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Wedding Guide: Outside the Church

Marrying couples may still employ a member of the clergy, but these days they’re getting hitched wherever they please

by Shawn Stone on January 31, 2013


Growing up, I attended a lot of weddings because I have a lot of cousins. And all of these ceremonies were in churches. Each Spring from age 5 to 18, I endured one ceremony after another as my extended family (on both sides) cycled through Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist and Roman Catholic churches—and would then cycle through them again. In those days it was unthinkable that the wedding march would end anywhere except at an altar.

Over the decades since, things have changed. Today, people marry on the farm, or in barns; in historic landmarks or at the tops of mountains; in a clearing in the woods, or even—gasp!—at home, like your great-great grandparents did back in pre-consumer-society America.

These alternative sites pose unique problems, however. Sometimes, the problems affect the wedding party most. If you’re going to marry at the top of the mountain, you’re going to have to bring everything in and haul everything out. If you’re headed for a clearing in the woods, your guests will probably have to adjust their wedding duds accordingly—no one wants pine needles in their Manolo Blahniks.

Someone I know pretty well has actually married couples in some pretty unusual places, so I called her up: Reckonings columnist Jo Page, who is also a member of the Lutheran clergy.

Page has married couples at the top of Whiteface Mountain, at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, at the Five Rivers Environmental Center—“twice,” she points out—and even officiated at News 10’s Steve Caporizzo’s wedding, at which his beloved dog served as ring bearer.

Why Whiteface Mountain?

“[The couple] had been through a lot of tough stuff in their lives. They chose the location—and their means of getting there—because they had faced hard challenges together.”

How did they get up there?

“They hiked up to the mountain and some of the guests hiked with them,” Page says. “About a quarter mile from the top, there’s a stone house; they changed into their wedding gear there, and then hiked the last quarter-mile.”

Did you hike it?

“There’s a road up to Whiteface, so I drove up there. The views were amazing, and the pictures were great. It was pretty wild.”

The couple who married at the Farmers’ Museum chose what seems like an odd time of year to marry—late fall—but it made for a dramatic ceremony.

“They planned their wedding down to the most minute detail, because that’s the kind of people they were,” Page remembers. “The day of the wedding—the wedding was in November—the weather was storming amazingly.”

“They had propane heaters,” Page says, “as the building wasn’t heated. . . .The candles were flickering, and people had to yell above the din of the heaters. Then they had the wedding reception at the Otesaga [Resort Hotel]; it was very dramatic, actually.”

Another friend married in a museum, but in a shiny, new space nothing like the Farmers’ Museum. This situation eliminated any glitches related to temperature control and/or weather, but presented its own peculiarities.

Overall, Kathy loved her wedding in that space: “It was a personal and unique space that spoke to our partnership. . . . It was different and fun.”

“While there was something nice about getting [the museum setting],” Kathy says, “They’d never done a wedding before.”

She and her partner also had the reception there, which presented other problems.

“They were not used to working with caterers,” she remembers, and “handicapped access [was an issue], and they started worrying about the artwork.”

In the end, though, it was worth it.

“If you’re looking for a unique setting for a special experience,” Kathy says, “this could be it. You just have to be open to the possibility that your wedding won’t run as smoothly as it would in a traditional venue.”

To get a perspective on nuptials in the great outdoors, I asked my friend Howard how his farm wedding went.

Overall, he said, it was a great experience. Because the farm house was his mom’s, he and his partner simply stayed there overnight.

“After [the ceremony and reception],” he says, “we got to go to my mom’s house and drink absinthe and sample all the different drinks we were given as gifts.”

Weather was a downside, though not the day of the wedding—the skies cleared for the exchange of vows.

“The negative was, since we were out in a cow field, that the three days before the wedding it rained,” he remembers, “and the ground was all mucky and we had to put a covering down to cover up the mud.  Heels were getting stuck in the grass and such.”

Still, it was nothing that their guests couldn’t handle.

Of course, in the end, it doesn’t really matter where you get married. As Page says, it’s the ceremony itself that’s important: “It’s one of the bravest things anybody can do—get up and pledge to love another person, come what may.”