Eclectic Unions: New York and New Jersey Weddings Secular Officiant

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

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  • Word about bizarre secular officiants out there! In my province, you can only have a JP or judge or person of the cloth do it, and I have been to SO many badly officiated weddings. The 70 year old woman in skin tight leather pants. The woman who spent the whole ceremony winking and giggling. The one who hogged the microphone so that no one could hear the vows. The one who didn’t do any research about what metals are used in a gold ring and just went on about gold, “and the other stuff they add to make it hard”.

    This service sounds genius. Thanks for saving the audience from terrible ceremonies! :)

  • I’ve known Jessie over the internet for years and she is FABULOUS. I actually recommended her to a friend (who ended up using her to officiate her wedding). She was too far away to have for my wedding, but she helped consult with the ceremony writing and was a lovely help.

  • “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.”

    YES. The part in our ceremony where our officiant mis-pronounced my NAME, even after being told by no less than TEN PEOPLE how to say it (SO MANY wedding people were like, “man, she messed that up, and she asked me even!” — that’s not even counting *me* telling her how to say my TWO-SYLLABLE last name). (Never mind the whole “butting into our post-ceremony hide-in-a-doorway time to ask us for a check” thing. Which I asked someone to give her earlier. omgrage.) Or the fact that she left out “in sickness and in health” (which we always remember because now that we’re going through medical things we can joke that oh, we didn’t vow that, haHA).


    My point is….HIRE THIS LADY*. Because she is clearly awesome.

    *Jessie, that is. Not the officiant I had. Obvs. Sorry this turned into a pout-comment.

    • meg

      HAHAHAHA. Yeah, probably don’t hire the officiant you had. This. Is. Exactly. It.

    • Geeze. It sounds like everyone has a bad officiant story. I’m just sorry it had to be your own wedding!

      If you ever want to do a vow renewal, let me know :)

  • Thanks, Meg, for this awesome post, and thanks, Maddie, for your kind words and beautiful photograph (I hadn’t seen it before!). I guess the post kind of says it all, and I am super excited to work with more APW couples in the future!

  • Carrie

    I seriously did not have this problem with secular wedding officiants being weird. I wasn’t even aware that was a thing until this post! We interviewed several, and all were very nice, normal, friendly people (like Jessie sounds like). I guess we got lucky!

    (I have been to weddings where the officiant surprised the couple by going on a rant about “one man and one woman” in the middle of the wedding, when the couple doesn’t agree with that … but those officiants have all been church-affiliated. Sigh.)

    • How did the couple respond? I think I would just stop the whole damn thing in the middle, but then I don’t know where I’d pick up from there. Like, I could tell someone to stfu b/c they were being a bigot…but then who could get up and do the officiating from there?

      One of the many reasons I will be asking my very dear uncle to officiate, but I am so, so excited to learn about Jessie’s service b/c writing the whole ceremony seems both exciting and daunting. I will, moste certainly, but in touch with Jessie.

      • I’ve found that usually couples are so shocked or just in the moment that they let it go and go with the ceremony, and just kind of laugh about it later. Or, the couple is marginally ok with it, but the guests are shocked. It’s a weird, weird situation that I aim to never, ever put any of my couples in.

  • Lturtle

    This is a fantastic service! I was lucky to have a dear friend, who is also an officiant, help write and conduct our ceremony. But without her I would have been at a loss. I am trying to get her to put an ad in the APW directory, but she hasn’t done yet. She serves the Pacific NW, is secular and queer friendly, and also awesome. Just as Jessie clearly is.

  • Adi

    An option I didn’t even know existed, and which we sprang on immediately? Friend perform the ceremony, JP in the audience signs and submits the papers. That’s IT. Of course, we’re both somewhat writer-ish so we wrote our ceremony ourselves, but this is a great alternative.

    • Oooh, I like that option. Having a JP there doing the paperwork but not actually being the officiant. Great idea! One I will definitely be recommending to secular workmates of mine getting married.

      We had a great officiant, my high school youth pastor who laughed his butt off at our suggestion of including the “Impressive Clergyman” part from The Princess Bride in our ceremony. He did it “Mawwiage, mawwiage is what bwings us togevah, today. Mawwiage that bwessed awwangement…..” (you know the bit) and our entire room full of guests and friends and family thought it was hilarious. Plus our photographers got some great shots of our reactions. (You can have fun with a church wedding!) ;)

  • Jeanne Pounder

    It was great to see Jessie’s post today (beautiful pics – love the smiles), highlighting a fellow officiant who supports both marriage equality and the concept of celebrating clients’ ceremonies in the way that fits the couple best. I agree that a personally-written ceremony is wonderful, but it isn’t the only way to craft a meaningful ceremony that resonates for the couple. Another approach that works for creative (and often more more budget-limited) couples is to offer many samples and ideas (readings, rituals, etc), and encourage clients to use that framework as a starting point with lots of (free) help and feedback provided. As a New Hampshire Justice of the Peace, I’ve found that my clients LOVE this approach, and often I learn new ideas from them. My NH colleagues have shared similar experiences. Regardless of the approach, I agree that it’s an honor for an officiant to help create and support the intimate space and time where two people pledge their lives together, and it’s unfortunate to hear that some APW readers have had less-than-ideal experiences.

  • Hey Jessie! I’m so very glad APW has brought you into my world view! My couples tell me constantly how hard it is to find an officiant. I feel like it’s a lost art! Or, one that hasn’t grown and evolved as quickly as some of the other aspects of weddings. I hope to see you out and about in NYC!

    • Thanks for your sweet comment, Anni! Your work is spectacular – I hope we can work together soon!

  • Great feature, Jessie! Sounds like we have very similar philosophy & approach.
    Would love to network with you! –@RevAnnieNYC

  • Erin

    No bizarre-officiant stories from me – ours was completely straightforward about everything, super helpful with getting our vows together (she had lots of suggestions and didn’t bat an eye at a reading we selected from a fairly obscure magical realist novel), passed our ‘we only want to work with people who would be just as happy helping us get married regardless of x and y chromosomes’ test with flying colors, and was unbelievably sweet in coping with our mash-up of Polish, gregarious, half-Jewish, lapsed-Catholic, very reserved, secular family. Jessie was really lovely to work with!

    • Erin! Thanks for your sweet comment. Your wedding photo above is so lovely! Hope you and Chris are enjoying married life :)