Here I stand, chatting with the photographer while waiting for the wedding couple and party to arrive. After a week of autumn storms I’m pleased to see that the weather has cleared to gorgeous, warm and sunny. I’m glad I recommended this beautiful location on the Willamette River: the Foothills Park in Lake Oswego. The bride had called me from North Carolina only the week before. She was arranging her impromptu wedding to coincide with a visit with her sister and husband here, a couple I’d married 7 years before at the Rose Garden. She was excited that I was available on short notice; the family had clearly liked and remembered me. I wish I could say I remember them; I officiate well over 100 weddings per year and they sort of run together.
But when today’s Matron or Honor, the bride of 7 years ago, arrives, I recognize her immediately. Their wedding was so much fun! She had worn a big traditional white gown with a train, while the groom and groomsmen had dressed in suits—and flip-flops. (These were leather rather than rubber and therefore, evidently, their “dress” flip-flops.) I also recall that during the ceremony when I’d asked for the bride’s ring, the Best Man dug and dug into his pockets, appearing to have lost it. Finally, with great fanfare, he produced a bright green candy pop ring. It was joke, which surprised and delighted the bride. She threw her head back and laughed and laughed, thanking him graciously with a Southern drawl and even pretended to give the ring a lick. The real ring was then presented and we went on with the wedding, the bride still chuckling.
When I meet today’s bride, I find that she is even more laid back than her sister. Today the two are dressed semi-casually but in classy southern style; pretty blue dresses accessorized with cowboy boots! Dad is clearly feeling at home in denim overalls, though they appear to be brand new. The groom is polite and kind, making sure to tell me that if I’m ever in North Carolina, I’m welcome to come and visit them. It’s a pleasure to reconnect with the parents and brother, who have all traveled to Oregon once again for a family wedding.
I don’t get much in the way of repeat business—ideally once I join a couple, they will stay together for a lifetime. I sure do love getting referrals of their family members, though. It is such an honor to serve the same family again and share in yet another joyful occasion!
I've officiated a few weddings in which one or the other party was terminal. I recall a bride who had cancer. Her doctors had predicted she had only a year to live. This couple made the most of their celebration with beautiful clothes and a fancy venue, a posh hotel in downtown Portland, with guests attending from near and as far away as Japan. Most notably, there was a lot of love between the bride and groom. It had to be bittersweet.
On another occasion I received a call to officiate a deathbed wedding later the same day in a hospital. The man was apparently in the final stages of his illness. He and the bride had been together for over 20 years and he had wanted them to be legally married before he passed. I expect this was partly to provide for her in the way of benefits, which I find admirable. Naturally, I made sure he was of sound mind and knew why I was there before proceeding. I had been prepared for a sad tone for this wedding, but everyone was surprisingly upbeat. They put on their bravest, smiling faces. She and her mother, a sibling, and a spouse were all there to witness, and were quite supportive. He had clearly been considered part of the family for years.
Then there was a deathbed wedding I had officiated in which the couple were both fine—it was his mom who was nearing her end. Her dying wish was to live long enough to see her son get married. He and his longtime girlfriend simply took Mom’s request as the inspiration needed to make it official. They didn't have time to get a license, so I did a non-legally recognized ceremony at Mom's bedside in a care facility. The peaceful smile on her face when she heard me pronounce them husband and wife (symbolically, of course) was priceless. A few days later after they obtained their license, I met them again in a different location and officiated their legal wedding. Interestingly, they reported that Mom had still not passed at that point. Possibly a part of her was still hanging on, wanting to make sure her son was legally and officially wed before she could die in peace.
Two other weddings come to mind, which I performed in my office/chapel. Both were May-Decembers. In each case, the 75-plus-year-old groom arrived by medical transport in a Hoveround in order to marry a 40-something-year-old bride. In the first instance, it was obvious he was marrying his caregiver, possibly as a way to thank her. There did not appear to be a romantic relationship between them; she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek after I pronounced them. She also gave me a hug afterward and thanked me for not judging her.
For the other May-December couple, it was purportedly true love, though I have often wondered about that one. Was she really in love with him, or was she more in love with the notion of gaining her new husband’s financial assets? Despite my reservations, it is still not my place to judge. Believe me, I made sure to ask specific questions of that elderly groom to satisfy myself that he knew what he was doing. If both parties are of sound mind and if the proper paperwork is presented, I will go forward with the wedding. It is my job to help a couple tie the knot, not to judge their motivations. That is between them and their conscience—or between them and God, for those of a religious persuasion. Either way, after I do my job, the rest is up to them.
It is Sunday now, a perfect, sunny 85-degree day for Amanda and Lynn to tie the knot. Their wedding is a stroke of serendipity; they only planned it three days ago. It was Lynn who got the bright idea mid-week as they flew in from Tennessee to attend a friend's wedding. As the plane passed over Mt. St. Helens in Washington State (where same-sex marriage has recently been legalized), Lynn turned to Amanda and remarked, "We could elope." Now that's a unique place to pop the question; not much room in the aisle of a Boeing 777 to get down on bended knee, a good enough reason to skip that tradition. But then Lynn and Amanda are not a traditional couple.
After looking into it, they learn that they do not have to be residents of the Washington State to obtain a marriage license there. However, there is a three-day waiting period after obtaining a license before the marriage can take place. What better time of year and what better place than the glorious Pacific Northwest to play tourist for a few days?
By Thursday they have license in hand and call me to make arrangements. Then they line up some friends including two to serve as witnesses of record. Sunday rolls around, and presto, I officiate for Amanda and Lynn before their friends under the shade of a lovely big evergreen tree in Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. Thus, their 18-year relationship is legalized. Serendipity!
I firmly believe in minding my own business on a couple’s wedding preferences. This includes whether and when to marry, whom to invite to the wedding, and what to wear. That last item can cause some discomfort for traditional folks who have fixed ideas on what is proper wedding attire. The fact is here in Oregon many of us are pretty laid back. At local weddings I’ve seen my share of tank tops, shorts and flip-flops among the guests—and sometimes the couple themselves. I prefer to follow the old adage of not passing judgment until I’ve walked a mile in their moccasins—or possibly socks with sandals, a common fashion misstep in these parts!
Anything goes, really. I see all kinds from brides who arrive in a big ball gown that practically takes up half the chapel, to couples that dress like they are on the way to the beach—and quite possibly they are. I would never dream of judging a couple’s fashion statement. It is only my job to help them tie the knot in whatever style is comfortable to them. I have no idea what’s happening in their world or what is behind their choices. However, when they share their story, sometimes it can be very illuminating.
Case in point was a couple who arrived for their elopement-style wedding both dressed in t-shirts, cutoffs and tennies. Their demeanor was just as casual. The bride kept cracking jokes during the ceremony, like: "Can I skip that part?" And when I was talking about life-long commitment, she said, “He gets five years and then we will have to renegotiate!” They were laughing the whole time, she especially.
Afterward she shared with me that she's been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She showed me the scar on her scalp from her surgery; at least she got to keep most of her hair. Her docs have given her five years to live. I see now that humor is her way of coping. My heart goes out to both of them. I don’t care what they wear on their big day. What really matters and what I so respect in the groom in particular, is his heart full of love and devotion for his new wife, while knowing he is likely to lose her all to soon. The courage and grace with which they face an uncertain future is a wonderful thing and should be an inspiration to us all. I wish this brave couple all the best in their journey together.
A recent bride told me she was so glad to have found our little chapel for her second marriage. She explained that she wanted a simple civil ceremony, which we are happy to offer. But she definitely wanted to skip the courthouse setting she’d chosen the first time around. That wedding was apparently interspersed between divorces; when the clerk had announced the next item of business on the judge’s docket, he had called them up as, “Smith vs. Brown.” She should have known then that the marriage was doomed, she told me!
Some courthouse weddings might be sweet, and judges friendly. But a couple cannot expect immediate service. First of all, they may not always get right in. During busy times it may take weeks to get on the docket. Then once there, it may take awhile for their turn to come up. And they may not be the only ones waiting. I’ve heard about criminals also hanging around in the courtroom, waiting for their cases to be heard. One couple joked that their courthouse wedding was “love among the felons.” That gives a whole new meaning to the term “ball and chain!”
Then, too, courthouse weddings by nature are very brief, virtually no more than a blip on the screen in a busy judge’s day. After all, the court has to work you in around other important business. With us, a couple is our only and most important business--and you won't have to wait. Once you have your marriage license, we can often marry you the very same day (though you will need to get a waiver of the 3-day waiting period--just ask the clerk when you get your license). Even if you prefer short and sweet, we will make your wedding warm and personal, something to remember fondly as you begin your married life together.
Some families come ready made. On Friday we officiated a simple elopement-style wedding at our chapel for Sondra and Al. Included in the package deal were two little ones, a 4-year-old boy and his red-headed sister who is, well, terribly 2! She responded to every question or comment with an emphatic, "No!" Due to this restless little native, we skipped the unity candles for a short and sweet ceremony. As soon as she was back in her mother's arms, all was well with the world.
Congrats to Amanda & John, married at our chapel this afternoon with one hour's notice. Courthouse weddings often need to be scheduled in advance. In their case, there would have been a 2-week wait, as the judges have to schedule around other important business. But with us, a couple is the most important business! We happened to have an opening the same day and were glad to help them tie the knot! They were only too happy to reenact the kiss--a number of times, in fact. :-)
Our chapel is small, but sometimes the bride's gown is big! It is so fun when a bride wears a dress with a long train. We captured an image of the back of Janna's lovely gown, standing next to her handsome new husband, Jason.
People around here have been in a marrying mood lately. We’ve logged in 10 weddings in the past 2 weeks, most at our chapel. The variety is fun to see. We’ve had some childless young couples, others just starting families, as well as older ones who brought their grandkids along. Some couples have arrived all dressed up, with various family members to watch and cheer them on. Others have dressed in jeans and asked us to provide their witnesses and only the minimum ceremony required to make it legal. One couple drove down from Seattle just to be married the same day. They obtained a waiver of the 3-day waiting period and got their marriage license on the way to the chapel. (Oregon will waive the 3-day wait, while Washington will not.) There were weddings with bouquets and rings and weddings without any frills. What they all had in common was love in their hearts, smiles on their faces, and a willing kiss after we pronounced them husband and wife. We’re sharing a few photos here, and you will find the rest at this link to our chapel website: http://www.weddedyourwaychapel.com/recent-couples.html
Another of my couples pulled off an elaborate ruse. They’d invited 100 of their closest friends to what was supposed to be a reception-only, telling everyone they’d eloped the week before. Instead they met with me to plan their surprise nuptials. I showed up to the “reception,” posing as a guest. The groom arrived, but time passed and people began to wonder where was the bride? At the appointed time the groom stepped up to the mic, looking confused. He announced that he had a confession to make. There had been a misunderstanding, he said, and a wedding had not actually taken place. “Is there a minister in the house?” He asked, sounding very sincere. (He was a really good actor!) According to plan, at that point I raised my hand. I pulled my clergy vestment and book out of my bag, then took my place up front and center. Processional music began playing, and in walked the bridesmaids followed by the bride. The look of shock on the guests’ faces was priceless! I began with, “Yes, folks, this is a real wedding and I am a real minister. The bride and groom wanted to surprise you and they obviously succeeded!” A surprise wedding is simply a delight!
I'm the founding minister of Wedded Your Way. I love helping people tie the knot!