Proud uncle prepares to solemnize a family wedding

July 31, 2004|By ROB KASPER

WELLESLEY, Mass. - Today I marry my nephew.

Let me rephrase that. Late this afternoon, barring a hurricane or a bad case of nerves, I will "solemnize" the marriage of my nephew Jeremy and his intended, Kate Beattie, in a ceremony just outside Boston.

It is not a career change. Pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 207, Section 39 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the legal avenue that authorizes this procedure in the Bay State, my role as a "solemnizer" expires at midnight. I am a "marrying man" for one day, one wedding.

To earn this honor, I had to fill out a form, and my brother, the groom's father and a Massachusetts resident, had to write a letter to the Secretary of the Commonwealth attesting to my long-standing relationship with my nephew, my years of studying theology in college and to my high moral fiber.

The state of Massachusetts studied the letter and said it wanted $25. I sent in the money and got a form affixed with the Great Seal of the Commonwealth, which will be presented along with the marriage license to the town clerk, and everything, I am told, will be official.

This saga began months ago when my sister-in-law called with the news that my nephew and his bride-to-be wanted me to officiate at their wedding. Like many members of the family, I was delighted that the couple was getting married, and further delighted that the wedding was to be held in Wellesley, and not Fairbanks, Alaska, where the couple resides.

In addition to being a long haul from Baltimore, Fairbanks strikes me as alarmingly outdoorsy. There it is not uncommon, I have been told, to have a moose wander into your yard, devour your apple tree, then lounge on your porch. At least that happened to my nephew.

In his time in Alaska, my nephew, a graduate student at the University of Alaska, has held a variety of jobs in the great outdoors. One job, monitoring water flow at remote locales, required him to get "bear defense training." That meant learning to shoot a shotgun. His bride-to-be has also prowled the wilds, collecting grasshoppers and rare plants for various research projects.

They are, in other words, not the kind of people who pine for a church wedding with great pomp and ceremony presided over by a bishop. Instead they chose to write their own vows and get married in a simple, personal, outdoor ceremony at my brother's house.

In Baltimore, my family's reaction to my selection as a wedding solemnizer was not overwhelmingly enthusiastic. My older son, a recent college graduate, shook his head and muttered, "That's weird." My younger son, a college sophomore, shrugged off the news but later got worried that I might use the occasion to recycle my supper-table sermons on what is wrong with the youth of today.

My wife, my inspiration, my help mate, my companion for 33 years of marriage, immediately stated, "You can't have anything to drink!" That is pretty good advice, according to Rae Meadows, who last month presided over the wedding of her sister, Susannah, to Darin Strauss at the Oldfield Outfitters Club in Okatie, S.C.

Meadows, a copy writer for People magazine, is now also a minister in the Church of Spiritual Humanism, a credential she obtained online from the Web site, spiritualhumanism.org.

According to the site, the church is a nonprofit religious organization in Jenkintown, Pa., that believes in fusing "traditional religious behaviors onto the foundation of scientific humanist inquiry." Since requirements on who can preside over a wedding vary from state to state, the group's Web site recommended checking with the office that issues marriage licenses in a locality before proceeding with a wedding.

After her research found she could legally officiate at her sister's South Carolina wedding, Meadows held meetings with the couple to draft their vows. Her sister is an editor and writer at Newsweek, and her new brother-in-law is a novelist. The ceremony went through several rewrites, Meadows said, adding that many of her original high and mighty thoughts and polysyllabic words ended up in the wastebasket.

"It was fun," she said, describing the ceremony in a brief telephone interview, "and it was very personal." A major challenge of the job, she said, was being heard. The wedding was held outside and as the ceremony commenced, a storm approached. The rain held off, but the wind blew. Meadows, the rookie reverend, had to shout to be heard.

In my wanderings, I learned that there are now trained non-denominational professionals that couples can hire to preside over their weddings. One group, based in Montclair, N.J., is Celebrant USA Foundation and Institute (celebrantusa.org).

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