The Rev. Amanda Larsen recommends several considerations for couples about to marry, including pre-marital counseling, a wedding coordinator and professional photographer.
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP The Rev. Amanda Larsen recommends several considerations for couples about to marry, including pre-marital counseling, a wedding coordinator and professional photographer.

Marriage is not for the faint of officiants.

“I had my first fainter last year,” recounted the Rev. Amanda Larsen, pastor at Wykoff United Methodist and Lanesboro United Methodist Church. She added, sometimes, in the middle of marrying two people, one just has to learn how to play “catch” in a big hurry.

And it’s all part of the job.

Larsen, who has a penchant for planning ahead and keeping things at a wedding efficient yet representative of a couple’s quirks, has officiated at “somewhere between 40 and 50” weddings since she was ordained. The number she takes on each year “depends on the year…one year, I had eight,” she added.

Gathering people together for the first wedding she’d ever performed was a different experience.

She explained, “I was surprised at how short weddings are. It all went so fast. They take 25 to 30 minutes. It was incredibly helpful to have a seasoned wedding coordinator working with me.”

Larsen added she advocates for couples to hire a wedding coordinator – it makes everything so much smoother.

“Weddings without a coordinator tend to get off schedule, and it’s the same for ones without a professional photographer,” Larsen said.

She offered an example and a hint, for starters. “Outdoor weddings should always have a backup plan,” Larsen said. “Buy more bottled water than you think you’ll possibly need, and have a plan to keep it cold. If nothing else, put a stack of cups next to a sink or hose.”

Getting used to the idea that she stands at the front of the church – instead of sitting in the pews with the guests – didn’t take long for her.

“Before I did weddings as an officiant, I really disliked weddings because they felt so canned and didn’t generally represent the personality of the couple,” Larsen said. “As the officiant, I get to make that happen, and I think weddings become more meaningful for everyone. It’s rewarding when a ceremony is unique to the couple.”

Unique ceremonies

The word “unique” carries with it several different definitions, beginning with a couple’s wedding theme and continuing to how a ceremony actually happens.

“I worked with one couple that had a ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ theme,” the pastor recalled, adding she’s also officiated at weddings where the plans were short-notice but the participants so very sincere that they were among the most memorable.

“I did one legal ceremony with just the bride and groom and two witnesses. The rest of the family was there over Skype. The next year, we had a huge party and created a ceremony that was just right for them and everyone involved,” she added.

Larsen likes to be able to get to know the bride and groom before everyone stands before the congregation – be it one where everyone’s got a little Minecraft habit or one where there are just two people and their best friends – because she feels it’s important to guide them to find out whether they are truly invested in one another’s well-being.

“I strongly prefer to do weddings when I have the chance to do premarital counseling. It’s really helpful and actually pretty fun,” she said. “With about 10 percent of the couples, I recommend they see a specialist because they have things they ought to work on with someone who has the specific skill set.”

The results of couples heeding her suggestions have varied results, as she’s witnessed people who she thought would grow old together find separate ways, and people she felt weren’t meant to pick up each other’s dirty socks and share morning coffee thrive as couples and families.

“Some do, some don’t. I’ve been surprised at couples that didn’t make it and some that celebrated 10 years.” That said, sending the couple back down the aisle is when Larsen’s mind transitions from blessing the couple back to logistics. “I’m thinking about how to get everyone else back down the aisle well.”

Not everyone has a church home, but not everyone wants to take their nuptials to the county courthouse. Larsen has advice for those who would like to find someone to officiate their wedding.

“Some pastors don’t do non-church weddings, others do…I do. If a person is at a wedding and they like the officiant, remember that for the future,” Larson suggested. “It never hurts to ask. Officiants generally do charge for their services if they don’t know the bride and groom. The more they charge, the more the couple can expect of them.”

Officiant perks

Then there’s the somewhat awkward part of accepting “thank you” gifts if she has done a wedding for someone she knows. It’s not that she doesn’t most certainly appreciate the thought, but she’s gotten some unusual collectibles for her home by being the wedding officiant.

“I had one wedding where the gifts for the wedding party were actual weapons, and I’ve also received some pretty bizarre gifts for officiating…people tend to give the pastor the type of thing you’d give a grandmother,” Larsen said.

Reception food is one of the perks of helping couples get from the beginning of the day’s festivities to “I do.”

“I did a wedding for a couple with traditional Hmong foods and drinks,” Larsen recalled. “It was so yummy! Any wedding reception with the pickle, cream cheese and corned beef rolls gets a thumbs-up from me.”

Larsen advised that the best way to combine the words “marriage” and “wedding” are to do everything with careful thought and consideration for what the future might be, even if the bridesmaid on the end happens to have skipped breakfast and lunch so she could look extra svelte in that lime green concoction…and then lands in the lineup like a wayward domino.

“The preparation is more important than the ceremony itself. With counseling, ceremony logistical planning, a rehearsal and the ceremony, I spend about 10 hours with a couple,” Larsen concluded. “A person’s wedding speeds by. I try to say at least one thing that will stick with them for years. And the better I know them, the more likely their wedding will be unique to them.”