My wife and I were married by a Catholic priest in a Unitarian church—but not before a stressful couple of months trying to track down an officiant who’d agree to marry us. Who knew that, in 2011, it would still be so difficult to find someone willing to marry two people of different faiths? Saratogian Jason Brown and his then-fiancée, Janelle, had it a lot easier than we did. That’s because one of Brown’s best friends, Michael Oswalt, happened to be a licensed officiant and happily accepted the gig of marrying his friends. “Mike had known me for a lifetime, and he’d known Janelle, at that point, for six years,” says Brown. “Having someone who knew both of us for that long was a huge advantage. He really listened to what we wanted and followed that closely.”
The Browns’ 2014 wedding wasn’t Oswalt’s first crack at officiating a wedding. He’d previously overseen the “I do’s” of two of his other best friends, both of whom were native Saratogians: Jake Rosenfeld in 2009 and Todd Bucci in 2011. (Full disclosure: I’m childhood friends with Oswalt and all three grooms.) “I’ve got a degree in theology from Duke University, but I wasn’t actually ordained, so I didn’t have the power to run a wedding ceremony,” says Oswalt of his life before officiating that first wedding. He did assume at some point that a friend might ask him to officiate his or her wedding, given his background, but he wasn’t actively pursuing the role. And then Rosenfeld came calling.
From the beginning, Rosenfeld tells me, he’d known he wanted his friend to marry him and his future wife, Erin McGaughey. “It was a challenge to think of a way to entice him to agree to the role,” says Rosenfeld. But he didn’t have to argue his case for too long—and Oswalt had all the makings of a legit officiant. “Mike has a side of his life that’s very spiritual, and at the time, he was really active in his church, so he fit a role that, frankly, a lot of our friends and family members did not,” says Rosenfeld. “The harder-to-put-into-words part of it was that he struck us as a performer and someone who would really entertain and engage the crowd, and do so in a really meaningful way.”
So what, exactly, did Oswalt have to do to become an ordained officiant? “There’s an online outfit called the Universal Life Church, and they’ve got an online ordination course that I used and became certified through,” says Oswalt. “Almost every state allows someone with that type of online certification to lead a wedding.” The entire process took about five minutes to complete.
By no means did Oswalt spend mere minutes preparing to marry his friends, though. In fact, it was just the opposite; he pored over information about the couples and had them answer interview questions, so he could better structure the ceremony and include personal touches in it. (He admits that he was “terrified” doing that first wedding—and had an “aha!” moment during the walk-through, when he realized he was in charge of the better part of the ceremony.) “I thought a lot about the function of weddings,” says Oswalt. “They’re a cool hybrid; two people are making a very public commitment to each other to become a public union going forward. That’s why we do them in front of family and friends. But ultimately, they’re an incredibly private choice; a lot of personal, one-on-one decision-making goes into the choice to get married, and I essentially saw my role as the officiant being a bridge between those two worlds.”
Oswalt ended up organizing a completely different ceremony for each of his friends based on their wishes. For example, the Buccis requested a bit more of a “religious tone” for their ceremony than the Rosenfeld-McGaugheys, and Oswalt obliged, helping the couple brainstorm ideas that would add a more traditional flavor to it. One concept that made the final cut? A “sand ceremony,” where the mothers of the bride and groom each poured a vase of colored sand together into a single vase. Oswalt even customized the length of each service, the amount of friend/family involvement and the type of language used during the vows for each couple.
Now that I’m thinking back on my own wedding, it would’ve been a lot more convenient (and maybe a little less stressful) to have a family friend marry us—maybe even Mike. But in reality, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about our big day. It came together just as we planned it.