I Do. Don’t I? 

At some point, a wedding switched from a rite to a right. Individualism trumps tradition and Facebook photos trump all.

click to enlarge back19_weddings.jpg

You may not be aware that it's wedding season if your career isn't linked to it. Let your ignorance be your bliss. This is my 20th nuptial season and I have a permanent eye twitch triggered by the thought. I used to love weddings. I think. Something about twin decades of "always a minister, never a bridesmaid" has changed my tune.

Twenty years ago these words were still part of Richmond weddings: baby's breath, classical flute and guitar, cake, parents, friends, I do. Even so, they weren't all halcyon days. I had to make a speech at every rehearsal dinner about how drunk attendants would be sent to spend the ceremony in the car. I had to remind soon-to-be mothers-in-law that their children will follow their stress lead, and that a gracious word and kind overlooking of that big nose zit on their groom son will go a long way toward making it a good day. I had to tussle with a few wedding coordinators and photographers on what is and isn't appropriate ceremony behavior, because back then some were certain that they were next in line to be pope. And I spent many an 85-degree day in itchy robes.

So, there are some blessings to progress. But Richmond weddings have morphed so much that the photographer, wedding coordinator and I now usually have a group hug before the ceremony to share prayerful words such as, "If I don't make it to the end, tell my family I loved them." At some point, a wedding switched from a rite to a right. Individualism trumps tradition and Facebook photos trump all. You never know when your perfect couple will go off a bridezilla cliff and suddenly, if that karaoke machine doesn't work, someone is losing their firstborn.

I've sewn brides into and cut them out of dresses. I've kept grooms from fainting or snotting on themselves. I've mediated colossal last-minute disputes and I've waited an hour and a half while eight months pregnant for a bride dressed as Scarlett O'Hara to arrive because the limo got lost. But at some point even a preacher's patience wears thin. This excerpt from my website, "Some of the reasons you DON'T want me to officiate your wedding or service of union," offers a glimpse of the delights of the season:

You care more about drinking, your clothes, the color of the invitations, and the honeymoon than you do about your ceremony. You want me to use the word "obey" in your partner's vows but not in yours. You have a 2-year-old you intend to make walk down the aisle on cue, looking angelic, and unescorted. You want me to pronounce you "Man and Wife." You want me to preach a 20-minute sermon during the service, do an altar call, and tell your guests they are going to hell for their beliefs concerning ultimate things, but wrap it up in time for the Jell-O shots. You don't believe anything religious but want to fake it in the service for the relatives.

Livestock or other members of the animal kingdom are involved in the ceremony (I'm really bad at this one). You want me to talk like the guy in "The Princess Bride." (And this.) Speaking of cinema, you plan to re-enact "The Hangover," "Hangover II," "Shrek" or "Bridesmaids." You really think this isn't going to last but it's too late to turn back now. Your parents will be planning the ceremony with me instead of you. You plan to write your own vows but deep down you know you're just gonna wing it on the big day and hope you don't nervously blurt "penis."

Sadly, every word of that is from experience.

All that said, there are wonderful developments in wedding ways of the River City.

This year I have six brides and four grooms who have been together a total of 42 years. They are gentle and kind with each other and me. They are in love. They want simplicity, authenticity and only their closest loved ones around them. They want services that reflect their hopes and values about their marriage and the blessing of love, and they're willing to help me write them.

My eye still twitches, however. I am sending negative energy to Washington's marriage bureau, which, after months, still hasn't processed my application for the double-bride fiesta. I have no idea what anyone's vows are. I must find my sleeping bag for one event at a state park. I'll be trolling consignment boutiques for outfits because the robes are rarely requested. And I need to co-write five meaningful services for 10 people, most of whom have never done this before — all of whom want this to be their last wedding.

Come end of season, Facebook will be full of photos of me with a real smile celebrating with beautiful couples who've taken up a special place in my heart. But with the corsages made of unbarbed cactus, the distant relative of the bride who wants to trap me by the spanakopita to share his alien-abduction stories, and the possibility of storms looming for every outdoor wedding still ahead of me, pardon me if I don't celebrate just yet. S

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Alane Miles is a hospice chaplain and host of "Death Club Radio" on WRIR-FM 97.3.

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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