I conducted my first wedding ceremony recently. As a Notary Public in the State of Florida, you can perform such a service, and we are but one of three states that permit this (the other two are South Carolina and Maine). I became a Notary a couple of years ago as it comes in handy to process legal paperwork, but I had never imagined doing a wedding service. Earlier this year, a young friend approached me about doing a service for a friend of hers. At first I was startled by the request, but then said, "Why not?"
I take the institution of marriage rather seriously and figured I would not treat it as frivolously as some people do. As such, I sat down with the bride-to-be and had a heart-to-heart talk with her about why she wanted to get married. We talked for quite a long time. I discussed my marriage, which has lasted over 30 years so far, and the sacrifices, compromises and challenges involved. We also openly talked about religion, children, finances, commitment, even pets. After a lengthy discussion, she came to understand my point-of-view and I became convinced of her love and commitment to her fiancé who was just being transferred to another state as part of his job. As an aside, I wish someone would have consulted me in this manner prior to my wedding in order to solidify my intentions. Only after we felt comfortable with each other did she ask me if I would perform the ceremony for her. I informed her this would be my first such ceremony, but I would put forth my best effort for her.
Several months passed and the bride kept me updated of schedules. During this time I located a simple wedding oath that complies with Florida regulations. It was hardly lengthy, but quite respectable nonetheless. The whole service would take less than ten minutes to perform which made me a little nervous as I tend to think of traditional weddings in terms of at least an hour to perform, but such was not the case and certainly not what the couple wanted.
We conducted a rehearsal on the day before the wedding at the site, which was a prominent hotel located on Tampa Bay. The practice was held late in the day at approximately the same time it was to be held on the following day. It was here that I met all of the relatives, bridesmaids and groomsmen. The service was to be held on a private beach of limited size (approximately 30' X 60') which, at the time, still had beach chairs on it and two Corn Toss games in the middle of it. I tried to imagine how over 100 people would be seated on the beach, and if they would be playing Corn Toss during the ceremony. The wedding coordinator from the hotel assured me everything would be cleared and setup appropriately for tomorrow's service.
The rehearsal went off without a hitch and under ten minutes, much to the delight of the wedding coordinator and the bride and groom. My only concern was the prospect of the couple tearing up during the service as they warned might happen during the rehearsal (and did). Note to self: bring a pack of tissues tomorrow in case the waterworks get out of hand.
On the day of the wedding, my wife and I arrived an hour early so I could prepare myself and get the necessary paperwork in order. The reception was to be held immediately afterwards next to the hotel pool where staff was busy making last minute preparations. It was a beautiful Florida fall day with a slight sea breeze coming in off the water. Frankly, it was picture perfect, everything was in order, and attendees began to arrive for the ceremony.
As part of the service, the couple had two large bulldogs which were important to the family. One was dressed to represent the groom and sported a top hat, the other represented the bride and wore a light dress. My fear was that the dogs wouldn't behave properly or perhaps have an "accident" in front of the audience, which was a horrible mental image I worried about. Fortunately it was not to be, and the audience found them to be a rather charming addition to the wedding party.
As for me, a lot of people knew this was my first wedding service and kept asking me if I was nervous. Now I'll admit I would like to see the service come and go without any flaws, but having spoken in front of many audiences over the years, I hardly suffered from any stage fright. I just wanted to do my part as dignified as possible. As is common for Florida beach weddings, the wedding was somewhat casual in nature. Although the bride wore a beautiful white dress, the groom wore a comfortable Tommy Bahama outfit, also in white. The groomsmen and bridesmaids were quite casual as well, as were the dogs who behaved admirably. However, as the official in charge of the ceremony I resisted the temptation to go too casual and wore a suit and tie instead, thereby denoting an authoritative figure which I felt was important.
At the designated time, the service began and I took my position at the front of the audience on the beach who were seated in organized chairs in front of me. To my left was the groom and his groomsmen, along with the bulldog wearing a top hat. The bridesmaids then came down separately as is customary and positioned themselves to my right, with the other dog in tow. The bride was then escorted down the aisle by both her mother and father. I could see some slight moisture in her eyes and I reached in my pocket to check for the tissues.
We then began the service and I methodically delivered it speaking slowly but somewhat loudly as the acoustics were less than ideal on the beach. As we came to the portion of the ceremony for the couple to exchange rings and say, "I give you this ring as a token and pledge of our constant faith and abiding love," I could see the waterworks beginning to erupt, first the bride, then the groom. I went to reach for the tissues in my pocket but it was too late. I then quickly issued my pronouncement that the couple was legally wedded and invited the groom to kiss his bride, which surprisingly wasn't too hard for me to sell. The audience sprung to its feet and applauded. The wedding party then withdrew in an orderly procession and I concluded the ceremony.
Interestingly, several people in attendance assumed I was either a minister or holy man. I was receiving handshakes and nods of approval from different people much how I had seen people talk to members of the clergy after a church service. I relished the mistaken identity for a few moments, but then burst their bubble when I lit up a cigar and ordered a scotch from the bar. It was then that I began to overhear people saying, "You mean Notaries can marry people here in Florida?"
Towards the end of the evening, when my wife and I decided to depart, I stopped to talk to the newlyweds one last time. As I gave them their paperwork signed and sealed, I implored them to be good to each other, in good times as well as in bad. I also admonished them, "When a Bryce marries you, you stay married." Being a Notary Public is one thing, taking the institution of marriage seriously is something else. I would like to believe I was successful in my debut.
Keep the Faith!
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Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.