Friends, fam­ily do honors at wed­dings

The Republican Herald - - WEDDINGS - By Beth White­house

When Royce Brun­son and Alyssa C ho in ski got en­gaged, Brun­son wasn’t the only one who asked “Will you marry me?”

Choin­ski also popped the ques­tion — to her grand­mother.

Choin­ski, 28, asked Bar­bara Bevilac­qua, 81, of East Se­tauket, New York, if she would be or­dained as a min­is­ter so she could per­form the Farm­ing­dale cou­ple’s wed­ding cer­e­mony at Oheka Cas­tle on July 4, 2019.

“She couldn’t say ‘ Yes’ fast enough. She was over­joyed,” said Choin­ski, a mid­dle school so­cial stud­ies teacher.

“But then I sat down and thought about it, and then I wasn’t so sure,” Bevilac­qua said. What would she have to do to be or­dained? Would she be con­fi­dent enough to speak in front of the wed­ding guests? Could she con­trol her emo­tions to get the words out with­out happy tears?

“It never en­tered my mind that I would be do­ing some­thing like that. Then the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I’m ex­cited now,” she said.

A skim of pub­lished wed­ding an­nounce­ments and wed­ding data shows more and more cou­ples are em­brac­ing the idea of ask­ing friends or fam­ily mem­bers to do the honor of mar­ry­ing them. Some­times it’s be­cause the cou­ple aren’t re­li­gious and would pre­fer a more sec­u­lar cel­e­bra­tion. Some­times it’s prompted by an in­ter­faith mar­riage. It might be be­cause a gay cou­ple can’t find a main­stream min­is­ter who will marry them. Many cou­ples say it’s be­cause they want to cus­tom­ize their cer­e­mony.

In its first year of ex­is­tence in 2010, for in­stance, the Seat­tle- based Amer­i­can Mar­riage Min­istries or­dained 485 min­is­ters from New York; in 2017, that num­ber was 5,543, said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Lewis King.

Be­com­ing or­dained is less in­tim­i­dat­ing than it sounds.

“I thought you maybe had to take a cou­ple of classes,” Choin­ski said. But you just visit the web­site of Amer­i­can Mar­riage Min­istries, the Univer­sal Life Church or other such non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions and fill out a form.

And con­grat­u­la­tions, you can of­fi­ci­ate at wed­dings.

took off with mil­len­ni­als

To be mar­ried in New York State, a cou­ple ap­plies for a mar­riage li­cense from their lo­cal gov­ern­ment, then their union must be wit­nessed by an au­tho­rized pub

lic of­fi­cial or mem­ber of the clergy who signs the li­cense, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Health.

“The de­ter­mi­na­tion of who a min­is­ter is has never been put into law or cod­i­fied. To do so would be a vi­o­la­tion of the free­dom of re­li­gion and the Con­sti­tu­tion,” said Ge­orge Free­man, pre­sid­ing chap­lain for the Univer­sal Life Church Monastery. Many or­dained- on­line min­is­ters don’t have to have re­li­gious train­ing, at­tend a sem­i­nary, lead a brick- and- mor­tar con­gre­ga­tion or have a back­ground in the­ol­ogy.

“Our goal is to lower the bar­rier to mar­riage be­cause we think it’s such an im­por­tant part of so­ci­ety,” King said.

Be­ing or­dained is free, and the or­ga­ni­za­tions sup­port them­selves by sell­ing op­tional pack­ages that in­clude, for in­stance, of­fi­cial min­is­ter cer­tifi­cates, guides to how to con­duct a wed­ding, min­is­te­rial gar­ments and other ac­ces­sories.

“It’s re­ally taken off in the

last cou­ple of years. Es­pe­cially with mil­len­ni­als not as­so­ci­ated with any re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion who are

look­ing for ways to per­sonal- ize their wed­ding cer­e­mony,” King said.

Ac­cord­ing to a Pew Re­search Cen­ter study, the num­ber of re­li­giously un­af­fil­i­ated Amer­i­cans grew from 16 per­cent in 2007 to 22.8 per­cent in 2014. And, ac­cord­ing to The Knot’s “2017 Real Wed­dings Study,” 47 per­cent of cou­ples had a fam­ily mem­ber or friend of­fi­ci­ate their wed­ding, up from 42 per­cent in 2016. Al­though the study did not delve into whether the friends and fam­ily mem­bers be­came or­dained on­line, it noted a steady in­crease since 2010, when only 31 per­cent of cou­ples in­cor­po­rated a fam­ily mem­ber or friend of­fi­ciant.

the per­sonal touch

Christine and Alex Her­nande z of Bo­hemia, a 33- year- old yoga teacher and a 32- year- old ac­coun­tant, re­spec­tively, asked her brother, Matthew Chiarelli, to of­fi­ci­ate at their wed­ding at their mother’s house on the water in West Is­lip in Septem­ber 2017 for just that rea­son — de­sire for the per­sonal touch.

“Even if you’ve gone to the same church your whole life, your priest isn’t go­ing to know you as well as your brother knows you,” Her­nan­dez said. And the clergy mem­ber may only know half of the cou­ple well. An of­fi­ciant who is a rel­a­tive or long­time friend can add shared mu­tual mem­o­ries into the time­line of the cer­e­mony — Chiarelli, for in­stance, joked about Christine and Alex’s shared love of TV’S “The Of­fice.”

“He put a lot of thought into it. I didn’t ex­pect it to be as beau­ti­ful as it was,” Her­nan­dez said.

There is pres­sure for the of­fi­ciant to pull things off with panache, said Chiarelli, 29, a mu­si­cian who lives in Los Angeles and be­came or­dained through Amer­i­can Mar­riage Min­istries. “It def­i­nitely was a cou­ple of stress­ful days when I was try­ing to write it, be­cause ob­vi­ously this was a big day for my sis­ter. It ended up be­ing a lot of fun.”

Court­ney Rosario, 28, of Le­vit­town, said she was “dumb­founded” when Diane and Peter Totino of Glen Cove not only asked her to be a brides­maid but added “the curve­ball” or ask­ing her to of­fi­ci­ate at their De­cem­ber 2017 wed­ding cer­e­mony at Fox Hol­low in Wood­bury. The cou­ple had met Rosario at the City Cel­lar Wine Bar & Grill in West­bury when all three worked there.

“She was there since me and my wife first started dat­ing,” Totino said. “She saw how our re­la­tion­ship pro­gressed.”

“Front and cen­ter”

The of­fi­ciant is typ­i­cally re­spon­si­ble for the struc­ture of the cer­e­mony, and the cou­ple can leave it en­tirely in their hands or par­tic­i­pate in the out­line.

Rosario re­hearsed her role over and over with her boyfriend.

“He had it mem­o­rized by the end be­cause I had said it so many times,” she joked of her boyfriend. “As soon as the first sen­tence came out, I was good. I ab­so­lutely would do it again. It’s some­thing I won’t ever forget.”

An­tha Flood, 41, of Bay- ville, and her now hus­band, Joe Vi­narski, asked his step­brother, Michael Bar­ish, to marry them in 2015. Since then, Flood her­self has be­come or­dained by the Univer­sal Life Church and has of­fi­ci­ated at two wed­dings of friends. Her most re­cent cer­e­mony was for Al­li­son Tres­selt, 27, who stud­ied hos­pi­tal­ity, and Brian Yarosh, 37, a com­mer­cial fish­er­man, of Strat­ford, Con­necti­cut, who wed at View in Oak­dale on Oct. 27.

Flood had been Tres­selt’s pho­tog­ra­phy teacher at Deer Park High School. “We stayed friends af­ter I grad­u­ated,” Tres­selt said. “She ac­tu­ally in­tro­duced me and Brian.”

Flood gets her hair and makeup pro­fes­sion­ally done each time she of­fi­ci­ates for a wed­ding, and she co­or­di­nates her out­fit with the cou­ple. “I match it to what­ever they want, be­cause I’m front and cen­ter in all their pic­tures,” she said.

She also cre­ates a leather­bound book with the per­son’s pa­per­work and her min­is­ter cer­tifi­cate. “I buy them on­line so they have a keep­sake,” she said. Her fa­vorite part of the cer­e­mony? When she says, “By the power vested in me by the State of New York, I now pronounce you hus­band and wife.”

Some of fi­ciants, like Flood, are so hon­ored to do the honors that they have launched their own side busi­ness. She’s had busi­ness cards made up for times when she plans to charge strangers for her ser­vices.

Fear of bloop­ers

Brun­son and Choin­ski plan to work hand- in- hand with Bevilac­qua to cre­ate a light­hearted, fun cer­e­mony for their up­com­ing Big Day. Brun­son, a health care busi­ness­man, said he’s ec­static to have what will soon be “our” grand­mother run­ning the show.

“When you talk to Nanny about it, she just lights up,” Brun­son said.

“It’s go­ing to be fun work­ing with them, pick­ing out read­ings,” Bevilac­qua said. “If you’re tak­ing the re­li­gious part out, you have to fill it with some­thing else, or you’re go­ing to have a fiveminute cer­e­mony.”

Bevilac­qua has been por­ing through ad­vice on­line from other min­is­ters who sug­gest put­ting the speech into large print, prac­tic­ing it re­peat­edly so you aren’t just read­ing, and wear­ing some­thing that iden­ti­fies you as the of­fi­ciant — Bevilac­qua plans to don a stole.

“One woman wrote that she for­got to ask ev­ery­body to sit down un­til half­way through the cer­e­mony,” Bevilac­qua said. “My great­est fear is I’ll forget to do some­thing im­por­tant. Like maybe the vows, and then they won’t be mar­ried.”

Choin­ski isn’t wor­ried about bloop­ers, she just wants her ma­ter­nal grand­mother up there with her. “Nanny” was there at her Sweet 16 and at her high school and col­lege grad­u­a­tions.

“She was there through ev­ery sin­gle life mile­stone,” Choin­ski said. “This is the grand fi­nale of mile­stones, as big as it gets.”

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