What is a Wedding Officiant?
Is it the same as a Priest, Rabbi, or Pastor?
Guest blog by Brother Jeremy, Your Toronto Wedding Officiant
Canadians are increasingly non-religious, at least in the traditional sense. Millennials and Gen Zer’s are finding alternative social outlets, secular virtual and physical spaces to interact with one another. While the Baby Boomers (generally) received religious instruction from their parents, newer generations have no such reference point. It is important not to conclude that people are not religious, something that is simply not the case. In fact, it can be said that they have rejected organized religion, not the “God-concept” entirely.
As the saying goes, they are “spiritual but not religious”. If I hear this, I am not offended or put off. In fact, it can be seen as an invitation to discussion, a gateway to the Divine. With so many couples meeting online, where do they do fit in to this picture?
In the era gone, wives met their husbands at Church, the families well interconnected and familiar. This also provided safety to women, ensuring that any negative behavior would be reported to adults. While this provided some level of comfort, women were not afforded the same personal rights that (rightfully) enjoy today).
While men had a hold on Religious Leadership, the pendulum has shifted completely in the opposite direction. If you take a look at the statistics describing male and female participation in religious life, you would find many more women in weekly attendance. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. Orthodox Synagogues gear heavily to men, offering male spaces for community and brotherhood. In liberal synagogues the opposite is true, something that may be attributed to the lack of daily Shacharit Praying and other community liturgy.
Evangelical Churches will have much more males in attendance (compared to Mainline Churches), a reflection of their Patriarchal Worldview. This does make sense, right, considering that Jesus was a male and the majority of Prophets sported XY chromosomes. Even so, in urban cities many women prefer to get married by a man, a reflection of cultural attitudes rather than scriptural reference. Living in Canada means that everyone has a place to rest their hat, regardless of belief structure or lack thereof.
I am going to go over a couple vocational titles, roles that are given by specific religious institutions. It is not exhaustive but should provide sufficient context.
While they can also be a wedding officiant, a Rabbi is an esteemed Jewish Teacher, one that is authorized by both intellectual merit and community approval. In the Old Country (before we moved to the West) Rabbis learned under other Rabbis, perhaps even under their own father. Budding theologians studied the Torah, Talmud, Gemara, and so forth. The Rabbi (generally) leads the Minyan, leads class, officiates marriage, writes the Jewish Marriage Contract, visits and sick and so forth.
The modern Rabbinical Education System is much more formal than in bygone years. It requires an undergraduate degree in addition to a professional graduate credential. One must have a strong command of Hebrew (both Biblical and Modern), a capable orator, and an empath. Orthodox seminaries only ordain men but liberal streams will include women. If you are looking for a female Rabbi, it is advisable to contact either the Reform or Conservative movement. The Rabbi will require you both to be Jewish, or go through a recognizing conversion process.
Jewish Weddings are performed under beautiful canopies called Chuppahs. They epitomize the couples first home, supported by family, friends and loved ones.
A Pastor is an ordained Protestant Christian Clergy. He (or she) has attended a recognized Bible Seminary, such as Moody Bible College in Chicago. While there are some female Pastors in the West (Canada, USA, Europe), they are not in the majority. There is a Religious Precept that only men can be the Religious Head, as discussed in the Book of Timothy. Liberal streams have discredited this verse, attributing its sexist nature to History. To simplify, it is perceived as a relic not a prescription. If you are looking for a female Pastor, be sure to look for denominations like the United Church of Canada.
Contrasting from the previous roles, Priests, unlike wedding officiants, cannot get married, as stipulated by their Vow of Chastity. This is attributed to 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul elevates celibacy, suggesting that only lesser spirits need sexual interaction. They attend a Catholic Seminary, going through progressive ranks up the Church Hierarchy. They tend to place high barriers to marriage, requiring couples to complete courses prior to marriage.
This is not inherently bad but does alienate couples that do not wish to convert to “qualify” for marriage. While this may have been acceptable in prior generations, many modern couples are turned off by this type of rhetoric. Please do not take this as a jab (again Catholic Priests), simply communicating a commonly heard sentiment.
Assuming that they are in good standing with their governing body, Rabbi, Priests and Pastors are all also Registered Wedding Officiants. Ontario is one of the freest jurisdictions in the world, offering recognition to a large variety of religious persuasions. While I function as a Religious Wedding Officiant, many of my colleagues prescribe to alternative faiths or no faiths at all.
What is the Role of the Officiant?
Meet with the couple, get to know them, making sure that you are the right officiant for them.
To be honest, upfront, and non judgmental.
To listen to the couple, putting their needs first.
To prepare a unique service, one that is a reflection of their personality, character, and interest.
To lead by example. To hold to a strong moral standard.
To deliver a service that is inspiring and thought provoking.
To be authentic; to inspire authenticity.
To sign all legal documents and deliver it post haste to the Registrar.
What is the role of the engaged couple?
To communicate the couple’s story and expectations for the wedding.
To ask the officiant questions, regardless if it sounds silly or not.
To meet with the officiant, answering questions that will enrich the service, vows, and announcements.
To say I Do! To sign your name!
To love your spouse as God Loves You!