How to Design a Personalized Wedding Ceremony—Tips from Wedding Officiant Marie Burns Holzer

Is designing a personalized and custom wedding ceremony on your wedding planning checklist? If so, you’re likely struggling with how to balance those traditional requests from your family members while also breaking the mold so your wedding feels like you.

Marie Burns Holzer of Let’s Get Married by Marie has been officiating custom wedding ceremonies for 14 years and is here to help you plan a more personalized wedding ceremony.

She’s been coined as an officiant who is “not that kind of minister” and after our interview with her, we totally understand why.

Tell us about your business. How did you get started? 
I started in 2006. I was contemplating going to seminary when a work friend asked me to perform her wedding. I was so flattered and worked really hard to make that wedding special.

I fell in love with the process but didn't start doing this professionally until my oldest friend reached out to me to announce the launch of her clothing brand in 2011. I went to her trunk show, which was also when she announced her engagement.

After “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” over the ring, our conversation turned to her wedding.

I told her I was ordained and could marry them. We started discussing options. Just having launched her own business, she declared that I would be brilliant as a professional officiant and demanded that I think about it.

I launched my website that month and within six months, I went from being a full-time social media marketer and freelance writer to a full-time wedding officiant.

As of now, I've performed over 800 marriage ceremonies and I feel like I've just gotten started!

On your website, you say that you're "not that kind of minister." What kind of minister are you?
One of the biggest hurdles has been helping my couples get over the stereotype of the minister being an old white guy who is going to judge your life choices.

That is why I say I'm "not that kind of minister.” I won't judge your tattoos or piercings or ask when you've last been to church.

In fact, I'm an ordained non-denominational minister which means I'm not beholden to any particular religion. I am personally a Universalist Unitarian so everything about my life and my business is about honoring the life and love you have as it is—with nothing but love and support.

You serve several areas across California. Tell us about the role that location can play within a wedding ceremony. 
I actually serve anywhere my couples roam! I'll be doing a wedding in Paris and the Scottish Isles later this year. But yes, California is home. 

The location of your wedding dictates so much - the vibe, the style, the comfort of everyone involved. I love going to traditional and unexpected locations as long as I can tell that the location really embodies what the couple values which is different for every couple.

Sometimes the perfect location for a couple is a chill pool-side ceremony in Palm Springs, the grandeur and romance of Pelican Hill, or just a handful of us in the backcountry of Joshua Tree.

Each location has its own personality which helps shape the mood and feel of the wedding day.

What kind of couples do you typically work with?
Most of my couples are creatives, professionals, or dedicated blue-collar workers. They tend to give a nod to tradition while still turning it on its head.

They are usually well-read even if they aren't highly educated or are avid film and television buffs. Nearly all of them love to travel, own big dogs or cuddly cats, and adore the outdoors and pampering.

Most of my couples are either interfaith or identify as "spiritual but not religious" because even though they agree with the morals they were raised with, they are uncomfortable and disappointed in religious institutions. 

How do you work with couples to design a custom wedding ceremony? 
I really get to know them. I know that sounds simple to the point of trite, but it's true.

By the time I officiate the wedding, we're genuinely friends. My job is a wonderfully weird mix of business and ministry, which just means taking care of people.

I get to know my couples love story in a way no one else does—sometimes better than even their best friends! I have a questionnaire to supplement this but really it's about knowing the right questions to ask and really listening when they talk.

As a wedding officiant, what are your thoughts on couples writing personalized wedding vows? 
I ADORE when my couples write personal vows! That is the absolute highlight of the ceremony. There's nothing quite like when couples take a moment to make promises from the heart in a manner that is personal and meaningful. Bonus points if your wedding vows make your partner laugh and cry.

What are other ways that couples can personalize their wedding ceremony?
You can add readings and unity ceremonies but it really comes down to writing from the heart.

I only do custom ceremonies because I believe that while the structure of ritual and ceremony should fit some type of recognizable standard, the content should be personal and relevant to the people we're celebrating.

The vows, rings, definition of marriage—that should all come from the life and love the couple shares.

What is one thing you thing couples should always do and should never do within their wedding ceremony? 
This is a hard question because "always" and "never" aren't really part of my vernacular, but here it goes:

Always say wedding vows that mean something to you. I think that you should customize your vows even if you go with something traditional. Add even just a personal phrase to make your wedding vows your own.

I would also advise that couples never put something in the ceremony that feels weird coming out of your mouth or could make you cringe. There are few rules on what "must" be said (depending on your jurisdiction), so again—make it your own.

What advice do you give to most couples on their actual wedding day? 
Breathe. Take it in. This day goes by unbelievably fast so the absolute most important thing is to just be present and accept the moment as it comes.

And after 14 years of marriage (and counting!) to my therapist husband, that's also the best marriage advice I can offer.