Today we sat down at the #CoffeeTable to chat about the most important part of your wedding: the ceremony. Without the ceremony, it’s just a party. Whether your service is civil or religious, it won’t follow the same exact outline, so neither should your wedding officiant.
We sat down with Interfaith Chaplain and Minister, Bethany Schmall to ask how couples can find a wedding officiant for their ceremony that they connect with, even if they’re out of the state.
Sometimes I’ll only know these couples for a short amount of time, but I like the ceremony to reflect as if I’ve known them for years and making it really true to them.-Bethany
01. What is your Main Title?
My main title is forever “Interfaith Chaplain.” That’s who I am when I’m at the hospital and with patients and families. I then take on that identity, not just in the hospital, but in other capacities as an officiant. So I call myself “Minister,” “Officiant,” “Interfaith Chaplain,” “Bethany.”
02. If a couple has a mix of different religions, one specifically, or has no preference, what is your ministry approach?
“For me, it starts with meeting couples where they are at. My philosophy behind it is, it’s your day, it’s your wedding, it’s your relationship, it’s your life that you’re starting together, so your ceremony should be a reflection of who you are, your beliefs and your values. Both individually and collectively as a couple.
I really see my identity as a minister as one who explores with couples. What gives them meaning in their life? What gives them purpose or value? What makes them feel connected.
“Connection” is the key word there, because connection is what I see as spirituality. Spirituality is a connection to self, a connection to others, and/or a connection to a higher power.
For me, that means different things to different people. Some people find deep connection within their relationships with their families or friends. That gives them a purpose in their lives. Others find a connection maybe in nature. Others find connection in religious beliefs and find deep meaning in a church community, or whatever that looks like.
So for me, what’s really important is walking alongside couples and discovering what that means for them.
03. How do you start your process for couples who may be interested in using you as the officiant for their wedding?
I think couples want their ceremony to be a reflection of who they are and their authentic selves. I start with some standard questions, asking maybe about their life philosophy, asking “what are you looking for in your wedding ceremony?” “Are there certain people you would like to involve?”
Then I go further and ask about their relationships, their lives, maybe how they met, what’s meaningful to both of them and making the connections there. For me the most important thing is making the ceremony personal.
Sometimes I’ll only know these couples for a short amount of time, but I like the ceremony to reflect as if I’ve known them for years and making it really true to them.
04. Do you suggest that couples go through pre-marital counseling ?
Yes! I am a big advocate for pre-marital counseling. It just reveals so much about who we are as individuals and allows us to take an expansive look at the relationship as a whole. I’m a certified “Prepare and Enrich” facilitator. Their model is all evidence and research based. How it works is that each couple fills out an assessment individually. They are then connected with a facilitator who then helps guide, talk and counsel the couple through their results.
It’s a very expansive look at the individuals and the relationship itself. It looks at personality, communication styles, argument styles, finances, thoughts on children, background on your family of origin, and how maybe that’s affected your life and your relationship. It really opens up space for conversations with couples. That’s the most feedback I get from folks, who say “wow, that opened up conversations we didn’t know we should even be having.”
It’s not an exam that says “you are ready for marriage or you are not,” it’s more to start a conversation and to build a firm foundation for your marriage.
05. What’s something couples should consider when planning their ceremony?
Adding personality. I think working with couples, a lot of times they don’t realize the freedom they have. I love traditional vows. They are beautiful, but you have the opportunity to do so much. There’s so much flexibility for you to make your ceremony your own. Offering that as an option is really fun.
For example I just officiated a wedding where they did some scripture readings, but they also did readings from “The Velveteen Rabbit.” The couple and myself found so much connection and meaning in that reading, and they were able to connect that reading with their own beliefs. In the story the Velveteen rabbit asks a Horse “what is real?” The horse goes on to describe that what is real isn’t how you are made but its something that happens overtime, you become real when someone loves you very much. This simple children’s story was able to bring out beautiful wedding themes of finding love in our brokenness, even as worn-down people, themes around beauty that is within and unconditional love. This was very powerful. So the advice I would give to couples would be to have this freedom and add your own personality; I love that.