Make it official: Two top choices for your marriage maestro

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Photo: Meredith Sledge Photo: Meredith Sledge

An officiant could be considered the conductor of your wedding ceremony. And whether you want one that’s classical or something a bit jazzier, our area offers many options. We asked Dave Norris and Claire Frances to tell us more about how they set the tempo.

Dave Norris (above)

How long have you been officiating? My first wedding was in April of 2009. I was mayor at that time and had a weekly radio show about current events. One morning the show’s host, Tad Abbey, asked me on-air if I would officiate his upcoming wedding to his lovely bride, Grier. Without hesitation I said yes, then immediately went home and Googled “how to officiate a wedding.” I’ve performed hundreds of weddings since then.

What’s your specialty? My weddings tend to be simple and sweet and personalized to each couple. Many people choose a minister or a priest or a rabbi to officiate their wedding, so what they get is a worship service that doubles as a wedding ceremony, which is great for them. I, on the other hand, am a civil marriage officiant, so with me, you just get a wedding ceremony—one that feels true to the couple because we have worked together to design it. I think of weddings as a celebration of love and happiness and they still make me teary-eyed on the regular.

What’s a stand-out moment in your career as an officiant? I was especially moved by the ceremonies I was asked to perform in the days and weeks after marriage equality finally became the law of the land. A powerful combination of love and justice and freedom and triumph pervaded those weddings. One couple even included the beautiful concluding paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s prevailing opinion in Obergfell v. Hodges as a reading in their ceremony: Love won.

Any disaster stories or strange details that come to mind from a local wedding? Not a disaster story per se, but a couple once asked me to start their ceremony with that famous wedding quote from The Princess Bride (“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is wot bwings us togetha tooday. Mawwiage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam wifin a dweam…”). Half their guests got the reference right away and broke out in laughter. The other half thought I had a serious speech impediment and surely wondered how I ever got hired as a wedding officiant.

Photo: Aaron Watson

Claire Frances, Sacred Ground Ceremonies

How long have you been officiating? I’ve been officiating since the summer of 2004, when I graduated from seminary and was ordained. I already knew I was going to love doing wedding ceremonies so luckily was able to actually have one or two booked before my graduation. At this point I’ve done around 950 ceremonies.

What types of ceremonies do you provide? I am not from a Christian denomination, I am an interfaith minister. So, I guess you could say my specialty is bringing people together who come from very different backgrounds as opposed to both from the same. For instance, I’ve done a lot of Christian/Jewish ceremonies as well as Hindu/Christian; Buddhist/Jewish; atheist/Christian; Christian/pagan and just about any other combination you can imagine. But more than any other single type of ceremony I do a lot of “spiritual but not religious” ceremonies. I love the experience these kinds of ceremonies provide for the guests…often it is something completely unique for them and gives them an opportunity to experience a religion or culture that they’ve never been exposed to and so it, hopefully, opens hearts and minds to another equally beautiful tradition.

Any favorite moments or clever ideas you’ve seen executed at local weddings? Many years ago I had a bride who loved the Indiana Jones movies, so she chose the theme song to Indiana Jones as her processional music. With a string quartet playing it it took some time to recognize the melody, but when they did, the guests couldn’t stop laughing. Once I had another couple who wanted to get married on a really high peak out in the Shenandoah National Park, so we had quite a hike (a couple of hours) to do their ceremony high up with a 360-degree view. That was a fun experience.

Butterflies fly away

Big nerves on your big day? Here’s what these officiants say to couples to ease the jitters.

From Claire Frances…

  • Take a deep breath. Breathing deeply can really help.
  • Keep your focus on each other and on me; don’t worry about your guests right now, you will have the entire evening to spend with them.
  • Remember, this is your wedding ceremony; it’s not a performance, so you can’t mess up or do it wrong. However it goes will be just perfect and at the end of the day, you will be married to your best friend.

From Bhavani Metro, an associate at Sacred Ground Ceremonies…

  • Breathe and know at the end of this day, you will be married.
  • Relax and know that whatever happens today, it is all for good.
  • Your day will hold its own special memories and some of the funny things that may happen are part of that memory.
  • I have you covered. If you cry, I’ll have a tissue. If you forget something, I’ll guide you through it.
  • I always recommend that the couple take time alone immediately following the recessional without photographers, family or friends. It’s their private moment to celebrate with each other. It is important to take that sweet moment, full of the love and energy of the ceremony and share with each other before their attention turns outward to greet their family and guests.

And for words of wisdom
that last a bit longer, from Dave Norris…

  • Be generous with your love and compassion for each other.
  • Remember that you were friends first. Always treat your partner with the same respect and kindness that you would a friend.
  • You can be happy, or you can be right. Choose one.

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