Quaker Values Stand the Test of Time

Sometimes I write about silly things in this column, but I also often write about religion, culture and ritual and explore how traditions might pertain to weddings. One important religion I have not written about yet (after all these years) is the Society of Friends, or Quakers. They are especially important to us here in the Poconos because the roots of this faith in America are deeply tied to Pennsylvania. William Penn established our state to be a place where Quaker values of equality, religious freedom, and open democratic processes could be put into practice in ways that seemed impossible in Europe at that time.

Quakers have been a significant part of the movements for the abolition of slavery, promoting equal rights for women, and peace. They are well-known as pacifists, but contrary to popular belief, pacifism is not strictly required.

William Penn

From the beginning Friends gave women and men equal status, believing that we are all children of God who bestowed an equality upon us all. They say that one person should not set himself above others and that human distinctions are meaningless to God. Not to be confused with the Amish or Mennonites, Quakers  also practice simple living, plain dress and plain speech, but these days there is room for fashion.

In the Quaker tradition a self-uniting marriage license is used, and here in PA you can obtain this special license designed for this purpose. Please don’t get the self-uniting license if you are NOT a Quaker. That’s not right, and perhaps technically fraudulent (not that anyone is going to challenge you).

A Quaker couple marrying at the Friends Meeting House in Philadelphia
(photo: Thomas V. Lallone)

The Religious Society of Friends, was founded in mid-17th Century England by George Fox (1624-1691) The name comes from the Gospel of John which says, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command.” (John 15:12-15).The original Quakers called themselves “Friends of Truth” after this verse. They were also known as the ‘Children of Light.’ The Society of Friends became known as Quakers because the original Friends were mocked for ‘trembling with religious zeal.’ 

I have had the honor of working with a few couples who had a Quaker  backgrounds. They were well aware of how to conduct a Quaker wedding,  but they wanted something extra added to  the traditional. I totally understand this – and you don’t have to be dress plain to have a Quaker or Quaker-influenced wedding! Nothing precludes getting dressed up.

Rhinehart Photography

A true Quaker wedding has little fanfare in its ceremony content. Like their prayer meetings, there is no ‘leader’ and anyone in attendance may stand up and say something. It’s pretty loose and spontaneous. I really like that aspect. Everyone is free to speak. However, if your guests have no background in this, it could go sideways. Then the couple exchanges their vows. Once the self-uniting license is signed – that’s it. But again, many modern couples want a little more.


At Philadelphia City Hall
(Rhinehart Photography)

Friends believe that if they wait silently, God will speak to them in the heart. The silent Meeting of Friends is their sacrament of communion with God. During this silence they  open to the Spirit. I grew up in Philadelphia and attended some Quaker meetings in my youth because I was attracted to their stand on justice. 

While the clothing and quaintness might be a relic of the past, today’s Quakers have beautiful traditions that live on.


(find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman)

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Hey, is this a good idea?

Today’s column – not religion, not culture nor traditions. I can’t be so serious all the time!  Because I spend a lot of time on the internet, especially concerning weddings, I was thinking about how overwhelming it can be. There are so many ideas ‘out there’ – advice, cute ideas, you can easily get turned around. When considering the vast number of suggestions, you would do well to ask yourself, is this useful? And, does this reflect us?

Of course, not that everything must be practical, some things are chosen just to be whimsical, or beautiful, evocative, or add to the vibe you’re seeking for your celebration. But there are a lot of dumb trends hanging around, too. And it’s never clear cut. Let me share a few examples, some can go either way.

A wedding website can be great or a waste of time. That’s true for most websites, actually, and yours can be an important and useful tool, if you provide information your guests need, especially if they are traveling to your location. You could include directions, accommodations, things to do in the area – and it will have value. There is only so much that can fit on an invitation, so go ahead and make use of a wedding website, they are pretty standard now and usually free. You can even offer an RSVP tool on it. But if you don’t have good content for a wedding website, it’s a waste of your time and your guests’ time. Don’t feel like you have to have one!

Definitely a good idea! (Rhinehart Photography)

Speaking of destination weddings… welcome baskets in your guests’ hotel rooms can likewise be useful or wasteful, depending on what you put in them. Snacks and beverages are great (maybe they won’t have to indulge in ridiculously overpriced hotel mini-bar.) Sunscreen if you’re somewhere it might be needed, is a good one, but don’t put items people will be stuck with especially if they are flying, or just packing them to  take home, stuff  no one needs. Don’t fill it up with Chachkies!If you don’t have enough useful items to put in, maybe skip it. No one is going to be disappointed. Plus, this could be another cost you may want to avoid.

Any item that has the wedding couple’s names and date on it is kind of silly when you think about it, because who (other than perhaps the couple’s parents) really wants something with someone else’sname on it? And do you know anyone who actually needs a new mug, water bottle or beer koozie? However, there is always an exception. If, for example, you were to get some beautifully handcrafted mugs, then by all means, go for it. Support your local artists and crafters! Now that is something worth keeping. I’ve seen too many favors, plastic and other junk, left behind and trashed.

A very useful favor – to be used at the ceremony and a great take-home! Well done!
(photo provided)

And speaking of those favors – whether or not to give them is frequently debated. Are they a waste of money, or a thoughtful token of thanks? Yes, they can be meaningful, given some thought. Food items are almost always appreciated but try not to skimp and give teeny-tiny samples. A one-time and done bottle of honey, jam or maple syrup is wasteful given the amount of packaging for the small amount of product. The ‘candy bar’ might be falling out of favor,  but personally I still love it! In case you are not familiar with this, it’s a table full of candy with gift bags for guests to scoop up their choices and fill ‘er up! Any delicious take-home treat is always a winner! Small pre-wrapped pies are delightful. Try not to eat it on the ride home.

Making a donation to your favorite charity in lieu of a favor is meaningful and expresses something about your values. Leave a note card on the table explaining why you chose it, even encouraging guests to also support the cause.

If you are having a ring bearer, you can go classic on this – he simply carries a pillow with the rings tied on (real or otherwise, depending on the age). But I also like the ‘ring security’ idea – with the boy (or it could be a girl) with sunglasses and little briefcase clearly labeled. The child is the little security guard for this big important package. Signage for boys and girls is also adorable. Things like ‘Uncle Pete – here  comes your bride,’ or for your own children, ‘Daddy, here comes Mommy.’ Other examples include ‘Wait til you see her,’ ‘They didn’t trust me with the rings,’ and  of course, simply ‘Here comes the Bride.’ There are lots of examples of appropriate and adorable signage for children. What I don’tlike is signage that implies it’s the groom’s last chance to run away. Funny, I suppose, in an outdated way. 

Another trend is women (and some men) writing messages on the bottom of their shoes, for purposes of a cute photo. I’d like to think this little love note is not intended to be stomped upon. Is this one more thing you should add to an already large to-do list? Does your photographer have a list of ‘must have’ photos or are they listening to you? Or perhaps you would like to have those shots, but let it be your choice. Which raises the question: do you want the wedding captured photojournalist style, or something more formal? These are things to think about in advance and ask: is it us?

Some wedding trends come and go quickly. Only you can decide what you like. Mason jars which were all the rage a few years back. If it’s your thing go for it, mason jars are nice for many things, especially canning food, but also for flowers for a rustic look, but they are not easy to drink from, at least without a straw. Who needs straws anymore? So passé. 

And a wall of donuts? I’m sorry, I just find this weird.

There are countless little details, and many of them are adorable, but try not to get too carried away with this stuff. I think that’sa good idea.


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The Road to Truth Can Vary

If you have even the slightest interest or knowledge of Judaism you most likely know the three major branches: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. But did you know about Reconstructionist Judaism? This is a great example of how religion can evolve – although sometimes it seems as if it never will. Interestingly Israeli Jews are grouped into four informal categories of Jewish religious identity – Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), Dati (religious), Masorti (traditional) and Hiloni (secular).

The goal of the Reconstructionist movement, which began in the 1920’s through the 1940’s, was to give rabbis the opportunity for a new outlook on Judaism, one that was  more progressive. Its founder was Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, in – yes, you guessed it: New York City. Along with his son-in-law, Rabbi Ira Eisenstein, also a co-founder, they suggested that Judaism needed to be reevaluated and brought in line with modern thought. Although they did not intend these ideas to become another Jewish denomination, it did. It was, perhaps, inevitable. By 1967 a new school was created under the Reconstructionist ideology.

Reconstructionist Judaism is a great choice for those born into Jewish families looking for something more modern and meaningful to them while maintaining their Jewish identity.

In this beautiful photo by Lisa Rhinehart – the couple and the rabbi sign their Ketubah.

That is because among the many things that attracts people to this sect is the idea that it does not require its adherents to believe in God. The other main attraction is that they can, at the same time, partake in Jewish practices, rituals and holidays. While many very religious people would disagree, the idea is we can benefit by being more fluid. 

Reconstructionist Judaism is also based on a democratic model where laity can make decisions, not just rabbis. It is also egalitarian with respect to gender roles. All positions are open to all genders; they are open to lesbians, gay men, and transgender individualsas well.

A typical Reconstructions Jewish wedding would have many of the same familiar rituals as any other Jewish wedding, but the language used would be more updated to reflect the values of the movement, with its emphasis on social justice. 

You can stand under the Chuppah, the wedding canopy. If you wish, you may sign a Ketubah, the tradition marriage agreement, one that is updated with modern language. The Ketubah is often a beautiful work of art to be framed and kept in your home. You can even have the traditional Hakafot– the circling ceremony, reinterpreted to be more egalitarian as well, taking turns circling one another in a symbolic pledge to protect one another (rather than the bride circling the groom).

Under the Chuppah!

Focusing on helping others, you could incorporate the concepts of  Tikkun Olam (healing of the world through good deeds) and Tzedakah (charitable giving) into a wedding celebration. A great idea for all of us, really.

This is exactly what I have doing when I, too, create weddings for Jewish or inter-faith couples who aren’t necessarily religious but still want to honor their heritage. I infuse familiar rituals with more modern language.

There are so many sects within every religious denomination, and I suppose it is because as times change,  throughout the centuries, some adherents want their religion to change with them, while others prefer to stick to traditional ideas, even if they no longer make as much sense. In Roman Catholicism priests must be celibate, but the Episcopal Church was established as an alternative –  and their leaders can be married. Just as Reconstructionist Judaism is a lot like Reform Judaism, there are many similarities between Catholicism and Episcopalians, but they lean a little more towards Protestantism.

Who doesn’t love ‘breaking the glass’ ?

And of course, Martin Luther forever changed Christianity when he began the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe. Even Hinduism and Buddhism share common origins before following separate paths.

The religions of the world are complex and interesting. I don’t propose to be an expert, but I do love sharing what I have learned and continue to learn. And while all religions seek  to lead us on a good path, or towards a ‘truth’ (as determined by the particular religion) the road there can be quite different.

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Words Matter

‘I now pronounce you man and wife.’  Nope. That’s not correct. The equivalent of man is woman and the equivalent of wife is husband – so for a man and women getting married the correct pronouncement is: ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife.’Or perhaps ‘wife and husband,’ and if that sounds odd to you, it indicates how deeply ingrained words can be in our traditions and in our minds.

Because a wedding is one of the most important days in the life of two people, the ceremony offers the opportunity to express many thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Additionally, it is an opportunity to acknowledge and thank those who supported you throughout your life, and those who are there to witness your commitment. My role is to find the right words and actions that best express what is in the hearts and minds of the couple. And words do matter!

Every couple has their unique story. Along with their personal journey, I enjoy every ethnic, cultural, and faith tradition of the people I work with. Many secular couples are seeking a rich, meaningful ceremony, and that is something I do well. Five minutes in front of a Judge just won’t do if you understand the importance of this milestone. Sadly, many couples, especially secular couples, are not able to find choices that fit them.

Here I am reading the ceremony words I created for this couple. (Photo: Garth Woods)

I frequently create inter-faith wedding ceremonies, and for those I incorporate elements from the different religions. When there are children, I strive to find a way to involve them and make them feel special, and important, because they are. A wedding is often more than just the couple uniting, it is families joining together as well.

Whoever officiates for your wedding, if they haven’t taken the time to get to know you, take the initiative and provide them with something personal to incorporate into your ceremony. Most professional officiants will understand the value of this. Even the shortest ceremony will greatly benefit with the addition of a meaningful story or reading. 

If it has not been offered, ask your officiant for an advance copy of the wedding service. You may be able to make some edits and improvements. Sometimes just a few words can make a big difference. Would you want the words ‘love, honor and obey’in your ceremony? Thankfully, that phrase is almost never used anymore, but it illustrates my point, that words matter.

I stick to the script I’ve written and they have approved! (photo: Garth Woods)

And when you exchange your vows, you are giving your word. You are putting those very important words out into the universe – speaking your promise and expressing your commitment. Those words matter, too. They matter a lot!

We are fortunate to have amazing wedding venues in the Poconos, and I have enjoyed officiating at so many of them. I know I am contributing to the beauty and meaning of the day, and that is a great feeling, as the couple and their families and guests get to hear something meaningful, honest and heart-felt.

A ceremony is the time to time to say the important things in life. Emerson wrote: ‘Words are also actions, and actions are a kind of words.’ The words that are spoken at your ceremony set the tone for your celebration and are a reflection of your love and life. They should inspire, reflect, and uplift you. You deserve no less.


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Celtic Weddings Offer Many Choices

There are countless cultural traditions that can be a source of inspiration for a wedding, but one of my very favorites is the Celtic, or Irish heritage. There are many rituals and words to draw upon as well as a strong sense of identity for people with Irish roots – so much so that even those with just a touch of Irish in their families want to tip their hat to it. Statistically about 10.5 percent (33 million)of Americans have Irish heritage.

An Celtic Wedding! (Rhinehart Photography)

Although I sometimes use the terms interchangeable, we should distinguish between Celtic and Irish. The term Celtic encompasses more than just Ireland; it refers to six territories: Brittany (the coast of Northern France), Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, and Ireland. If you go back far enough – Celtic tribes once inhabited land all the way to what is now Germany, Austria, France and Spain. Celts share cultural traits such as art, history, music, dance, language and literature. Once powerful, most of the Celts were eventually conquered by the Romans, and were left with only Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  They have kept their customs alive even while Ireland was under British rule. 

What elements could you use to create a Celtic wedding? Many rituals are pagan, meaning coming from the time before the Christian era. If you are a Christian, you may still want use these symbols and rituals in honor of the past. If you are having a religious ceremony, however, you need to discuss this with your clergyperson. Most couples use these earth or nature centered rituals to show their love of nature. However if you are uncomfortable with the pagan aspect, there are other choices, notably music and literature. 

Piper leads the couple (Armen Elliot Photography)

In my recent column about bells I wrote about theIrish Belltradition, which is a great story, sometimes known as the ‘Truce Bell,’ or ‘Saint Patrick’s Bell of Will.’  For a re-cap: in this custom a couple is given a bell as a wedding gift, to be used to call a halt to arguing in the marriage. The sound of the bell ringing is to remind them of the gleam in their eye on their wedding day. Your officiant can ring the bell for your first kiss as a married couple at the conclusion of the ceremony! Tiny bells can be given to the guests as well – to help you ring in your new beginning. 

Similarly, there is the Irish Loving Cup, a cup with two handles, used to share the cup of life. You may recognize the style as the one given out as a trophy. Like the bell, the cup can be saved as a keepsake.

Bagpipes– I truly do love them. I especially love it when a piper leads the wedding party down the aisle – procession, recessional, or both. There is plenty of Irish music that can be incorporated into your wedding, and anything from the Irish Harp, to fiddles, tin whistles, accordions, and a range of styles from folk to rock, playing jigs, reels, waltzes and polkas. Irish music continues to evolve, with bands like the Chieftains. Any of this can add some Irish soul to your big day.

One of the most popular Celtic ritual is ‘tying the knot,’ or ‘handfasting’which is thought to be one of the oldest symbols of marriage. There are different versions of this and different explanations, but the basic idea is to wrap cords or cloth around the couples’ wrists to bind them together. Historically this may have been for a trial marriage, much like an engagement would be today, but in more modern times it is most commonly used as a symbol of the marriage itself.

In referencing Anam Carayou are using the ritual language that speaks to the joining of two souls and calling upon the ancient spiritual connection to the elements – fire, water, wind and earth.

Photo credit: Rhinehart Photography

Kilts!I adore them! Scotland is primarily associated with kilts, and for their wedding men are excited for the opportunity to wear their kilt. A kilt is made from the family tartan (wool of a very specific pattern unique to each clan) or perhaps they just wear the tartan as a sash. But Irish men also wear kilts. The groom may also pin or place a sash of his family tartan on his bride as a symbol she’s joining his clan. If you don’t have your own tartan, many people don’t, you can still wear a kilt.

There is, of course, great literature associated with Irish culture, there are several versions of the Irish and Scottish Wedding Blessings. 

There are also special wedding rings that include Celtic symbols such as squares, spirals and circles, and knots; they all have specific meaning.

These are just a few of the many wonderful Celtic traditions, and there are many more, and that is probably why I love them. With so much to choose from it’s easy to find something that matches every Celtic couple’s personality.

https://www.instagram.com/loisheckman/

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MILESTONES IN LIFE

There are three major milestones in the journey of life, at least in my way of thinking. They are birth, death, and marriage. These are times when you need to stop and reflect – whether celebrating or grieving. 

Every week I try to share something interesting about weddings, but a friend recently asked if I’d write something about funerals (since I also officiate them).  I replied, the column is called Pocono Wedding Talk– but if you’re reading this it means my editor let it happen. (thank you!)

I approach creating any funeral, memorial, celebration-of-life, or simple graveside ceremony almost the same way I approach weddings. I create it with attention to the details, learning the specifics, the deceased beliefs (as understood by loved ones, naturally) with focus and sensitivity to the family’s needs and beliefs as well. This is similar to engaged couples who want their ceremony to accurately reflect their world-view and still take into account family members who might think differently. The deceased persons interests and hobbies, passions and general outlook on life will also inspire the script and ritual actions.

I might explore including music, candles, and other familiar rituals, because a funeral is more of a time to lean on the familiar and make the connections with the past. Funerals contain oft-repeated rituals because they provide continuity in a time of great and difficult change. This is why funeral homes still look so old-fashioned. People just want it to be the way they remember it.

The obvious difference is that the deceased can’t speak for him or herself, so I have to accept what the family is telling me. Unless, of course, I have met with the person before they died and talked this over – which I have done from time to time. Besides, as the cliché goes, these services are really for the living, not the dead. Still, ethically, it’s important to me that I respect and stay true to the deceased worldview. 

It’s sad to attend a funeral service of any kind and feel that the person is misrepresented. In fact, this was the one of my main motivations in becoming a celebrant.

Death makes us not only sad, but uncomfortable. I am interested in having conversations about death and dying and thinking about all it entails. Green funerals interest me, as does a return to a more natural way of caring for the dead. This is difficult in our society, but there is a small movement in this direction. It is rare for me to think that old ways were better, but in this case I do.

The best part of any memorial service is when family and friends speak about the person. I cannot possibly capture someone’s life and character, especially if I never met them. Officiating for someone you knew is different, of course, and I’ve done that fairly often. But my job is really to help people attending the service to understand that death is hard for the living and we are here to lean on one another through the worst part and acknowledge the continuing loss. I am keenly aware that grief doesn’t end with a funeral, that love doesn’t end, and I’m am there to validate the mourners’ feelings in an authentic way.

For those who do not follow a religious path, death rituals are problematic. There really are not many who choose a service without the religious component. Consequently, people wind up choosing notto have a service because they don’t know what to do. I think that’s a mistake.  I’m not saying you have to hire someone like me. You can create your own ceremony, even an informal get-together, something that works for you and your community.

Recently I suggested to friends who were intended to skip a funeral, that they simply meet, light some candles, share stories and just set aside a specific time to talk about their loss in an intentional way. They didn’t want that ‘service’ thing but skipping it all together I felt was a mistake. They took that advice and it worked out well for them.  I was glad I could help with just that simple suggestion.

Sometimes, as a funeral celebrant, I am in the role of an ‘MC’ – a master of ceremonies – just doing introductions and keeping things moving along. These are some of the best services, when people other than me have lots to say! 

For many it is more difficult to opt-out of tradition when the pressure of the funeral comes up – after all – these are short notice affairs, unlike long-planned weddings. It can be worthwhile to consider alternative options. If a house of worship is the right place for you, then there’s no problem, but if not, it helps to think about this in advance so when death occurs, you have prepared in some way.

A celebration of life, sometimes as much as a month after the death, is another option, giving more time for planning and more time for people far and wide to travel to be a part of it. There are more choices today than ever, so don’t be afraid to break from tradition, if that tradition doesn’t speak to you. 

Life’s biggest milestones are the times we get to step out of time and really explore our feelings and beliefs, and support one another on this crazy journey called life.

Lois Heckman is a certified Celebrant officiating in the Poconos and beyond. She writes about creating meaningful weddings, focusing on ceremony, ritual, and diverse traditions. Find her on Instagramfacebookand website: www.LoisHeckman.com  

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Ring Those Bells!

Bells have meaning all around the world, and we are all certainly familiar with church bells, where it all began for weddings. They are also rung for funerals; any big life event can be announced to the community through the ringing of bells. I’ve used them for both funerals and weddings. And we ring out the old, and ring in the new.

Before everyone had an apple watch or even a clock, bells marked the time of day and united a community – and they still do. Bells are, of course, used as a call to prayer.

Ancient Chinese bell

Church bells can be traced back to 400 AD and became common in Europe by the Middle Ages. Bells were believed to ward off evil spirits, which is why you often hear car horns honking and lots of noise when a couple leaves their wedding ceremony. But on the positive side bells are also supposed to grant wishes and were considered a sign of good luck.

From a practical point of view the sound of a large bell is important. For example: ringing the dinner bell to call the cowboys and ranch hands, or to alert people to respond to a fire, are just a few ways bells are used. 

Ringing bells at weddings was popularized in the Celtic tradition, one of my favorite sources of wedding inspiration. I love the Irish tradition of the ‘truce bell’ which I’m sure I’ve written about before. A bell is given to the couple on their wedding day and meant to be rung if the couple has a disagreement in their marriage – reminding them of ‘the gleam in their eye’ on their wedding day. This is still done and it’s fun to have a special bell with your name and wedding date engraved upon it.

A ‘truce’ bell for a wedding

We can’t forget about music. Bells are one of the oldest percussion instruments and found in ancient China,  spreading across Asia, and probably came to Europe from there. Bell choirs, or hand-bells, are still a somewhat popular way to use bells musically.

The sound of bells evokes a range of emotions – from peace and happiness to sadness or danger.  When a meditation or ‘savasana,’ the final resting pose in yoga is concluded, the leader rings a ‘tingsha’ bell, singing bowl or small gong to signal the end.

We often see bells used as the very symbol of marriage, and the image of two bells tied together with a ribbon is ubiquitous, yet many of us have never thought about the origins of this custom.  Songs, movies, books, invitations and decorations all depict wedding bells! Even the color of the bells has meaning – with silver bells for a 25thanniversary and gold for the 50th. And Silver Bellsis of course a popular Christmas song.

Church chimes and ropes in hand of bell-ringer on belfry of Trinity Cathedral,
Ukraine, Donetsk, April 28, 2019 year. (BIG STOCK)

A really unusual custom in Guatemala involves a white bell placed at the entrance of the home where the wedding reception will take place. The bell is filled with rice, flour and other grains to represent abundance and prosperity. When the married couple enters, the groom’s mother breaks the bell, freeing the grains, as a sign of best wishes for the couple.

I was fortunate to have an up-close experience with carillon bells – which is a keyboard instrument that triggers bells – the many tones of the bells are ringing the music the keyboardist is playing, something way more complex than bells could normally accomplish. While on tour with my band in a Belgian town, the mayor took us to experience this, and the carillon player played ‘Take Five’ on the carillon in honor of the music festival. What an amazing experience – and the bells sounded amazing, too!

One of my favorite musicians, Robbie Robertson writes in his song ‘Showdown at Big Sky’ 

…people, people
Can you hear the sound
From every village and every town
Let the bells ring out (ring those bells)
Hear the bells ring in
Let the bells ring out (everybody)
Keep them ringing, ringin’

At a wedding ceremony you may find little bells distributed to ring at the conclusion of the service. As you ring them, now you will know why.

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The Wedding’s Off !

I try to stay positive, in this column and in my life. But stuff happens. After all the years of officiating there have been a few times when I got the call: the wedding is cancelled. I feel so sad hearing this or reading the email alerting me to the news.T

Unfortunately, most of the deposits couples have put down, whether on the venue or other vendors, are non-refundable. And there are several reasons for that. The most important one is that another wedding could have been booked for that date. My deposit is ½ the total fee, so I am losing ½ my expected income for that date.  Additionally, I may have already put a lot of hours in and even have the ceremony completed. But honestly, I don’t care about that so much, at least compared to what the couple is going through. No doubt there was pain coming to this difficult decision. 

I’ve heard several upsetting stories, although I am not usually privy to the details, but one bride told me her partner simply informed her he didn’t want to marry her. She said, to her, it came out of nowhere. She was completely shocked and incredibly sad. More often when the couple comes to this decision, it’s not a surprise to them but a relief. Clearly it’s better to call of the nuptials than to go forward simply because you don’t want to disappoint people, or because, well… it’s all planned. 

The best reason to break it off, no matter how close to the wedding date, is violence, the threat of violence, controlling behaviors or other signs of abuse. Period. Get out!If he is showing those tendencies now (and it is statistically most often men who are the abusive partner in a heterosexual relationship) it will likely get worse once he ‘has’ you. Again, this is statistically true. Anecdotally I’ve heard many stories, back when I worked on the hotline, that back this up completely.

According to a survey conducted by WP Diamonds, who polled 1,000 people between ages of 20 and 60 acrossthe US, many more engagementsare called off than weddingscancelled. About 20% of engaged couples break it off, usually before their plans went too far and money put out. So, this happens more often than people might realize – just  not necessarily before the wedding day, or even at the altar. That ‘stood up at the altar’ is mostly the stuff of movies. Oh, it happens, but I could not find statistics on the frequency of this, and I suspect it’s pretty rare.

Etiquette experts tell us that you’re supposed to return all of the engagement, shower and wedding gifts you’ve received, even presents that’ve been personalized (like monogrammed towels). Obviously If you’ve used any of the gifts, it’s okay not to send them back, but everything else should go.

Cancelling a wedding at the last minute is the worse case scenario. In this situation each guest will need to be carefully contacted – probably called – because you can’t trust that they got your email. Many people spend a lot of money to attend a wedding, on clothing, gifts, and sometimes travel and accommodations. 

If you are cancelling the wedding you don’t have to tell people WHY you made this decision. It’s obviously a difficult one and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Calling off a wedding in and of itself speaks volumes.

Conflicts might ensue about debt accrued. Depending on the circumstances this can go a number of ways. But if you’re not in high conflict mode, the debt should be shared, unless the person calling it off, is doing so because of a transgression by their partner. In this situation I think you could make the case that the transgressor should pay. 

Sometimes it isn’t even that you don’t love your partner. Love is complicated. It might be that you’ve come to realize you see life too differently and are headed in different directions. Marriage is about a lot more than love – its about all aspects of life – finances, children, careers, your world-view, and definitely friendship.

If you’re feeling doubt before your wedding, it may just be pre-wedding jitters. But if you’re feeling reservations based on significant differences on major issues, you should listen to those doubts.

If you went through this situation you probably got a lot of advice, especially that it’s not the end of the world. It isn’t, but it sure feels like it at the moment.

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What’s in a Building?

No matter how great or humble, every building has a purpose. I have been thinking a lot about houses of worship.  Considering the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral and the fires at three churches in Louisiana, there couldn’t be a sharper contrast.  I am happy that I had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame.  While I do not practice Roman Catholicism, I found the architectural wonder, the art, and historic significance to be profound, breathtaking really. Notre Dame practically defines Paris. It is (or was) a marvel. But I decided to donate to the rebuilding of the three churches that were torched by a racist. A sheriff’s son, no less, set fire to them because African-Americans worshiped there. The buildings themselves seem to be fairly typical of rural churches, nothing in their architecture or art collections to write home about – but their importance lies in their meaning to their parishioners and communities. 

Here I am pointing to the center of Paris in front of Notre Dame.

Which leads to the question: where do you find your spirituality? Where is God? If there is a God, do you have to find him (or her, or it) in a building? 

Buildings are simply wood, stone, mortar – and just like life –  it’s what you put into them is that matters. For a wedding, whether you choose a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, or to be surrounded by nature, you still only get out of it what you put into it. Of course, the rituals carried out, and beauty of a house of worship helps inspire awe, and that is the intent. You can certainly find a connection to God or your Higher Power in a building, but a building is not required.

Notre Dame seen from the river.

In her poem, Cathedral, Donna Faulds writes:

I will worship

where the broad

arc of sky bends

to hear the bird song.

I will pray where

the sun’s warm rays

rest on grazing sheep.

On my knees, I will gaze

in wonder at the oaks and

beeches, hearing you in the

Music of their rustling leaves.

Not one stone sanctuary

can capture the essence

or the glory that you give

so freely to the fields.

No cathedral shaped

by human hands can

hope to hold the full

measure of your mirth.

About 25% of Americans, do not practice any religion at all.(A 2013 Harris Poll of 2,250 American adults, for example, found that 23 percent of all Americans have forsaken religion altogether. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll reported that 34 to 36 percent of millennials are ‘nones’ and corroborated the 23 percent figure)But whatever your views on the unknowable question of a Creator or God, many people find that it is naturethat connects them to feelings of peace, wellbeing and even reverence. Spirituality can be found in the quiet of the woods, a bird’s song, by the water, or anywhere out of doors.Like many others, Henry David Thoreau reflected upon his spiritual discoverythrough simple living in natural surroundings in his seminal book Walden.

A private moment outdoors at Harmony Gardens.

This is why so many couples choose to be married outdoors. For many people, it feels just right.  But to be completely fair, it may also be because they want to have their ceremony and reception in the same location! That makes the wedding day flow in a much more pleasing way. I’m sure many of us can recall attending a wedding in a house of worship and then having a lot of down time until the reception. It’s awkward.

One time I was officiating a wedding outdoors and a bird flew very close to couple which, for them, felt miraculous. Another  time a butterfly landed on the shoulder of a bride. A sign? It’s what you see, feel, or infuse into it that matters. The mysteries of life can be experienced wherever you are, and the magic of any given moment can surprise you.

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The FUNdamentals of Weddings

A wedding is such a joyous time, having elements that are fun or whimsical, even in the ceremony, can be appropriate – in the right proportion. While getting married is no joke, it is a time of happiness.  And it’s certainly not a competition; having the ‘best’ wedding in comparison to your friends and family should not be the goal. But having memorable elements can add so much, but only if they reflect something real about who you are.

I was thinking about some of the fun elements I’ve been a part of and want to share some of them today.

Entrances and exits are always an opportunity for something special. Instead of ‘just’ bubbles for the recessional get some bubble ‘guns’ for a bigger, better bubbly cloud to walk through. Likewise, confetti cannons for the end of the ceremony were a huge hit in a wedding I officiated. 

Another great exit was from a couple who married right by a lake. After I pronounced them, they paddled away, followed by their photographer in another  boat. They didn’t stay out too long, but it was just a cool way to ‘recess’ since they love boating and being on the lake was important to them.

Photo: Garth Woods

You can enter or exit in a golf cart or on horseback , in a carriage or on a motorcycle. I had a groom who was a firefighter who, yes he did – had his company bring a rig and the couple exited on the big red truck – but not before lots of photos.

Singing your vows – great for musicians! Or, along the same vein, how about a  short sing-along for the ceremony or reception. We sing in church and synagogue,  why not at a wedding? It won’t be easy figuring out the logistics, but it could be amazing. It’s clearly not for most people, but for that especially musical gathering it could work well.  I’ve incorporated something like this twice. One was for a wedding of a music teacher who enlisted her students as a sort of ‘Greek chorus’ within the ceremony. I created cues for them to follow – and they sang short segments of songs that related to the script. Another couple I worked with were part of the New York City theater scene, actors, and such, and I presented their ceremony in ‘acts.’ Act One – they meet, Act Two – falling in love, etc. You get the idea. And while speaking of music and theater – I have officiated on stage, in several theaters, and that can be very dramatic! 

Photo: Marco Caldron

I recently wrote about traditional clothing ideas, but instead of traditional, what about elements of a superhero (think: superman T-shirt under your shirt) or other references to your comic book or gamer side, such as the Star Trek communication device pinned onto your clothing. Speaking of nerdy things: a saber sword arch to walk through after being pronounced is a great homage to Star Wars. And more geeky ideas include quotes from your favorite sources, whether Game of Thrones, Lord of the Ringsor even Harry Potter.

For Dr. Who fans – have your rings in a miniature ‘TARDIS’ – if you don’t know what that is – this idea is not for you! 

And as a proponent of ritual, here are a few unusual ones I’ve worked with: putting together the final pieces of a puzzle as a unity symbol. Yes, the couple did that right within the ceremony.  I had a couple who made sangria together as a ritual act – it really meant something to them so why not? And twice I’ve been excited to be a part of the German tradition of sawing the log. Materials needed: two saw horses, a two-person saw, a log.

And one wedding the couple had their grandmothers as ‘flower girls,’ or in their case ‘flower women.’ 

Don’t forget about adorable cake toppers. 

Having your pets involved is tricky but always great, especially for photos.

Photo: Cassie Castella

Some of the funniest things I enjoy are stories. When I share an unusual or amusing tale about the couple (with their approval, of course) it elicits lots of loving laughter.

I’m sure there are countless ideas out there in the universe. The trick is to find or create one that really represents you. If it doesn’t, just skip it.

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