The Accidental Wedding Officiant

“One night after watching a particularly touching story about another life lost to COVID, I thought to myself, I need to do something that brings joy and has some purpose in the lives of others.”

This begins the story of how Lisa Russo, adjunct faculty member in the Department of Communication at Monmouth University, embarked on her journey as a wedding officiant to friends and family as told to faculty colleague, John Morano.

“I thought back to how many of our friends’ adult children had to cancel, reschedule, and wait-to-see when they could have their wedding ceremonies. Some postponed with no new date, others were married in their living rooms or at the local courthouse. It occurred to me that being a wedding officiant would allow me to bring joy to others and experience some joy for myself. I felt like I’d have some purpose while in the holding pattern of life during COVID.”

“It occurred to me, being a wedding officiant would bring joy to others and to myself.”

“I had years of experience teaching public speaking which included helping students craft commemorative speeches. I had loads of experience delivering those speeches myself both professionally and personally. I’d even worked with others to shape their wedding vows and ceremony content when they planned very personalized ceremonies. This type of work comes very naturally to me, and I love doing it!”

Casey Coffin, a Monmouth University alum, who asked Lisa to lend a hand in finalizing her ceremony content in October of 2020, shared her thoughts on Lisa’s expertise, “Without Lisa, I don’t know if we could have pared down our reading selections to what was most important to me and  my fiancé. There was so much to consider. Lisa’s suggestions resulted in perfection!”

“After researching the most legitimate on-line wedding certification programs, I chose the Universal Life Church (ULC) based in Seattle, Washington. This non-denominational church is one of the most recognized online ordination groups in the country. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Steven Colbert were certified and performed weddings through the ULC, so it was good enough for me! I posted my credentials on Facebook and in less than 24 hours a coworker planning to marry in several weeks, and a friend who was newly engaged contacted me for help.”

“My co-worker and his fiancée had planned a destination wedding where they were eloping to a luxury Mexican vacation resort. They discovered at the last minute that they would have to spend 30 days prior to their wedding date in Mexico to obtain a marriage license. The groom asked me if I could perform their nuptials in their apartment to make their wedding legitimate, and to avoid the red tape surrounding their original plan. From that point, we set a date just before Christmas, invited two witnesses and I married them in front of their charming little Christmas tree. They left the following week for their tropical wedding experience knowing that it was all made legal in the U.S.”

“The next wedding, I performed was for a 51-year-old friend of my sister’s who I’ve known since she was four years old. It was her first marriage and her fiancé’s second. They planned it for June of 2021  on the couple’s waterfront property. Their desire was to create an intimate wedding celebration with a small number of  family and friends in attendance. For them, it was essential that they have a professional with experience creating personalized ceremonies and event planning so their day would go off without a hitch. Their officiant would be someone who genuinely cared about them to ensure the ceremony would be significant and meaningful. They felt I fit the bill on all fronts.”

According to Chrisanne Brennan, Lisa’s long-time friend, “We were so grateful to have Lisa perform our ideal ceremony.”

A bright smile proceeded Lisa’s reply when asked how she feels about performing a wedding, “It’s an honor when asked by those who trust me to create their special ceremony. It’s a  truly joyous experience for which I’m grateful.”

“Since I started this journey, I’ve helped others with the writing of their ceremonies and the selection of material to best reflect their personal feelings. It’s been a source of inner happiness and creates another sense of purpose for me as the last vestiges of the COVID nightmare wind down.”

I asked Lisa where she goes from here. With a sense of great certainty, she ended with, “I hope to continue on by designing and delivering unique wedding ceremonies for friends and family- only if asked, of course. I don’t seek out this honor. I just want to bring my communication expertise, my ability to help couples identify and articulate their feelings on one of the most special days of their lives. I remain thankful for those who have allowed me to officiate at their weddings, and for the happiness they’ve given me through their gifts of trust in my spirit to make their wedding special.”