The Rev. Roxanne Birchfield, 36, a minister of the Evangelical Church Alliance and the founder and owner of Married By Rev. Roxy, an officiating and premarital counseling service in Brooklyn, has become a high-profile officiant, performing ceremonies on hit reality shows like Netflix’s “Love Is Blind,” VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop” and “Married at First Sight.”
Although she has married more than 200 couples, perhaps the most unexpected wedding was her own. “I met my husband in 2012 on the first day of basic training as chaplains in the Army,” she said. “We were stationed in Fort Jackson, S.C., and were in the same platoon and training line up together. We got married three weeks after knowing each other while I was on my lunch break. I don’t give that advice to anyone. I tell them, ‘This is descriptive not prescriptive.’”
Mrs. Birchfield lives in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, with her husband Joshua Birchfield, 35, also a minister who works alongside his wife as the director of premarital and marital counseling, and their daughter, Hunter, 4.
What influenced you to create Married By Rev. Roxy?
My company came out of brokenness. I watched two imperfect, religious people — my parents who met in seminary school — try to be a married couple. They carried their brokenness throughout the relationship. They’ve been separated since I was 7. It was the biggest pain of my life. When I pronounce a couple I can feel the 7-year-old girl inside of me want this couple to work the way I wanted my parents to work.
What was the first wedding you officiated?
I did my younger sister’s wedding in 2016 and it took off. People said they loved my voice, which was trained because I had gone to the School of Performing Arts. I studied acting because I thought I was going to be an actress. People feel they’re at a Broadway show.
How did you start working with celebrity couples?
Usually a wedding planner finds me, or people find me through social media. My first celeb wedding was for “Love & Hip Hop.” A TV producer reached out to me for that, who had found me through a wedding planner. Then producers started talking to each other, which is how I did the other shows.
What makes your ceremonies different?
I know how to talk to an audience. I want to tell a story. I want to leave an impression on your guests. I can ask a couple the right questions to create their narrative. This is a collaborative effort. The couple gets to approve the ceremony. Most officiants don’t do that. They use a script and fill in names. Words have meaning. One word could trigger someone in a negative way. Then I deliver that couple’s story as if I’ve known them for their entire relationship.
What’s your process?
I put about 18 hours into each couple. Half of that is the narrative I’m creating, the quotes and sacred text. I ask seven questions that reveal important points in their journey and relationship. And I always ask myself, “How do I make their story come alive and be interesting?” And how do I make people forgot about cocktail hour.
How do you decide which couples to marry?
I have a checklist. Most important is ensuring the authenticity of the relationship and of their love. People have weddings and they are not legally married or they might still be legally married to someone else. If that’s the case, I can’t marry them. I have to see their marriage license. I won’t do a commitment ceremony. I need to know they are not being paid to get married. And I have to talk to them. I don’t want to talk to your planner about your private relationship. If I can’t talk to you, that won’t work for me.
How has your business changed during the coronavirus pandemic?
When I opened the marital and premarital counseling section of my business, I decided to only be virtual; everyone laughed. I had clients from all over the world. Then the pandemic hit. Relationships were falling apart. While some weddings were being canceled or postponed, marital and premarital counseling spiked. I don’t like marrying people virtually. I have done two. I’m not a fan. You lose the intimacy and suddenly you have a new character — it’s Wi-Fi. People still want to be married virtually, which I understand, so I assign my husband to do it.
Has it been challenging to be a person of color and a woman in this industry?
It’s been an unusual place to be, especially during this time with Black Lives Matter, which was inevitable. My personality is very forward. When I say I’m a chaplain, people don’t believe me. Chaplains are men. They are not Black women. I have very over-the-top, custom-made uniforms that are long, black, flowy outfits with puffy arms, and covers my neck, which is a Protestant tradition. I wear them to set the tone so I can prove myself very quickly, make an impression and be better than they were expecting.
You’re known for your distinctive ceremonies, which include rituals like handfastening. Where did that come from?
It comes out of an Irish tradition and my own sociological understanding. I take African cloth and wrap it around a couple’s hands and tie it at the bottom. Marriage is a deal you’re making between the two people. It’s a unity ceremony. I’m binding them together physically. Then I say, “What God puts together, let no man separate it.” I need people to see that in a spiritual way. Then I take off the cloth and put the rings on fresh, “new” hands.
What is the best advice you can offer couples?
Love is both a feeling and a decision. When the feelings go away, it’s the commitment and vows that are going to keep them together. I’m not a Disney speaker. Marriage isn’t that fairy tale, happily ever after, meeting a prince or princess — marriage is not like that. Get that idea out of your head. And go to therapy. If you can go to couple’s therapy and also individual therapy that’s the best combination. And don’t look to your relationship to fulfill you. Look to the relationship to strengthen you and take you to a deeper connection with another person.
What’s your favorite moment?
The first kiss at the end of the ceremony after I’ve pronounced them married. After that kiss they carry a different aura. They are responsible for each other. Their kiss also helps heal that 7-year old a little girl in me. It’s a strike of hope. The hope that this is forever.