Who knew that becoming a wedding officiant would be this cool. I started this little side venture a few years back while still living in New Orleans, where my first get-em-hitched-gig was a destination wedding for a couple from Texas who had met as co-workers at a New Orleans bar. Together for ten years, the bride was very much pregnant with their third child and the groom had recently landed a new job, and they wanted everyone on the same insurance…and it was just the right time. I married them under the Spanish moss-laden branches of a 200-year-old live oak in New Orleans City Park with a unique knot-tying ceremony incorporating four lengths of rope and both their kids.
Lovely, lively, funny. We remain Facebook friends.
Since moving back to Minnesota just over a year ago, I have traversed the metro Twin Cities and western Wisconsin with more geographic bounding in the works for next year.
Have credentials, will travel.
As much as a wedding is about the people and their families and situations, place is a big deal to most of the couples I have dealt with – and it usually has little to do with cost, lots to do with the feel of a place, and how it fits the lives of the wedding couple. Venue dive into the world of the modern-day weddings, anything goes.
Yeah, I went there.
Just in the past twelve months I have ridden herd on wedding parties in a meadow outside a century-old Wisconsin barn (the reception in the barn itself was dazzling) a wildflower-strewn Wisconsin hilltop overlooking the homestead of the family I was blending, and on a patio next to a fence surrounding the air conditioning unit at a casino. (That one was a plan ‘B’ as the arranged locale in a grove of trees on the side of a lake was underwater due to spring flooding.)
The delightfully off-beat and vivacious wedding party more than compensated for the hum-drum, substitute surroundings. Hey, we still had the water and some boats in the background.
My other ‘plan B’ wedding was the community room of an upscale retirement community taken over when rain washed out a sister’s backyard garden. A very charming, soft-spoken, go-with-the-flow couple – both my age – who had been together for a few years, threw a planned-for-later wedding together quickly because the bride had been diagnosed with a serious illness and the groom wanted to make sure he could easily access all his FMLA benefits. Life lessons in relying on ‘later’.
A poignant, memorable Sunday afternoon to be sure.
It dawns on me how much water has played such a large role in my officiating. In fact, two of my favorite weddings were held on – not alongside or by, but actually on, in the middle of – the mighty Mississippi River. One was on Minneapolis’ historic Stone Arch Bridge, the other on Raspberry Island in the heart of downtown St. Paul. Interestingly, in both cases, neither the bride or groom had any real historical connection to the locales, they just liked the look and feel of time and place. In both cases the couples were a bit quirky, and gave me the command to make it fun and memorable.
Aye aye, captains!
The Stone Arch Bridge event was unique in locale and audience, as it was early evening, with sun beginning its descent behind us, and joggers, bikers, and dog walkers passing by continually as the historic ( It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi River) span that once handled railroad traffic is now a haven for those on feet and wheels of every kind. Quite a backdrop, and quite a backstory.
Some of the wedding party had yet to arrive, and the bride and the groom were both very apologetic for the delay, and I assured them multiple times everything was fine as I had no other evening plans. Plus, I had a great view of the river and the wedding party was just a fun group of young people I was enjoying interacting with.
Then the groom stepped aside to take a call. Once he was done, he announced that his parents were just leaving on their way from a small town about an hours drive north of Minneapolis. I was a bit puzzled, and asked, “So we are waiting for your parents to get here?” He was quick to assuage my confusion. “Oh, no, no, no. They are coming down for the reception.” Then the bride filed in the blanks. “We called our parents to let them know while we were walking out here. We just wanted the wedding itself to be us and our friends, out here. We all come here a lot, it’s one of our favorite spots. Besides, the real celebrating will be at the party.”
Waiting for the last of the wedding party to arrive, the comments I overheard were all of the ‘Oh, your mom and dad are so cool’ and ‘I just love your mom’ with a few ‘I love your mom!’ exclamations plainly complimentary.
Once we got going, it was very cool. The wedding party facing me, I had my back facing upstream but had a perfect view of all the joggers, bikers, and dog walkers passing by and those who were stopping to take pictures of the nuptials – as well as the passersby who stopped, then applauded (some tearfully) the self-written vows of bride and groom. Very cool.
Those young people touched a lot of folks that evening.
The wedding on Raspberry Island was held on a glorious spring afternoon, with a bride and groom that while being from here, currently live on the east coast, making it as much a reunion as a wedding. Our planning had been accomplished via Skype and phone and had been a laugh-filled process. They wanted some humor in their ceremony, and I was certainly the guy for the job. One big thing I learned in our Skyping was their shared affection for a dog they had acquired a year before. So devoted are they to this canine (whom they cook up a weekly batch of chicken for) they had even considered bringing her for the wedding, but eventually decided against it for a variety of reasons – though I could tell it led to some melancholy on their part.
My solution to that was to incorporate a short note (‘love you guys, miss you, wish I could be there, etc.) from their beloved Swedish Vallhund.
Ending with a heart-tugging, laughter-inducing salutation: ‘P.S. Vi har nästan slut på kyckling.’ (‘We’re almost out of chicken’.)
I grew up around a bunch of old Swedes, so getting the cadence and inflection down was no problem, as Google Translate is a wonderful tool. The hardest part of adding that note was getting a hold of the dog’s email to actually get the note. Overall, it was a well-received, highly complimented sermily.
Sidebar: When I officiate a wedding, the message I craft and deliver is not truly a sermon, it is not literally a homily – when you hire me, you get a customized sermily.
I have also been honored to marry people in the courtyard of an old estate, the ballroom space of a renovated, nineteenth-century warehouse, the bridge over a pond in a Japanese garden, a federal detention center, and at a historic, refurbished (now urban) farm site.
The only true church I have officiated a wedding in was a beautiful, deconsecrated, 1853 New Orleans edifice that is now a lively performing arts and events scene.
It is more than just the traditional locales that are not now in vogue; brides and grooms these days seem to want their officiant to be something more than a figurehead with some sort of credentialing. They want someone to be part of the wedding team, as it were. This is a different time when people do not have traditional relationships with home churches and/or pastors, and this is a generation quick to meet new people and establish relationships. Today when people choose a wedding officiant, it is a very personal and yes, rather intimate thing. The officiant becomes part of a le mariage à trois, so to speak.
I don’t use that concept in my marketing pitch, but…
Many would categorize these events as ‘non-traditional’ marriages – some in a not-so-positive way – and I would have to agree. While I have been a part of blending a few families, I have yet to preside over the bonding of royal bloodlines, the uniting of strategic alliances, or sealing trade deals – though I did wed a couple who met in their respective roles as a grocery store buyer and a cheesemonger.
The bride and groom thought the cheese puns in my sermily were very gouda.
Now, cold weather time is approaching and I surprisingly have a number of wedding officiant proposals in the pipeline. Winter weddings are a bigger deal than I would have thought, and certainly more prospects are coming in than last year. Minnesota winter weather can sure change the tone and logistical planning of any wedding discussion – especially for exterior venues.
Have parka, boots, and long johns. Will travel.
To be honest, I am hoping somewhere along the line I can find an ‘anything goes’ couple and land a winter gig like one of those mentioned above; picturesque, outdoorsy, and with a couple who wants something quirky, original, and fun. Oh, and who will have early access to the site so I can set up a snowman – or maybe I can just officiate dressed as a snowman. Either way, I can get a big, wide-brimmed hat, ala an old-school parson, like in the song Winter Wonderland
In the meadow I can build a snowman
We’ll say I am Parson Mark
I’ll say, “Are you married?” ‘You’ll say, “No man!
But you can do the job since you’re in town…”
Winter is coming.
Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?