Yes, it’s true, I was a wedding planner for a few years. A sort of accidental wedding planner. Not a word you’d normally want associated with the planning of a wedding, but let me explain. We are fortunate, in my little village of a few hundred, to have a church that dates from 1868. In California, that’s OLD. It’s a designated historic site, and a dozen years ago, it was in desperate need of repair.
The story begins not long after we’d moved to Pescadero, and I had made a few new pals, all of whom were involved with this little Congregational church in some way. I let it be known that while I thought it was wonderful that they had a sweet little church that they loved, I cannot sing a note and would not be joining them in the choir, nor did I ever intend to participate in any kind of church worship service ever, ever again, ever, thank you very much.
“But we’re doing Jesus Christ Superstar! It’s Easter! You have to come! “ went the new pals, as I waved my hands in front of my face like you might if someone were passing a plate of pickled fish heads with eyes still staring at you. I did really like the new pals, and when it turned out that one would be singing the Mary Magdalene part, I weakened.
That’s how I found myself in the very last pew on that Easter Sunday, a few quick steps from the front exit, as invisible as I know how to be, which is not very. Then the show — or service, I guess — started. Turned out my new pal sang like the most angelic possible fallen woman, in a beautiful, rich contralto voice. Jesus Christ was a brilliant, obviously well-trained baritone, from Germany. In the front pew, all the pre-school kids had instruments they were playing when it seemed appropriate, and also provided a kind of junior Greek chorus, as they asked their parents what was next, or if that was Jesus who was singing.
Ten minutes into the performance, tears were running down my not-at-all invisible face: not dainty little dewdrops, either. The kind that take your mascara and your dignity right down your face and onto your shirt. I snuffled and blew, happy for the noisy cover. Having never experienced anything like this home-grown, heartfelt little affair in a country church, I was a goner.
The rest of the performance/service gave me time to look upward, and see the plaster hanging from the ceiling. The lights were in the wrong place, ugly and in bad repair. There was red shag carpet on the floor. Pictures of Jesus, calendars, flags and trinkets hung haphazardly from the walls. I could go on, but you get the picture. I was looking at a sanctuary that had been scotch-taped together for decades. The roof had been repaired, some basic things taken care of, but that was about it. What had once been the simple but elegant pride of an involved congregation was in really poor shape.
I must have said something to that effect to my pals, along with high praise for the musical event, because in a matter of days, I was asked if I might help write the grant that was being prepared to get funding from the State of California to repair the interior of the church. I said yes, which was the beginning of a four-year-long process which I’m happy to say resulted in the complete renovation of the interior of the church, along with the social hall behind it, which dated from the 1940s.
Out came the red shag carpeting (“But it’s still good!” protested Martin, then in his early 90s) and layers of other floor covering, to reveal beautiful old locally milled fir floors. Off came all the detritus that had collected on the walls. New plaster, new paint, new light fixtures, new finish on the old floors. The building felt whole and alive again.
But how would this all be maintained? How could this little, shrinking country congregation pay for touchups, for gas in the lovely new heaters, for cleaning?
“Weddings!” I must have said, with the confidence peculiar to the uninformed and uninitiated, thinking that after wrestling the State of California and the entire congregation of the church, including its crabbiest, most opinionated members, into submission, a few brides and grooms would be a cakewalk.
Which is how I became the Accidental Wedding Planner. Somehow, I found out where a class was being given in “How to Build a Successful Wedding Planning Business,” and showed up for the day-long seminar. An hour or two into the class, I realized I was the oldest person there, and one of very few with any business –especially marketing — experience. Heck, I’d given a bazillion parties, planned events, managed graphic design projects — this was entirely do-able!
In a matter of weeks, the letterpress stationery and cards were ordered, the website went up and the shingle was hung. Badaboom. By then, word was out, and a couple of calls came in.
The truly odd thing about all of it is that while I felt completely qualified to do this work, I hadn’t stopped to think about a couple of horrendous flaws in the business model.
Flaw One, there’s pretty much no repeat business. Every couple comes to you as an uneducated, inexperienced client, which is to say, the worst kind of client. And then after you’ve educated them and they gain experience, they get married and never need you again.
Flaw Two, I’m cheap. I think it’s crazy to spend tons of money you don’t have on a wedding. If you have plenty, great, but most marrying couples would be better served using that $15,000 or $30,000 or $100,000 as a down payment on a home or to pay their debts off. So I’m troubled to be suggesting boutonnieres to them that cost a month’s rent.
Flaw Three, I have no desire WHATSOEVER to stay up all night making little theme nametags or tying tiny silk bags of Jordan Almonds up in exactly the right way, which I realize is what may have motivated a lot of wedding planners to enter the business. They like that stuff.
But good sense had never prevented me from stepping into the fray before, and it wasn’t going to stop me then.
Did I love the work? At times it was as much fun as anything I’ve ever done. What I didn’t understand at the beginning was that I would become a midwife to these marriages, seeing them from “Yes, let’s do this!” all the way through “Omigod, we’re actually doing this!” and everything that entails. Crazy families, inappropriate locations, great and awful decisions, love and hate, all mixed in. I’m not a trained counselor, not a minister, not even a Certified Event Planner, but there I was, the one who happened to be in the taxi when the new marriage was being born. Which is quite thrilling at times, truly awful at other times.
The awful times were when the photographer and I seemed to be the only ones who could see that this newborn marriage was not going to survive. TO BE CONTINUED.
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