The tradition of marrying within one's faith, as a member of religious community, certainly simplifies the decisions about where and by whom to be married. But what if you're a dabbler in many religions /practitioner of none (me) or an agnostic-leaning-atheist (him)?
We settled the location question with the closest thing we have to religion: a deep, shared love for the outdoors, and chose a place that had personal meaning to us. That it was gorgeous and nearby were huge bonuses.
Now that we had the place, who would preside? This was one of the hardest decisions of the wedding planning process, and the one that took the longest to nail down. We considered a Buddhist teacher I'd met at a retreat once. He had great humor and flair, and plenty of wise insights. But we wanted the wedding to comprise people who really know us, and this teacher probably wouldn't recognize me if we ran into each other on a crowded San Francisco street. Next...
My mother, the ordained minister? A seemingly obvious choice. But I wanted my mom to be my mom that day, not worried about conducting a service, and I didn't want to exclude Eric's non-religious family.
Finally, we settled on each choosing one opposite gender friend to co-officiate (he would select a female friend, I would select a guy). It seemed very balanced and progressive and community-oriented. His friend said 'yes.' I dilly-dallied and procrastinated about asking mine. The summer crept along. Then we found out that his friend was going through a personally challenging time, and wouldn't be able to officiate.
Then we found out that my friend was facing a personally challenging time, as well. Did I dare add additional stress to his life by asking him to officiate? I hoped he would see it as the great honor that we meant it to be, but I worried that it would unnecessarily complicate his life (though as we know, a wedding is not an imposition).
Much to my relief, he agreed to officiate (after quickly becoming a minister of the Universal Life Church Monastery), on the condition that Eric and I put together the ceremony so that he would simply serve as its Master of Ceremonies and organizer.
And what an MC he was! He knew well how long and circuitous the journey to this particular moment had been - his voice cracked with emotion more frequently than mine! To me, that truly honored the gravity of the commitment we were making, far more than someone whose experience with such ceremonies would cause them to be practiced and smooth. I feel privileged knowing we are (probably) the only people ever to have the honor of being married by this friend.
And, I will have to start studying hard to repay my debt in kind: do you know, he asked after the ceremony, how difficult it will be will be to find a rabbi for my son's bar mitzvah?