|with the Rev. Don Dunn, October 10, 1987|
When Cathy and I got married in 1987 we didn’t have a lot of money. We wanted a nice wedding but we couldn’t afford anything extravagent, and neither could our parents. Every decision was made with an eye toward keeping costs down, and every offer to provide this or help with that was accepted with both gratitude and relief.
A few weeks before the ceremony I asked my father “am I supposed to pay the preacher?” I genuinely didn’t know what was expected, and while I didn’t want to stiff the guy who was tying the knot for us, I was hoping this wouldn’t be yet another expense. To my surprise, my father said “I’ll take care of it.” Like many children of the Great Depression, my father was very generous with his time and energy but very tight with his money. I suspect he wanted to make sure the minister he worked with on a weekly basis wasn’t insulted, but I just said “thank you” and didn’t ask any questions.
My primary motivation for seeking ordination was to be able to perform legal weddings. When I got the first request I could accept (for a handfasting next February), I had to decide what I should charge for my services. I talked to some people who do these things and I did some digging on the internet. Officiating weddings and other rites of passage is sacred work, but like everything else there’s a market for that work and you don’t want to price yourself either too high or too low.
Let’s make one thing clear: we should pay religious professionals for their services just like we pay doctors and lawyers and plumbers. A healthy society runs on reciprocity. Sometimes that means giving when you can give and taking when you need to take. Sometimes that means supporting institutions that in turn support the community. Sometimes that means a favor for a favor. Sometimes, particularly between strangers or casual acquaintances, that means cash for services.
One of the reasons we have so few religious professionals in Paganism is that we haven’t found a way to support them. There aren’t that many of us, we’re spread out over seemingly countless traditions, and there are very few rich Pagans who can be patrons and benefactors. And many of us are where I was in 1987: wanting to do the right thing but also trying to avoid paying any more than we absolutely have to pay for anything.
If you’re a member of Denton CUUPS my services are free. You’re part of my local community, you support the same institutions and events I support, and you’ve probably done favors for me over the years. If you value my work as a ritualist and as a celebrant highly enough to ask me to officate for you, my work will be my gift to you on your special occasion.
If you’re anyone else, then what I charge depends on multiple factors. If you want a basic ceremony that’s already written or just needs a few tweaks, if I need to meet with you once or twice and then show up at the event, and if I don’t have to drive outside the DFW area, then I don’t need a lot of money – $50 is probably enough.
If you want a custom ceremony that’s going to require hours of research and more hours of composition and editing, you should expect to pay more. If you need multiple planning meetings plus a rehearsal you should expect to pay more. If I have to travel more than an hour or so, you should expect to pay more, for the travel time as well as for transportation costs.
If you’re planning on a dozen guests in your back yard with a cake from Kroger, then I’m going to charge as little as I can for the work involved. If you’re inviting 300 guests, renting a fancy building for the ceremony and serving a catered dinner for the reception then you can afford to pay your officiant $400 or more.
Officiating weddings will never be a significant source of income for me, but if I feel like my work is valued and I help some people in the process, I’ll be happy.