Journeys of the Heart officiants gathered yesterday, March 3, 2012, for our annual blessing, commissioning ordination ceremony. Now in our 17th year of celebrating weddings, funerals, birth celebrations, bar/bat mitzvahs, we were delighted to bring six new officiants onboard. They are Renee Ford-Conway, Tim Dalton, Stacey Schiding, Tara Rubinstein, Jim Haley and Susan Harte.
So much from God
That I can no longer
Myself A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim
A Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of Itself
That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, and angel
Or even pure
Befriended me so completely
It has turned to ash
Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.
June, 2010 included a memorable wedding on a manicured horse farm in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The ground of the spacious indoor riding stable was covered with carpets; lovely sweeping white drapes created a centerpiece high above. The aroma of a clean country horse stable enhanced the ambiance!
The bride, Ali Grusha , who works in pharmaceutical sales, is an enamored and skilled rider, along with her mother; both are horse specialists. The farm included two Appaloosa and two brown quarter horses to which the bride was tightly attached.
The first view that caught my eye as I arrived at the farm for the wedding was the beautiful bride, Ali, in her wedding dress being photographed while side-saddle on her favorite Appaloosa. Both bride, Ali, and groom, Matt Jenco, were bonded to a miniature Australian Shepherd dog, Colby; they required that the horses and dog should be named in the ceremony, and so they were.
Colby, the couple’s Shepherd dog lay quietly and observantly at the feet of the bride’s mother during the ceremony until he was called to present
the rings after the vows were spoken. Colby presented and returned as directed to his designated place.
The ceremony praised the diverse interests of the couple. For example, Matt, an engineer has an interest in farm equipment, has also gone scuba diving for ship wrecks in the Atlantic Ocean.
The ceremony gave dignified expression to the couple’s commitment in the open and playful ambiance of the farm. I, as officiant, prepared and
presented a short reflection based on the couple’s love story, tracing the earliest meeting of the couple in a university public speaking class to the
bonding moment in the rolling hills of a Berks County farm.
Journeys of the Heart Officiant Irene Fulton happily merged two traditions into a grand and newsworthy event, featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer
Lauren Rocca & Chester Villanueva
June 4, 2010, in Philadelphia
By Kellie Patrick Gates
Inquirer Love Columnist
Lauren had dated her high school boyfriend all the way through college, but they split in 2005. She was ready to try again, but there was a problem: "I didn't know how to meet people or go on a date," she said.
Inspiration came from her mother, who met her boyfriend online several years before. "I thought if she can do it, and she's technophobic, I can do it," Lauren said.
The pharmaceutical market research company Chester worked for then had transferred him to Philadelphia from Chicago. Chester liked his job in Philadelphia, but after two years here, he was on the brink of leaving to move back home. The group of coworkers he was transferred with had all left by then and Chester was struggling to make a new group of friends here. He felt isolated.
Still, he sent Lauren an electronic wink – a little message in the Yahoo! Personals world that let her know he was interested.
Lauren had not even been on Yahoo! for a day when she received it. His picture was cute, and his profile said he was hoping to explore Philadelphia and meet new people. "I've lived here my whole life, and I really like to show people around the city. I thought that would be really fun," she said. Still, the "online thing" felt a little weird to her. She didn't answer, but she also couldn't stop thinking about him. "I know it sounds cheesy, but I was wondering, 'What if he's The One?' " Lauren said.
The e-mail she eventually sent led to many more, and then to instant messaging and long, late-night phone calls.
About three weeks after the wink, Chester and Lauren decided to meet in person. Lauren was nervous, in part because she had let her mom, a customer service professional, cut her hair. "I literally had a mullet," Lauren said.
At 7 p.m. on a Saturday, she went to the corner of Third and Chestnut in Old City to wait for Chester. She waited, and she waited. And then it started to rain.
Chester was nervous, too. He wanted everything to be perfect, so he also got a haircut – by a professional – and gassed his car, then decided he should clean his apartment before meeting Lauren, just in case they ended up there after their date. With all the rushing, he lost track of time. He pulled up to their meeting spot 45 minutes late.
Lateness is one of Lauren's pet peeves. "I was ticked off, and standoffish," she said. But she agreed to dinner at the Continental and soon found herself having a good time. He was a fun guy, and the conversation was good, so Lauren decided to let go of any bad feelings caused by the 45-minute delay.
Dinner was so fun that Lauren and Chester went to coffee afterward. Four hours after their date started, they decided to call it a night. Confident that they had clicked, Chester asked, "Can we do this again?"
Within a week, Lauren canceled her Yahoo! membership. "They sent me my money back," she said. "I got him for free!"
How does forever sound?
Chester, now 33, stayed in Philly and is an analyst for Independence Blue Cross. Lauren, 27, is the director of alumni relations at Drexel University, a position that was making her crazy busy in April and early May of 2009.
"The whole month of April I had been working nights and weekends. Then on May 1 – the first day of alumni weekend – I had laryngitis."
May 1 was a Friday. She was up and out of the couple's Roxborough apartment at 4:30 a.m., and she wouldn't be home until late. That gave Chester plenty of time to put on a suit and pay visits to Lauren's three closest family members. He gave her mother, Rose, a box of her favorite chocolates. He presented Aunt Theresa with flowers. And Lauren's brother, Michael, got a can of the protein powder he uses. For all three, Chester had a question: Did he have their blessing to marry Lauren? Yes, yes, and yes. And from mom, a little advice: Propose when she'll least expect it.
It was 11:30 p.m. when Lauren got home, her throat a bit sore from trying to talk through her laryngitis, her disposition a bit grumpy from being too busy to eat a fabulous-looking dessert at the last event. "I got myself a bowl of ice cream," she said. She ate it, then a second bowl, on the couch. She had to get up early and do it all again the next day. "I just wanted to go to bed," she said.
But Chester walked over and sat on the coffee table. He started talking about how meeting Lauren had changed his life, and how the years with her have been the best he's ever had. Then he got down from the table, and onto one knee.
"I'm trying to yell, but no sound is coming out," Lauren said. She was determined. Before Chester even finished his speech, she croaked out "Yes! Yes!"
It was so them
The couple married in an outdoor ceremony at Glen Foerd on the Delaware. They wanted their 130 guests to feel like they were "in a different time and place," Lauren said, and an old, riverside mansion did the trick.
Lauren wore a strapless, lightly beaded dress of ivory taffeta. Chester and his groomsmen wore the traditional Filipino formal wear called a barong – an elaborately embroidered ivory shirt made of plant fibers.
Lauren was raised Catholic, and in a nod to weddings in that tradition, the couple lit a unity candle.
Minister Irene Fulton of Journeys of the Heart said a blessing. To honor Chester's family heritage, Lauren's Aunt Theresa and Chester's cousin Matt draped a veil of white tulle over the couple to symbolize them joining into one household. Chester's cousin Henry and his wife, Genny, wrapped a white cloth cord around them, in the figure eights of infinity, to symbolize a permanent union.
Also according to Filipino custom, Chester placed several silver coins into Lauren's hands, to show that he is sharing everything he has with her. Lauren then placed the coins into his palms to show that what she has is also his.
Lauren found deep meaning in the Filipino traditions. "I'm a baptized Catholic, but I can't say I practice that faith," she said. "[The Filipino customs] gave the ceremony some kind of weight, spirituality, and grounding in tradition."
The day after the wedding, Lauren and Chester took their guests – many of whom had traveled from the Philippines, Illinois and Iowa – on a trolley tour of Philadelphia, an event reminiscent of the beginning of their relationship, when Lauren showed Chester the city.
This was a surprise
Lauren's father, William, died more than a decade ago. Her brother, Michael, not quite two years younger than she, walked her down the aisle. Michael is about 6 feet tall and muscular and covered with tattoos. "He's a tough guy," Lauren said. "If you ran into him in the street, you might run the other way." But after escorting Lauren to the end of the aisle, Michael hugged his sister. He told her he loved her, and that she looked beautiful. Then he gave Chester a big hug, too. "It was at that point that I really got choked up," Lauren said.
Chester was also escorted up the aisle, by his parents, Bing and Bill.
After the whirlwind of the wedding, Chester and Lauren climbed into a Rolls-Royce that whisked them off to a Center City hotel. They waved to their guests, who had crowded onto the Glen Foerd patio to send them off. "Then we were in the car together, by ourselves for the first time," Lauren said. "All we could do was look at each other and say, 'Oh gosh, we're married!' "
A bargain: It really bugged Lauren that the unity candle sets she found were covered with glitter and cheesy poems – for $40. So, she got candles at a dollar store, and ribbons and vases at a craft store, and made her own for $10. She was going to do DIY stationery, too, but discovered doing so would cost her about 5 percent more than online invitations. Then Lauren remembered a small South Philly business, Sealed with a Kiss, that she used to walk past on her way home from high school. The deal they gave her was 20 percent less than the online prices.
The splurge: The food. Providing a tapas station, fillet mignon and salmon added between 10 and 15 percent to the basic package cost.
Two weeks in Spain.
Behind the Scenes
Irene Fulton, Journeys of the Heart, Jenkintown
Conroy Catering, Glen Foerd's in-house caterer
Kamila Harris, Kamila Harris Photography, Doylestown
Ceremony: Susan Ward, Heartstrings, Doylestown;
Reception: Mike Mandato, Silver Sound Disc Jockeys, Frazer
L&H Bridal, Philadelphia
Sealed with a Kiss, Philadelphia
Do You Have the Date?
Tell us in a short e-mail – at least six weeks before your ceremony – why we should feature your love story. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately, we can't personally respond to all submissions. If your story is chosen, you will be contacted in the weeks before your wedding.
When I met Tiffany Byer she was minus her finance' Ryan Welch, as he was in Colorado where they both have been living for the past several years.
She told me right from the beginning that she had to wear the color pink every day and everything that she owned had pink in it. She also told me that she loved animals and had (in one small apartment) 2 Saint Bernards, 3 Rabbits, and a few other animals I forgot to write down as I was still trying to digest the small apartment and the large dogs!
Months later when Ryan came to town and the three of us sat down to talk about the final details of the ceremony, it was again clear that this couple wanted things their way! They knew what would please them and had thought through all of the details.
The pink runner would have their names on it and would be tacked down to prevent any tripping or slipping. Their mothers would light tapers signifying the families that they had both come from, but after lighting their unity candle they would each blow out the others' taper, symbolizing the marriage and the new life they were making for themselves. They also included a ceremony called the wine and love letter box complete with pink wine glasses and you guessed it: a leopard cloth around the wine bottle. Read more about the wine and love letter ritual here.
So, of course, the wedding colors were pink and leopard. It made perfect sense. She even wore the palest pink gown with a huge leopard sash. And, guess what, it worked!
Lindsey called on July 1 to scheduled their July 10 wedding. I find elopements very romantic and this was to be no exception! Since it was just going to be Alex, Lindsey and me, I selected one of my favorite private wedding spots, The Meadowbrook Wildlife Sanctuary in Rydal. I went there several days prior and scoped out just the right clearing for a sweet wedding. However, Mother Nature chose July 10 for a drenching respite from this summer's ongoing drought and so the wildlife sanctuary wedding was not to be. Instead I prepared my own private wedding space, tending to it carefully so that it would be sweet and romantic as I waited for the arrival of my guests. I saw the blue Prius pull up alongside our house and watched as this strikingly beautiful pair emerged from their car in the rain.
I spent a few minutes with them prior to the ceremony. I turned my satellite radio station to the all love song station. They told me they met in college over ten years ago and have been together ever since. They opted for a sweet, low-key wedding deciding that instead of spending their money on the wedding, they would splurge and go to France on their honeymoon. We may not have been in the bird sanctuary but the setting was lovely and the couple was glowing.
They exchanged rings that were first blessed in a seashell container.
They are big fans of the Tour de France and always dreamed of seeing it and so they will!
Dana and Andrew have an especially interesting story. They actually had another wedding date set in the summer of 2009. However, they recognized that they had some unresolved issues to address so they took the unusually courageous step of postponing their wedding so that they could do more work on their relationship.
They recognized that working on their relationship helped them to grow up and strengthend their bond. That made today's wedding even more of a celebration.
Dana's gown was very beautiful: strapless and sophisticated. The bridesmaids wore lovely gowns the color of which I called "eggplant" but I think they said that David's Bridal called the color "lapis."
They honored their parents and families who loved and supported them through the rough times. Andrew wore the pocket watch that belonged to his late father, Phillip.
Both bride and groom were beaming as they looked into each other's eyes and took their vows before friends and family.
In honor of their Jewish heritage, the ceremony ended with the traditional breaking of the glass.
Andrew and Dana will honeymoon in Hawaii. Aloha! Have a wonderful life. I hope I have the privilege of watching it unfold.
When I was young, I dreamed of my wedding day. Mostly it was about loving someone so much that I wanted to share my life completely and whole-heartedly. Also, I wanted all my friends and family there to support me. I never quite completed the picture, however, as to who it would be that I would be marrying. Until I was about 19, that is. It took some time for self-acceptance, but when I got up the internal strength, I told my family: "Some day I will meet someone I love and we'll marry – and that person will be another man." Imagine my surprise when my 87 year-old grandmother said, "Yes, I saw that on Ellen" [the sitcom, not the talk show]!
It took some family members more time than others to adjust to the news, but grandmom didn't skip a beat – she just kept on loving her grandson.
These days, there are more media images of same-sex couples than ever before. It can still be challenging for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to fully accept who they are – and for their families. But there is also much more support for LGBT and for LGBT families – both social support and legal support. 18 years ago when I came out, I could barely imagine a day when I could legally marry a partner. Now same-sex marriage is a reality in several states. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice." And I believe now, more than ever, that someday every state will honor equally the love and families that same-sex couples build.
In the meantime – we can certainly celebrate love! That's what weddings and commitment ceremonies are for – celebrating with family and friends, and committing even more deeply to the development of relationship. As an officiant for same-sex couples, I've experienced a variety of ceremonies – from one filled with operatic singing and dramatic readings, to a ceremony that had just about every traditional Jewish wedding practice we could find – and everything in between. Every relationship is unique – and so is every wedding ceremony be it gay or non-gay, traditional or creatively and distinctly different!
June is LGBT Pride Month – and if you are a same-sex couple and planning your ceremony, plan it with pride! And know that Journeys of the Heart will be honored to work with you.