The Scoop: Alisa Tongg is a life cycle celebrant who is trained to create personalized wedding ceremonies for couples across all faiths, orientations, identities, and backgrounds. Alisa uses an in-depth questionnaire to learn about a couple’s story and integrate the details of their love into her speech. She works diligently to capture the essence of the relationship in a ceremony that honors both individuals and their journey. In addition to leading ceremonies, Alisa has created a Ceremony Master Class where she helps friends and family members learn what it takes to officiate a memorable (and legal) wedding ceremony themselves.
Certain life milestones carry deeper significance and emotional weight than what people encounter every day. A baby’s naming ceremony or baptism can bring feelings of hope and pride to families, while a memorial ceremony can offer more serious reflections on a loved one’s legacy.
Life cycle celebrant Alisa Tongg said she was drawn to the idea of leading important ceremonies for couples and families because she wanted to carry those meaningful moments forward. She did research and learned that Australia and New Zealand have a legal designation for a professional celebrant who isn’t religious but has the authority to solemnize marriages, baby namings, and other family ceremonies.
Intrigued, Alisa then discovered a New Jersey school for celebrants, and she put in an application. Now in addition to a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in education, Alisa has earned a certificate training as a wedding celebrant. She has led all types of love ceremonies for over 10 years.
“Knowing how to create a wedding ceremony that brings together people is a really important skill,” Alisa said. “Couples may come from different backgrounds, and you can show how they’re going to make a life together.”
Many of the couples who choose to work with Alisa are either not affiliated with any organized religion or they are interfaith couples who want to blend their traditions in their wedding ceremony. Alisa helps them find the right balance and create a custom ceremony that speaks to their story and values.
“Most ceremonies in this day and age, you want them to be about 25 minutes long,” she told us. “Any longer, and people start to shift focus. It’s kind of like branding for a couple. You have to figure out what theme you want to share for this couple.”
Alisa has the experience and professionalism to run ceremonies that make a meaningful impact, and she also lends her expertise to help inexperienced officiants seeking guidance. She has a Wedding Ceremony Master Class geared toward friends and family members who are taking on the daunting task of leading a wedding ceremony and could use tips from someone who has been there, done that.
Her Questionnaire Captures All the Sentimental Details
Alisa works in Pennsylvania where a high concentration of Catholic people live and love, and that means for many, particularly older generations, getting married starts with a church. People commonly think of a traditional wedding ceremony as involving a lot of kneeling, scripture reading, and preset vows. It is a religious rite with little room for creativity.
The couples who hire Alisa tend to be nontraditional. They want to break the mold and bring more personality to the wedding ceremony. She said she often hears phrases like “short and sweet” and “blended families” in her consultations.
“By talking to a modern day officiant, they’re saying I want to preserve my right to say my own vows and to make it personal and meaningful,” Alisa explained. “We do this intense and lovely questionnaire process where I then take the things they share with me to create a ceremony flow that incorporates their needs.”
Alisa has honed the couples questionnaire over the last decade to represent the important aspects of a committed relationship and love story. She has both partners write answers to the questions a few months before the wedding date, and she reviews it carefully to understand where they’re coming from and what themes she should touch on in the ceremony.
The open-ended questions ask about the couple’s history as well as their hopes for the future, covering the major arcs of the love story and the little kindnesses along the way.
“It helps people to be more thoughtful and intentional and reflective,” Alisa explained. “I have heard from my couples that it made them feel more grateful for things in their life and their relationship, and it made them really excited for how those things get packaged up and talked about in their ceremony – especially when they don’t have to do it themselves!”
Alisa goes through the questionnaire answers and looks for the essential reason why this couple fell in love and what stories she can tell to highlight their commitment. Sometimes she talks about major role models in the family and how their example inspired the couple, and sometimes she relates smaller stories about taking a partner’s sick dog to the vet or making a cup of coffee in the morning. All of these moments, big and small, can tie into the love story.
Alisa delivers her draft of the ceremony speech to the couples two months in advance. She takes their feedback and asks for their approval on all the wording, particularly in how she introduces them at the end. She told us she doesn’t take anything for granted because so many modern couples have their own ideas about how to present their marriage to friends and family.
“My questionnaire is so helpful because it collects a lot of important sentimental information, but it also helps me as the ceremony professional to see what things need to be highlighted,” she said.
Telling Stories That Represent & Celebrate Love
Many couples working with Alisa decide to write their own vows to recite after her introduction, and she encourages them to share what they plan to say with her beforehand. That way, the couple can get feedback from a professional. She said vows needn’t be longer than one paragraph, and they should start with statements of appreciation for the other person or the relationship and end with heartfelt promises or vows for the future.
If needed, Alisa can also offer sample vows that she has seen work time and time again. These are often good for inspiration should a person feel stuck or overwhelmed by the idea of writing vows.
“There are so many ways to do it. The only thing that really matters, as far as vows are concerned, is that whatever the couples decide to say needs to be true for them, and it needs to come naturally from them because that is the only time they are speaking in the ceremony,” Alisa explained.
Often the most memorable moments in the wedding ceremony won’t be found in any script. It’s not the thees and thous that touch people’s hearts. It’s the moment when a bride takes a second to fan away her tears, or when a groom cracks an unexpected joke promising to do the dishes when they get smelly.
Of course, sometimes couples don’t have the words or the emotional resilience to talk about things that mean a lot to them without getting choked up, so that’s where Alisa can step in. She can tell the story of the grandmother whose wedding dress is on display or pay tribute to loved ones.
“You need somebody with some strength to get through some of those difficult emotional moments,” Alisa said. “I’ve married my siblings as well, and their ceremonies were harder to do just because they’re my family.”
During one touching ceremony, Alisa shared the details about how the couple chose to wed on the wedding anniversary of the bride’s grandparents, who had been together for 52 years. Adding such details in a ceremony can make them more memorable and meaningful to the couple.
Over the years, Alisa has gotten a lot of great feedback from couples and families, and her website highlights one testimonial in particular from Barb, the mother of a groom. Her son was raised Methodist, and he married an Israeli Jewish woman, so their blended faiths made the ceremony unique.
“For me standing next to my son under the chuppah and having them openly declare their love for each other and most especially their love and commitment to their families was unsurpassed,” Barb wrote. “The way you facilitated making this happen was also phenomenal.”
“You touched many hearts and minds that day” — Barb in a thank-you note to Alisa Tongg
The mother spoke about how the wedding ceremony was one of the most moving moments of her life, even above her own wedding.
“It’s just the power of story that can do that,” Alisa said. As a wedding celebrant, Alisa honors the different stories and perspectives she encounters and looks for the common elements that bind two people and two families together.
She said the greatest compliment she receives at wedding receptions is when a friend or relative asks her how she knows the bride or groom and how long they’ve been friends. “The ceremony felt like this couple, and it was delivered with warmth and love, and so they think I must be their very good friend,” she said.
Alisa Tongg Brings Decades of Experience to the Ceremony
A wedding ceremony comes with a lot of expectations for couples and their loved ones. It’s important to get it right, and that’s what Alisa has been trained to do.
Whether she’s delivering vow tips to couples or leading a Wedding Ceremony Master Class for aspiring officiants, Alisa has made a career out of helping people bring joy to important milestones and create memories that last a lifetime.
Alisa said one of the major shifts she’s seen in the wedding industry is that more couples are meeting through nontraditional means (aka dating apps) and looking for nontraditional ways to celebrate their marriage.
For a growing number of modern couples, online dating is part of their journey, and their experience can be a real inspiration to others. “If you are lucky enough to have found somebody who you want to marry through a dating app, don’t feel shame about that,” Alisa advised. “I think you should embrace it when telling your story.”
Online dating successes can give hope to singles who have been on the apps themselves. A story told at a wedding ceremony can motivate friends or family to give the apps a try.
Alisa said the fact that online dating matches have gone up is a hopeful trend for relationship seekers. It can open single people up to new possibilities, including perhaps meeting a person of another faith, race, or creed who may not have been in the same social circle otherwise. In fact, some academics have linked the rise in online dating popularity with a rise in interfaith relationships.
Wedding officiants like Alisa Tongg welcome all couples. She told us that she proudly works with people of all belief systems, backgrounds, and orientations. Part of her core values is that love is love, and all couples deserve to be celebrated on their wedding day.
“Life cycle celebrants can handle any combination of people or story or past and make it beautiful,” she said. “You don’t ever have to worry about being rejected by a professional life cycle celebrant or wedding officiant because we’ve all signed a code of ethics to support all people.”