Backyard Wedding

Melissa + Tamara: An Elopement for Two Soul-Elevating Brides

Melissa + Tamara: An Elopement for Two Soul-Elevating Brides

Tamara and Melissa are women who remind us of why we do what we do. Our highest aim is to serve humans in love who want to capture a moment in time—beautiful, complicated, whatever they need it to be—and let it be truly just for the two of them.

Your Officiant Is NOT An Afterthought: How To Find Your Ceremony-Elevating Human

Images courtesy of  Forthright Photo .

Images courtesy of Forthright Photo.

Has finding an officiant been an afterthought when it comes to wedding planning? Are you developing an incredible elopement and find yourself totally lost as to where to begin with the ceremony itself? Or are you a fellow vendor who doesn’t have any officiants you enthusiastically recommend to your clients? I am sharing the common roadblocks my couples face in finding an officiant, the genesis of my work in this area, and a guide to considering your values and criteria to select your perfect match.

From nonprofit program manager to yoga studio manager to wedding and elopement planner, I am lucky enough to do work that I LOVE and that I truly believe makes an impact for the beautiful people of this world. I love wedding and elopement planning because it is work that allows me to flex my creative muscles behind the scenes while allowing my couples to shine. It is the ultimate act of service (which also “happens” to be my love language). One of the planning challenges I hear about often is finding an officiant that fits my couples’ ceremony and lifestyle.

These are the most common concerns that crop up…

“We want to get married but we know nothing about officiants. We want someone who is down to earth and ‘gets us’ without the religious backdrop or required counseling. We want the ceremony to have a nod to tradition without feeling bogged down by it.”

“We are having a hard time finding someone who is LGBTQ friendly, open to using non-traditional pronouns, and excited to create a script that sounds like us. It matters to us that the person we choose has experience working with different kinds of couples and who understands how the ceremony dynamic is affected by those nuances.”

“We’ve talked to a lot of officiants, but they mostly talked about themselves on the phone and didn’t spend a whole lot of time getting to know us. We want someone who is interested in who we are and what this day means to us, our friends, and our family.”

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…and these are EXACTLY the kinds of desires I want to hear from my couples. I work with people who are not only interested in throwing a rad party to celebrate their commitment, but who are also equally invested in co-creating a ceremony ritual that kicks off their marriage legacy. You heard me: joining your lives together is an epic decision worthy of ritual and ceremony. Why not treat it as such and find the humans who support you?!

It’s from planning and consulting with my clients that I saw which humans were not yet being served by officiants and how this ultimate act of service could improve. I believe that officiants, much like planners, should lead with empathic listening and curiosity, be more invested in the couple than in themselves, have a clear road map for creating a custom ceremony experience, and elevate the experience of all who are present. My couples are the inspiration that led me to lean into officiating ceremonies; they are the ones who first asked me to officiate for them and who continue to inspire me with how they want to be uniquely self-expressed on the day of their marriage. I delight in taking our existing relationship into a deeper conversation around values and family. I crave the opportunity to understand why and how couples choose to take on a deeper commitment to one another in this world. I enjoy holding open space for people to love freely and be seen and recognized for who they are and how uniquely they love. And I am lit up by work that allows me to integrate you, me, and we together as one on their special day.

So where the heck do we start?!

Whether it is a friend, a family member, or a professional you are considering to officiate your ceremony, here is my criteria for finding the special human to elevate your marriage commitments:

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  • Who are they to you? Because I work with couples who are heartily invested in co-creating marriage celebrations that reflect their souls, their values, and their joy, I get to know my clients on a deep and meaningful level. In the course of planning their celebration, I ask: “Do you have a well-spoken friend or family member that would bring love and joy as your master of ceremony?” If such a human exists, I would rather that someone of great meaning speak their love with the support of my officiant coaching package. If not, like any planner, I also have a list of wonderful officiants that I recommend to my couples if they are truly a fit. I will never make a blanket recommendation or push a preferred vendor if the creative experience does not align with my couples’ values.

  • What is their values system? Don’t be afraid to ask point-blank. You want a person who is aligned with and understands the way you see the world and how you want to proceed together. If family is a cornerstone of your identity, you want a person who can speak to that same value from their heart-space (rather than from the Google-space). If you want someone who is fluid in the language of gender identity, you want to ask whether or not they have experience performing ceremonies for LGTBQ couples. Before you enter the conversation, take time with your partner to create a list of the top 3-5 values you share and want present in your ceremony ritual.

  • What does the ceremony creation process look like? Most officiants have a creative process for putting together the content of your ceremony. Be sure to ask what their process is and what you are expected to contribute throughout so that the terms of your relationship are clear, leaving more time and space for creativity and ease. For example, my process looks like this…

    • Conduct a 45 minute meet-up or video call with the couple to get to know one another on a human level and see if we are a match for one another in the ceremony realm;

    • Deliver the proposal and finalize the who, what, when, and where of their date, including any travel fees, add-on packages, or other accommodations;

    • Send my questionnaires for the couple to complete, both of which reflect my values as an officiant and their values as a couple and family;

    • Produce a first draft script no later than one month prior to their date (unless otherwise specified) to review together in person or via video chat for feedback;

    • Create a final draft for written approval from the couple no later than two weeks prior to their date; and,

    • Show up with a managed state and all the soul shine on their special day to share their crafted ritual and articulate their marriage legacy.

  • How do you move forward together? Chances are you aren’t reading this piece because you’re price shopping officiants (and if you are in that boat, my advice is to pay $50 to ordain your Uncle Steve to do the deed for you). All joking aside, you’re likely reading this post to the very end because you’re a little stuck finding the balance between making sure you have an officiant to make your marriage official AND finding someone who will make your day a true reflection of the two of you. When you find your person, make sure you are empowered to move forward! Ask about how to sign the contract, create a payment plan (if offered), place your deposit, and get started on the pieces you provide throughout the process.

Are you inspired and want to explore working together?

I would love to meet the two of you. I want to hear your values and vision for life together. Select your celebration style, tell me a little bit about you two, and you’ll hear from me in the next 48 hours to schedule our first face-to-face hang. Thanks for taking the time, beautiful humans!

TO WED!

TO ELOPE!

What to Expect from an All-Inclusive Elopement

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With the rise of platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, there is a wealth of ideas and innovation when it comes to creating a marriage extravaganza. You can search for “all inclusive wedding planners” and find an incredible number of vendors in your area, instantly. We believe that the same opportunity to co-create your marriage ceremony and celebration should exist for the elopers of the world, too. But what is the difference between wedding and elopement vendors? How do finances differ? And what does an all-inclusive elopement entail? We’re here to tell you.

Why do couples choose to elope instead of having a wedding?
Our couples decide to elope for a variety of reasons. Some of our couples are clear and rooted in their financial goals to save money for a house or other investments. Other couples have adventure as a hallmark of their relationship and want to honor their love of the outdoors as part of their commitment. Some couples prefer the intimacy of a private ceremony, whether to avoid a big crowd or to get back to when it was “just them” before kids. And other couples have a diversity of family dynamics that make the wedding planning process challenging, especially when trying to hold space for a variety of ideas and opinions. Whatever your reason for eloping, know that it is the right reason and that we are here to encourage you to listen to your intuition.

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Are elopements one-size-fits-all?

While we have a few different packages or buckets that most elopement couples start with, no elopement is the same. First, there is the consideration of location. You are free to venture forth to any location you choose! That often determines which vendors will be a good fit to execute your vision at the destination that strikes your fancy. Second, we add on the layers of “who” and “how many”. Different couples may want any number of people present, from just the two of them to a party of 50 (what we would call an “intimate wedding”). The human(s) you want to share the day with will determine how much support you will need and from which vendors. Third, we take a look at the elements that make the experience pop. What details make your ritual a custom experience? And what does your team of elopement artists look like? A planner can help you navigate and select the team that is equal parts creative, adventurous, and genuine to bring your vision to life.

How much money will I save by eloping?

Such a great question! Everyone has different expectations when it comes to a wedding budget; elopements are no different. If saving as much money as possible is your #1 priority, then an all-inclusive elopement may not be for you. Our mission is to create a custom ceremony and experience that reflects your soul signatures and kicks off the next epic chapter of your love story and legacy. Each of the contributing artists make the effort to connect with you, our couple, and each other to create a custom, seamless experience. An elopement planner start at $1,200 and does not include the expenses for any vendors or artists on the project. All-inclusive packages that include planning, photography, florals, and an officiant start at $3,750. Read on for a breakdown of the beauty that includes.

What do your starting packages entail?

Because every location is different, we create our packages around the size of your elopement guest list. While every elopement is different, we find that the number of people present is correlated with a higher number of vendors and artists co-creating your day. So here is where we start the conversation with our clients to craft a custom experience.

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  • Elopement for Two: This package is perfect for the fun couple looking for a low-key elopement with a few beautiful touches to highlight their celebration together. It includes planning, 4 hours of photography, an officiant, a bouquet/flower crown and boutonniere, and hair and make-up services. The starting price is $3,750.

  • Elopement for a Few: This package is made for the couple who have close friends and family (up to 15 people) with whom they want to share their first steps into married life. It includes planning, 4 hours of photography, 3 hours of videography, an officiant, a bouquet/flower crown and boutonniere, hair and make-up services, a cake, and stationary. The starting price is $7,500.

  • Elopement for the Crew: This package is made for the couple who want to invite significant friends and family (up to 60 people) to be a part of their elopement or intimate wedding celebration. It includes planning, 4 hours of photography and a second shooter, 3 hours of videography and a second shooter, an officiant, a bouquet/flower crown and boutonniere, hair and make-up services and bridal trial, a cake, and stationary. The starting price is $11,500.

We care deeply about the quality of your experience. All of our elopement services include unlimited email communication, all-in-one customized vendor booking, location and activity recommendations, design board, rental coordination, day-of timeline, and vendor coordination and communication. That means that, as a planner, we offer the same depth of services as we would any wedding client so that your experience is smooth and structured from start to finish. We also have a la carte items and services so that we can create the perfect fit for your ritual.

How do I find the elopement fit for me?

While elopements are becoming more popular among modern couples, the wedding industry has not yet responded in mass. There are very few elopement-specific planners as compared to wedding planners, and trust us, that specialization makes all the difference. We recommend finding an elopement planner whose message matches your values and vision. It is far more challenging to find a planner that will execute the experience you crave than it is to find a location-based planner. Most elopement planners LOVE to travel and are fantastic at researching new locations. If you feel connected with them, it will be worth the travel expense (and then some!) to work with them. If you are looking for an all-inclusive elopement experience, look no further! You already found us. We are one of the first and few to provide this kind of service in the world and we would LOVE to celebrate your love together.

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Backyard Wedding: How to Have it All

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MJ + Jon got married at the father of the bride’s ranch in August 2018. They exchanged vows and partied the night away just north of the Washington-Oregon border on beautiful farmland abundant in acreage and horses. Their backyard wedding was as detailed and organized as any venue-based wedding, but without the support of a venue manager. We were elated to make this sentimental setting into a seamless soiree for this joyful couple. Here are the careful considerations we took as their planner and coordinator to make it happen!

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Vet your vendors. Not every vendor is adaptable to an unconventional space. In fact, some vendors may only work with preferred venues because they know and can rely on the support they get from the venue owner. Fair enough! Planners with expertise in this kind of event will know or have a list of vendors that are inspired by non-traditional spaces. These vendors are knowledgeable about their creative boundaries and will be able to ask for what they require to make your event work from the planner. If you have specific vendors that you like, that’s great! Your planner can work closely with them to ensure they feel confident on the day of your unique wedding. If not, ask your planner for the best fit and let them do the legwork of vendor vetting—that’s what you pay them for (and we not-so-secretly love it).

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Schedule early and often. Your planner will work with you to create a detailed timeline of events a couple of months prior to your wedding. They will also help you cultivate a contact list of vendors so they can effectively communicate with everyone on the day of your wedding. We recommend having your planner reach out to vendors a month in advance of the event with a draft timeline to review. This allows key players—like your photographer or caterer—to give input on the timeline and ensure that the event runs in a cohesive fashion, as well as make special requests for equipment or assistance. From there, your planner can finalize the timeline a few weeks out and provide a final copy to vendors, the wedding party, and immediate family so everyone is aligned. Humans instinctively look for direction, especially when it comes to a big collection of people or a large event, so sharing the timeline with your wedding party, family, and close friends creates a sense of ease and intention about the day’s activities and their place in them.

Make a map (#MischiefManaged). With non-traditional venues it is not always clear where decorations or rental items should be placed, which areas are in- or out-of-bounds, and where you can find sources of energy or water. Create a map with your planner that clearly identifies where rentals and decorations go so they can work efficiently with your set-up team to execute your vision on the day of your wedding. We recommend making a running list (in Excel or Word document form) of each of the decorations you purchase, where they should be placed, and how many should go there; these are small pieces of guidance that go a long way! Detail which areas are out-of-bounds and prepare signage, especially if you are hosting the event at someone’s private property. For vendors coming on-site, also point to where they can hook up to power outlets, extension cords, or water sources so they can roll in and set up quickly and quietly.

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Rally the troops! Supplying your own venue—whether it’s a backyard setting or a public park—means that you will not have built-in staff to clean the venue prior, set up, move furniture, cue the staff, or help tear down. We recommend connecting with your family and friends, specifically non-wedding party members, a month prior to the wedding to ask for volunteers in each of these categories: decorations, ceremony arch, ceremony chairs, table settings, bartender (if not provided by catering staff), chair transition from ceremony to reception, Emcee (if not provided by DJ), officiant, garbage removal, and end-of-night clean-up. The primary function of your planner on the day of the wedding is to ensure that vendors are fulfilling on their contracted services in the approved timeline and, in the case of backyard weddings, also act as venue coordinator to ensure everyone is playing by the house rules. There is very little time focus on decorations the day of the wedding unless you hire extra hands through your planner (which we HIGHLY recommend—you often get a huge bang for your buck by hiring a planner’s assistant). Your planner can work with you to create a contact list of who has which role AND give loving reminders to fulfill on their duty the day of the wedding. Having your to-do’s ready to rock also creates an opportunity for your loving friends and family members to contribute to the wedding in a meaningful, productive way that has an impact on everyone’s experience of the day.

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Walk it out. Rehearsal events are essential for non-traditional venue weddings. Your planner will explain, often more than once, where your wedding party lines up, how they walk, where and how to stand and smile, what the mechanics of the processional and recessional look like, and what comes next. The rehearsal is essential to building the confidence of you and your wedding party before the feelings, nerves, and excitement come in to play on the wedding day. Think of your planner as the conductor to your orchestra; for everyone to play in harmony, it requires practice, practice, practice.

Plan to adapt. Nothing ever goes perfectly to plan which is why it is important to have trusting and open communication between you and your planner. Ask questions, stay as involved as you want in the small details, and be ready to hand off the process to a person you trust in the weeks leading up to your big day. We know your vision and have your back. We understand what your priorities are and will make sure they happen. We are your #1 fan and will create the experience you seek for your friends and family. You can have it all…and in your own backyard.

Photos courtesy of    Kamra Fuller Photography   .

Photos courtesy of Kamra Fuller Photography.