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NYC Celebrant Chris Shelley shares the secret to becoming a successful wedding officiant

Published Wednesday, Jul. 26th, 2023

Celebrant Chris Shelley officiates a beach wedding in Cape Cod / Photo: Anne Lee Photography

Meet Christopher Shelley: Author, Coach, and NYC Life Cycle Celebrant Extraordinaire 



“So, how do you know the couple?” 


It’s a question that Celebrant Christopher Shelley gets asked at almost every wedding he officiates. Without fail, a wedding guest will walk up to him after the ceremony, cocktail in hand, and ask how many years he’s known the newlyweds. 


When Chris admits he’s a “hired gun,” most guests are shocked. 


That’s Christopher’s ‘magic trick,’ as he calls it –  he gets to know a couple so well in the weeks leading up to the ceremony that by the wedding day, every guest in the room is convinced he’s an old friend. Christopher can tell a couple’s love story better than anyone.


Luckily for the rest of us, it’s a talent that can be taught…


Next month, Christopher will teach other officiants how to do what he does, as a guest speaker at AMM’s Officiant ACCELERATOR : NYC seminar in New York City. 


There are still one or two tickets available for this exciting event, but if you aren’t able to grab a seat, don’t despair – we’ll be sharing a recording of Christopher’s talk on the AMM YouTube Channel, along with advice from other expert officiants. 


Christopher will share his advice on how to become ‘old friends’ with the wedding couple by asking the right questions, and how to use the power of storytelling to create a compelling ceremony that captures the imagination and attention of guests. He’ll also focus on officiating as a business, and how officiants and celebrants can work well with other vendors for a seamless wedding day. 




That's Christopher on the top right! 

Promotional graphic with the Speakers for NYC Officiant Accelerator seminar


“I’m excited at the opportunity to get people focused where they really should be focused,” he says about the upcoming talk, where he’ll be in a room with dozens of other New York officiants.


New officiants, he explains, are often unaware of how much time they’ll spend coordinating with other wedding vendors, both before the wedding and on the day itself, and don’t spend time developing the skills they need to nurture these relationships. 


“It’s not just them stepping into a role… [they’re] a spoke on a wheel that is a larger thing than them.” The more in-sync an officiant is with the other vendors, Chris explains, the better the ceremony will be. 


And the more seamless the ceremony, the more likely it is that a guest will walk up to you afterward, cocktail in hand, and ask how long you’ve known the newlyweds!



Related: Meet the Speakers for AMM’s NYC Wedding Officiant Education & Networking 2023 Seminar!


Black and white photo of Christopher Shelley officiating a wedding ceremony, he and the happy couple are standing in front of a decorative wedding arch, with the aisle centered in the frame and guests sitting on either side of the aisle

Photo: Brit Jay Photography

Chris officiates a stunning family wedding



More about Christopher


Christopher honed his talent the old-fashioned way, with repeated practice and expert instruction. He studied the art of ceremony and ritual at the Celebrant Foundation & Institute, under the guidance of some of the most talented celebrants in the world, and focused his attention on celebrations of marriage. 


He graduated as a Certified Life Cycle Celebrant in 2011 and has played an integral role in celebrating love stories ever since, sometimes in unexpected and glamorous ways. He was the in-studio wedding celebrant for the Rachael Ray Show’s Valentine’s Day special four years in a row, and even performed the on-air memorial service for Joan Rivers’s dog, Max.  


Over the years, he’s also discovered a passion for coaching other professional officiants and newly-ordained friends and family members, helping them gain the skills they’ll need to do well on the wedding day.



Christopher Shelley officiates a wedding on the set of the Rachael Ray show for Valentine's Day

Screenshot from Rachael Ray Show

Christopher officiates an in-studio wedding ceremony for Valentine's Day



Christopher's book, Best. Ceremony. Ever., a wedding planning guide for creative couples, was published by Countryman Press (an imprint of W.W. Norton and Company) in 2018, and has performed original custom ceremonies all over the country.


This November, Christopher will be presenting at WeddingMBA – the largest wedding professionals’ conference in the world, held in Las Vegas, Nevada – followed by a talk at WedProCon, a sales and marketing conference for wedding professionals held just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. 




The meaningful role of ‘Life Cycle Celebrant’


Life Cycle Celebrants like Christopher are gaining popularity in the U.S. as a non-religious alternative to traditional clergy. Although most people are familiar with the role of traditional clergy members and non-denominational wedding officiants, many haven’t heard the term ‘celebrant’ until recently. 


Celebrants, Christopher explains, are “trained to do transitional ceremonies not just in terms of weddings, but life events – changes in jobs, retirements, baby namings, funerals, memorials… Whenever there is an opportunity to tell someone’s story from a non-religious point of view.” Most celebrants are also “trained to honor all religions, and sometimes multiple religions in one ceremony.” 


Put simply, Christopher says, celebrants are “always ready to say the right things and the best things about people’s stories.”

“...transitional ceremonies not just in terms of weddings, but life events – changes in jobs, retirements, baby namings, funerals, memorials… Whenever there is an opportunity to tell someone’s story…”



Celebrant Chris Shelley performs a wedding with a bride and groom holding hands in front of him while he reads from the ceremony script

Photo: Brit Jay Photography

Christopher, doing what he does best! 


Like AMM Ministers, celebrants focus on the personal aspects of a couple’s love story and the details that will make their marriage unique, and honor that relationship in an authentic and respectful way. They incorporate aspects of both partners’ faiths (in interfaith weddings), celebrate non-mainstream rituals (such as Pagan wedding rites), and design beautiful modern ceremonies for couples who are non-religious (including atheists and agnostics). 


Many AMM Ministers also celebrate life cycle rites other than marriage, including funerals, baby-blessings, wiccanings, naming ceremonies, quinceañeras, ‘first moon’ menstrual celebrations, and more. These ceremonies can be spiritual or secular in nature, depending on the minister and the person (or people) involved. As an ordained minister, you have the right to conduct religious ceremonies and rituals of all forms. 





Read Next: 







Photo of a marriage celebrant in brightly colored clothes marrying a couple during a joyful outdoor ceremony

It only takes a few simple steps to become a wedding celebrant, beginning with online ordination through American Marriage Ministries. Read the full article here. 




Can't make it to the seminar? 


Check out our online wedding officiant training course! 


AMM's Professional Wedding Officiant Training Course 



Asked to officiate?  


You only get one shot to deliver a perfect wedding ceremony.


There’s no ‘take-two’ when it comes time for a couple to say ‘I do’ -- Wedding officiants only get one shot to perform a perfect wedding ceremony. We'll teach you how to get it right the first time, and every time! This course is the real deal, and has been evaluated and accredited by the International Association of Professional Wedding Officiants (IAPWO). 


Learn more on the Course Page. 






Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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