Vow-maker: Reverend Claire Goodman guides you to 'I Do'
The first response to wedding announcements are traditionally concerned with aesthetic: Have you picked a dress? What color for the invitations? Vineyard or chapel? While these elements contribute to the overall aura of any nuptial, the most important part of the day– the ceremony– is often, regrettably, largely overlooked. Yet it is the "I dos" that bring together bride and groom, family and friends, to witness the union of two lives– a creative task that can involve managing various faiths and spiritual needs. But creating new and engaging ceremonies shouldn't be a daunting task– just ask local interfaith minister Claire Goodman.
"When planning a wedding, there are a lot of things you do– buy a dress, decide about food. These things are familiar," she says. "A ceremony is completely out of people's experience– but that's what you're all there for. The party is great and fun, but it's about the couple and what's going on between them."
For Goodman, a Charlottesville resident for 20 years, the calling to interfaith ministry occurred in what she describes as an "Oprah 'Ah-ha' moment." Enrolling in a seminary in New York City, Goodman coincidentally took an elective in interfaith weddings– and after leading her first ceremony three days after being ordained, she was hooked. Approximately four years and 375 weddings later, Goodman still finds her "dream career" just as challenging and enthralling as that very first ceremony.
"When I'm leading, I want to be as true as I possibly can– I have no agenda other than to say what I feel would be right for the couple," Goodman explains. "The difference between me and a church pastor is that they are representing their church; I am representing the couple."
Specializing in ceremonies that mediate stark spiritual differences– whether it be Hindu and Christian or non-spiritual and Catholic, for example– Goodman tailors every aspect of a ceremony to fit the bride and groom– individually and as a unit. When initially meeting with a couple, Goodman first delves into the spiritual faith of both parties before asking the traditional "How did you meet?" or "Why are you getting married?" questions, in order to gauge the devotional route she should take in creating her ceremony. Leaving much creative control with the couple, Goodman makes it a high priority to be the vessel, rather than the spotlight, of the ceremony.
"Even though I'm feeding them the words and I'm facilitating, it's not about me," she notes. "Any chance I get, I stand aside and let it really be about them. I love it in pictures when you don't see me and it looks like they're just talking to each other."
And while she notes the pleasure derived from planning a luxurious party to celebrate the marriage, Goodman cautions brides to pay particular attention to the officiant they choose to lead them into married bliss. The officiant, besides the photographer, often plays the most intimate role of the entire day– and should, if possible, she says, become as close a friend as your maid of honor. Make finding your officiant an early priority in the planning process, she advises, because availability can become scarce once your secured date looms closer. The more time you have with an officiant, the better able he or she will be to fully know your spiritual and marital desires and articulate them.
"It's not the words people remember, it's the feelings," Goodman says. "I work hard on the words, but people won't remember exactly what I said– it's the fact that the bride and groom are engaged in the ceremony."
She garners inspiration from each ceremony she's performed– and, having officiated at venues throughout Charlottesville including Second Street Gallery, LiveArts, and nearly every winery, she has a wide repertoire of experiences to guide her. Additionally, her own wedding at Yogaville in Buckingham County (where she donned a turquoise sari) continues to inspire her mantra of unifying various faiths into one sustainable marriage.
"All of my ceremonies inspire me for others," she says. "There's so many possibilities, it's endlessly creative."