Should You Accommodate Difficult Guests?

The concept of the dysfunctional family has become a bit of a joke, with everyone declaring their family is ‘not normal.’ And what is ‘normal’ anyway? But for those with severe problems, it’s no joke!

Whether it’s addiction, mental health, or developmental issues, there are probably people in our lives who have circumstances that may impact a big event. Couples planning a wedding often worry about family members who are struggling with those or other ‘disruptive’ issues. With much-needed attention being given to our nation’s opioid crisis, we are more aware that many people are abusing drugs.

I recently officiated for a couple with three children, one who was autistic. This young child moaned, cried, and ran around during the entire ceremony, which everyone tolerated because they love him, and they understood; but unfortunately, it distracted the couple from enjoying their special time. They had given me a heads up about him, and believed he’s be ok, but the stress of the change of scenery and the change in routine created an environment that escalated his behavior. And although they had his favorite calming thing – a cell phone game – to help, it was still hard for him. There’s an important lesson here: triggers.

For those in recovery, weddings can also be stressful. They may not want to be around alcohol, which seems to be such a big part of many celebrations, and some recovering alcoholics would prefer not to be around people who are drinking. Others feel differently. Alcohol can also be a trigger for drug use.

One question is: do you want to have a ‘sober’ wedding? An open- bar with drinks freely flowing is probably not the best idea for the recently sober – flaunting the temptation. If you want alcohol at your wedding, but are concerned about it, consider having table service instead. It’s more discreet than folks hanging around a bar.

It’s a difficult decision whether to even invite a friend or family member who could become out-of-control.  An honest discussion with the person may be possible, but because so many addicts are in denial, it might not work. Choosing not to invite someone, especially someone close to you like a brother or sister, is a very heart-wrenching decision. You don’t want to regret or second guess yourself after the fact, but either way, you probably will.

Another important question to ask yourself is how willing are you to adjust your event to compensate for someone else’s issues. Would that non-alcohol event be ok with you? Would a smaller, more casual afternoon wedding work better, be less stressful? Would you choose a no-children wedding if there are young ones you don’t want there? Would you be willing to provide services or help for those with special needs?

Are you afraid the person in question will make a ‘scene?’ Assigning someone to keep an eye on the person is a burden that doesn’t seem fair.

It’s not uncommon for one partner to be concerned about someone, while the other partner thinks it’s ‘no big deal.’ Try to understand and acknowledge that there really is no way to know what will happen, and in a way, you are both right.

If it the couple themselves in recovery, one or both partners, there are many ways to celebrate that accomplishment. I have had several couples share those stories with me and we created interesting, sensitive and meaningful ways to touch on that in the ceremony.

And of course, if should go without saying, be sure to support someone dealing with addiction or mental health issues. Congratulation them on the hard work it takes, as when they walk a healthier path.

There is no one answer, and no right answer to these dilemmas, but I hope these questions and considerations will help you think through the challenges, if you have these concerns about your big day.

  THANK YOU Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your gorgeous photos 

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2018 Wedding Trends… who cares?

What are the trends we can expect for 2018 weddings? One of them is something I’ve been advocating for a long time: unusual forms of entertainment for your guests.

A friend of mine, DJ Adam Skuba, has the latest cool craze to replace the photo booth – the Magic Mirror. It is an interactive experience you’re sure to enjoy! I found it so intriguing when I tried it – it definitely draws you in. The Magic Mirror is literally a mirror and it takes your photo and then you get it printed out on the spot. There are a few cool bells and whistles with this device, including writing with your finger on the mirror, and it is set up to include your event name and date on final product, which looks like a postcard.  You wind up with a wonderful keepsake.

The Magic Mirror

There are other unusual creative options for entertainment, as well. A short ‘floor show’ from a comedian, sketch comedy or improve troupe, a musical revue, or even acrobats would be so fun. A mariachi band or New Orleans style 2nd Line could stroll through the party.

Here’s a few other miscellaneous ideas to keep it fresh: Mix up your wedding party – gender wise. Embrace your culture – always a good idea. Bridal gowns with sleeves and pink bridal gowns. Go crazy with desserts. And navy, they say, is the new black – just not for me, I’m not giving up my black clothes!

And then there are venues! Couples are looking for unique venues to host their weddings, and it holds extra meaning when the location reflects one’s interests, backgrounds and passions.

Seaport Museum - interesting location for wedding!

For several years I’ve written about how the self-declared color expert, Pantone, chooses a color of the year. This year have presented eight color palettes, as a preview -  but just announced the winner – the 2018 color of the year is Ultra-Violet.

Another big color trend are the metallic and iridescent tones. I can see how they are eye-catching, but they are not for the faint-of-heart. A variation on this is anything with a pearlized, marbleized, or translucent look. These are all dramatic and create a distinctive look for any wedding. They have a more formal feel, with the potential to be gorgeous, but could also go terribly wrong and look tacky, so be careful!

Baltimore harbor

A good color scheme can pull everything together, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Just choose the colors you love the most, regardless of Pantone, any wedding advice column, time of year, or me.

A few trends that I don’t mind seeing go away include using burlap, chalk-board signage, and please, I beg you, no live goldfish centerpieces! Just don’t tell me Sand Ceremonies are out. They are one of the clearest symbolic actions, especially great for families, and should not be pushed aside simply because they’ve become popular.

Ultimately you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or go with trends; just enjoy the ride instead. Your wedding is exactly that – yours. Do whatever makes you happy. Sometimes simple is the best way to go. Oh, and if burlap and chalk-boards are for you – please use them.

This coming year celebrate your joys, and honor your sorrows the best way you can. Wishing you all peace and love, and a very happy and healthy 2018.

  THANK YOU Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your gorgeous photos throughout the year!


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Year-end highlights

It’s practically obligatory for columnists to do their year-end column or wrap-up. And then there’s the one about coming trends. I am not going buck those traditions! Here are some reflections on weddings I’ve officiated this past year, as we say goodbye to 2017.

From intimate elopements and micro-weddings at my own ceremony site, Harmony Gardens, to big beautiful spectacles at high-end venues, my season was full and diverse.

Intimate ceremony at Harmony Gardens

I loved them all, or to be completely honest, almost all –  but some of the most appealing ceremonies for me, included those with children, and even a few with expecting parents. Including kids in the ceremony is something I feel strongly about. For couples with children, whether from previous marriages, with children from the two of them, or any combination -  this big day is also about the kids. While its fine for a niece or nephew, having your own child be a flower girl or ring bearer doesn’t feel like quite enough. So, with these couples I make lots of suggestions, and many of them really like the idea of saying vows to the children, if they are old enough to understand.

Photo by Garth Woods

I fondly recall the pregnant bride and her partner who performed the sand ceremony including a tiny little container of sand representing their future child. It was incredibly sweet.

I’ve written about interesting locations and I had a couple who got married at the Kemmerer Museum in Bethlehem, another other at Steel Stacks, and one on the balcony at the Inn at Jim Thorpe.

Another sand ceremony on the balcony at Jim Thorpe

I’ve had several military brides and grooms, and I always want to acknowledge that in meaningful ways.

I have a New Year’s Eve wedding coming up. It’s a great choice for a wedding date –creating a double celebration. They clearly have a built-in theme.

There was the Russian/Ukrainian couple, the Jamaican couple, the salsa-dancing couple, and the nature-oriented ceremony with lots of Celtic influences.

Bread & salt ritual

But you don’t have to be ‘different’ in any way to be special and worthy of the very best and beautiful wedding possible. Every couple in love deserves a great ceremony and every couple has their own journey to celebrate. Sometimes that journey is surprising and sometimes it is simple. Sometimes it is complex and sometimes, easy. But anyone taking the leap of faith that is marriage is undertaking a huge commitment that warrants close attention to detail.

I have had many couples who expressed that they were quiet, or homebodies, and didn’t want a big fuss, and together we came up with the right approach. Because still, within the quiet there is commitment and love. And as the expression goes, ‘still waters run deep.’




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In good times or bad…

A great venue!

One of the best things about being a Celebrant is working with wonderful couples who love each other and see good things in the future. But how do we reconcile love and goodness, when bad things happen around us?

It’s helpful to remember that people have tied the knot during wartime, through military deployments, through sickness and separation, and all sorts of adversity. People fell in love in the Warsaw ghetto and under fire in Kosovo. And of course, like my parents, many couples married before their husbands deployed during WWII. Love finds a way.

If you are someone struggling with the state of the world, it can be difficult to remember there is goodness, too. And yet, people still fall in love, and that is a beautiful thing. It might raise the question: is a big wonderful wedding appropriate? I say: yes! Celebrate love!

As in most things in life, it’s all about balance. You can be concerned with the state of the world, and you can give yourself permission to have a wonderful wedding celebration.

Here’s are few ideas you may find inspiring to combine a desire for a better world, with the indulgence of a wedding.

A view with meaning.

Consider dedicating a shower, engagement party, or even a part of your wedding to a cause that is close to your heart. Choose groups that represent your values, but be sure it is something all of your guests can get behind.

Find a venue that does good in your community, such as a library, the “Y”, or a social service agency that has a space you can rent. I know this is a difficult one, but it is possible. They may be surprised, but welcome your financial contribution, and the attention you draw to their cause.

Include some words about your views on life in the ceremony and through your choice of favors. There are countless quotes and inspirational sources to reflect your values. Or perhaps include a promise to help make a better world along with your promise (your vow) to each other.

Choose small local businesses for your vendors. There are some companies like Give that create delicious goodies and are socially and environmentally conscious. Or Tom’s Shoes – they provide shoes, water, and other services to people in need – so be sure to pick some up for your attendants.

And instead of a gift registry, have a charity registry, or include it along with the gift options.

There are many websites that address eco and sustainable weddings, but I’m proposing more than that. I recently found who have a searchable database for what they call ‘do-gooder’ vendors, although it’s not exactly Pocono oriented.

Be bold, be honest, speak out. I’m not suggesting you turn your wedding into a political rally (although that could be cool). There is a time and place for everything, and a wedding can be a place to include your perspective. Getting married is one of life’s most important milestones, therefore it is worthy of your deepest deliberation.

                THANK YOU Lisa Rhinehart for all the gorgeous photos. 


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Another look at the Knot

Did you ever wonder where they expression ‘tying the knot’ came from?  I thought I’d take a good closer look at the ancient ritual that inspired the well-known phrase.

There are a few different explanations of this Celtic ritual, also called handfasting. The basic action is simply using rope, cloth, or ribbons, to wrap (sometimes tied and knotted) around the joined hands or wrists of the couple. A clear symbol of unity.

Conveniently we forget the history that tells us handfasting was originally used for an engagement, not marriage. But it really does make an excellent wedding ritual, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

Photo Credit: The Pros

Back to the history. When we look at the origins of this, we are looking at pre-Christian traditions that fall into many categories: Pagan, Wiccan, Goddess, and Nature-inspired worship and practices. Don’t let that be a stumbling block if you like the symbolism. The reason most couples like this today is because it comes from the ancient Celtic people, who lived in the area that is now Ireland (and parts beyond). For this reason we can call it an Irish tradition. It has become more mainstream and can certainly be performed for Christian couples who might otherwise be put-off by those Pagan roots. Prince William and Kate Middleton were handfasted at their wedding in Westminster Abbey so I think we’re good to go!

My research about the original intent, the engagement ritual, points to the idea of two people being ‘bound’ in a union to last for a year and a day. Sounds like a trial marriage, which seems like a good idea, if you ask me. It gave the couple the chance to see if they could survive marriage. After the year, the couple could either split up, as if they had never been married, or could decide to enter permanently into marriage.

Photo Credit: Garth Woods

Today it has definitely become a wedding ritual. And, if you are a practicing Wiccan or Pagan, it can be the actual legal action of marriage. Depending on the state where the handfasting is performed, and whether or not the officiant is a legally recognized minister (or Wiccan priest) the ceremony itself may be legally binding, or couples may choose to make it legal by also having a civil ceremony. Because of the beauty of our Constitution we all have the right to practice any religion we want, so if it truly is your religious belief, it is then a legal act. But please, people, do the legal license!

There are countless variations to this ritualistic action. Usually after the declaration of intent, the “I do” party, the couple joins hands, sometimes crossing their own hands at the wrists, and then holding hands with one another (making the sign of infinity). Some traditions say to only join your right hands together. Once the cloth is gently wrapped or loosely tied some words are said. When I do a modern version of this I often have the couple take their vows while handfasted, and then unwrap the cloth.

For actual Wiccan ceremonies, the four elements of the earth are incorporated into the handfasting. There are many sources to find ancient wording if that is what you’re looking for, but most often I want to have a modern spin.

The rope or cloth you choose can be anything you like, and it can wrapped by the officiant, or a special person or person of your choice. I love that because it’s another great way to get others involved in the ceremony. I once had both mothers of the couples do the honors.

Photo Credit: Garth Woods

The most important advice I can give a couple is to make sure family will be ok with this. If you love the ritual but it would offend family, please skip it. There are many other wonderful rituals to honor Irish heritage. A marriage always is about more than just the couple – it is about families as well.

Now, when you tie the knot, you’ll now know a little more about it.


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Navigating the complexities of interfaith weddings

I perform quite a few interfaith wedding ceremonies. Finding someone versed in this can be difficult and I’m proud to say I think I do a great job. But what exactly does this even mean?

Many people think of an interfaith wedding as a Jewish/Christian one. But it can be almost any combination. I have performed Buddhist/Catholic, Jewish/Hindu, Muslim/Christian, and countless other combinations of faith traditions. It’s not surprising since there are more Muslims in the United States today than there are Jews, that we are seeing more and more Muslim/Christian marriages. It is also worth noting that I have officiated for people within different Christian denominations who considered theirs to be interfaith.  Is a Protestant/Catholic wedding interfaith? It is, if you think it is.

An older photo of me officiating a Catholic/Buddhist wedding

Many pastors, rabbis and imams will not even consider performing these marriages. And I respect that. Those who do, tend to focus more on their own faith, probably without realizing it, and thus forfeit the balance that is required for such a ceremony.

Along with finding someone to perform their marriage, the couple may face many other obstacles. They may experience ostracism from their family, or group, while other do find acceptance, especially if their partner is within the Judeo-Christian tradition, or the Abrahamic religions. When Jews, Christians or Muslims marry into Buddhist, Sikhs, Jain, or Hindu traditions it is often not the religion itself that causes conflicts, but the ethnicity of their partner, combined with the lack of knowledge of these religions.

Most couples marrying outside their faith are not very religious to begin with, otherwise they probably would not be doing so. But their families may be more religious than them and need to be honored and respected.

Signing the Katubah

I am currently working with a couple with one partner who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and no longer practices.  Because of the strict dogma of this sect, his mother will not attend his wedding. That is very sad to me. This can happen with any interfaith relationship.

Clearly there are many negatives that couples experience, when trying to figure out how to have their wedding, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Finding the beauty from both traditions, by including quotes, passages or rituals from each, creates a fascinating and meaningful experience. Respecting and honoring the families of both partners is another key to a successful ceremony. For example, sharing of wine is a strong symbol in both Judaism and Christianity, but would not be at all acceptable for a Muslim. You may use an interfaith Katubah, the Jewish marriage contract that is often also a work of art.

Married under a 'Chuppah"

Inclusive language is important. A Muslim cannot agree to pray in the name of Jesus or even to ‘God the Father,’ nor can a Jew, but all can call upon God. This needs very careful navigation. There are many words for God, such as: Spirit, Almighty, Creator, Lord, and the Divine. Or perhaps the ‘Universe,’ or ‘Universal Life Force’ is a better fit.  And some people simply prefer not to name it at all.

Another option is to have no mention of religion at all. A secular or civil ceremony can still be full of meaning and content. There are other ways to imbue it with a sense of spirituality and awe. But in the end, we are celebrating the couple and their love and commitment, and what can be better than that?


THANK YOU Lisa Rhinehart for all the gorgeous photos. Lisa was chosen as one of the top 50 wedding photographers world-wide. 


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Wedding Photography – for now and the future

There are two framed photos that grace the walls of my home – my parents wedding and my husband’s parents wedding. I treasure these and enjoy them immensely. They are the World War II generation and both our fathers are wearing their uniforms. These photos tell quite a story.

My parents wedding photo.

Your wedding is an important story, and we all know weddings can be an expensive undertaking. There are many ways to prioritize your budget. I hope photography is one that is at the top of your list. Even an elopement is worthy of beautiful photographs.

In our digital world everyone can take photos and who doesn’t have thousands of them filling up our hard-drives? I’m here to make the case for hiring a great photographer along with having actual prints made.

A wonderful moment caught beautifully

A true professional will capture images that most of us simply cannot even see. It’s not the equipment, although that helps, it’s the ‘eye’ and the ‘art.’  You may have a family member or friend with all the good equipment, but if they are not a professional, do they really have what it takes?

Asking a friend to take your photos is like asking one of your guests to help serve the meal. A guest is a guest. Neither should your father, uncle or aunt officiate your wedding. Unless they are professionals with experience, leave these two important jobs to people who truly know how to make it an amazing and meaningful experience.

A formal group shot.

When choosing a photographer, take the time to look through their work. Some take lots of formal shots and others go with a more photo-journalist route – the ‘capture the moment’ approach. One of my favorites always surprises me with the moments he’s caught, while I never even noticed his presence.  I think a combination of these approaches is really perfect. Capture those special unguarded moment, without the pasted-on smile, but also get group shots and portraits. Sometimes these are the only photos future generations can reference.

I have seen the results of having a friend or family member (who is not a professional) take pictures, and sometimes it is not pretty. Out of focus, heads chopped off, squinting faces.

Another great 'capture the moment'

Professionals have cameras costing thousands of dollars, as well as carrying a back-up camera in case anything goes wrong. For a bigger budget there can be two photographers covering everything.  They also carry a variety of lenses, flash guns, lights, spare batteries, memory cards and a whole host of other technical stuff. But as I already stated – you are paying them not only for this gear, but for their art, their hard work and time spent both on sight and editing afterwards, along with a lifetime of training and experience.

While getting ready for that posed shot... there's this!

In our modern world, most photographers send the couple a link to all the digital images and the couple can choose what they want to do with that. I encourage you to get at least a few high-quality prints made. Digital images can easily be forgotten or lost to the dreaded computer crash. Prints will be part of your home, to be handed down generation to generation – even after formats change.

Years ago, I found some footage of my family that was on an old home movie format, and had them converted to video-tape; then I had that converted to DVD. What will happen when there are no DVDs left?  Technology is forever changing… but a print, like a painting, just is what it is.

As with all of life’s milestones, we are left with memories, and those memories can be best kept in the real world. Consider it a gift to the future.


THANK YOU Lisa Rhinehart for all the gorgeous photos. Lisa was chosen as one of the top 50 wedding photographers world-wide. 


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The Bride Wore Black - Breaking with Tradition

I write often about reimagining traditions, and switching things up. There are almost no rules regarding weddings. What few rules there are, I’ll explain in a minute. But as to breaking the rules – here’s a great example: brides – you do know you don’t have to wear white, right?

So many of our wedding traditions seem etched in stone, but are really nothing more than customs, habits, conventions and even folklore. Sometimes it’s fun to break the rules, but which ones?

I would not encourage anyone to break with the tradition of saying their vows or exchanging rings, although, technically speaking, this is not required, at least under Pennsylvania law. Remember, marriage is controlled by the states, and each state does it a little differently.  It is, however, ‘generally accepted wisdom’ that the couple should agree (the “I do” part) and exchange words of promise to finalize the marriage. The other element, again, not required in PA, but feels essential, is the pronouncement. I feel pretty strongly everyone should include vows and that I pronounce the couple as married.

When you say yes, and put it in words, you put out into the universe, and this is powerful. Saying something out loud, rather than just thinking it, truly is different for most everything. You may think something nasty about someone you dislike, but saying it – that’s a whole different story. With vows, it helps create change inside you, and that is exactly what a ceremony is meant to do. If a couple has some kind of problem with this, I’ll explore it with them and see what we can come up with, while still having them publically acknowledge their intent. One groom I worked with stuttered and was nervous about speaking his part out loud, so they decided to speak the vows together, in unison. That worked beautifully. I loved it and more importantly, so did they.

Think about this: vows often say something like ‘for as long as we both shall live,’ yet the legal system does not forbid you from divorcing just because you said that. In the same way, in civil marriage, meaning under the law (not in a religious sense) you are not required to make that promise. You sign papers; it is a legal agreement, and it can be legally un-done. But since almost all couples marry because they are in love, they really do want to make that promise to each other, and that is a beautiful, wonderful, joyous and amazing thing. Love is the best!

The law simple defines who is legal in each state to officiate, and that the legal person be present to witness the couple declare their intent, and then sign and return the marriage license. In Pennsylvania, there are no other witnesses required. People are very surprised by this, but it’s true. This makes PA a great place to elope!

Another tradition for vows, is that the groom goes first; but why? I’m guessing there is no reason other than men being given preference. There really is no compelling reason what-so-ever, and as I’ve often noted, same-sex marriages are teaching us a lot of about our gender assumptions.

Speaking of gender roles, the bridesmaids/groomsmen thing is getting an overhaul as well, with many couples having both men and women stand by them. Choosing your attendants (as I prefer to call them) based on your relationship with them, not their gender, is great! Many a bride wants her brother or other man to stand by her, and conversely, the same is true for a groom.

Back to that white dress…. Most women do want one, but those I’ve seen who broke with that tradition were beautiful brides, too, and still, in the end, they were married!



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Some sweet things that are not cake!

Some of the sweetest moments in weddings I’ve officiated did not come from the mind of me – but from the couples’ themselves. That is the beauty of celebrant work – it’s about listening to those we represent and making sure they are heard. At each ceremony, I consider myself their voice. I create a script based on that idea, but some stories are especially memorable, and I’d like to share a few of those very touching moments.

Recently I got to read from read a letter written by the groom’s mother. Knowing she would not make it to the wedding before she died, she wrote them a wonderful, heartfelt and savvy letter. I was honored to read excerpts from it. But wanting to be sure to have the balance I always seek, I asked for some advice from the bride’s side of the family to include as well. This was appreciated. Now, I did facilitate that part, but those meaningful moments in the ceremony came directly from the family, and you can be sure it was very moving.


People will differ on ways to honor those who have passed, some people find it too sad or feel it inappropriate for a wedding. There’s no right or wrong answer to this, but I think it’s important, so I always suggest a few ideas on how to do this. I want them to at least think about it and have the choice. The most inspiring part of a remembrance in the ceremony are the anecdotes. A great example is the story of the deceased grandfather who gave up his corporate job to become an artist – the family loved hearing about this.

On the lighter side, another special ceremony completely inspired by the couple was what I’d call a Disney wedding (not the location – but Disney inspired). The challenge is always figuring out just how far to go with something like this. I created a special final blessing for them, and I think I managed to hit all the right notes with quotes from their favorite Disney characters.

A couple who had a wine box ceremony added their own sweet touch. This is the ritual where the couple puts a bottle of wine and sometimes letters to one another into a box for the future. This couple asked if their parents could also write letters to add to the box.  I thought it was a wonderful idea. The box should be opened, wine drunk and letters read, on an anniversary or if the couple hits a rough patch. It’s meant to remind them of the love that brought them together.

Another couple had all of their guests create little versions of their sand ceremony as a keepsake. They were a same-sex couple and rather than just the usual two colors for each of them, they used all the colors of the rainbow for the sand. I still have mine!

Sometimes the couple comes up with their own interesting or unusual selections for readings, and that is always very welcome. I recently included an excerpt from the opera Einstein on the Beach – the one entitled Lovers on a Park Bench. This was previously unknown to me, but they were fans. The words are tender and touching.

Samuel M. Johnson: Lovers on a Park Bench

Two lovers sat on a park bench, with their bodies touching each other, holding hands in the moonlight.

There was silence between them. So profound was their love for each other, they needed no words to expres

s it. And so they sat in silence, on a park bench, with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight.

Finally, she spoke. “Do you love me?” she asked. “You know I love you, darling,” he replied. “I love you more than tongue can tell. You are the light of my life, my sun, moon and stars. You are my everything. Without you, I have no reason for being.”

Again there was silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench, their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight. Once more she spoke. “How much do you love me?” she asked. He answered: “How much do I love you? Count the stars in the sky. Measure the waters of the oceans with a teaspoon. Number the grains of sand on the sea shore. Impossible, you say?”

A reading like this takes a special reader, and it was beautiful to see it done right.  Remember that you can inspire any ceremony you are lucky enough to be a part of – all it takes is some thoughtful honesty. Dig deep.




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Military Weddings – I salute you!

I’ve had the honor of officiating for many service members, active duty, reserve or veteran. When speaking with the engaged person (most often a man, but I’ve had several women service members, too) I also ask them about their families. It’s not uncommon that those serving are following in the footsteps of parents and/or grandparents.

I want to honor their service in meaningful ways – whether Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

I like to include something in the ceremony recognizing their service along with some history of the family and even guests, if applicable. I want to go beyond ‘thank you for your service,’ which has become so clichéd as to have little meaning left. The sacrifices any service member makes, along with their partner and family, deserves to be honored. It’s who they are and because a wedding is a celebration not only of the love the couple share, but their individuality as well, it’s part of the journey worth telling.

The tradition of having the attendants or ushers create an arch for the newlyweds to pass through is a well-known. It is the highlight of any military wedding and a great visual. It’s not mandatory but certainly memorable, but many couples are not lucky enough to have a large enough group to pull this off, unless getting married on base.

The arch can be swords, sabers or rifles. However, for swords and sabers it has to be performed by commissioned officers, since they are the only one’s permitted to carry them. Enlisted personnel, however, can form the arch with rifles. Military personnel who do not bear arms simply salute.

The wedding arch honors differs slightly among the branches of the Armed Forces, but usually the person most senior in rank commands, “Draw swords,” and of course, they do. Their swords raised, they touch tips with blades facing away from the couple, to form that arch under which the couple will pass.

After the newlyweds recess under the arch, the senior usher commands, “Return swords”.

All members of the bridal party wait until the swords are returned to their scabbards before they proceed. Only the bride and groom pass under the Arch of Swords!

Not every service person wears their uniform for the wedding but I must say I think a groom does look great in uniform for his wedding! The uniform is white in summer or dress blues in winter, and a bride she may choose her ceremonial uniform as well, but many choose a traditional wedding dress.

For invitations use the military person’s rank if it is captain or higher in the Army and lieutenant senior grade or higher in the Navy.

It is also traditional for the wedding cake to be cut with a saber or other type of military sword. Be careful with that!

Here’s a tip: boutonnieres are not put on uniforms, but a bride can carry a bouquet even is she’s wearing her uniform.

Another nice detail is to use dog tags either attached to the bouquet, for a photo with your rings or in some other creative way.

Incorporating flags is an obvious choice  – the US Flag, of course, but also those specific to the branch of service. Perhaps the flags from the branches of the service would be nice on tables.

Patriotic touches are more than appropriate as well. I had one military couple (both bride and groom were serving) who used a red, white and blue theme and had confetti cannons shot off for the recessional instead of the saber arch.

The official colors of the Armed Services are as follows, so you know what to do!

Army  – Black & Gold

Navy – Blue & Gold

Air Force – Ultramarine Blue & Gold

Marines – Scarlet & Gold

Coast Guard – White, and shades of blue and red known as CG Blue and CG Red

To our engaged members of the military: I salute you!

THANK YOU Lisa Rhinehart for all the use of your fabulous photography

Todays column also includes some great photos by Nereida Castillo


Posted in Ceremonies and Celebrations, Pocono Weddings, Wedding Ceremonies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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