Expert Advice from an Officiant

Martha Stewart Weddings, Winter 2011

Since becoming an interfaith minister in 2002, the Reverend Jeddah Vailakis has officiated more than 500 weddings. "It's my true passion in life," she says. "I take pride in learning about who the bride and groom really are so I can bring their romance to life. It's important to me that the vows are every bit as well-planned as the party."

Jeddah Vailakis
New York City

Known for Unique wedding ceremonies that blend spirituality with personality

Where to Find Her Interfaith Wedding Ceremonies

Top Tip When writing your own vows, think about exactly what you're saying "I do" to. While "you're my best friend" or "you make me laugh" are nice sentiments, they're missing the point. Those kinds of statements should be followed by the true message: "I promise to honor you."

What exactly is an interfaith minister?

I'm ordained to perform weddings. Most couples I work with aren't interested in having their service in a place of worship, yet they're looking for a spiritual element that a justice of the peace can't provide. Others want to blend two religions -- say the bride is Catholic and the groom is Jewish -- while still others aren't faith-based at all. Every ceremony is different.

What qualities should a couple look for in a potential officiant?

Make sure the person is genuinely interested in hearing about all the details -- the story of how you met, your family dynamics, even what you were wearing when the groom proposed. These are the things she will lean on to set your ceremony apart. It's also crucial for your officiant to establish intimacy among you and your guests, so observe her word choice and demeanor. And ask yourself how attentive she is to your needs. If you're nervous, will she calm you before your walk down the aisle? Is she sensitive to the delicate relationship you have with your stepmother?

Any guidance for couples planning on being married by a friend?

Make sure your connection to that person doesn't become the focus of the service. And he or she needs to be registered with the county clerk -- otherwise it's not legal.

Creating a ceremony from scratch seems daunting. How does the process begin?

It starts with a phone call to discuss the timing and location. You should meet your officiant in person to talk in depth about your expectations for the day. You want to leave that first meeting knowing the order of events and the general direction she will take.

How can couples ensure a personal event?

I give each person a questionnaire to fill out in private. Then I use their separate responses to craft the wording for their ceremony. If your officiant doesn't offer one, carve out time to write down some of your favorite memories and hopes for your future. Getting your thoughts on paper will help you or your officiant shape your vows.

Guidelines for couples who are planning a nondenominational service?

The standard timeline typically includes a welcome, a reading or two, an address from the minister, a ritual, the declaration of intent, the vows and exchange of rings, the pronouncement, and, of course, the kiss. You can use this as your template, and then fill it in with components that have significance to you and your families. A wedding doesn't have to be religious to feel meaningful and tailored to you.

What are some unique rituals?

As a symbol of openness and fluidity, stack your open palms over a basin, and have your officiant pour water over them. Or write each other a letter before the wedding. During the vows, place them in a box with a bottle of wine, and then open it on an anniversary.

Do you have pointers for people who feel uncomfortable in the spotlight?

If you think it will put you at ease, consider setting aside some time to spend together on the morning of the wedding. During the ceremony, hold each other's hands and breathe. And don't worry about forgetting your lines. That's why the officiant is there.

See some of Jeddah Vailakis's favorite wedding ceremony readings and blessings.

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