Some weeks ago, our Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an Executive Order allowing couples to apply for marriage licenses and host wedding ceremonies virtually. I’ve been doing this work for over a decade, and the announcement took me by surprise. Having been trained by the Celebrant Foundation & Institute, I have always placed a high premium on personalizing ceremony scripts and creating an intimate wedding atmosphere. It was unclear to me how intimate and emotionally compelling these ceremonies would be. I must admit that now having done quite a few “virtual weddings,” I have been pleasantly surprised at the gravity of these services. I wanted to share a few thoughts on enhancing that experience.
Based on my experiences over the last month or two, I realize that many factors bring a couple to a virtual wedding. For some folks, they previously had plans for a larger celebration, which now must be delayed due to the pandemic. Their desire to marry and “keep their wedding date” compels some folks to marry in a virtual ceremony as their larger weddings must be rescheduled for some time in the future. Other folks expected to have a simple “courthouse wedding,” and now must use our virtual services rather than returning to the clerk’s office. Anxieties are high during the pandemic, and couples, dealing with health insurance or immigration issues are top of mind. Whatever the reason, we are here to help.
So a few tips to the virtual brides and grooms I’ve worked with on behalf of Simply Eloped:
- Talk with your officiant as much as needed before the event. The current situation has made all of us jumpy and the standard operating procedures of the marriage license process have changed. Make sure you have a good understanding of the order of operations and processes that need to happen for the virtual license in advance of the wedding. Having a firm grasp on the details will allow you to relax a bit more during the ceremony.
- Take time to enjoy the ceremony. For many people, the virtual ceremony has the feel of a task on an administrative to-do list. Even if you have plans to host a larger celebration down the line, take time to really sync in and enjoy the moment. It’s an important rite of passage and should be treated as such. In some ways, this situation reminds me of the wave of gay marriages I officiated after New York passed it’s Marriage Equality Law. Many couples came to NYC had been together for many years or even decades. Often, they’d had large commitment ceremonies. When they indicated that they “just wanted to get it done,” I invited them to take a step back and really experience this great transition in their relationship.
- Don’t feel compelled to limit your guest list. While the impulse might be to keep the ceremony small (or even secret), technology allows a couple to invite a vast array of guests, in locations around the globe. In a recently Simply Eloped ceremony we had about 60 “participants” on three continents! The closeness of the event was not defined by the distance but was proportional to the affection for the couple.
- Enjoy the ability to personalize your ceremony. A hallmark of a celebrant ceremony is “telling the story of the couple” and personalizing the script in ways that are emotionally, culturally, and spiritually impactful for the student. Don’t be afraid to talk with your officiant about adding special readings or rituals in the wedding.
- Think about including your “guests” in some way. I generally include a “vow of community support” in my weddings, that include guests. After the ring exchange, I ask the guests of their willingness to support the couple in upholding the vows they’ve made. They can chime in with “We Will,” but if they are muted, a thumbs up will do! In a recent piece, I describe a cherished wedding guest (on another continent!) offering a reading during a ceremony in New York. And, a lovely South African couple who married last week, enjoyed a long exchange with the guests, with offerings of thanks—a period of toasting, after the ceremony concluded.
- Don’t forget the Decorations! While some feel it necessary to “underplay” virtual wedding preparations, I say—Do it your way! A recent couple had beautiful fairy lights as a backdrop for their vows. Whether it’s flowers or favors or bubbles, let your sense of fun and imagination be the guide!
While recognizing the challenges of the day, creativity can make the ceremony a memorable one.