10 Questions with Christopher Shelley

WeddingRule Interviewed one of the most popular and highly sought-after wedding officiants in New York, Christopher Shelley of Illuminating Ceremonies. New York City based Christopher is the founder and owner of Illuminating Ceremonies.

Illuminating Ceremonies

Officiant - Christopher Shelley

10 Questions with Christopher Shelley

1. Introduction: What's your story?

Hi, I'm Christopher Shelley, the nicest former Goldman Sachs employee you'll ever meet. I've been a professional Wedding Celebrant since 2011. I write and perform weddings throughout New York, New Jersey, the greater Cincinnati area, and a small sliver of northern Kentucky too. My goal is to officiate in all 50 states; so far I'm up to eight! I love my job, which is to marry couples to each other and more importantly to celebrate why they are getting married. I am a sharp writer who makes the most of my 20 minute ceremonies, making guests laugh, cry and even, occasionally, think. Wedding ceremonies should be celebrations. So many guests told me that mine was the 'Best. Ceremony. Ever.', I named my 2019 book 'Best. Ceremony. Ever.' (WW Norton). I've officiated weddings on The Rachael Ray Show several times, and I even MC'd a memorial service for Joan Rivers' dog. It's been a fascinating adventure. Maybe I can help you with your wedding ceremony!

2. What's your experience as a wedding officiant? How many weddings have your officiated?

Since 2011, I've officiated hundreds of wedding (as of this writing, I am up to 438, in April of 2021.) Mostly I concentrate on big weddings, where the couple hires me months ahead of time, we get to know each other, and together we write a ceremony that knocks it outta the park. But I do elopements and microweddings too. I enjoy them all. I can't express how happy this job makes me. I love the look on couples faces in the early part of the ceremony, to see their nervousness turn to relief that it's going well and then just pure joy as the guests laugh and cheer and make them feel loved. It's a great job.

3. How far in advance do couples need to secure your services?

The earlier couples contact me about their wedding, the more leisurely we can be as we prepare the ceremony. On average, I'd say couples contact me 3-9 months ahead of their wedding. That said, I am adept at creating ceremonies at this point, so I've worked on weddings with as little notice as 7 days! It's not ideal, but life is surprising in all kinds of ways. Sometimes that kind of deadline intensity is energizing.

4. How would you describe your officiant style?

My officiant style: exquisite, professional, a mix of perfect comedic timing and dramatic, moment-holding sensitivity. I'm also fluid in terms of improvisation. You never know what a guest member might yell out, or if a baby will cry, or if a plane will fly by overhead, whatever the case, you always have to be able to go with the flow and still command the situation. I'm really good at that and there's no training for that other than years of performing. I acted throughout High School, College, and for years after college so I've logged a lot of stage hours.

5. What are your fees for officiating a wedding?

My fees vary widely depending on where you wedding is happening, when it's happening, the kind of venue, whether it's an elopement or a big wedding, time of day, etc. Plus I charge a lot more in New York than anywhere else. Two cents: couples SHOULD spend a lot more on a good Celebrant who's trained at what they do. I trained at the Celebrant Foundation. We're much more open to creating ceremonies for couples with one or multiple spiritual beliefs or cultural specifics, at handling ritual elements and generally creating ceremonies that are perfect for couples. This will be money very well spent. Think about it: flowers are pretty - sure - but the nuance of a wedding ceremony - the only wedding ceremony you will ever have - should be handled by someone who knows what they're doing. It's a lot harder than we make it look!

6. What do you wear when you officiate a wedding?

Suit and tie.

7. How many pre-wedding sessions will the couple need to have with you?

It's nice to meet in person once, casually, if possible, but I don't have requisite 'sessions'. I'm not a social worker. I'm not a Priest. But it is useful to have met in person once before the wedding day - that way on the day we are all more comfortable together. Most of my work with couples is over email and occasionally the phone.

8. Will you be able to create a personalized ceremony?

Yes, I create personalized ceremonies - this is at the crux of what separates me from a lot of officiants. Personalizing is an art form and my entire credo is to try to create a ceremony that your guests will say is the best they've ever seen - and I'm not making that up, this is seriously my goal. The good news is, it's a low bar - let's face it, most ceremonies people have gone to are boring, heavy, slow and sound like every other ceremony they've ever gone to. NOT MY CEREMONIES. You know how Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert have professional writers making their shows as good as possible? Working with me, you have a professional writer whose goal is to make something specifically about you and your story, one you'll love, one that satisfies what's important to you and will give your guests a buzzing happiness that they will carry with them into cocktail hour and clear through the reception and then the rest of their lives.

9. Are you available to travel if needed?

I do travel to weddings occasionally, meaning, of course I travel to every wedding, since no weddings take place in my apartment. I mean, I occasionally travel to weddings far away - I make a mini vacation out of it. This is something I have to work out on a distant couple by distant couple basis.

10. What is your cancellation and/or refund policy?

Retainer payments are non-refundable; this means I do not refund them. Ever. For any reason. If you've booked me, that means I am turning away other business because I am holding a date for your event. If a couple needs to reschedule, for a pandemic, or something, the retainer carries over to the new date, with no change fees. (If the wedding is at the same venue.) If clients cancel on me after I've written their ceremony and given it to them, they need to pay half the remaining fee. If they cancel within 60 days for any reason, they owe me the full balance.

Gallery

Awards

WeddingRule Editor’s Choice 2020WeddingRule Editor’s Choice 2021