Guests often approach Ranna Zahra McSwain after she officiates a wedding to ask how she knows the couple. Her handcrafted scripts make it feel like she’s known them for years, but in reality, she meets couples for the first time during the wedding planning. Ranna credits her mindfulness in learning about a couple and their personalities when preparing to tell their unique love story. "I don’t like to call myself an officiant. I like to call myself a ‘celebrant of love,’" she said.
It’s fitting that Ranna, an artist and painter originally from London, has her own New Orleans love story. "I was living in Dubai and came to New Orleans on an artist sabbatical. I met my husband, fell in love, and ended up staying." She started her journey as a celebrant in 2019, when her stepson asked her if she would officiate his marriage, and she fell in love with the process. Ranna became ordained through a non-denominational church, which allows her to connect with couples across many beliefs and religions. "I think my whole purpose on Earth has always been about love — I feel a very strong connection in honoring love and creating a sacred space for couples. I soon found there wasn't this kind of personal experience where someone takes a couple by the hand and creates something meaningful. I don't send out a generic wedding script and say, ‘pick one.’"
Ranna has linked up with new couples through word of mouth, the wedding website The Knot, and her dreamy Instagram page, where she shares snapshots of newlyweds she has married. She created Let’s Elope New Orleans in 2020, right before the pandemic hit. "I feel like it was a divine connection launching a few weeks before Covid. Weddings got canceled, and everyone wanted to elope," she said. While her first weddings were exclusively elopements due to necessity, today she officiates weddings big and small, totaling over 100 ceremonies a year. To date, she’s celebrated nearly 300 weddings; about half are local couples and some are rescheduled receptions. "I'd officiate a beautiful ceremony at the Tree of Life during Covid and then a year later, couples contacted me again to say, ‘We're actually going to have our big wedding now. Would you come back and officiate for us again?’"
Late last year, she began working with Spyre Center, a holistic hub and mindful studio center on Prytania Street, to officiate weddings at their indoor church-like "Nave" space and outdoor courtyard with circular maze landscaped gardens. "It's a phenomenally wonderful space. The energy is beautiful and I love their ethos and longstanding support of inclusivity and the celebration of life." Spyre Center’s thoughtful wedding planning services can suggest or arrange other vendors for couples, such as wedding flowers from a sustainable urban flower farm and other hyper-local ventures that lift up businesses in New Orleans. The unique studio spaces for holistic businesses also gives Ranna the opportunity to explore offering love and connection workshops and coaching to build upon the true love a couple shares on their wedding day.
"My intention when I officiate a ceremony is for the couple to be connected and for the audience to feel emotion for the couple. In that sacred and beautiful moment, there are a lot of tears and laughter and it becomes this heightened beautiful love story. And that's what it is supposed to be." To learn more, visit @letselopeneworleans and www.spyrecenter.com
This article appeared in the March 2023 issue of Adore