As I’ve worked with weddings and engaged couples going through the planning process, I’ve learned a lot about just how many moving parts go into creating an amazing wedding day. Each element of a wedding is so unique and special to the couple. They all come together to tell the story of your love. As a bride, you’re not only looking for quality professional vendors who will produce excellent work, you are also looking for vendors who match your style and who speak to the personality you want to showcase for your guests at your wedding.
One vendor I’ve had the opportunity to work with is Rev. Tera Little, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and wedding officiant. She works alongside her partner, Jonathan, a Jewish rabbi to provide multi-faith weddings through Your Wedding, Your Values. I’ve had the chance to work with Tera both professionally and as a bride myself – she officiated my wedding last year. Speaking with her gave me an interesting perspective, one I want to share with all of you! She was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions to shed some light on what weddings are like from an officiant’s point of view.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up in a very small town in north central Arkansas. There wasn’t even a stoplight there when I was growing up. One of my earliest memories of feeling connected to something sacred was an experience I had in nature, and I think this is why I gravitated toward Unitarian Universalism in my early 20s. At 24, I was hired to direct children and youth programs at my local UU church, and a few years later I was hired as staff for our national denomination. I graduated from seminary in 2010, and currently serve Throop UU Church in Pasadena, CA and serve as adjunct faculty for Starr King School for the Ministry. I’m very lucky that my life work is something I am so passionate about. Last week, a friend of mine noted that I love to talk about relationships, and how cool it was that I had a job where I am able to talk about that all the time.
When did you officiate your first wedding?
In 2003. It was for two friends, and they had met and fallen in love at our church camp. They held their wedding there, so it was this really lovely convergence of people making a life-long commitment to each other in a space of deep meaning and memories.
What is your process like when working with a bride and groom?
I meet with the couple several times. It’s important to really understand who they are as a couple and learn what makes them click. This is integral to creating a ceremony that reflects their love story and their values. I love it when I can meet with them in their home. Once, I married a couple who loved art, their home was full of stunning paintings, rich colors. It was very dramatic. So the process of creating a piece of art because a theme that ran throughout their wedding; relating the creative process to the life-long process of building and sustaining a marriage.
At our first meeting, it’s a chance for the couple and I to get to know each and make sure we are a good match. We talk about how they met, how they fell in love, why they are choosing to get married at this time, what feeling do they want in their wedding ceremony, what kind of religious language (or not!) that they want to use. We talk about which elements to include in their ceremony, if they want any family or close friends to participate through sharing a reading or a song. I leave them with a packet that has sample language for many elements of the service, such as the vows, and exchange of rings.
Within a few weeks, they send me back their chosen elements, and I write up a draft of the ceremony. We meet a second time, go over that in person, and continue the conversation about their hopes for their marriage and what is important to them in their relationship. By that time, I’ve gotten to know them well enough and heard enough stories that a theme emerges, and their unique story bursts from the pages of the wedding manuscript.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My absolute favorite part – standing at the altar with the groom and seeing the bride enter the wedding space, and watching the groom’s reaction to seeing her.My other absolute favorite (I can have two!) – marrying same sex couples. Honestly, it’s hard for me to not cry during the ceremony!
Do you have any advice for brides and grooms?
Don’t leave the ceremony until the last minute! Relish building the ceremony with the same gusto as tasting the cake or choosing the flowers. Set aside time immediately following the ceremony for time for just the two of you, even if it’s just five minutes to take a breath. The wedding day is so intense. It’s the culmination of months of planning and preparation. All your friends and loved ones are there. You’re wearing an amazing gown or suit (and possibly uncomfortable shoes). The day goes by so fast. In Jewish wedding tradition, couples retreat to a yihud (seclusion) room, so they can enjoy a bit of solitude in the midst of a very full and chaotic day.Remember: it’s your wedding. Your friends and family will all have opinions. You know what you want and need in order to create a day that best reflects your love and your values.
Do you have any favorite wedding traditions?
In addition to the yihud room, mentioned above. I love it when couples want to especially lift up the memory of loved ones who have died and whose presence is deeply missed at the wedding. I do this in a way that isn’t morbid or depressing, but a celebration of the influence they have had on the two people about to be married.
How do you and Jonathan work together as officiants of different faiths?
Very carefully! Our two traditions (Jewish and Unitarian Universalist) have different perspectives on interfaith or multi-faith marriages. And the heart of the ceremonies are different in our respective traditions. For Unitarian Universalists, the vows are the centerpiece, it is all about the promises a couple makes to each other. In Judaism, the rings are the heart of the wedding ceremony.