The request took me by surprise—my friends Jason and Hallie, who were engaged to be married, asked if I would do the honors and officiate their wedding. It was a flattering offer, to be sure, but I was momentarily speechless.
I’m not a priest, rabbi or minister of any sort. In fact, I hadn’t even been inside a church for at least 10 years, but no matter; Colorado is one of the few places in the country where anyone can formally and legally marry a couple simply by proclaiming them husband and wife with no further fanfare. This is a throwback to the frontier days when preachers weren’t always around when you needed them. Even today, the only requirements to certify your “I dos” are a signed marriage license and a check for $30 made out to the county clerk.
Of course I accepted—how can you say no to such an honor?—thinking that, at most, I’d be making more of a glorified toast than anything else. Plus, I had more than a year to prepare. That’s when Jason and Hallie threw me for the first loop. Set on edge by the stresses of planning a wedding, they opted to skip a year’s worth of anxiety and bickering and moved up the date. Jason called while I was in New York.
“It’s in three weeks,” he said.
Whatever tension and strain they spared for themselves now shifted to me. Even prior to the change of date, I’d begun to worry about what I’d gotten into. I mean, I’m marrying these two. Doesn’t that make me responsible for them? If they ended up divorced, would they blame me for not bestowing them with a good enough blessing? And what about the grandparents and other old folks who might expect a more typical wedding? More than I worried about Jason and Hallie, who are good enough friends that they would forgive most screw-ups, I pictured in my mind someone’s stern-faced grandmother scandalized by a freelance officiant who hasn’t a clue as to what he’s doing.
That’s when they dealt me another challenge. Meeting for drinks to discuss the ceremony, I found that they’d given it no thought whatsoever. Will there be music in the middle of the ceremony? Nah, probably not. Are there any special poems or passages they’d like friends to read? Not really. Any idea about how it should go—
“We’re not worried,” Hallie said. “You’ll do a great job.”
“Yeah, just be yourself,” Jason said. “Maybe tell some jokes.”
A few nights later, I was having dinner with a friend and her parents who were visiting from out of town. When I found out her father was a Lutheran minister, I barely let the man enjoy his meal: “In five days, I’m marrying two people who aren’t religious, who don’t want anything read from the Bible, who won’t be having any musical interludes, who don’t read or like poetry, and who don’t want any family or friends to speak or read during the ceremony. All I’ve got so far is ‘Dearly beloved,’ and ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife.’ You’ve got to help me.”
He took a sip of beer and nodded
“I’ve got just the thing for you,” he
And so it was that in less than an hour, I’d cut and pasted from eight or nine websites that resulted from my Google search for “secular wedding ceremonies.” Since most of the posts were from actual ceremonies, the document was filled with the names of random people: Bill and Martha, Tyler and Jill, Ivan and Tatanya. I carefully turned them all into Jasons and Hallies, added a few anectdotes of my own and voila!
I was ready to face grandma.
On the day of the wedding, I’d talked myself into a very fragile type of confidence. I’d gotten lots of support from friends, including the Lutheran minister, who told me it was virtually impossible to screw up a wedding.
“Weddings are easy,” he’d told me. “Everyone’s in a good mood. It’s the funerals that are hard.”
I’d also convinced myself that I’d be given a great deal of latitude by those in attendance. I clearly wasn’t a man of the cloth who was used to doing this sort of thing, but a friend of the happy couple. No one was expecting “I Have a Dream”-type oration from someone doing a favor for his buddies. It’s not like anyone else at the wedding had ever performed
Except, I soon discovered, that many of them had. Jason’s final curveball was the last-second revelation that practically every brother, cousin, nephew and uncle had officiated for other relatives, as if it were their own unique family hobby, like canning or breeding dogs.
“Yeah, we’ve all had a lot of practice at this sort of thing,” Jason’s dad said just before the music started and I was sent up the aisle to take my place before the congregation. “So this better be good.”
In the end, it was. The only moment of minor panic came when Hallie’s father walked her up the aisle and they stopped in front of me and just stared. Since they’d given the ceremony no thought whatsoever it hadn’t occurred to them to mention that we would be doing the traditional “giving away of the bride.” And I couldn’t remember her father’s name. Doug? Brad? Rob?
I rolled the dice. “Do you—Doug—present your daughter, Hallie, to be married to Jason?”
Doug did indeed, and the rest of the ceremony was smooth sailing. What jokes I was brave enough to include went off well, no one lost the rings at the critical moment and I didn’t slip up and leave a stray “Enrique” or “Juanita” in