ruth ellen hasser wedding officiant

“And the seasons they go round and round.” – Joni Mitchell

Another wedding season winds down into a slower, late autumn rhythm.  This year the St. Louis area has seen more rain than most, but none of my outdoor wedding ceremonies were seriously compromised by rain. Wind? Yes. Cold? You betcha. But rain, cold, sunshine, or wind, all went forward, couples got married, and life goes on.

Couples who plan outdoor weddings at any time of year are taking a chance that the weather will turn against them. Of course, it does not actually turn against them. No need to take it personally. Weather is just doing what it does; that is, it changes and cannot be relied upon to be what you hope it might be for your plans on your big day. Of course, it might do exactly what you want. It could actually be gorgeous, just the right temperature, with a slightly warm breeze and the sun at just the right angle. But you cannot know for sure when you choose your date, place, and time. (For the record, one of my October 2014 couples, both of whom are meteorologists, chose to have their ceremony indoors.)

So, it’s not a great stretch to see a metaphor for married life here. Not only do long-term relationships go through many seasons together, but no matter how well we may make plans for life to go one way, something often comes along to send us in a different direction. Perhaps Wendell Berry had that in mind when he wrote the following:

“The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word. And this must be an unconditional giving, for in joining ourselves to one another we join ourselves to the unknown.”

Joanna and Ryan, after their October ceremony at Overlook Farm, Clarksville

The unknown, indeed! Congratulations to my autumn couples, as you navigate the unknown together!

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OK, now that we are past Labor Day, many consider summer to be over. Yet, with our recent heat and humidity surge, it still feels like summer here, and technically it can be considered summer until the autumnal equinox, right? Of course, during my years as a teacher, going back to work at this time of year meant that my summer was definitely over.

As a wedding professional, summer is my busy time of year and here in the St. Louis area, fall is even busier. Amazingly, I’m still getting inquiries about officiating in September and October of this year! Most of these requests are for days and times for which I’m already scheduled, so I pass them on to other local officiants, knowing that their schedules are nearly full as well, but hoping that the desperate couples can get lucky. Meanwhile, while officiating current weddings, I’m working on second and third drafts for my fall weddings, fine-tuning those ceremonies for which I am scheduled to officiate. It is good to have work, and I am grateful!

But I have been mightily distracted by the events in Ferguson these past several weeks since the death of Michael Brown. I have no answers, but I do have lots and lots of questions and concerns. I do not personally know any of the people involved, but I do believe that I am connected to all of them, because we are all part of the same human family. I pray for the family of Michael Brown, as well as for Darren Wilson and his family.

As a white woman, I do not know firsthand what it is like to be pulled over for “driving while black,” or any of the other indignities and dangers so many people are subjected to in my city/state/country because of their race. But when people are expressing their outrage and pain, I can listen and learn and look for opportunities to show support for those with the courage and tenacity to work toward changing those structures which seem to be making things worse for people, rather than better. The path is not a straight one, nor is it always clear, but I know that we can do better. 

I am encouraged by people all over the world for whom the events in Ferguson have been a wake-up call. Can things really be different this time? Yes, if we allow ourselves to be changed for the better. It won’t happen easily or quickly, but it can happen. How does it happen? One heart, one soul at a time. Mohandas Gandhi reminded us that we must “be the change” we wish to see in the world. Alright then, let’s get to it!

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I just got off the phone with J. He and C. have been a couple for fifteen years. They live in a neighboring state and are planning to get married in Illinois in June, shortly after that state’s recognition of same-gender marriage goes into effect. Then they want to come here to St. Louis to celebrate their marriage. Why St. Louis? It is the location of their first date, and a place they often come for sporting events, concerts, and nightlife. They already share a last name, and now they are on the verge of  legal recognition as a couple in ways that most heterosexual couples simply take for granted. We will meet under the Arch, and they will exchange marriage vows they have written to each other.

Finally, they can get married! And what a privilege it is for me to be part of such a significant moment in their lives

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This is considered “off season” for folks in the wedding business. I don’t know what other wedding professionals do during these cold winter months, but for me there is more time to begin writing the ceremonies I’ve already committed to officiating in 2014. Actually, I write ceremonies year round, but at this time of year I can write with a little less pressure because I am performing so few ceremonies right now. It’s also a good time to take a look at my website to see what needs updating, as well as to update the photos and info I have on my online ads.

During the winter, there is also more time available to meet with couples who are considering me as a Celebrant for their ceremonies in 2014 and 2015. Before I got into this Celebrant work, if you had told me that I would be meeting at least sixty couples a year to talk with them about their weddings, I would have assumed that I would eventually get bored or at least a little bit goofy with so many meetings at which to have, more or less, the same conversation. But, honestly, although I may be covering the same general topic (weddings), with a lot of the same basic questions being discussed, I never get bored because each couple is different and possesses a unique perspective on what they want to communicate in their ceremony.

And that is what I find to be one of the delightful rewards about this work. Each couple has their own story. Although many couples have common elements in their stories, each is still unique and lovely. And when they choose me to be their Celebrant, they entrust me with the privilege of helping them to tell their story and to celebrate the meaning they find in their story; sometimes with words, sometimes with rituals, often times with both. Now, that’s my idea of a good day’s work.

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Since Labor Day weekend, I have officiated at twenty-one wedding ceremonies. Whew! Where has the time gone? Now, as I head into a quieter November, I’ve got a little bit of time to look back and ruminate.

As I performed many weddings this year, I carried with me some sadness over the break ups of two different couples I know, both of whom had been together over twenty-five years. I wanted to tell these newlyweds of 2013 a cautionary tale or two about not taking each other for granted; or that no one’s relationship is immune to wear and tear, and to the steep toll life’s difficulties can exact from a marriage. Of course, I did not. It is not my place. And it is not the time.

At the very same time, I have had the great privilege to witness the love and fidelity of my father-in-law Dave, as he journeyed with my mother-in-law Jean, through her final days with Alzheimer’s Disease. Theirs was a 64-year marriage, not perfect (does such a thing exist?), but they faced the world together, side-by-side, one day at a time, until her death on October 5.

Every couple I meet believes that they will make their marriage last a lifetime. And so we celebrate the belief, the hope, the firm intention, and the vows to do just that, knowing that we will sometimes fall short of each other’s expectations, but celebrating, nonetheless. And, hopefully, the celebration will bring us closer to becoming the people we long to be for ourselves and for one another. As I continue in this Celebrant work, my hope for each couple is that theirs may be a partnership of integrity, love, and joy!

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“It is such powerful work we do, and we are rewarded by being witness to so much beauty.”

– Dina Stander, Ordained Certified Celebrant

These comments were made recently by another Celebrant and sum up so well my experience since embarking on this Celebrant path in 2007. And I’ve noticed that it doesn’t even require a long and elaborate ceremony to reap these rewards. For example: Recently I performed a short, civil ceremony for a couple who was going to have a longer Hindu marriage ceremony the next day. We were in the home of the parents of the groom with the bride and groom, both sets of parents, a couple of siblings, and an aunt. The ceremony took all of five minutes. And yet, the love and joy that was present in that room was palpable and powerful. Even I was moved to tears, and I had just met everyone shortly before the ceremony!

Long or short, secular or spiritual, each ceremony can become a reflection of the beauty of the hearts, minds and souls of its participants. What a joy to be able to witness this, time and time again! Do I ever get tired of it? No, not really. Of course, I get tired when I work a lot, and that’s why I make sure to schedule time off to relax, refresh, and renew myself. But even when I’m feeling a little weary, once the ceremony begins, I am no longer conscious of my fatigue. Instead, as I participate in the ceremony, I experience a heightened sense of awareness of the significance of these distinct moments in time for the ceremony participants. That awareness gives me all the energy I need.

So here I am,  in the middle of my seventh “wedding season.”  Thanks to all of you who trust me with your ceremonies, I’m still having the time of my life!

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It’s been a busy Spring! I had four ceremonies in March, seven in April, and I’m preparing for eight in May. Add to that my work on Summer ceremonies and beginning some Fall ceremonies, I’ve not had a lot of time to stop and smell the flowers. Not that we’ve had many flowers to check out here with this unusually late St. Louis Spring.

Flowers or not, since 1970 this time of year brings us Earth Day, an annual opportunity to take a look at how each of us can make a contribution toward improving life on planet Earth. I am always looking for ways to improve in this area, and I hope to see the wedding industry become more genuinely “green” as time goes by.

This past year I became an “approved vendor” with The Green Bride Guide www.greenbrideguide.com .  The Green Bride Guide is a comprehensive and credible green wedding resource online. The Directory is like a Yellow Pages for green weddings that provides a centralized resource of green wedding vendors, searchable by geographic area.

According to the Green Bride Guide, almost 50% of couples are now looking to include green elements in their events, and 85% are concerned about “greenwashing,” the passing off of non-green companies as eco-friendly. To address these concerns, the Green Bride Guides screens all vendors in the directory and displays their green practices in their profiles.

I will soon be adding a “going green” page to my website to describe in more detail my ongoing efforts toward lessoning my carbon footprint, both in my personal and professional lives. So, stay tuned!

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As the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear two cases next week involving same-sex marriage laws, it seems fitting to reprint an excerpt from Goodridge vs. Department of Health, the landmark Massachusetts case which found that same-sex couples have the right to marry in that state. I first became aware of this excerpt when a couple told me that they wanted to use it as a reading for their civil union ceremony. Since then, both same-sex and hetero couples have requested this reading. Some consider it a political statement, others simply a good definition of marriage. Take a look and see what you think. Me? I think it is both!

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.” Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family…. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

(Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall) 

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So, I started January with a nasty cold, followed by a restful vacation in California with my husband. Once home and healthy again, I met with seven couples last month, and I am happy to report that all seven hired me! That’s a nice beginning for the new year, indeed! Now it’s all about more meetings and ceremony writing….

My first wedding of 2013 is scheduled for Valentine’s Day in the home of the couple, Stephanie and Jeff. I’m looking forward to celebrating an intimate ceremony with them and a few close family members and friends.

One of my goals for this winter includes finally mobilizing my website! The statistics on the soaring use of hand-held devices are too overwhelming to overlook, so I’m going to get to it in order to make it easier for people to find me and learn about my services.

Once again I am preparing for the only wedding show in which I participate: Off White Indie Wedding Show, March 9-10. This year it will be held at Mad Art Gallery in Soulard. If you want to connect with creative, eco-friendly, out-of-the-box, LGBT-friendly, handmade, small businesses from the St. Louis area to help you create the kind of wedding you really want to have, do yourself a favor and go to this show! The tickets are an incredibly reasonable price of $10 each. http://offwhiteweddingshow.com/

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Last night on NBC’s 30 Rock, Tina Fey’s lead character Liz Lemon got married.  But this TV wedding had very little in common with most real weddings I’ve been to, and was unlike most TV weddings – period!  As I watched and laughed I couldn’t help but think, like the Celebrant that I am, “These people could use a Celebrant!”

As the episode began, Liz and her boyfriend Criss made a spontaneous decision to get married at the courthouse.  Liz is someone who abhors the whole wedding industry and she was determined to stay as far away from a traditional wedding as possible.  So they intentionally dressed down for the ceremony and grabbed a couple of homeless men to be their witnesses.  Yet, Liz could not escape the gnawing feeling that she did want their wedding day to be special, though definitely not traditional.  Finally, after lots of the craziness that 30 Rock does so well, Liz and Criss got married on their own terms: Liz wore her Princess Leia costume, while Criss gave her a wedding ring purchased at a police auction.  Tony Bennett sang “Just In Time” as the couple kissed, while the homeless men danced together.  A perfect 30 Rock wedding!

Besides the fact that I’m a 30 Rock fan, why mention this?  Well, if Liz and Criss were real people, and if they had contacted a Life-Cycle Celebrant® to officiate at their ceremony, then they would have been able to work with a ceremony expert who would have helped them plan their wedding in a way that was meaningful for them, but without all of the stress. And “drama.”  Or comedy.  Which is great for TV, but not nearly as much fun in real life!

So, congratulations to Liz and Criss!  And for you other, real life couples who want your own ceremony to be as unique as you are, check out your local Life-Cycle Celebrant® who will help you create your own memorable and meaningful ceremony!

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