Top Advice By Patricia Burgess, Atlanta Wedding Officiant
My focus is helping every couple create the perfect, unique and custom ceremony to a total reflection of their personalities and their relationship.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am an ordained Unitarian minister with more than 47 years of experience performing weddings, almost 1400 ceremonies. My focus is helping every couple create the perfect, unique and custom ceremony to a total reflection of their personalities and their relationship. I started my business as a full-time venture just over 4 years ago and since then I have received numerous awards such as Thumbtack's Top Pro every year since they began giving that award, The Best of the Knot and the Couple's Choice Award at WeddingWire. On these sites, I have a total of over 400, 5-star reviews. My entire focus is keeping the couple stress free while giving them the very best wedding they could ever dream of!
How to choose a good wedding officiant?
It is important to find an officiant who is as overjoyed about your wedding as you are. I go into every ceremony with my heart full of happiness for the couple and joy that I can give them this gift. An officiant must be open-minded and receptive to a couples' wants and needs as well as being happy to include everything that is important to them. I meet personally with every couple at least 3 times, if possible, to create and strengthen our connection. I never want a couple to stand in front of a stranger on the most important day of their lives.
I meet personally with every couple at least 3 times, if possible, to create and strengthen our connection.
In your opinion, why do you think wedding ceremonies are important?
Wedding ceremonies do more than just join a couple legally. The ceremony joins families, brings the couples' friends together, merges two different backgrounds into one new future, and gives a couple the opportunity to declare before their loved ones their intentions to be together forever...their 2 lives becoming 1.
I officiate every ceremony with joy and happiness while keeping my couples calm and focused.
What happens during a typical wedding ceremony?
A typical wedding has several sections, beginning with the Opening that welcomes the guests and makes a statement about the couple and the importance of the day. In GA, the law requires a Declaration of Intent, usually referred to as the "I do's" an official declaration or pronouncement of the marriage. Of course, almost all couples say vows, either their own or chosen from my selection of nearly 200 options, and exchange rings.
Today couples also can choose to add a specialty add-in such as a Unity Ceremony (I offer over 100 different options) and/or a Memorial to honor loved ones who are no longer with us. Almost every couple also chooses to include at least one Reading, usually done by a loved one. As an officiant, I have created a format that breaks up the very emotional parts such as the vows, rings, etc., with short speeches to give the couple time to catch their breath. I officiate every ceremony with joy and happiness while keeping my couples calm and focused.
- Declaration of Intent
- Unity Ceremony
What are some examples of traditional wedding vows?
The very traditional vows are: "I, groom, take you, bride, to be my lawfully wedded wife, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others as long as we both shall live." I very, very rarely use those but I have written several sets of vows that express those same values but in newer, fresher words. The great majority of my vows are more non-traditional.
I strongly encourage every couple to write their own vows but not every couple is comfortable with that. Of those that do, many have no idea how to start. In the options book I give every couple I include as many as 30 different sets of vows and explain how they can use these options to find a starting point or ideas of how to say what is in their hearts but they can't find the words. I also tell them to first agree on a length...no one wants to write 2 pages and find their partner has written half a page! I always tell them to say what is in their hearts, add a little humor, but remember it is not meant to be a comedy routine.
Can a couple have a wedding without a marriage license?
A couple can have a wedding without a marriage license, although it is technically a commitment ceremony. I am very careful to explain that this is not a legal marriage and will need to be legalized after the license is obtained (if they want it to be legal). In order to make it legal and sign the license, I need to perform a brief ceremony, saying the Declaration of Intent and the Pronouncement. This is not an uncommon occurrence at all.
While GA does not allow me to get the license for the couple, I am able to give the couple all the guidance they need about the process. I can recommend the best county Probate court, tell them the best time to show up, advise them of cost and payment options, etc. I often recommend courthouse that offers the option of filling out the application and submitting it online. This takes substantially less time than to do it at the courthouse. After the wedding, I always take care of seeing that the license is filed and recorded within the time that GA mandates.
A couple can have a wedding without a marriage license, although it is technically a commitment ceremony. I am very careful to explain that this is not a legal marriage and will need to be legalized after the license is obtained (if they want it to be legal).
What type of pre-wedding counseling do you require (for religious ceremony only)?
I do not require any pre-marital counseling for any type of ceremony. GA does give a discount on the cost of the license if a couple has 6 hours of counseling prior to getting the license but it isn't a requirement.
But an officiant may refuse to marry a couple for many reasons and cannot be forced to perform a ceremony that conflicts with their religious beliefs. We cannot legally perform a ceremony if either party is too impaired to give legal consent, whether it is that they are too drunk, too high on drugs, not mentally competent or if they are being forced into the marriage against their will.
GA does give a discount on the cost of the license if a couple has 6 hours of counseling prior to getting the license but it isn't a requirement.
Every wedding I do is personalized. I work with every couple to create a unique, custom ceremony that perfectly represents them and often includes pieces of their personal love story woven throughout.
How do you personalize a wedding?
Every wedding I do is personalized. I work with every couple to create a unique, custom ceremony that perfectly represents them and often includes pieces of their personal love story woven throughout. I also often write a custom Unity Ceremony or even a custom Reading for my couples.
For an inexpensive wedding, I still send the questionnaire I use for every couple and use that information to create 3-5 custom ceremonies which I email to the couple, along with instructions for taking the ceremonies apart and using different bits and pieces, put it all back together to be just what they want. I cannot offer face to face consultations for an inexpensive wedding but I'm always happy to Skype or FaceTime and welcome emails, texts and phone chats.
Many of my couples, even at large weddings, have commented that it felt incredibly intimate and private due to the way I interact with them during the ceremony.
From your point of view, do you think a wedding ceremony is more about the couple or the families and friends?
I feel that a wedding ceremony is for the couple, although they usually choose to share the joy with at least a few friends and family. To many couples, however, the ceremony is a deeply private moment that they opt not to share with others. I do a significant number of ceremonies that include just the couple and myself. Many of my couples, even at large weddings, have commented that it felt incredibly intimate and private due to the way I interact with them during the ceremony. I make them forget that there is anyone else there besides the 3 of us.
What was your worst moment while performing a wedding?
My worst moment while performing a wedding was also the only time I have ever witnessed an objection. Unfortunately, the objection came from the bride who had made a devastating discovery about the groom and the Maid of Honor (bride's sister) 3 days before the wedding day. The bride had dug up a great deal of details about that relationship and decided to reveal it all to 250 guests during the ceremony. She then turned around and walked out the door. I had to send the guest home and talk to the bride's parents afterwards to assure them that I was totally unaware of her intentions. It was not a pleasant day but it was indeed a memorable one!