this moment of you, you have formed your own union. May you find strength in each other. May you feel the love of all of us here who love you and wish the best for you and let it fill you with happiness.
I wish for you what part of an Apache wedding blessing states: “May happiness be your companion. May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead; and through all the years to come. May your days be good and long upon the earth.”
It is my joyful responsibility to officially acknowledge your union as husband and wife. Congratulations! You can, you know, smooch now.
What fun this was! I lost count of how many people came up to me immediately and throughout the evening to tell me how much they enjoyed the ceremony, how meaningful it was, and how perfect it was for Christina and Arch. I got compliments galore. One cousin said I looked like Tina Fey… she actually leaned over to someone and said, “Wow, they got Tina Fey to officiate their wedding!” I love it! I’m not hanging out my shingle just yet, but I really enjoyed doing this for my dear friend, her awesome rockstar groom, and each of their beautiful families. I kind of felt a little famous.
And look what was being shown on TV screens on the plane ride back home… Tina Fey conducting a wedding on “30 Rock!” What are the chances?
If you’d like more of the script I wrote, please contact me. Oh, and here’s the simple card I made for the lovely couple: