Officiating as Holding Space

“What exactly is officiating?” I’ve been asked. “Isn’t it just getting up in front of people and speaking?” Yes, it is that…. but also more.

Officiating a ceremony to mark a life event does require comfort with public speaking, especially for a large gathering such as a wedding or funeral. As a young person, I wasn’t fond of public speaking. I remember stumbling my way through Public Speaking class in high school, dreading the day that I had to give my speech on “How To Set a Dinner Table.” Through college and divinity  school, I became a much more confident and courageous public speaker. The trick I learned, though, is that a gifted officiant not only speaks but, perhaps more importantly, “holds space.”

Holding space means being completely present to the moment. In doing so, your presence becomes just as important as the words that you speak. And, being completely present invites others to become completely present, too. In that presence, the emotions of the moment arise. By holding space, a gifted officiant invites the release of grief at a funeral, the joy of new beginnings at a wedding, or the hope of transformation at a healing ritual.

Through the years, I’ve come to appreciate that I can arrive at a ceremony with the perfect words, but if I’m not present in the moment, the words will fall flat. When I am officiating a ceremony, I can’t also be thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner or if I’ll get to the dry cleaner in time to pick up my clothes. All of the regular distractions of life need to be put aside.

Holding space is one of the things I most enjoy about officiating. Working with clients to design meaningful ceremonies is great fun. I also find joy in sitting down at my desk to write, finding the perfect words to mark an occassion. But nothing quite compares with the moment when all the preparations are complete, and I stand before a gathering of people who have come to celebrate, or mourn, or hope together, and I can hold the space they need to do just that.