Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Five Most Important Words in a Wedding

As a part of my wedding ministry, I offer couples a marriage counseling program which can help their marriage down the road and can save them money on the cost of their license. This program includes lots of helpful exercises that couples can use to learn more about each other and to arm themselves with tools they will need to have a successful relationship for years to come.

As the wedding process unfolds I like to share my own marriage advice and counsel with my couples in subtle ways, telling stories and sharing my personal experiences as we prepare for the wedding. One of the most popular readings for weddings begins with the words, “Love is patient; love is kind.” I always tend to look directly into the groom’s eyes while saying this line much in the spirit of Thelma’s words to the cop as she forces him into the trunk of a car at gunpoint in the popular movie Thelma and Louise:

State Trooper: [Sobbing] Please! I have a wife and kids.
Thelma: Oh, really, well, you’re lucky. You be sweet to them, especially your wife. My husband wasn’t sweet to me. Look how I turned out.

Of course, wives should be sweet to their husbands as well. Being kind is a two-way street that should be heavily traveled by both partners.

There are many important five-word phrases in a traditional wedding like, “’Till death do us part,” “For better or for worse,” and, “You may kiss the bride.” Out of all of them there is one that has the best advice for couples because it reminds them to be sweet to each other and that is the phrase, “To love and to cherish.”

The “love” part is easy and probably already deeply entrenched because a wedding is happening. The “cherish” part is not so easily achieved and is the basis of what people refer to as “work” in a marriage.

Human nature makes us want what we cannot have and take for granted what we do have. As the years grind away couples may forget the heady days of romantic love that brought them together. Novelty turns into routine, freshness turns into blandness, and the feeling of being grateful for having found one’s soul-mate is lost in the day to day drudgery that life can become.

Learning to cherish our partner is difficult because to do so we must face the possibility (dare I say inevitability) that we will one day lose that person to the unceasing wheels of life.

A couple whom I had married some years earlier recently came to me for help, citing huge difficulties in their marriage. I gave each of them a questionnaire to complete which included the question, “How would you feel if your partner were to die tomorrow?”

Each of them admitted that he or she would be devastated to lose their significant other, which is exactly what I wanted to hear and told me that they really want to be together for the long haul. It is easy for us to lose sight of the fact that every time we say goodbye to our wife or husband we might be saying goodbye for the last time. Life is fleeting but often we don’t see that until it is too late.

The key to a happy marriage goes beyond simply not going to bed angry. It is going to bed grateful for that person beside you. It is waking up grateful for that person beside you. It is living your life with the hope that your wife or husband will be there safe and sound when you get home from work and that you can have a nice meal together, go for a long walk together, and share the events the day with one another.

When we are eternally grateful for something we treat it with love and respect naturally and easily. We care for it, tend to it, and nurture it even at the cost of our own selfish desires and wants. Learning to cherish someone is to grow up into the adult we should all be, cultivating selflessness that the Buddhists would envy and that the rest of the world would find almost other-worldly. To cherish someone is to put aside childish needs and to be ready to put one’s life on the line for them at any time.

To love and to cherish someone is the goal of a married life and is the secret to a long-term happiness that yields silver and gold wedding anniversaries ripe with children and grandchildren and memories of a life well lived.

-Rev. Sam

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Elements of a Wedding Service (Parts is Parts)

If I have sent you some ceremonies from which you will put together your own, unique ceremony, as you read them you will start to understand the various parts to a wedding ceremony and how they fit together. However to make it easier for you I have put together this list of the important elements of a wedding ceremony and their traditional order:

I. Some kind of introduction, which may include an address to those in attendance and to you, the couple.

II. The "I dos," which is simply the question that you answer, "I do," or "I will."

III. The hand-off. (Optional.)  This is where I ask your escort (your father generally), "Who presents this woman to be married to this man?" His usual reply is, "Her mother and I" or "Her family and I." (NOTE: Sometimes the dad or escort simply drops off the bride at the front and goes to sit down before the processional music stops, making this part unnecessary. Also, the hand-off can happen first thing once the bride arrives at the front and the music stops.)

IV. Either a reading or some general words from the minister (or both). (Optional.)

V. The vows, which are repeated after me. You can choose from vows that are in the sample ceremonies or you can find alternate vows in the file "AltVows-Readings." See the blog entry entitled, “Vows: To Talk or Not to Talk.”

VI. The ring exchange. This part almost always directly follows the vows and is usually preceded by a few words from the minister and involves a short repeat-after-me.

VII. Some sort of symbolic gesture (Optional.) In a traditional, religious ceremony this would be the Unity Candle Ceremony (for an inside wedding). For non-religious ceremonies there are lots of choices of symbolic gestures found in the file "AltVows-Readings" to take the place of the Unity Candle Ceremony, like the sand ceremony, wine ceremony, water ceremony, or the Hands Ceremony (which can be done with no props at all). It is very lovely and you can edit it for your specific situation or to shorten it if you like. Please see my blog entry entitled, “Use of Props (Candles in the Wind).”

VIII. Maybe more words from the minister. (Optional.) You will find these general words from the minister interspersed amidst the various ceremonies.

IX. The pronouncement, which usually goes something like, "Now that you have stood before me and exchanged these rings, etc, gives me great pleasure to pronounce you husband and wife," and is usually followed directly by the kiss (sometimes a short blessing precedes the kiss in a religious service). For more information about the actual kiss, please see my blog entry entitled, "The Wedding Kiss (Good and Bad News Bears)."

X. The introduction of the new couple. (Optional.)  This would be something like, "I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. ____________." An alternate introduction might be, “Please welcome ________ and ________ in their new lives together as husband and wife.” This introduction is appropriate if the bride isn’t changing her name or simply wants a little more “liberated” ending to the service.

-Rev. Sam

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wedding Officiant FAQ's

I have finally gotten around to putting together a list of frequently asked questions. I hope this answers any questions you might have. Please contact me directly if you need more information. Thanks!

What kinds of weddings ceremonies do you perform? I perform religious and civil ceremonies, interfaith, intercultural, and interracial ceremonies, and anything in between. I have many ceremonies in my armory and can send them to you in word documents. You can mix and match parts, change wording, or introduce original content at will. I want you to be perfectly happy with your wedding ceremony. Typically you would send your rough draft to me for review once you’ve pulled it together. If I have any suggestions or comments on length or flow I will let you know. If not, then we’re all set. Of course, I am available by phone and email to help if you need me at any time.

Can we write our own vows? Yes, although I suggest you read over lots of other vows before doing so. That way, you can get the feel of how vows are structured, which is in a sing-song way, with short bits that can easily be repeated as opposed to long, prose-like sentences without natural breaks for repeating. I will often make suggestions for changes to your vows to make them more repeatable but I think it is wonderful that couples want to write their own vows and I encourage it wholeheartedly.

Can we read our vows to each other instead of repeating them after you? Yes, some brides and grooms choose this option. Keep in mind that the audience probably won’t be able to hear your vows as clearly as they would in the traditional “repeat-after-me” scenario, but that is your choice. I do NOT suggest you try to memorize your vows. Sometimes couples do not want to repeat after me at all and want to say as little as possible during their ceremony. For these situations we usually skip the repeat-after-me part and put all the important sentiments into the question that you answer, “I do.” I have also performed weddings where the couple will exchange their vows which they have written on little scrolls, which they simply exchange while I tell the audience that they are now exchanging vows that they will share with each other later in private.

How do you determine how much to charge for a wedding? I base my prices on how far the wedding venue is from my home, whether or not you need me for a rehearsal, and whether it is an actual wedding or an elopement (see below) I know I’m not the cheapest officiant available but that is not my goal. My goal is to be the BEST wedding officiant you can choose. Please see what other couples have to say about my services by visiting my Google Maps page.

What is an elopement? An elopement is a small wedding with very few guests (fewer than 20). Instead of entrances or exits, I simply place the couple in front of me. There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen walking in and out (although it is good to have one of each in place beside the couple to hold the rings and the flowers), no ring bearers or flower girls and no musician or DJ to coordinate with. In this scenario I can arrive later and there is less work involved for me, so I can charge a bit less. I do perform elopements at my home for a very reasonable price but you must limit your wedding party to a total of six adults as my living room is only so big.

Is my deposit refundable? No. Once I book a wedding I generally start turning down other brides and grooms and sometimes can put quite a bit of work into a wedding whether it ultimately happens or not. I keep my deposit amount low so that you don’t lose too much money if you have to cancel but the deposit is non-refundable.

Why do you ask for the final payment before the service? I ask that you give me the final payment and the license before the service because you will be busy with photographs and family after the service.

Do you require a meeting in person before the ceremony or to book you for our wedding? No, I do not require a meeting. For out of town weddings I often work with the couple by phone and email only as we put together a service. If you want to meet me I am happy to make time for you if you are willing to come to the Athens, GA, area. I usually meet my victims at the Starbucks located at 1761 Epps Bridge Pkwy, Athens, GA, 30606, but any coffee shop or restaurant in the Athens/Watkinsville area is fine with me.

Do you have any restrictions on who you will marry? No. I will marry any bride and groom who seem willing to be married. The only time I would refuse to perform a wedding is if I thought one of the participants was being coerced and not completely willing to marry the other.

Will you perform a wedding if a couple lives together already? Yes. I am very happy to marry you even if you have lived together for years and maybe even have children together already. I am always happy to help create a more solid family unit.

Will you perform a wedding if there is going to be alcohol at the reception? Yes. What happens at the reception is no business of mine.

Do you stay for the reception? Generally I do NOT stay for the reception for a number of reasons: I have other weddings to perform; I want to spend what is left of my weekend time with my family; I am on a restricted diet and cannot eat the rich food that is often served; and sometimes people feel like they can’t cut loose and have fun if the minister is there. Honestly, if I stayed for every reception for every wedding I perform I would be as big as a house and an alcoholic so I generally don’t stay.

What do you wear to perform a wedding? I wear a dark, gray suit with a white dress shirt and black tie. If you would like for me to dress down, please give me an example of what you would like for me to wear and I will do my best (for example, dress shirt and pants with a tie, or jeans and a tee-shirt).

How and where do we get the license? You can get your license by going together to your local probate court with your drivers licenses and birth certificates OR your passports. If either of you have been married before you may have to have a CERTIFIED copy of your divorce decree. I suggest calling the probate court before making the trip or looking them up online. Most have a website with information regarding obtaining a marriage license. If NEITHER of you are residents of the state of Georgia then you MUST get your license in the county in which the wedding is performed. If either of you ARE residents of Georgia then you can go to any probate court and get married anywhere in the state with the license you receive.

After the wedding, how long does it take to get our marriage certificate? I fill out your license and send it back to the probate court as soon as I can after your wedding. It typically takes two to three weeks for the probate court to generate your marriage certificate. As you make application for your license you should ask about getting multiple certified copies (at least three) and you should ask whether they will be mailed to you or if you have to go and pick them up at the end of the process.

If we don’t have a coordinator, can you lead the rehearsal? Yes, I am happy to lead the rehearsal if you do not have a coordinator. I do ask for a phone conversation in the days leading up to the rehearsal so I can be more prepared for your rehearsal. I do not charge extra to lead a rehearsal.

How long does a rehearsal take? The typical rehearsal takes anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour depending on how many bridesmaids and groomsmen, ring bearers, and flower girls you have in your wedding.

Is it an accepted practice to tip the officiant? If you are especially pleased with my services then I gladly accept tips. Tips are not expected but are certainly welcomed and most definitely appreciated. I try to keep my prices as low as possible in order to serve as many couples as possible. I don’t have a church that provides a full time income beyond my weddings. Due to rising prices, the seasonal nature of the wedding industry and the fact that there is a limited number of Saturdays in a year, my income potential as a wedding minister is limited. I don’t perform weddings because it is lucrative; I do it because I love it.

-Rev. Sam

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Wedding Kiss (Good and Bad News Bears)

A wedding is generally a marathon of planning. However, there is usually no planning for the most important single moment of any wedding: the wedding kiss. Like any other aspect of a wedding, the wedding kiss deserves thought and consideration for yourselves, your partner, the attendees, and the photographer.

There is not much information on the internet about the perfect wedding kiss. Here is one of the few things I came across that you might find just a bit helpful. Also, you might search for a photo of the royal wedding kiss between Prince William and Princes Katherine. Otherwise, I will rely on my extensive experience to help guide you through this important part of your wedding ceremony.

It’s a lot to ask of nervous brides and grooms to have some kind of presence of mind at the culmination of the wedding ceremony, which is the most romantic and important moment of the entire day – and perhaps your entire lives. Couples should actually practice the wedding kiss because there is a lot that can go wrong and many elements to consider.

There are basically three types of wedding kisses. For ease of understanding, you can break it down into the story of the three bears. There’s the baby bear kiss, the father bear kiss, and the mamma bear kiss.

The baby bear kiss is the quick, uncomfortable peck that only lasts a second. In more informal settings you may be urged to do it again because this type of kiss doesn’t allow for pictures. The baby bear kiss usually happens because of awkward shyness but gives the appearance of reluctance and doubt. The baby bear kiss is over much too quickly and without enough emotion to satisfy anybody.

By contrast, the father bear kiss makes everybody uncomfortable. The father bear kiss lasts much too long and makes everybody think to themselves, “Get a room!” Elements of a father bear kiss may involve obvious French kissing, the “head grab” or dipping, which can lead to falling, cuts, bruises, concussions, and a long wedding night spent in the emergency room instead of the honeymoon suite.

The ideal wedding kiss would be the mother bear kiss. Here are the elements of a perfect wedding kiss. First, it should last about four or five seconds, which is long enough for the photographer to get some good pictures and long enough for people to know that you mean it.

Next, it should be a kiss that does not make your families uncomfortable, which means NOT exploring each others' dental work in front of God and everybody. Your lips should press together gently but purposefully with your heads tilted only slightly to allow for your noses. Tilting your heads too much means the only thing you’ll see in your pictures is the top of somebody’s head, depending on who leans which way.

You should NOT touch your partner’s face or grab their head because then your hands get in the way and ruin the pictures. The “head grab” comes off as too aggressive, even if both partners do it. Instead, the bride should place her hands demurely on her husband’s strong shoulders and the groom should gently clasp his bride’s waist in a classic embrace without dipping. Honestly, I have never seen a wedding kiss dip that worked.

As an aside, my father-in-law, Bob, married his wife, Barbara, in 1949 and was warned at the rehearsal by HIS future father-in-law, Harvey, not to prolong their wedding kiss. Being a bit of a smart Alec, Bob said that he would kiss her long enough to silently sing to himself, “My Dog Has Fleas,” which is the song that Arthur Godfrey would sing to himself while tuning his ukulele. He was admonished by the preacher, who could see that things were getting out of hand and warned that the wedding should be a solemn occasion. At the actual wedding, just before the kiss, Bob sang quietly into his bride’s ear, “My dog has fleas,” which tickled them both as well as the minister, who had a smile on his face. I guess it helps to have a sense of humor. Bob and Barbara remained married until her death in 2004 while Harvey passed away within a year.

-Rev. Sam

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Father of the Bride

There are only two things about weddings that I don’t like. The first is dress socks. I think they’re creepy but I wear them anyway. I guess my wife doesn’t have to worry about coming home early to find me wearing her panty hose. Yuck!

The second is the thought of giving my little girl away on her wedding day. She once asked me, “Daddy, are you going to perform my wedding when I get married?”

I replied, “No way! I’ll have a completely different job to do on your wedding day. I’ll be playing the part of ‘Daddy’ on that day.”

I often say that there is no end to the variation in the ways that people think about weddings. The same is certainly true in regards to the reactions of fathers walking their daughters down the aisle.

Many are stoic and reserved, seeming to just go through the motions as if shell-shocked by the whole experience. Some are nervous and flub their lines and trip over the dress as they go to their seat.

Other dads seem rather relieved, as if to say, “She’s YOUR problem now, buddy.”

The fact of the matter is dads have a tough job to do and they are the unsung heroes of the wedding day. Most of the focus is on the bride, obviously. Next in line is the mother of the bride. The groom comes in at a distant third.

Dads are almost completely overlooked as they give away their most precious gift in life. I’ve seen many a tear-filled eye as I look at them and ask, “Who presents this woman to be married to this man.?”

What I have found in my experience as a wedding officiate – some seventeen years now – is the bigger the father and the more he jokes around at the rehearsal, the more likely he is to be crying as he answers my question, “Her mother and I.”

It took me a few years of performing weddings to get over that lump in my throat as the bride first appears in the back. Now the only time that lump forms is when I think about being that guy who has to answer that tough question and give up the thing I love almost more than anything else in the world: my precious little girl.

At least I have a few more years to prepare for that moment.
-Rev. Sam

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Something New Under the Sun

As we move into the summer months I realize that most brides and grooms do not realize the ramifications of choosing a wedding location that is in the direct sun during the heat of summer. When planning a summer wedding in January, that spot on the lawn right out in the open seems wonderful. However, when the temperatures are hitting 100 degrees in June, it won’t be so wonderful anymore.

So, I am instituting a new policy that will hopefully force brides and grooms to consider the uncomfortable situation they are setting themselves up for.

Henceforth, for all daytime, outdoor weddings between May and September shade MUST be provided for me. If a couple chooses to stand out in the direct heat for their wedding that is OK, but shade must be provided for me even if it is nothing more than an umbrella.

I know this sounds tough, but again and again it happens to brides and grooms: they fail to consider the heat and then just MELT on their wedding day, putting a damper on the good feelings that weddings generate.

Outdoor weddings are great. I love them. Brides love them because they feel closer to God. They like to get married in the “big room” as I like to say. But as most folks don’t get married many times in a lifetime they forget the stress of a wedding ceremony – no matter how simple the service is – and how standing in the direct heat of the sun compounds it. I have seen brides and grooms stand in front of me with steady streams of sweat pouring off their noses because they failed to take the Southern heat into consideration when they picked out their day, place, and time for their wedding.

So please, for the love of all that’s holy, when picking your spot to get married, please make sure it is a shady spot – for you, for me, and for the people attending your service. And as great as the outdoors is, air conditioning is the best wedding present you will ever get on your wedding day during the summer months. Trust me on this.

-Rev. Sam

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Many Facets of a Vow Renewal Ceremony

No matter what light shines on a vow renewal service it is a beautiful thing. While the love at a wedding is certainly beautiful and pure, the love celebrated in a vow renewal is deep and encompassing like the roots of a great oak or the depths of an ancient spring.

Perhaps one of the most touching moments of my ministerial career – of which there are many – was a vow renewal service I did for a couple who had eloped fifty years earlier. I was touched in the very beginning after having been approached by a daughter of the “bride.”  I was moved at what a sweet gesture the children of this woman were willing to make for her as her first wedding was an elopement service, done by a Justice of the Peace in South Carolina.

The story goes that he had to run down to the corner gas station that he owned to get his seal so he could notarize their wedding certificate. This woman had dreamed of having a real wedding one day and it finally came true on her 50th wedding anniversary.

She was so surprised when a minister appeared at their special meal in a side room at a local restaurant. I stepped up and they stood before me and with tears in her eyes, she said “I do” in front of her families, children, and grandchildren. I was very moved at what a loving and giving family it was standing around me.

A vow renewal service is also a way for couples to reconnect after going through a bad patch in their marriage or to get closer together after years of being pulled apart by work and family. In these economic times the true values of love and togetherness are replacing the values of earning and spending and a vow renewal is a great way to re-establish the footing of your relationship for not a lot of money.

The logistics of a vow renewal are very easy as it can simply happen at a party wherever it is held – at home, in a restaurant, at an events facility or a bed-and-breakfast, in the fellowship hall or sanctuary of your church or at the botanical gardens. There are none of the trappings of a real wedding except for maybe some flowers for the bride. You don’t need bridesmaids or groomsmen, ring bearers or flower girls; just a minister, a couple, a family, and lots of love to last for years to come.

If you need help planning your vow renewal service you might consider calling Jessie Patton from Wild Flower Events Services. She has tons of experience and can help you no matter how big or small your event will be. Visit her website and contact her to plan your wedding or vow renewal service. As I always say, choose experience. Your wedding day is worth it.

-Rev. Sam

PS. If you don't need me for your minister and you like folk/popular music played on an acoustic guitar, I can do that. I don't do classical but rather romantic popular songs from Bing Crosby to modern times. Here is a song I wrote while marrying a couple back in the late 90's. They were a sweet couple and very inspiring: