We had the good fortune of connecting with Mercedes, a.k.a. Rev. Mercy Ibarra and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mercedes, a.k.a. Rev. Mercy, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Well, when it comes to my business as a Bilingual Interspiritual Ceremony Officiant, I don’t know that I necessarily came up with my idea for my business as much as the idea manifested itself in my life over a few years. Everything started in 2014, when I was volunteering for hospice. I was visiting dying patients who were of different religious faiths and I thought I should learn more about those different faiths and what their ideas were around the end of life, that way I could have more understanding of what my patients were facing emotionally and spiritually.
I decided to go to One Spirit Interfaith Seminary with the idea that I would go into hospice work. However, two things happened that put me on a slightly different path: I was diagnosed with Lupus in 2015 (which made it harder on me to visit patients with consistency) and the weekend I was to be ordained in 2016, an old friend asked me to officiate his wedding. He told me that he and his fiancé could not find an officiant who was both bilingual in English and Spanish and accepting of their spirituality (they both believed more in nature and their yoga practice than anything else). On top of that, he’s Dominican and I’m Cuban and so he felt I would totally understand his family’s expectations.
I agreed to do it and fell in love with the entire process–from interviewing them about their love story, to writing the ceremony, and then performing it. In 2017, I officially started my business and the first couple to hire me were looking for the same thing–a bilingual officiant who could honor their sense of spirituality, while still respecting their family’s expectations and traditions.
The last few years have been amazing. As of this moment, I have performed 76 weddings, three baby and child blessings, and four end-of-life celebrations, most of them either bilingual or even fully in Spanish. I also offer spiritual counseling. The people who hire me are mostly Latina/Latino/Latinx, who consider themselves to be more spiritual than religious, whose families are traditional Catholics or Christians. They often come to me looking for exactly what my old friend had expressed–they needed someone who was open and understanding of their unique sense of spirituality, while still understanding their families’ culture and traditions, and who could take all that and create a ceremony that everyone loved.
The cool thing is that I am also sought out by people from cultures different than mine who still want someone to bridge that gap between them and their families. Most recently, I performed a ceremony for a Bangladeshi Muslim couple who specifically wanted a woman to officiate a secular ceremony, but was able and willing to understand and “speak” the language of Islam. I’ve also done pagan weddings, witchy weddings, a Hawaiian funeral, and of course, weddings with the traditional Hispanic rituals of the Lazo, Arras, Veil Ceremony, and Unity Candle.
I love my work. I get to create custom rituals for peoples’ most cherished milestones and I am so grateful that they entrust me with such important events in their lives.
As for my business as a Flamenco Dancer and Teacher, I feel Flamenco found me. I had grown up dancing other types of dance and my Freshman year at UCLA, back in 1995, I decided to take a Flamenco class because it was the only class that fit in my schedule. The rest is history. I took classes, joined companies, lived in Spain to study Flamenco between 2005 to 2009, gigged around California and more for years. I currently am on the faculty at the Orange County School of the Arts in their Ballet Folklorico department, and I’m a Teaching Artist for the LA Music Center and LA Arts Organization, doing school assemblies, elementary school workshops, and community performances along with my ensemble, Sakai Flamenco, whose reins were handed over to me by my former teacher, Linda Andrade, when she moved out of state. I also teach master classes at the college level. The teaching gigs all landed in my lap and I think it was meant to be. I love teaching.
What should our readers know about your business?
My business is Rev. Mercy Ceremonies. I create and officiate custom ceremonies that reflect my clients’ spirituality while still respecting their families’ traditions, in both English and Spanish.
What sets me apart from other ceremony officiants is not only that I am bilingual in English and Spanish, but that I am an ordained Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister, having spent two years studying with One Spirit Interfaith Seminary.
What does “interspiritual” mean? It means I have studied the primary tenets of most of the world’s major religions and I believe that they all share a common thread–love is the true religion.
My seminary training also taught me to use all of my religious study to create custom ceremonies for all of life’s milestones: weddings, baby blessings, funerals, coming-of-age (e.g., quinceañeras), home blessings, transgender renaming ceremonies, you name it).
I would say that my business has been growing fairly steadily, but the process to become an ordained Interspiritual Minister was not easy. I was diagnosed with Lupus while I was in school and I had already been a professional Flamenco dancer for 20 years up until that point. This was a time of major upheaval and transition while my body declined. I feel like I was put through a real education of my spirit and soul by the Universe itself, while I was doing the more “academic” study of it.
However, it’s all been worth it. I absolutely love creating custom ceremonies for peoples’ most meaningful life events and I’m honored that they choose me to do this for them.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, for sure I’d take them to Point Dume so they have that classic Pacific Coast moment and point out the rocks that are in every commercial, movie, TV show, etc. (I’ve also officiated weddings there).
Porto’s in Burbank because I’m Cuban.
La Cochinita and Cafe Tropical in Silverlake, for the same reason.
The Forever Flamenco show at the Fountain Theater.
The Barnsdall Art Park
Las Glorias del Buen Comer, a small Mexican restaurant in Silverlake. I don’t think it gets enough props. Order the mole dishes.
LACMA, MOCA, and The Broad
Downtown LA for food and architecture
Mariachi Plaza in East LA
Plazita Olvera and Hollywood Forever during Dia de Muertos
Hollywood Forever anytime; I love cemeteries and that one is full of celebrities. Although Bela Lugosi is at Holy Cross, so that might be a good stop too. Ella Fitzgerald is at Inglewood Cemetery (can you tell I like cemeteries?)
The Cinespia movies at Hollywood Forever
The Vista, whenever it opens again…
The HMS Bounty in Korea Town. I don’t really drink much anymore, but I love the weird mix of both young and old that seem to gather there. Plus the waitresses that are there are old school in their way of mixing drinks and service. Very cool.
The Bigfoot Lodge. Great bar, especially the little indoor/outdoor rooms where people can smoke and not freeze (I don’t smoke, but many of my favorite people do).
Cafecito Organico in Silverlake. It’s around the block from my house and has AMAZING coffee. Before the pandemic, I regularly met clients there.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to Shoutout One Spirit Interfaith, my seminary, for all my Interspiritual education and ordination.
The WeddingPro Fellowship for Change for giving me a year of wedding business education and free advertising to help give me a leg up as an underrepresented wedding business owner who is new in the industry.
Aleya Harris, my mentor in Fellowship for Change and owner of Flourish Marketing by Aleya Harris
Heidi Thompson of the Wedding Business Collective for all of her coaching and education.
Bethel Nathan, owner of Ceremonies by Bethel, for all of her coaching and advice as an officiant.
Holly Soriano, filmmaker and my accountability partner through the LA Tuesdays Together and Rising Tide Society.
All of my Flamenco Teachers and colleagues, in particular, Linda Andrade, who changed my life by taking me under her wing and then entrusting me with everything she created.
And of course, all of my couples, clients, and students, who I have learned from while serving them.
Other: You can join my list and follow my blog posts by downloading my Collection of Love Readings on my website. Pinterest: @revmercyceremonies For my latest Flamenco updates, go to Instagram: @merche.de.losangeles For my Lupus advocacy, go to Instagram: @mindfullylupie I’m putting this out there: Rev Mercy podcast and YouTube coming in 2022…
FunLovinPhoto Paolo Pranzo Orellana Photo Daniel Lennox Tara Stewart