Q+A-February Special Wedding Issue 2012
By Sophie Nelson
Photograph by Sean Alonzo Harris
NAME: Angie Arndt
Occupation: Interfaith minister, teacher, and Dean of CHIME
As an interfaith minister, what is your approach to officiating weddings?
Being an interfaith chaplain means you’re meeting people wherever they are in their journey, with whatever language, through whatever connection they feel they have or don’t have. It’s about being of service. In regard to weddings, it’s about serving a couple that wants to make their ceremony feel sacred to them, their families, and their guests. The beauty of an interfaith ceremony is that time and energy goes into making sure everyone’s spiritual needs are considered and, hopefully, met.
How do you go about making a ceremony feel sacred?
Many of the couples I work with come from different traditions. I worked with a practicing Unitarian and a man who was not practicing any religion actively but whose family came from India and had Hindu roots. I asked, “What would help make this feel personal and sacred for you and your families?” He introduced me to a Hindu tradition in which the newly married couple receives seven blessings as they circle around a fire. That made the ceremony feel complete for everyone involved.
It sounds like you spend significant time with couples prior to their wedding.
I require a minimum of three meetings with the couple. I really want to know who they are so that I can confidently stand there and bless their union. In our meetings, I ask them some pretty hard questions: “How are you managing intimacy?” “How are you managing finances?” “What is most challenging about being in a relationship with your fiancé?” And while they share with me, I watch them with each other. Then we begin to craft the ceremony together.
How do you begin that creative process?
I often encourage the couple to look to poetry or song lyrics—words that have special meaning to them. From there, I might recommend prayers and other ideas. For me, a big part of officiating is to invite friends and family to play an active role in the ceremony. Rather than, “Does anyone here object?” I ask, “Do you all agree to support this couple with your loving intention and your presence?” When they say, “I will,” it’s a wonderful moment.
In what’s likely to be a hectic time, even just three meetings might set some self-reflective habits in place before the wedding.
Oh, my questions certainly give cause for self-reflection. The challenge, very often, is that a couple will be in touch with an officiant after all of the other details have been attended to. A wedding is a beautiful, exciting event and I get that. My work is to help a couple remember, especially when the three of us are standing together, to be fully present. Done carefully, the moment is sacred regardless of how much attention has gone into the physical details. They meet me in that place, and it’s powerful.
How do you incorporate family members into the wedding, especially when children are involved?
I always try to meet with the children to get a sense of how much they want to be involved. I once said to a resistant teenage boy, “They want you to witness the commitment they’re making. That’s all. Can you do that?” For some reason, that word, “witness,” made sense to him. At one wedding, I reminded a couple beforehand that their children could not be expected to sit off to the side and that that was okay. I wish you could see the picture of the bride in a beautiful, traditional gown and veil holding her two-year-old. It was just stunning.