I Now Pronounce You...
In between love and marriage comes a visit with an officiant.
In the ultimate example of “practice what you preach,” Reverend Terumi Culmer followed her heart and decided an abrupt career change was in order. The former graphic designer and painter instead pursued an education at Tai Sophia Institute, now the Maryland University of Integrative Health, a nonprofit graduate school of alternative medicine, where she studied transformative leadership and social change, with a focus on helping women’s relationships.
As Culmer’s education progressed, she soon realized that her passion rested in helping couples at the very beginning of their marital journeys. In a pre-graduation exercise in which students were asked to write a letter to their future selves about their aspirations after school, Culmer remembers writing that she wanted to achieve the simple, yet profound, act of marrying couples. With that desire released out into the atmosphere, Culmer jumped in with two feet and has been helping individuals learn about love, marriage, and partnership ever since.
Culmer’s first role as an officiant was with Reverend Laura C. Cannon and her Divine Transformation Wedding Officiants, an organization Culmer first learned about through what she deems a serendipitous universal intervention.
Culmer was working one afternoon at her husband’s business, Dangle Live Bait & Tackle, when someone innocently said, “You look bored,” and handed her a magazine. There she saw Divine Transformation’s advertisement for wedding officiants. (The company is now called Ceremony Officiants.) She became ordained through the Universal Life Church and reached out to Cannon. Finally, in June 2011, Culmer was ready to branch out and establish her own company, A Sacred Marriage, which specializes in premarital coaching and workshops, couples and singles mentorship, wedding-officiating services, and love coaching for those well into their marriage. Ultimately, Culmer’s favorite aspect of the job is the opportunity to teach her couples about love and unlocking what she describes as the couple’s mission.
“The mission,” she says, is “the foundation for cultivating a partnership that is everlasting.” Culmer draws on hard-learned relationship lessons from her own past and pays it forward to her clients.
“In the ceremony, I have the opportunity to inspire the couple to think about marriage and love,” she says. But that goes beyond just the couple she is marrying. To see the other guests “married and single, thinking and leaning forward, taking it all in, is so rewarding.”
Says Culmer, “Your wedding day is one of the most exciting days of your lives. But be mindful that your wedding celebration is one day. Your marriage is a lifetime and beyond.”
Q: How can couples be more prepared for marriage?
A: They can attend a premarital class. The session I teach provides a deeper understanding of the foundation that sets the framework for all facets of marriage so couples have a mutual vision to cultivate a loving partnership that is everlasting.
Q: What do you think is an ideal amount of time for a ceremony?
A: I’d say between 20 and 30 minutes. Beyond that, your guests tend to have a tough time remaining focused and engaged in the ceremony. You want to captivate your audience, not lose them. More and more couples are asking for ceremonies that are short and sweet.
Q: What is the most important thing for a couple to keep in mind on the day of the wedding?
A: To be present and remain in the moment. It is crucial for partners to give their full and undivided attention to each other. Get your thoughts out of your head and give them completely over to your significant other and the experience that is unfolding before you. The ceremony is over faster than you realize, but being able to take mental images of the ceremony and capture the feeling of that particular moment will be something you can always come back to whenever you need it, and will remind you why you’re in the marriage.
Q: How would you counsel a couple if there is friction between—or within—the families?
A: If there is turmoil in the families, I would suggest the following to the couple: Make your wedding all about you and celebrating your union. If family cannot join you in the celebration of your love, offer them a request: Join you in supporting you in love or don’t attend.
Q: Is it typical for the officiant to be invited to the reception after the ceremony?
A: Yes, it is typical for couples to invite their officiant to their reception after the ceremony. Though oftentimes, wedding officiants may not be able to attend due to other obligations.
Q: What is the average cost of reserving an officiant for the ceremony? How many hours should the booking cover?
A: The average cost to reserve a wedding officiant largely depends on the location of the ceremony and the day of the week your ceremony takes place. To reserve a wedding officiant within your local area, the average cost is $400 to $500. Half is due to reserve the couple’s date and time and the balance is due before your ceremony. For a local wedding, the booking should cover one and a half hours.
Q: How many planning meetings do you encourage your couples to have with you before the actual wedding day?
A: Typically, there are anywhere between two and three meetings before the actual wedding day. One as the initial face-to-face meeting before the couple commits 100 percent to using the officiant’s services, followed by a longer planning meeting to address all the details of the day. For my couples, this is also our time to have the premarital coaching session. Last but not least is the wedding rehearsal the day before the wedding. With that being said, I always invite my couples to reach out to me as often as they need to.
Q: How can couples of differing faiths incorporate important marriage traditions from both sets of beliefs to create an all-inclusive ceremony?
A: I suggest each add aspects that reflect both beliefs. For example, in a Jewish and Christian ceremony, couples may choose to incorporate the chuppah, which is the canopy under which a Jewish couple traditionally stands during their wedding ceremony, and the lighting of the unity candle, which is rooted in Christian marital traditions. Changing the language of the ceremony is a good way to incorporate multiple faiths as well.
Q: How can the couple include family members in the ceremony?
A: Couples can ask family members or close friends to share meaningful readings during the ceremony. Family members can also be incorporated in a sand ceremony or handfasting. The sand ceremony symbolizes two individuals coming together—the grains of sand poured into a single vase represent the couple giving their complete devotion to their union while remaining who they are—but can also include children or families as part of the union. Handfasting is an old Pagan tradition that involves ties or ribbons that bind the couple’s hands together. Each family member holds a different colored ribbon, all of which symbolize a different aspect of the family. The tying of the hands represents two people who cannot be separated, the new bond of marriage, and loosely forms the infinity sign. Ribbons also are a good way to get in your something old and something blue.
Q: If a couple wants to write their own vows, what are some guidelines they should follow?
A: Couples choosing to write their own vows have the most beautiful vows when they just speak from the heart. I suggest choosing the top five things that explain why they chose to spend the rest of their life loving the other person. And adding some humor never hurts. Pick something unique to your relationship dynamic. For example, the groom promising to give his bride the credit card every time he is watching football so she can buy a new pair of shoes. Write down anything that comes to mind, and then tweak it later. For couples who need more guidance, I always set time aside during our wedding planning meetings to help fill in whatever gaps are needed.
Q: In what ways can a couple personalize their ceremony without sacrificing key traditional moments?
A: To get an idea of how a ceremony can be different than the norm, I first ask the couple what everyone else’s ceremony looks like to them. During our initial planning meeting, I get a sense of who they are as individuals and who they are as a couple by hearing their love story and what might be worthy to highlight and incorporate. The best part is that the ceremony can really take any form you wish. Do you like the more traditional vows or something more contemporary? Do you want the tone of the ceremony to be more laid-back or more formal? Whatever is important to the couple, either separately or together, can find its way into the ceremony.
Q: Not all couples share the same level of spirituality or commitment to an organized faith. How do you work with couples to find a good middle ground for the ceremony?
A: The best way to work with couples that have different levels of spirituality is to determine if they believe in a higher power such as God, and then ask if it is okay to say God in the ceremony. I find that most of my couples are not practicing their faith and they are fine with an opening and closing prayer and mentioning God a few other times in the ceremony.
Q: What is a common mistake you see couples making when planning their ceremony?
A: The first is waiting until the last minute to find a wedding officiant. Remember, you can’t get married without one. The other is choosing not to attend a premarital session where you and your partner have the opportunity to formulate a shared understanding and appreciation for the journey you are about to embark on. During my premarital sessions, I ask couples to think about some of the major fears most couples admit to having, including financial issues, raising children, etcetera. We are able to talk through the meaning and importance these doubts raise and the ways they can be managed.