Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Many years ago I got a lay certification to perform weddings. The first
few I did were for my own children and then children of close family
friends, and then for peers who remarried. A career as a teacher and
an avocation as a poet make me uniquely qualified to put on a good
wedding. I’ve performed about twenty by now, and charge a very
modest fee. Many are for couples in mixed marriages, who do not
want either partner’s religion to dominate, but like the idea of a
spiritual event with elements from both, and lots of universal thoughts
and imagery. I meet with the couple several times before agreeing to
perform the ceremony and to decide what the actual words will be.


This weekend, just before the ceremony began, the mother of the
bride came to me and pressed a paper in my hand, saying “This is my
daughter’s favorite prayer. Please read it in the ceremony.” And then
she walked away. Let’s just say that my ceremonies do not include
“Jesus Our Lord” as a key element. There was no time to talk to the
bride, so I omitted the prayer, as we had not agreed to it. The mother,
who was ostensibly paying me, was very rude at the reception and
said meanly “That’ll cost you your fee!” I did not mention it to the
couple, but the wife sent me an apology and a check. What can I do to
avoid this in the future?


Dear Officiate:

You can add two elements to your planning process. While meeting
with the future marrieds, tell them this story (modified without the
meanness) as an example of things that can “go wrong and mar your
happy day.” Say you do not want to disappoint anyone, but that you
do what you do intentionally to avoid performing religious services, in
part because you are not an officially certified representative of a
religion, and in part because it’s not who you are or what you do. She
them examples of ceremonies you have performed, and, menu-like,
allow them to help craft the ceremony in a way that pleases all of you.



Follow up with an agreement that specifies what they have agreed to
in the service, and with a list of things you commit to doing and will
not agree to do. Include in it a handout for them to share with their
close family about the tone of the service, and your collective
understanding that because various traditions will be represented,
nothing that feels exclusionary will be included in the service. Suggest
that any family member who wants to say something that might be
considered religious can do so in the toasting that will part of the
reception. My guess is that the future marrieds will insulate you from
these relatives. You might also collect your fee before the ceremony.