We know you’re a Maine wedding officiant, but tell us a little bit about yourself as a person.
I’m originally from New Hampshire and moved to Maine in 2007 (by way of Utah, California and British Columbia). I’ve always been a “people person” and have worked in hospitality, retail, and nonprofits for years. I have three adorable kitties and consider myself a crazy cat lady. My cats even have their own Instagram account! My husband and I moved to Bath (from Damariscotta) in 2014 into a sweet little cape on the New Meadows River. I love Maine so much! I love Maine almost as much as I love weddings!
How and when did A Sweet Start begin?
I’ve got married in 2006, which is what started my career in the wedding industry. After planning my own wedding I just knew I wanted to work in weddings. I wasn’t really sure what that would look like, so I just kept it in the back of my mind for a couple of years. When I took the certification course to become a notary public, it was like the planets were finally aligned! The instructor explained during the course that, in Maine, notaries are authorized to perform wedding ceremonies. I’ve been officiating weddings since 2011!
What would you say is your main responsibility as a wedding officiant?
My main responsibility is to help my clients mark this significant moment in their lives with a heartfelt ceremony that reflects the couple, their personalities, and their love. I do this by guiding them through the process of envisioning the ceremony from start to finish. Many of my couples know they want a unique ceremony that reflects their relationship, but they don’t always know how to go about it. That’s where my experience is really important. I can help them pull in readings or songs or other interjections that are meaningful to them. I can guide them through the process of writing their own vows. I can offer them advice on music, the flow, the pairing of attendants. All of that. And finally, my responsibility is to manage the entire ceremony on wedding day so that they can let go, relax, and be totally present in the moment.
Can you take us through the typical process for creating a couple’s ceremony?
Sure! The process of creating a completely unique and totally customized Super Sweet Wedding Ceremony requires collaboration from the couple. It starts about three months in advance of their wedding. I send them a link to a Dropbox folder filled with all kinds of goodies: sample ceremonies, readings, elements to add into the ceremony, and other information to help them start picturing their ceremony. I ask them to pick out the bits of pieces from the sample ceremonies they like (maybe the introduction from this one, or the ring exchange from that one). I also email each of them a list of questions to help them reflect upon their relationship; questions like why are they choosing to marry each other, what does marriage mean to them, the qualities they find endearing in each other, and a few other questions. I weave their responses into the ceremony to make it completely custom and really personalized. I’ll write a completely unique ceremony for each couple so no two are ever alike.
We’ll go back and forth with the ceremony until it’s perfect. I like to have the final copy a month before wedding day, because that’s when we meet again to start planning the rehearsal.
By using this process, there’s a genuine warmth and connection that forms during our work together. I’m talking about their love and their marriage and their relationship but using their own words. It’s really magical and meaningful.
Which of your packages are the most popular?
I have three packages (Sweetest, Super Sweet Wedding, and Sweet + Simple Wedding) and my Super Sweet Wedding is the most popular. It includes a fully customized ceremony, unlimited guest list, and unlimited attendants. All my weddingsinclude a rehearsal, except for the limited number of elopements I officiate a year.
Can people specify ceremony details such as music, readings, and vows?
Absolutely! I actively encourage it! This is their ceremony so I want it to be a reflection of who they are. All of the things you just mentioned (music, readings, vows) are a great way to personalize a ceremony. I have samples and blog posts with inspiration and ideas, so I’m all about encouraging them to add in these kinds of elements.
How long does your average ceremony last?
It all depends on the couple, but I really encourage my couples to not make it too short. I think anything less than 20 minutes is too short. You just don’t get enough time to soak it all in. It goes so fast anyway, it’s nice to slow it down a bit. Add in some elements. Add in some other voices. Let there be a nice flow to it so it’s not just me talking for 10 minutes and then it’s over. Like I said, this is a pivotal moment in their lives and it’s worth savoring. That being said, I also think a really long ceremony can loose its significance. If there are too many readings or songs or interjections, it’s hard to make each one meaningful. I think the sweet spot, including processional, is about 30 minutes.
There’s a trend right now to have a wicked short ceremony and then just have a great party. While I’m all for fun parties, I try to remind my couples that the ceremony is what really matters. Pledging your love and devotion to one another in front of all the most important people in your life is what matters. I wrote a blog post about ideal ceremony length!
Do you take care of the marriage license?
Absolutely! As a notary public that’s my legal responsibility. The couple is responsible for getting the license from the city, but I take it at the rehearsal and am responsible for it until I deliver it to the town office after the wedding. I also advise my couples on how to get married in Maine; how file the intention to marry document at the town office; and how to obtain the marriage license after the ceremony.
How far are you willing to travel?
I’ll go almost anywhere in Maine! I’ve officiated weddings in New Hampshire, California and Colorado, so I do travel, too, just not as often.
How far in advance should clients contact you?
They should contact me as far in advance as possible, because I take a limited number of weddings and book up each wedding season, but I’ve taken weddings (based on my availability of course) as close as three or four months before. In order to have time to go through the customization process couples need to book me at least three months in advance. Anything less than that and I’m not going to be able to offer them a fully customized ceremony. For elopements they can contact me the day before, so that’s a different process.
How many weddings do you perform per year?
From 2011 to 2015 I was only taking 10 weddings a summer since I was still working a full time job. Now that I’m fully self-employed, I take 20 weddings a year. I limit the number of weddings I take to one per weekend (mostly just one per week). My entire being – heart and soul – is involved in each wedding I take, and I find that one a weekend works the best for me. You can read all about how I prepare for each wedding.
Do you recommend other wedding vendors?
Definitely! I love doing this (if the couple doesn’t have a wedding planner). I know so many talented wedding vendors I can even make personalized recommendations to my clients. For example, if they tell me a particular style of photography they like, I can give them names of a few photographers with a similar style. Our industry thrives on vendor-to-vendor referrals, so I’m always happy when my couples ask for recommendations.
What is your biggest challenge when officiating a wedding?
My biggest challenge is making sure the site coordinator or wedding planner understands that I work with my couples on every detail of the ceremony from pre-processional to recessional, and because of that I organize and manage the rehearsal. I now know that a lot of officiants don’t do this, but I love it and it’s one of the services I provide my clients. I always appreciate the support of the planner or coordinator and having them there makes everything run more smoothly on wedding day. But asking for their trust while I run the rehearsal is sometimes my biggest challenge.
What is most rewarding for you/what has been your proudest accomplishment?
Bringing an idea of a business from imagination into reality. Creating and growing a successful business is definitely my greatest accomplishment. Working with creative, interesting and engaged clients and collaborating with them to craft wedding ceremonies that have meaning and will be remembered for years to come, that’s rewarding!
What one tip would you offer for a successful ceremony?
Make it all about YOU! Find ways to personalize your ceremony to make it meaningful and engaging. Sure, do the research to see what’s out there, but always come back to the question “Does this reflect who we are?” If the answer is no, keep working at it.
And remember, your wedding ceremony is a magical moment that marks a major shift if your life. Make sure you find an officiant you connect with and one who can hold the gravity and significance of that moment with a joyous heart!
How do clients find you and stay connected with you? Do you advertise, attend bridal shows, or use social media?
I love social media! I’m on all the big platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram. I write a blog with advice and inspiration. I’m listed in a bunch of wedding directories, but I don’t really attend wedding shows. I find that my clients are mostly active online so I make myself available through electronic means. I’ve totally embraced digital media and use it to communicate who I am and what makes me awesome to work with!Learn More About Maria