My boyfriend’s an atheist. That’s the beginning of the story.
He’s not just an atheist – he’s an Atheist, with a capital A. He’s practically a fanatic, if you can be a religious fanatic in your lack of beliefs. Before I met him, I always considered myself agnostic – but through his vast knowledge of atheism, I’ve discovered that my beliefs align more closely with agnostic atheist (which means that I, personally, do not believe in God or a higher power, but do not deny their potential for existence). As Hugh Laurie so eloquently put it – “I admire the music, buildings and ethics of religion, but I come unstuck on the God thing.”*
Whenever we discussed getting married, we always got a little stuck on the ceremony. Neither of us had been to many non-religious weddings, and weren’t even sure where to start. It was really important to me to have a wedding ceremony – not to elope or get married in the court or anything like that. Our wedding is something I really wanted to be able to share with the important people in our lives. I knew that I also had very specific restrictions and ideas of what I wanted in a wedding ceremony, and wasn’t sure I’d be able to find someone who could accommodate.
Lindsey, Ben, & I at their wedding
Oh, sorry, I need to back up a little – I guess that’s not the beginning of the story. When I was in college, before she was even discussing getting married with her then boyfriend now husband, my best friend Lindsey asked me to officiate at her wedding. Neither of us remember why or how this came up, or why it became such a steadfast decision. But, sure enough, we discussed it many times over the next few years, and it was official when she got engaged in 2006. At one point, I told Lindsey that I would rather be her maid of honor instead of perform her wedding ceremony – and she told me how she really wanted me to perform the ceremony. And it made sense – Lindsey was raised Lutheran, tended towards Pagan in college, and these days leans a little more towards Judaism. Her husband is culturally Jewish.
So let’s go back to the “my boyfriend’s an atheist” part. It’s October of 2007 – Lindsey and Ben have been engaged for over a year, and I had just begun to research and write their ceremony. Dan [the boyfriend] and I were sitting in a theatre, talking before the show started. I had recently reached what I had always thought was my ultimate goal of a job – and was incredibly miserable. But the problem, when you reach your job goals and discover that you’re unhappy, was that I had no idea what I was supposed to go from there, career-wise.
I turned to Dan and said, “What do I want to do with my life?” And he was quiet for a moment, and thought about it. And then he said, “You want to perform agnostic and atheist weddings.” And it was a fabulous idea.
I knew there had to be other people, like Dan and I or Lindsey and Ben, who were looking for wedding ceremonies taken without the context of religion. Full of traditions and ceremonies and elements and love. But I really wanted to offer this to people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic – to show that you don’t have to have religion to have tradition (something that I think atheists lose the tradition that religion tends to lend to your lives).
The next day, I did some online research, and found the Celebrant Foundation, and the courses and support they offer for lay people who want to officiate at all kinds of ceremonies – funerals, weddings, coming of age, baby blessings, divorce ceremonies. And, as luck would have it, the semester started that week. And (this is the crazy part) – this is the only place in the US that offers these classes. And where were they located? Literally two blocks away from my former home in Montclair – now about 20 minutes from my current apartment in East Rutherford (how awesome would it have been if I could have walked to my class?).
My Wedding Class at our ordination, April 2008
It felt like it was meant to be. I graduated in May of 2008, and immediately began performing wedding ceremonies. In my first six months as a Celebrant, I had the honor of performing sixteen wedding ceremonies – including Lindsey and Ben’s.
I made a good choice. I love what I do so much – it’s so amazing to be able to do this service for my couples.
Dan and I are in the beginning stages of planning our October 2010 wedding. And it’s still a very tough decision for me to choose a someone to officiate my ceremony – but for the opposite reason. Now, I have so many wonderful Celebrant colleagues and connections that choosing the person to officiate at my wedding isn’t an issue of being able to find someone – it’s simply who I should choose!
*I’d like to note that, as a Celebrant, my religious beliefs (or lack there of) are completely irrelevant – I love wedding ceremonies. I work with my couples to develop fabulous wedding ceremonies that reflect them, and have a great respect for all spiritual backgrounds and religions. One of my favorite things to do in wedding ceremonies is to reimagine and reinterpret more traditional religous elements and ceremonies in a secular way – Jewish-style ceremonies with Chuppahs, wine, and glass breaking – Christian-style ceremonies with hymns, unity candles, and traditional vows. Your ceremony should reflect you and your relationship, and that is my ultimate goal.