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Creating a nontraditional wedding
— By Jim Cornelius —

More and more couples are opting for nontraditional weddings — so many, in fact, that the terms “traditional,” “nontraditional” and “alternative” are losing their meaning.

“This is becoming the new traditional way,” said Rev. Sana Hayes, a Sisters interfaith

Hayes notes that couples today meet across divides of geography, social status, culture and religion. As an interfaith minister it is Hayes' role to bring together people of differing faiths and unite families across divergent cultures.

Some couples are simply looking for acceptance that they cannot find in orthodox traditions. Perhaps they have been cohabitating or have a child out of wedlock or are marrying after divorce. Some churches will not marry couples under such circumstances.

“They're looking for the non-judgement (instead of) what's happened before they called me,” Hayes said. “The traditional church has rules, and they're not finding the variability that they need.”

Often couples approach nontraditional weddings looking for ways to integrate their own religious traditions with other elements that resonate with them.

“They want to bring in elements of other cultures, not necessarily the culture they are born in,” said minister Terri Daniel.

According to Daniel, Native American and Celtic cultural references are quite popular among those seeking to reference “oneness” and “spirit” without overt religious content.
Alternative approaches can incorporate nontraditional clothing, locations in wilderness areas and different organizations of wedding parties. Many nontraditional ceremonies are crafted to incorporate children, weaving together mixed families. This can include the exchange of tokens among family members in addition to the traditional exchange of rings.
Such approaches don't imply a lack of respect for tradition and ceremony — quite the contrary. According to Sisters' nontraditional ministers, an alternative approach enables couples to utilize traditions and ceremony in a way that has deeper meaning for them than simple rote actions.

“Every action that's done in a ceremony has meaning,” Daniel said. Modifications to traditions “make those meanings more relevant for them in modern life, creating a symbolism that speaks to them.”

Nontraditional ministers seek to get couples to examine their symbolic and ceremonial choices to make sure the ceremonies they create really do bring meaning — whether it's the Jewish tradition of breaking a glass or a Native American calling of the four directions.
It is critical for couples who choose nontraditional weddings to be comfortable with their symbolic choices.

“It's their wedding,” said Unitarian minister Karly Lusby. “I am here to help create that for them.”

Lusby says that couples should be open to including elements in their ceremony that honor and respect family beliefs and traditions — but only as far as they are truly comfortable. Placating an intense relative may smooth things over in the short term, but in the long run it's not worth it if the compromise betrays a couple's own beliefs and desires.

“If you did something in your wedding that you really didn't want to do, it's going to bug you your whole life,” Lusby said.

Hayes finds that the actual experience of an alternative ceremony is much better for concerned family members than they expect. Sometimes they express relief and a surprised sense that the alternative approach turned out to be unexpectedly beautiful and meaningful.

“They're just expressing that it was way better than they thought it was going to be,” she said.

Discomfort among some family members is the biggest pitfall of nontraditional weddings, especially for younger couples. Other pitfalls are those that can affect any event: bad weather, mix-ups on food, drink, flowers.

Lusby notes that since many nontraditional ceremonies are set outdoors, it's important not to set yourself up for negative symbolism — like the wind (God?) blowing out the couple's candles.

“If you're superstitious, don't light candles outside,” she quipped.

All three ministers emphasize the importance of focusing on the true purpose of the day.

For Daniel, the worst pitfall is “freaking out about pitfalls instead of allowing them to happen.” Often, glitches turn out to be funny stories that add to the glow of the day.

Hayes reminds couples to focus on each other and their marriage, not just their wedding.
“Whatever happens, at they end of the day, they're married,” she said.

• Click here to visit our directory of Wedding Officants.

• Click here to visit our directory of Sisters Area Churches.


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