By Roz DeKett
When you pick up Lisa Francesca’s little powder-blue book, The Wedding Officiant’s Guide, How to Write & Conduct a Perfect Ceremony, it seems obvious what it is.
And while it is indeed a handbook for those of us who might want to officiate at a friend’s or relative’s wedding (and get it right) for Lisa it is much more.
For her, the book is a mitzvah, a good deed that honors her father, Hank Basayne, who died before she wrote it. It expresses their intricate relationship and decade-long business partnership officiating at weddings.
“I got to relive some time with him and go over some of the things he said that I thought were really smart, and that was joyful,” she says.
It was her father who, at a transitional point in her life, suggested she might like to officiate at weddings.
“Up til then I had only had the foggiest memory of him marrying people, but he had actually done hundreds and hundreds of weddings,” Lisa says.
It’s easy to go online and get yourself certified as an officiant. You can do it “in seconds” says Lisa, laughing. “I could have called myself Grand Priestess, but I wanted to be a little more accessible.
“I thought, okay. I’ll help him now and then. What I did not expect was that my stepbrother and his fiancé called up and said, will you do ours?”
Lisa agreed, and crossed the country to officiate at her stepbrother’s wedding. Despite her preparation, her own first-time officiant story shows that a how-to book might have been a great help.
The wedding itself was “magical” and after the reception Lisa, her daughter Peggy, and her husband Mark packed up the car and left.
“We drove deep into the next state,” Lisa says. “Then Mark turned to me—he was driving—and he said, ‘Was it hard, getting the witnesses to sign?’”
And, horrified, she realized she’d forgotten to get the legally-required signatures on the marriage license.
“You know something about weddings”
It all ended well: Lisa found witnesses after they turned back. And from there, as an interfaith minister, she also found herself more and more in demand as an officiant.
“As time went by, in the next ten years, Dad had three years where it was either a heart attack or an infection keeping him down for the whole summer after he had set up all these weddings,” she says.
“So suddenly I had to go do twelve and sixteen weddings in a summer. I was really glad that I was prepared to do that. Ten years went by very quickly.”
Lisa is a writer and a poet, yet still it hadn’t entered her head to write an officiant’s guide.
“In 2011, Dad passed away. I had to take some weddings, and I was grieving and a little unsure about what was ahead. One of the things he and I had discussed a few times was we really should get a class together for people, because people would occasionally say, ‘You officiate at weddings? How lovely; I’d love to do that. Show me how.’
“We’d say, okay let’s gather these people and have a class. And we never got to that point.”
After he died, Lisa remembered him also saying ‘You know something about weddings. You could write about that.’
“I thought, what if I led someone through this,” she says. “By writing the book I can do it one time and I can affect many people.
“Anybody who wants to can take this book and be empowered to be an officiant.”
At the time, Lisa was in graduate school and was supposed to be writing a creative non-fiction piece. She was dabbling in poetry and had some essays, but the book “poured out”—only to be rejected by the school.
“They would not take it as a thesis, which is one reason I’m a drop-out,” she laughs. “I did the work, and I’m done, but I only made it through four semesters.”
But Chronicle Books accepted Lisa’s idea.
“Honey, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel”
Writing the book gave Lisa time to reflect on her father. He was her “primary parent.” He raised her after her parents split up, and as adults, their relationship developed to a point where they were friends and business partners as well as father and daughter.
“There was a time when I got stuck, really stuck,” Lisa says. “I was sitting at the dining-room table and I was feeling despair—which, by the way, is a constant companion to writing, and I didn’t know that before.
“I heard him say, ‘Honey, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.’ And that is something he would have said.
“I realized that I could pull more of my own experience in. That’s when I started putting the anecdotes in, and then suddenly it flowed. I didn’t have to reinvent it. I just had to report what I’d been doing all these years.”
Until the last moment before publication, Lisa had the book dedicated to her father.
“Then I got the very strong sense that there was plenty of him in the book and it was time to look to the next generation.
“So I dedicated it to Peggy, my daughter.”
The next chapter
“One of the great lessons that I’ve learned through all of this is the things that I share with my dad and the things that I don’t,” Lisa says. “We share the hamminess, the love of writing, and the love of people.”
But while Lisa enjoys officiating at weddings, she knows she won’t continue as long as her father did.
“One great difference was that he was very content to be a Humanist officiant and be in the moment: marry the couple, be in the community, and then move on, whereas I spend a lot of time being transcendental, thinking about spirit and soul and the meaning of this. And what’s my meaning? How else can I be a minister, and what does that mean?
“So I’m going off in that direction more. I probably will not do weddings as long as he did.”
Lisa has other ideas about what she wants to write too—possibly another how-to book, driven by a long fascination with the housekeeping guides of the 1920s and 1930s.
“I feel like we had a really good run,” she says of her father.
“Part of writing the book was a way of honoring him, honoring our time together, and maybe putting a great deal of that to rest and moving on in my own way, whatever that looks like.”
© Roz DeKett
The Wedding Officiant’s Guide, How to Write & Conduct a Perfect Ceremony, was published by Chronicle Books in December 2014 and is available online and in bookstores, or here: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/wedding-officiant-s-guide.html
You can learn more about Lisa at www.lisafrancesca.com and follow her on Twitter at @LFrancescaWrite