The college friends have made the rounds, presiding at each others’ weddings, four times so far, with another wedding scheduled for December.
“We are a tightknit group, and we are kind of hippies,” said Pezzino, 30, who works to promote urban agriculture for a nonprofit in Pittsburgh, as does her husband. “We don’t want to be confined to what some religion says you have to do.”
Their decision to forgo the more traditional route is a slightly extreme example of a once-quirky trend that is becoming more mainstream. A study last year by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com showed that 31 percent of their users who married in 2010 used a family member or friend as the officiant, up from 29 percent in 2009, the first year of the survey.
Although the majority of brides and grooms still use members of the clergy and other professionals, including judges (61 percent last year, according to the study), the shift toward nontraditional officiants seems to be further evidence of another, broader trend: the movement of Americans away from organized religion.
Recent studies show that most Americans aren’t a regular part of an institutional faith community, and many people say they don’t know a member of the clergy well enough to want to be hitched by them.
“I can’t remember the last time I was at a wedding that wasn’t officiated by a friend,” said Jim Kurdek, the groom from the Southwest Harbor wedding.
While at American University in the early 2000s, Kurdek and his friends shared houses, road trips and music festivals and jokingly named the internal e-mail list they still use “coolkids.” But after graduation, hanging out gradually gave way to engagements, and then weddings.
Kurdek and Sara Mills-Knapp had been living together for seven years when a question pressed: Why get married?
Their friend, Carrie Ross-Gingerich, and her husband, Matt, had worked hard on their own decision to wed, including having several sessions of talk therapy. The two couples had even shared the same room years earlier when they were all working in Costa Rica and had limited air-conditioning.
“Carrie is a spiritual person, and she and [her husband] had worked hard on their relationship,” said Mills-Knapp, who lives with her husband in New York and just got a master’s degree in sustainability management. “That resonated with us, someone who had really thought through what it meant to be married and have that kind of commitment.”
It seemed natural to Kurdek and Mills-Knapp when they chose Carrie Ross-Gingerich to officiate at their wedding this month.
While people who choose secular officiants might not want a cleric in their faces when they exchange vows, many often still want a traditional experience: exchanges of rings, a request for community support and even explicitly religious rituals slightly reformatted.