By LARRY LAGE The Associated Press
ISLAMORADA, Fla. (AP) – When a childhood friend, Ryan Rutledge, called me last fall, he had a request that almost took my breath away.
Ryan and his then-fiancée, Natalie LaRocca, wanted me to officiate their marriage.
Ryan explained that they had yet to develop a relationship with a clergyman at a church near their new home in Ponte Veda, Florida, where they had settled during the pandemic. Knowing that I am Catholic and that I have spoken in public, Ryan shared an idea with Natalie.
“What about Larry? “
Natalie enthusiastically accepted.
How could I say no?
Shortly thereafter, in a surprisingly rapid process, I was ordained online as the Church’s minister of universal life. I printed a certificate from the non-denominational religious organization, checking the first item on my to-do list.
When my wife, Suzanne Mrozinski, and I were preparing to get married 18 years ago at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Saline, Michigan, we went to workshops and spoke with the clergy about our faith and of the family we wanted to start together.
For Ryan and Natalie, I was hoping to do my best 1,000 miles away to help them prepare in the same way. I also wanted to make the most of one of the greatest opportunities and responsibilities of my life.
I was joining a long list of celebrants for the first time. The Universal Life Church says it has ordained more than 20 million people and is not the only organization offering the service.
Wedding planning website The Knot says its data shows that 51% of couples in 2020 had a friend or family member to celebrate their wedding, an increase from 37% in 2015. And according to the 2020 Brides American Wedding Study, 25% of couples are married. by a friend or family member.
“Modern couples mean ‘yes’ in their own way, and that includes whoever marries them,” said Anna Price Olson, associate editor of Brides magazine. “By working with someone who knows them so intimately, a couple are able to shape the ceremony exactly as they wish, making both the ceremony itself and the experience of its creation more personal for the couple and their families. guests. “
Drawing on my three decades of sports writing experience in Michigan, I dotted Ryan and Natalie with questions. I spoke with them separately and together. I of course checked the facts in my notes and also left some of the details I gleaned as surprises that I hoped would make them laugh and cry.
Fortunately, I’m used to coming up with a Plan B when there’s an unexpected piece and a rewrite is needed. Like when I found out that Ryan’s sister, Regina Forest, intended to read the same scripture that I did, Corinthians 13.
“Love is patient,” we read. “Love is good.”
After considering other options, Colossians 3: 12-14, seemed like a good fit, ending with: “… on all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
I compiled my notes in a Google doc, made a printout, and packed it in a red folder for my flight to South Florida.
When I arrived at the Postcard Inn Beach Resort and Marina in Islamorada, where the wedding was to take place on the beach, I was even more excited. And nervous. I was confident that I would do well, but I wanted to crush him and validate the trust Ryan and Nat had placed in me.
Wedding planner Elizabeth Seligman gave me some great advice, such as when to ask everyone to stand up and when to sit down.
“When you say, ‘You can kiss the bride now,’ step back so you aren’t in the picture,” she said.
I get it.
I was afraid I would forget to walk away and spoil the image.
As Ryan and Natalie gathered with just over 100 family and friends on a sunny afternoon, I prayed that my preparation would match the magnitude of the moment.
Then all of a sudden I was calm as I stood in front of a microphone wearing a bright blue suit that matched the one worn by Ryan and his twin, Regan. After asking everyone to sit down, I congratulated the parents of the bride and groom, Alice and Tony LaRocca, as well as Brenda and Jim Rutledge, on being married for almost a century together.
I shared my belief that Providence, divine guidance in our lives, is what brought Ryan and Natalie together. When Hurricane Florence forced Ryan out of Charleston, South Carolina, in September 2018, he traveled to Florida and rekindled a relationship with Natalie that began in a wedding earlier that year. The weekend after the hurricane hit, Ryan returned to meet Natalie’s daughter, Mia, and their day at the beach sold the divorced mother that she had found what she was looking for.
When Hurricane Dorian hit the coast a year later, Ryan and Natalie were reunited again and discovered she was pregnant.
“That day changed everything,” Ryan told me. “We are moving faster than I thought. I was okay with that because she’s the other half of me.
A few months after Cooper Rutledge was born, Ryan proposed.
I came to appreciate my role as a rookie officiant. Upon reflection, I realized it was in my comfort zone because I was interviewing people for a living and sharing their stories.
But as is the case with my day job, it’s not about me, and I remembered to get out of the way.