Happily Ever After

Officiant: Choose Seaside Ceremonies, Support Maritime Museum

Mar 20, 2017

Deb Whitcraft and Eileen Sappah operate Seaside Ceremonies NJ. They officiate at weddings and renewal ceremonies. Whitcraft has been at it since 1996, and Sappah joined her in 2012 to help handle the demand. Whitcraft is the founding president and treasurer of the Museum of New Jersey Maritime History in Beach Haven, and Sappah is a trustee. For the museum, Seaside Ceremonies serves as a much-needed revenue source; the fees for officiant services are tax-deductible donations.

Both women are ordained through the Universal Life Church, a doctrine-less denomination founded in 1962 that believes simply in “that which is right” and offers – to anyone, at no cost and without having to go through any process – ordination as a minister, primarily for the purpose of officiating weddings.

During her terms as mayor of Beach Haven borough from 1998 to 2006, Whitcraft said, the number of weddings increased, as many other mayors choose not to perform the service. While now retired, she retains the title of mayor emeritus and, as such, is permitted by state law (in addition to her ULC license) to continue to work as an officiant. Mayor emeritus is the title she uses on all marriage licenses she authorizes.

“We both take great pride in our individualized services to our couples and work to ensure that every ceremony represents ‘everything they want, and nothing they don’t,’” Whitcraft said. She added the two have conducted a combined total of more than 1,800 weddings and renewals.

They work mainly in seashore resort areas, from Sandy Hook to Cape May, but have, on occasion, traveled to inland venues such as wineries and large banquet facilities.

Some of the more memorable ceremonies they have officiated have had animals (even a pig) as ring bearers, or incorporated children in the sand ceremony to represent the blending of families, or battled the elements atop the Barnegat Lighthouse.

Shortly after joining Whitcraft in 2012, Sappah said, she realized by officiating she could not only benefit the museum “but also bring joy to so many people on their special day.”

They provide couples with the necessary municipal information for a beach wedding, i.e. licenses and permits, and guide them in the decision making to customize their ceremony. They also file the required paperwork and give guidance to couples to obtain certified copies of their marriage license.

The advantage of the museum is having an alternate venue as “Plan B.” But some couples choose to use the museum for the ceremony anyway, at no extra charge.

As officient partners, Sappah and Whitcraft can sub in for each other in the event of illness, “which, luckily, rarely happens,” Sappah noted. “We keep detailed interview notes with couples on a shared calendar so there is no question about the couples’ preferences for the ceremony.”

Ask about the Elopement Package – an option for those who want a private ceremony. Seaside Ceremonies will even provide the witnesses.

“Each ceremony is unique,” Sappah said, “but some are more memorable than others due to the variety of people, places and circumstances. Deb says someday we will write a book about all the stories we could tell!

“Some of the more memorable, for me, are the renewal ceremonies that have been arranged by adult children as a surprise for the parents as a 50th anniversary gift.” Those tend to be pretty casual, on the beach, she added. “You get to see a lot of love going on, within at least three generations of the family.”

— Victoria Ford

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