*This is a paid post from an APW Sponsor*
You guys, let’s be for real. If you’re not religious, finding a good secular officiant can be HARD. Also, here is another problem that you probably didn’t even know had a solution: if you’re not religious and you’re having a loved one officiate your ceremony, putting together the service itself can be unbelievably daunting and confusing. Well! This is where Jessie of Eclectic Unions comes in. She’s been part of the APW community for a long time, and if you live in the Tri-State Area (New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut), she can solve your secular-officiant problem. If you live anywhere in the world (which you probably do) she can solve your service-writing problem. I know. It’s all problem solving all the time at APW! (Plus, Associate Editor Maddie has worked with Jessie, see her photograph below, and loves her. That’s some good vouching right there.)
When I started writing this post, Jessie and I had a nice long chat about why we need more awesome officiants (which is something I hear over and over from APW wedding vendors). Because seriously, I have been shocked at just how odd the collection of professional wedding officiants can be. The number of times I’ve showed up at a wedding and it’s been extremely clear that the couple just got blindsided by their officiant being… not what they’d hoped for… is staggering. I’ve seen extremely strange outfits, officiants who made the couple look into each others eyes without breaking focus for the whole thirty minute service (Jessie: Nothing says romance like a staring contest!), officiants that clearly hadn’t taken the time to get to know the couple at all, and worst, officiants that snuck something about marriage being about “one man and one woman” into the service by surprise. That is not a fun surprise, y’all.
With Jessie and Eclectic Unions, you get the opposite of all that (plus a sense of humor about it). Jessie says, “When you picture a secular officiant, you kind of see this older, kind of flakey person, wearing long flowing, multi-colored robes, and is really out there. I’m not that person at all.” Also, since Associate Editor Maddie had the chance to work with Jessie before, she had this to say, “Jessie is really, truly, fabulous at her job. I witness over twenty weddings each year as a photographer, and a good ceremony always makes a huge difference in the emotional impact of the day. But it can be really profoundly difficult to find someone to officiate a secular ceremony, and even harder to find someone who won’t make your wedding feel like it was written for someone else. But Jessie nails it.”
And the best part is you don’t need to be in NYC or NJ to take advantage of Eclectic Unions. Jessie also offers ceremony writing services, and works with couples all over the country who are looking for help to make their ceremony awesome. It’s kind of an interesting thing, because it’s a service that folks don’t realize exists.These couples are often having a friend or family member perform their ceremony, and were planning on writing the ceremony themselves or are unsure of where to begin putting a ceremony together. Jessie says, “I also offer ceremony editing services, for couples who already have a ceremony written and need some help, and vow assistance, too. It’s so amazing to be a part of so many people’s wedding ceremonies, and I’ve created some of my favorite ceremonies and rituals for these weddings.” Plus, if she’s officiating your wedding she can either guide you through the process of her writing a service that fits you, or she can collaborate with you as you draft your own ceremony. And that’s not all! (I know!) She also officiates for elopements (and I know there a ton of you eloping to New York City).
And if folks are worried they can’t afford her, they totally can. Jessie’s custom ceremony fees begin at $700. Her ceremony writing services begin at $300. Best yet, she also offers simpler, elopement style weddings, beginning at $200. More info on her fees can be found on her website. Plus, Jessie is so excited to work with APWers that she’s offering some great discounts. She says, “I’m offering a 10% discount for any couples who set up a consult with me prior to October 10 (it can even be a Skype or phone consult!). Also, I will extend 2012 pricing to all 2013 and beyond couples who book with me this year.“
As for why Jessie hangs around these parts, well, what she does as an officiant perfectly dovetails with the APW philosophy, and because of that, she adores having APWers as clients. She says, “The ‘heart’ of one of my wedding ceremonies (such a bad pun, I know, but it really is true!) is the Love Story—the customized marriage address that shares the couple’s story. It’s such an amazing thing to be able to include in a wedding—instead of just a reading, or a standard script about marriage, it’s how the couple met, how they fell in love, what they want their marriage to be, and what they love about each other. It can be funny (and often is!), but also sweet, and meaningful, and really romantic. Every couple has a romance and a love, and I try to capture just a teeny bit of that in the wedding ceremony. And APW folk get it. They love it. They want their wedding to be a reflection of their lives together. So many people have such an amazing story and love before they decide to get married—and marriage doesn’t end that, it doesn’t wipe the slate clean. It is just a new step, a new threshold, a new chapter to celebrate and honor, and I love being able to do that—honoring the past, the present, and the future that my couple has together, all in the ceremony. Also every APW client I’ve ever gotten has just been so amazingly awesome. I want to be friends with all of them.”
But more than that, Jessie isn’t one of those plug and play officiants. I think we’ve all been to a wedding when the ceremony obviously has nothing to do with the two people standing up there, and the officiant hasn’t bothered to really find out anything about who those people are. Jessie says, “I don’t do standard ceremonies. I won’t use a script I’ve used before, and just ‘find and replace’ and put someone else’s names in it. My vows, my rituals, my reading choices are all hand-selected or written by me, and each element is extensively edited and personalized, so it really reflects the couple, too. I try to write the ceremony that captures what my couples are looking for—even if they don’t exactly know what that is. Oh, and the couple has complete editing and veto power. I don’t ad lib, I don’t make weird comments (unless they are pre-approved).” Perfection!
But what intrigues me the most is why Jessie does what she does with Eclectic Unions. No surprise, as someone who runs APW for a living, I find the ritual of weddings to be a powerful one, and I’m always saddened when it seems harder for secular couples to find a way to access that ritual with a good officiant and a ceremony that rings true to them. Jessie says, “As a secular person myself, I see a great need for ritual and tradition in people’s lives. Sometimes, with non-religious or interfaith people, the idea of tradition goes out the window, and when it comes to big life events (like a wedding) that are born out of so much tradition, they don’t know where to start. We can have ritual that is outside of religion, OR that incorporates religious elements (like from your background or family traditions, too). As someone who grew up without a lot of religious tradition, I can see many missed opportunities for ritual in my life that I wish I could go back and change. Rites and ritual help to guide us through some of life’s adventures, and the crossing of the threshold at the end of of a rite of passage is truly something to be celebrated and honored.”
To sum it all up, Jessie says, “I just want my couples to have the most awesome wedding ceremony possible, and be completely comfortable for the entire process. I don’t impose anything or have any requirements when it comes to the actual context of the ceremony. I ask my clients what they want me to wear. I will never break out into song (no one would ever want me to, anyway, though I do know a lot of show tunes). I don’t stay for receptions, I’m not there to try and get to your open bar and get a free meal. I guess the weirdest thing I do is that I will coordinate or match my nail polish color to the wedding colors. But that’s just because I have a nail polish problem.” And also, Eclectic Unions has hands down the greatest number of over-the-top-thrilled testimonials I’ve ever seen on the internet, no joke.
So New York City and beyond, consider your secular officiant problem solved. And for all of you that just breathed a sigh of relief realizing that you could get secular ceremony writing help from a truly awesome person? Well! I’m throwing some celebratory confetti for you.
Photos by: Jessie’s husband, second photo by Hart & Sol Photo