I didn’t expect to be Celebrant for this wedding. It was to be held at the stunning Woodhill hall, Otterburn, Northumberland. A British wedding couldn’t really have been much further from where I live in West Wales without being in Scotland! Anyway, Tom and Jaclyn and I chatted online, and I explained what’s involved in a “Celebrant” wedding.
Jaclyn and Tom decided that a Celebrant would be perfect, since their legal wedding had to be in the USA. Knowing I’d have to ask for travel expenses, I gave them details of Celebrants based nearer their venue. I was thrilled, needless to say when they asked me to officiate. I was going to be involved with creating the perfect ceremony for the son of one of my sister’s dearest friends!
At the planning stage, we met again on Skype, since Jaclyn and Tom were still in the USA. Luckily for me, I was able to discover their “couple history” from their UK immigration statements. These read like romantic novels! Tom is from Newcastle – on – Tyne, and Jaclyn from South Carolina. They met in 2010, when Jaclyn had been persuaded to spend a Summer working in a New Jersey residential camp. On the first day, there was excitement about a guy who’d be returning to the camp way from Britain. This of course was Tom. He arrived later in the day, going down the line, hugging the previous year’s friends. Finally, his eyes settled on Jaclyn, shaking her hand he reassured her they’d also be hugging by Summer’s end. As I told the guests; “The hug came the next day, of course, and a kiss the day after that!”
Their love blossomed over Summer, and after the eight weeks were over, Tom went to meet Jaclyn’s parents and friends. Jaclyn visited Tom’s family over the Christmas break, quickly falling in love with them as well. The couple spent the following few years continuing with their education and careers whilst conducting their long-distance relationship.
Finally, Tom found a way to live and work alongside Jaclyn in Ecuador, on a two-year contract.
Back with Tom’s family on Christmas Eve 2015, Tom persuaded Jaclyn to go with him for a walk. He chose the route they always used for big conversations. I’ll let Jaclyn tell you the rest;
“While on our walk, Tom was unusually quiet and seemed preoccupied. As per usual, we discussed the state of our relationship. By then, we had been a couple for 5.5 years and Tom asked me if I was content with where we were in our relationship. I most certainly was, but when I asked him the same question, he said no. I was shocked and worried, but then Tom grabbed my hands and said, “I’m not content with you just being my girlfriend.” He got down on one knee (in the mud), held my hand, and continued to profess his love for me and the life we were creating together. When he asked me to marry him, we both had tears in our eyes, and I responded with an enthusiastic, “Absolutely!””
Little of this history was necessary at the wedding, since all of the guests knew it. Indeed, an important part of the ceremony was for Jaclyn and Tom to show their appreciation for the friends and family who gave them practical and moral support over the years of making their long-distance love work. They gave me a copy of the American wedding ceremony which had been conducted by a judge. It had been a charming, though generic, ceremony. The sentiments he expressed chimed with Tom and Jaclyn, so we used them within “our” ceremony, thus linking their legal and ceremonial wedding days.
Tom and Jaclyn wanted to focus on the “love, trust, faith and commitment”, which the judge had stressed in his ceremony. So, as their bridesmaids took turns to light four candles, I read a passage about each of these virtues, as Jaclyn and Tom saw them. Following this, bride and groom lit their own candle from the one representing “love”.
Since they’d already made their legal vows, Jaclyn and Tom elected to repeat a simple vow each before reading their own, very personal, expressions of love for each other. Not a dry eye was in the house!
The exchange of rings followed, then a beautiful reading, “Wild awake” by Hilary T. Smith.
The climax of this ceremony was the sheer romance of Jaclyn and Tom’s statements of love. But, it was by no means the end of it! They were keen to include friends and family in their ceremony, so I suggested a handfasting, using the framework of a “hoop and wand”. They threaded their hands through the hoop and clasped the wand. As I wove ribbons around the willow structure, three of their friends read the poem “these are the hands”. Then, the guests were invited up to tie on their own ribbons. Tom and Jaclyn sat down for this, so there was no hurry. It provided an ideal opportunity to meet, greet and congratulate. It also saved having a “receiving line” after the ceremony. The finished beribboned article was a triumph!
All that then remained was for Jaclyn and Tom to exchange their first kiss. They exited under a shower of confetti, all of which was made from petals, saved and dried by Tom’s Mum!
Despite being February, the weather was great for the photographs, with soft Winter light on the stunning countryside around the venue. I’d been invited to stay for the day, but instead I stayed for a little while. I Chatted with the lovely guests, watched the photos being taken and enjoyed the atmosphere. In time, with a long drive ahead of me, I returned to my car, full of that fabulous “#lovemyjob” vibe!
Helen Williams, Treasured Ceremonies, is a leading celebrant in Wales. Helen counts herself lucky that, living in the middle of beautiful of West Wales, many of her couples travel across oceans to have their weddings in one of the amazing local venues.See Helen's profile here
14th June 2019
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