Such a beautiful view from where I stand...
I have been a wedding officiant for 15 years.
It all began in 2004, with the wedding of two of our dear friends, Timberly Ferree and Kade Puckett. They had a courthouse wedding, the day before their planned ceremony, to make their union legal but wanted a ceremony held at their home to be able to celebrate the day with loved ones, dress up a little and to have cake.
They had asked my husband John to perform a ceremony for them, but he wasn’t available on the day they wanted, July 4, because he was booked to play somewhere with the Roosters. Then they asked me, and I said of course I would, well before actually thinking it through.
The terror soon set in, I had never done anything like that before and had no idea how to, or even if I could. Marriage and love are sacred and I had little confidence I would be able to conduct such an important ceremony for such important people.
I shared my nervousness with Timberly, and she gave me the pep talk I needed.
We sat down a couple of times to figure out what words to use and who should stand where and all of the things.
This had to be destiny because I couldn’t have started on this journey with two better people.
Timberly, as a writer and as a person who has her head on straight, had a clear idea of how she wanted it to go, and I learned lessons from her that day that I still use every time I wed a couple. Kade, the musician, is a silly but earnest guy and he brought a sense of fun and a feeling of ease to the whole thing.
Timberly, of course, had written out her vows to read to Kade, and they were absolutely lovely and heartfelt. Kade put his feelings into notes, playing a song on an acoustic guitar for Timberly right there at the altar in their living room. Sigh...so beautiful.
By the time the happy day had arrived, we had the ceremony planned out and I had everything written up and ready. I got dressed, put on my makeup and started to freak out.
WHAT had I done? WHY did I agree to stand in front of people and pretend like I knew what I was doing? WHO did I think I was?
I have the utmost respect for clergy of all types. They deal with the sacred and play very important roles for all sorts of people every day. How dare I try to step into their esteemed shoes!
Even though I hadn’t yet been ordained and they had already been legally married, it hit me that what I was about to do that day was a very spiritual thing and not to be taken lightly. This was important, could I handle it?
Well, I had already promised I could, so there was nothing to do but put on my shoes and walk on down to their house...
I was shaking by the time I arrived and my stomach hurt. I wanted to be anywhere but there doing anything but what I was about to do but it would have been so, so embarrassing to try to weasel out of my promise, so with a dry mouth and heart palpitations I took my place at the designated spot at the designated time.
And it was perfect.
So perfect, so sincere and so, so beautiful. Kade and Timberly involved their kids in the ceremony and man, it was perfect.
The living room was packed with guests watching the ceremony and I just blocked them out, pretending it was just me and them up there.
I’m sure I stumbled once or twice, but if I did, I’ve forgotten.
After the ceremony, I stayed to mingle and of course, to have cake. Their friends were our friends and I knew almost everyone. I realized what I had accomplished and, frankly, I wanted more. It was so satisfying and so soul-filling I was certain I wanted more weddings to perform.
Rather than offer my services only to people who were willing to marry at the courthouse before calling me, I realized I would need to be ordained in order to legally marry people. I spoke with a guest at the Puckett’s reception, a mutual friend who had gotten ordained on the internet with Universal Life Church and he told me what I needed to do.
It seemed a little cheesy to be ordained online, but I was eager to jump through whatever hoops were necessary.
I filled out the online forms, sent my payment and it was that simple. I will admit to being quite amused at the choice of titles I would be entitled (pardon the pun) to adopt. Titles like “Knower of Sacred Things,” “Priestess of the Universe” and “All-Holy Empress of Love” had me cracking up. My finger hovered over “Higher Being of the Marriage Rite” because it was almost too funny, but I restrained myself and chose none of them. To have a title, I feel like it should be earned and I hadn’t earned anything. I just wanted to be able to legally marry people is all.
Since then, I have become ordained with a second organization, American Marriage Ministries, that makes you work a bit harder for the privilege of uniting people in holy matrimony. Doing that made me feel much more worthy, albeit in my own way.
I devoured the information sent by ULC and scoured the internet to learn how on Earth to become an officiant. There was a lot more to it than I’d thought of.
There is a lot to learn and I felt that if people were going to trust me with one of the most sacred things two people can do, I better be ready. I must have bought six or seven books on the subject and spent untold hours online learning about legalities, wedding etiquette, how to consult with couples, what NOT to do and so on.
Soon enough, I had my first chance to perform a wedding legally (and for strangers who were willing to pay me to do it!).
A friend of Timberly, I will call her M, contacted me. She said Timberly had raved about my abilities and wanted to meet to plan a ceremony for her and her intended, who I will call D. We decided on Linton’s Francisco De Borja coffee shop, a comfy and welcoming spot. I meet many of my prospective couples there, and so this meeting set a precedent that has lasted for years.
I was as nervous heading to the coffee shop to meet them as I had been while I was walking to Kade and Timberly’s house earlier that year, but I was also excited and had a glimmer of an idea how to go about this.
They could not have been a sweeter couple. We chatted for a while and I gave them my books, which enabled them to craft their ceremony by simply choosing which parts they wanted. I would put them together later into a seamless ceremony.
They married at Legion Park in Linton, and their ceremony became the first of many I have performed there. It’s a great place to get married because they don’t charge much for all that they provide.
Beautiful grounds with a pond, rolling hills, thick forest and an outdoor shelter are awesome enough, but Legion Park also offers an indoor option with a full kitchen, side rooms, restrooms and plenty of dance floor. Love that place.
Since that fateful first legal wedding, I have officiated at least 100 times for couples, in locations as varied as living rooms (theirs and mine), parks, Goose Pond FWA, back yards, front yards, Greene-Sullivan State Forest, Sullivan Lake, Cataract Falls, Humphreys Park (the Roy Clark Building), in a beautiful building at a golf course in Bedford, an estate in Bloomington, a park in Vincennes and, in one of the most memorable, in the middle of an icy creek surrounded by limestone cliffs just off of the Mineral-Koleen Road somewhere between Bloomfield and Solsberry. I had no idea where we were but man, the setting was breathtaking and I’ll never forget it (talkin’ about you, Andrea and Megan). I was even blessed to perform my boss’s wedding (which was almost the only time I have had to swallow my tears during a ceremony). I’ve married the very young and the not-so-young, the well-off and those who struggle, the healthy and the sick, I’ve wed them all. I suppose my specialty, if I have one, is ceremonies that are very specific to the couple being wed, in whatever location they consider proper. If that location be on a rooftop, I’ll be there. In a treehouse, count me in. Out in the woods, well heck yes. On a roller coaster, let me think about it. Yeah, okay, I can do that.
I proudly perform same-sex weddings as well as traditional ones and I always will. I believe that love is a precious gift and should be available to all who love, not banned or outlawed. Tell me all the reasons I’m wrong and I will stick my fingers in my ears and blow raspberries.
I respect religion, but I won’t discriminate towards others or deny them because of it. God is love. Every same-sex couple I have married is still married, and their ceremonies will always ring bells in my heart.
I’ve performed elaborate multi-step weddings, simple weddings of very few words, weddings in the woods, unions legalized in parking lots, handfastings and everything in between.
Every single time, without fail, I walk away fulfilled and so happy. The ride home from each one is a magic carpet ride of romance and love. I’m a sap and I’m not ashamed to be one.
Well... there was one time I walked away less than fulfilled. In fact, I walked away unfulfilled, unpaid and out the gas money it had taken me to get to the Illinois location twice, once for rehearsal and the next day for the wedding. These people had no intention of paying me. They had brought money to pay the DJ but apparently had decided my services, my time and my distance were worthless. They promised to pay me “the next day,” but never did. When I tried to insist, they actually got ugly with me, with threats and whatnot. I dropped the matter, chalking it up to experience and preserving my dignity. They can live with what they chose to do, and I can live with how I chose to react to it.
I learned to discuss payment thoroughly and well ahead of time and I learned to stop being so nice to people I didn’t know. Sort of.
Letting forgiveness into my heart helped with that situation. I forced myself to feel empathy for them, their wedding was whimsical and hand-made and they didn’t appear to have much of a budget, if any, to work with.
I instantly regained my gratitude for being able to officiate at all. Really, two rotten apples in a whole barrel of delicious fruit isn’t much of a loss. I am actually grateful to them for the lesson learned.
I am grateful forever to be able to officiate. I’ve done the aforementioned tons of weddings, one baby-naming that was amazing (talkin’ about you, Dahlia) and some funerals.
The funerals. Oh boy, the funerals. While I think it is witty to claim “I put the fun in funeral,” and maybe it makes a funny bumper sticker, there’s no fun in a funeral.
The first one I ever did was for a very good friend, a guy who had worked for me when I ran gas stations.
He was someone I truly cared about, and I felt duty-bound to give him a funeral service worthy of the man he was.
I was scared and sure I would mess it up, look and sound foolish and inexperienced and would be tarred and feathered by his family and loved ones, but none of that came true.
I was treated with respect and dignity by Todd Walton at Welch and Cornett and have done a few funeral ceremonies there since. Todd Walton, I have to say, is very good at what he does for bereaved families. Behind the scenes, he is a devoted and compassionate funeral director who genuinely cares about everyone he serves.
I’ve done funerals at two other places, Newkirk’s in Dugger (they were wonderful, very supportive and professional) and a funeral home in Illinois (the funeral director complimented me and said I had done a wonderful job after the service but said he didn’t know what to expect when he saw me--with my dyed hair and tattoos--walk in. I felt vindicated, I think...). I did another for a good friend who had lost her brother and worked hard to send him off well. I was happy with that one, the first I had done for someone I didn’t know prior to their death. I felt like although I didn’t know the man, he and I would have connected had we met. I felt like he would have thought I had done a fine job in writing his service to honor him and reflect who he was.
So, in summary, I love that part of me, the part that helps people in sacred and heartfelt ways. I am eternally grateful to have found it and to be trusted by people to do it. I have a wedding page on Facebook if you want to see me in action, or ask one of the many I’ve married. I love ‘em all, I really do. Except maybe that one couple...
Patti is a Staff Writer for the Greene County Daily World. She loves to laugh and also loves kitties. She’s kind of weird but has a heart of gold. If you would like to share a story or just make a friend, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.