‘Non-religious Wedding Officiant’ & Other Terms

The vast majority of my couples enlist me for a strictly nonreligious or civil or humanist or spiritual ceremony without any explicit deity references.  But I do officiate religious or denominational or interfaith or nondenominational spiritual wedding ceremonies as well.

I’ve married aetheists, agnostics, Catholics, Jewish, and newly transformed Buddhist couples.  And I’ve learned that terminology can confuse.  For example, couples sometimes call requesting a civil marriage officiant, and I reply with a cheerful “that’s me” only to discover about five minutes prior to their ceremony that they’d like to include a prayer.  Likewise, some initially request a nondenominational ceremony with an invocation: later, when I ask again, I discover they do not want a prayer or blessing.

To promote a common understanding, here are technical definitions:

A civil ceremony is non-religious without any higher power remarks.

A nondenominational ceremony is a spiritual ceremony with a Christian oriented prayer to God or higher power, as well as a blessing.

A spiritual ceremony may contain such words as “divine,” “sacred,” and “transcendental” with a conception of God as the Universe.

A denominational ceremony is a service with roots in a particular tradition, whether Lutheran or Hindu.  But it’s mostly used in connection with Christianity.

An interdenominational, interfaith, or multifaith ceremony incorporates threads from various faiths.  For instance, couple might use classic Christian vows and breaking of the glass or the seven steps (Indian) and a Buddhist handfasting, et cetera.

An intercultural ceremony may include rites from myriad cultures, but usually without any religious contexts.

“Officiant” is a catch-all phrase.  (Remember that “officiate” is a verb; officiant is the noun.)  The Clerk’s office and New York Domestic Law refer to “marriage officiants.”

Celebrants derive from diverse backgrounds.  The Book of Common Prayer and Catholic ritual books use the term “celebrant.”  Yet, the word does not inherently signify any sort of religious affiliation. Today, the word connotes someone who specializes in rites of passages and offers a variety of highly personalized ceremonies.

Ministers are very diverse.  Some are Humanistic–as in the Unitarian Universalists.  Most come from a particular denomination, namely Congregationalist or United Church of Christ, Methodist, et cetera.

Priests are usually Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, or…Pagan.  Priestess is the feminine form. Except for the liberal or reformed Catholic church, only single guys can formally be ordained by the Roman or Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church.

Reverends typically come from mainstream Protestantism.

Pastors can come from anywhere, but the term often seems to coincide with Pentecostal or Baptists denominations.

Rabbis range from orthodox to more humanistic.  Regardless of religiosity in the traditional sense, the word links to Judaism.

Imams are leaders in the Islamic tradition.

Judges can also marry individuals in most states.  In NYC, however, they must be pre-registered with the City of New York –as do the rest of officiants.  Most judges only preside over ceremonies in their courtroom, and the ceremony is little more than a minute or two long.

Back in the day, most states issued licenses for specified time periods to Justices of the Peace, who carried out various functions, including acting as a sort of marriage magistrate.  Today, only a few states (i.e. Massachussetts and Connecticut—NOT New York) elect or nominate Justices of the Peace.

Finally, a cleric is an old-fashioned term used to define individual clergy members or public recorders.  Muslims sometimes refer to their “clergy” as “clerics” too.

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