Weddings have been Reverend Annie Lawrence’s full-time ministry for 12 years. The Interfaith officiant joins both straight and same-sex couples whether they’re coming from halfway around the world for a New York City destination wedding or taking the subway from their apartment to the Ladies Pavilion in Central Park. Having officiated on rooftops, cruise ships, and bridges, in gardens, restaurants, and helicopters, Reverend Annie will be celebrating her 1,000th wedding this summer.
On a Rewire Me Moment That Made the Parts Whole
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Julie McCoy, the cruise director on The Love Boat. I loved being pen pals with long-distance friends. The best part of my life was doing community theater in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I thought I would go into hotel management or hospitality. And I have always been a spiritual person. So I went to seminary for my own enlightenment. I had never imagined I would make ministry my path in life, but as a wedding officiant, everything I love and do best is all in one job. I get to meet people from around the world, be their friend and New York City liaison, make them feel comfortable and excited to be here, and share in a transformative life experience.
On Marriage Equality
I started doing same-sex ceremonies the moment I was asked, which predates New York’s legal precedent. I promised the couples that when it became legal, we’d meet again and sign the paperwork together. In July 2011, the weekend everything became “official,” I performed the ceremony for Carol and Mimi, one of the first five gay couples to receive their New York City marriage license, and a few days later I did free weddings in Washington Square Park for anyone who asked.
It’s fun following same-sex marriage celebrity champions like George Takei and Dan Savage on social media, but I’m most encouraged by the work of individuals and start-up organizations bringing light and love to #MarriageEquality and #FullEquality. I’m encouraged by the work of @EqualityPledge and those who spread the word, like @EqualityRising.
On Disapproving Guests at Same-Sex Weddings
I’ve never had one! I’ve had some couples visiting New York for the first time in order to get married here worry that they might encounter resistance or discomfort around a public ceremony. In fact, we get the opposite reaction to gay weddings here. Onlookers from around the world cheer, offer congratulations, and ask to take their picture with the newlyweds! I’m proud to tell them, “This is New York! You can be yourself here. Welcome home!”
I start every wedding in my own mind, heart, and breath by saying to myself, “This is going to be the best wedding ever. Help me to stay fully present, to respond to the moment. Let me help make this one of the happiest days of their life.”
Words are insufficient to express all the feelings the heart can hold. It’s not the vows I remember most from ceremonies. It’s the tears, the trembling, the elation, the joy, and the release. The hardest thing to convey to couples who wonder what I do in the ceremony besides sign the papers is that it’s not the words we say but the feelings that arise. That’s why I’m there, to safely hold the space to open our hearts, to encourage that expression, to nurture the moment so magic can happen.
On Developing a Bond Prior to Tying the Knot
I’ve been a pen pal since I was 10 years old. I wear my heart on my sleeve and share my true self-story with anyone who asks. I’m a good listener. Every one of us is eager to share what makes us happy in this world and who we love the most. I find that people take pride in sharing their love stories. The ones who can’t meet me in person prior to the ceremony do so via email, Skype interviews, and phone calls. Sharing the intimacy of their personal story quickly establishes a trust and bond between us. Some couples go off into the world and become memories, while others have stayed in touch for years and years, sending holiday cards, birthday greetings, vacation stories, and photos of their kids.
Seminary gave me a deeper understanding of world faith and ritual, but it’s my theater experience that prepared me for this in ways that have thankfully led to success and true fulfillment. I’m not just the minister on the wedding day—I’m often the playwright, stage manager, producer, front-of-house greeter, director, and momentarily the lead actor. And then I exit—and let the stars of the day shine.