“The rich man is always sold to the institution which makes him rich. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue.” Henry David Thoreau
“Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.” Mae West
Weddings are a social enigma. Proms imbue sweaty palms and awkward corsage pinning. Baby showers are filled with conversations that are equal parts Discovery Channel cringefest and birth control PSA. Hell, even children’s birthday parties come with cake, confetti, and conversation about the good ol’ days before doubling up and settling down were even in the picture. But weddings? I don’t care how many Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn buddy pics you force me to watch A Clockwork Orange-style with my eyes pinned open, I do not believe a single individual at a wedding actually wants to be there, excluding the bride and blood relatives whose genitals made the blessed day come to pass.
Which is why, when I found myself attending the wedding of Simon’s first love, I began to wonder about the stately two gentlemen standing at the front of the historic train station where the union was taking place. One spoke English, the other Spanish, to show the merging of the two cultures and to clarify any linguistic confusion for the relatives up from Mexico. The Spanish speaking officiant I later learned was the groom’s dad. The other gentleman, with his white beard, booming voice, and milquetoast jokes, was a different breed altogether. Following the ceremony and receiving line his wife, with her indifferent expression set in many layers of plum colored lipstick, hovered near the carving board.
“It’s cold in here,” I commented to no one in particular.
“I know. We’re in here a lot, that’s why I wore a jacket,” she responded.
It turns out that the English speaking officiant is somewhat of a regular in the Norman, Oklahoma wedding circuit, he’s been at the helm of quite a few events in that building, and many others across the tiny town. My immediate assumption was that he was a priest of some non-denominational variety.
“Oh, no,” his wife smiled her grape-stained smile. “He did that thing where you go online and get a certificate.”
The Internet has brought us many things. Hamster On A Piano. LOL cats. YouPorn. But a desire to officiate weddings? That’s a home-grown screw loosening right there. Unless you’ve been invited to marry your oldest friend, or to perform some sort of silly, sardonic, threat to the sanctity of marriage wearing nothing but a gorilla suit and a smirk, why, oh why, would someone outside of the cloth, any sort of cloth, choose to marry people?
The same reason why I find myself living in Oklahoma, begging anyone I meet for writing work. Money.
Weddings are big business, raking in an estimated $40 billion dollars annually. I don’t know if they factor in each tiny bottle of bubbles, but the average wedding in this country costs about $17,500. There are tons of boutiques, bakeries, and botanists who pay off their mortgages by tapping into the endless supply of women desperate to seem perfect, at least for one day. Personally, my exposure to wedding planning has left me slightly nauseated about the whole schpeel. I’d venture to call myself anti-marriage, even though the industry itself is what’s to blame for simply supporting the notion that you get “weddinged ,” not married. It’s a pretty simple perspective to reverse, but really, if I were ever to be stupid enough to enter some sort of conventional union, I’d at least make the ceremony a memorable one.
Simple civil ceremonies — the ones that are bare-bones, just-the-facts, firearm-in-the-title weddings — can be conducted by justices of the peace and are budget friendly alternatives, totaling somewhere between $50 and $100. Intern ministers, or retired clergymen, can charge up to $200, while an awesomely titled “professional celebrant” may cost up to $400 to marry you. According to the Bridal Association of America, the usual tally for a pastor is $263. There can be consultation fees, traveling fees, and rehearsal fees that pop up, kind of like unexpected charges on your cellphone bill. (Think of it as texting to God.) Seriously, though, this is supposedly the most important part of the whole ordeal, so I suppose it pays to pay a little more.
I like what one Chicago-area officiant said on his official site, “[T]here is a big difference between “price” and “cost.” If the ceremony gets messed up, the “cost” will be much greater than whatever “price” you paid the officiant.” His rates vary from $250 to $600. Of course, he also has two Bachelor’s Degrees from Wheaton College, and has been ordained since 1973, which makes it sound like he’s the Ferrari of ministers.
Again, the man who married my boyfriend’s first love was not a clergyman. He was a regular chap who decided to get ordained. Over the past few years I’ve known more and more couples who have chosen to have a friend or family member perform the ceremony. In order to do that, they go online and, just like the Norman wedding master, got ordained. This can be done on a few sites, including World Christianship Ministries and Rose Ministries, for fees as small as $30.00. (You can upgrade to a package with an ordination CD-ROM for $47.95.) But the most popular site used to ordain frat brothers, fraternal twins, and female friends from freshman year is the Universal Life Church.
ULC offers all kinds of services online, from ordination to online confession, even prayer requests. Their ordination applications are scanned for fraud, and they have a slew of information on the site to guide you through the process. As for their online store, well, you can get just about anything your newly ordained self could need, from $5.00 Ordination Credentials (“Beautiful 8.5 x 11 certificate with gold seal. Suitable for framing.”) to $45.00 Traditional Tab Blouses for women (“Tailored especially with your comfort in mind…”) to credit card-esque plastic wallet-sized credentials for $12.00. If you’re just in it for weekends filled with catering and smeared mascara, you can purchase the Ultimate Marriage Ministry Package for $119.95. It’s a $190 value, according to the website, and really, considering how much you can make on being a small town Universal Life Church minister, it’s the kind of investment that pays for itself, in both cash and a sense of community. After all, can you ever truly get tired of Pachelbel’s Canon?
SOMEWHAT DESPERATE PLEA TO READERS OF JERK ETHIC: Hey there. I don’t usually ask for much directly, I’m actually pretty stunned that you guys even read this blog at all. But following our arrival here in Norman I’ve discovered that my computer is pretty much reenacting the past ten years of Michael Jackson’s career, it crashes several times a day and yesterday the wire that connects it to the plug-charger-thing broke. I’ve had this Gateway 4540 ever since the summer following college, which makes it nearly six years old. It was a gift for graduating, which is awesome, but seeing that I’m not doing anything that requires receiving gifts any time soon, I’m asking you, dear readers, for help. If you or someone you know is getting rid of a computer and is looking to donate it and/or trash it, please write to me at AinsleyDrew at gmail dot com. I will pay for shipping. I’m not asking for donations of cash for a MacBook Air or anything crazy, because any money that comes in goes directly into our bills, but if someone you know is getting rid of a computer, there’s a short girl here in Oklahoma who could really, really use it. Thanks so much.
I do…like email. AinsleyDrew at gmail dot com.
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