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Christopher Shelley Has a New Book Out: Best. Ceremony. Ever.
He wrote it for friends of the couples that ask him to officiate their ceremonies. I thought the concept was interesting, so I had his publisher sent me a copy. I read it expecting it to be straight forward and factual. In reality, I was laughing out loud as I went through (awkward, because I was on a flight!) and couldn’t wait to get back to New York to call him.
On our phone call, I found out he performs fifty to sixty weddings per year, and has been doing this for seven years. The guy knows his stuff.
We had a great conversation, and of course, I asked him the obvious:
What’s the Best Advice He Has for Having a Friend Perform Your Wedding Ceremony?
His answer surprised me. Even though he literally wrote the book, his advice was that he generally doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
“It’s not as easy as you think,” he said. “There are etiquette rules and rituals they likely haven’t encountered before that can be difficult to navigate.
It’s also not necessarily more personal either, which I think is one of the big reasons many have a friend do their ceremony. A lay person might not understand pacing, writing, storytelling, performance, or professional speaking. I take lots of time before the wedding to get to know you and your story from your perspective, and then weave it into a narrative that’s easy for your guests to follow. Many guests approach me after the ceremony and ask how long I’ve known the couple, because they assume I’m a friend. I take the time to get to know you and make your love story streamlined. And actually, we’ll probably be friends by the end of it!”
Sometimes a friend doing the ceremony might not be legal, either. Many internet ministers aren’t qualified to perform a ceremony, and this can cause problems, even years down the road.
And, finally, it’s a lot of pressure on a friend to do a job they’ve never done before, instead of just relaxing at your wedding.
“But,” he said, “if you insist on having a friend, hand them my book. It’ll help them do a good job… or it might make them reconsider when they understand the gravity of the situation.”
If a Couple Is Definitely Going to Hire an Officiant, What Should They Consider?
Meet in person.
If you can’t meet with the in person, have a Skype or Google Hangouts session.
Watch how they speak. Are they conveying thoughts clearly and telling stories in a way that makes sense? Watch how they gesture, consider if they are engaging, and if they have a mastery of imagery and visualization. A wedding ceremony is often only a few minutes during the day, so they don’t have a lot of time to convey a lot of information and emotion.
Can they project, and do they have a good voice? Do they have a voice you like?
I also asked Chris about his background, and was not surprised he started as an actor.
“I also went to grad school for creative writing, and weddings combine writing and acting, so for me, it’s a great career. I’m used to paying attention to details, and can use the “Pause” I talk about in the book. It’s a subtle pause right before the ceremony begins when I reach the front of the room to let everyone know to expect the ceremony to begin.
I pay attention to details… plus I know to get out of the way during the kiss so I’m not looming over you in those photos!”
Christopher Shelley’s Book Best. Ceremony. Ever. Is Available Now.
Amber Marlow is a co-owner and Editor of Catalyst Wedding Co. In addition to being a proud original “wedding disrupter” by promoting feminist, egalitarian, and woke weddings on Catalyst, she is a wedding photographer based in New York City.
Amber lives with her husband in Brooklyn, and is very good at picking restaurants, making travel plans, and backgammon.