Jennie & MB's garden party picnic and a capella wedding

ceremony_37 married!
Photos by Kelly B. Taylor Photography

The Offbeat Bride: Jennie, Science Educator/Professional Geek

Her offbeat partner: MB, Data Guru

Date and location of wedding: Woolman Hill Quaker Retreat Center, Deerfield, Massachusetts — July 19, 2014

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We wanted a heartfelt, a capella ceremony officiated by a friend in a Hawaiian shirt (a Hawaiian wedding shirt, he would be quick to point out!). The reception was a picnic with excellent pizza, beer, and ice cream. There were no toasts since we’d rather sing, enjoy the sunshine, and sleep over. It felt like garden-party, grown-up summer camp.

picnic_02

picnic_63 chalk

In pursuit of simplicity and authenticity, we started from scratch, and made almost everything ourselves including our decorations, picnic blankets, my dress, and MB's accessories. This thoughtful thriftiness meant that we could rent a venue for the whole weekend, with housing for our guests. We had lots of time for everyone there, whether at the picnic, around the bonfire, or at brunch the next morning.

picnic_63 chalk

picnic_16 flyer&fan

Since we met through Sacred Harp singing, a community folk tradition, we also wanted to celebrate in the way that was most authentic to our friends — by singing! We invited anyone who wanted to come to this part of the wedding to show up, sing, and snack on some leftover ice cream, and asked a friend to teach a short “singing school” to orient any non-singing friends and family to the tradition.

ceremony_22 family

ceremony_21

Instead of “I do,” we asked each other “will you do this work with me?”

Tell us about the ceremony:
Our ceremony was adapted from the traditional Protestant ceremony: welcome, declaration of intent, community affirmation, vows, kiss. Within that structure, though, we wrote our declarations and promises ourselves, sharing what about the other brought us there today (silliness! snark! determination! kindness!) and committing in our vows to the “work of love.” It was important to us that we be honest and real; we’d never use the language of soulmates and true love to describe our relationship, relating much more to the idea of deliberate and willful love. Instead of “I do,” we asked each other “will you do this work with me?” Here is the full excerpt:

"With sure and solemn joy I choose you to be my partner, my lover, and my best friend. I offer you my love today and all the days of my life, and promise to bring my best self into the work of love. I will build with you a life founded on trust and supported by respect, sustained by compassion and strengthened through shared adventure, a life in which there is always space for gratitude and growth, for silliness and celebration. I will do this work when it is easy and when it is hard, through poverty and plenty, in sickness and in health, during times of sorrow and times of joy. Will you do this work with me?"

ceremony_34 kiss

picnic_32

Since we’re not religious, we searched for traditions that honored our commitment and our future in a way that was authentic. We passed our rings before our vows to be blessed, and sang several songs from the Sacred Harp. To acknowledge our promise and our family and friends as our witnesses, we also included the Quaker tradition of a wedding contract, signed by the couple and their guests. Our contract was a beautiful gift from two of our friends, who collaborated on the art and calligraphy, and used our vows as the basis for the text.

ceremony_33

ceremony_32

ceremony_40

ceremony_41

ceremony_42

Our biggest challenge:
At our wedding, we had several different communities coming together: family and friends, Sacred Harp singers and Morris dancers, hippies and hipsters — and we wanted to make sure that everyone felt welcome and comfortable participating in our ceremony and celebration. And since it was a small wedding, we didn’t want anyone to feel left out or isolated. We deputized our friends to be our representatives, to welcome folks staying the weekend, marshal the dancers, and teach a beginning singing school so that everyone could participate in the singing in the afternoon. The result was a beautiful blending of communities, and everyone was relaxed, including us!

picnic_39

picnic_41 waltz

My favorite moment:
My sister opened the singing with a heartfelt reflection on what it meant to come together to sing in celebration of our marriage, and that was when it hit me — not only had we made the choice to commit our lives to one another, our community had rallied together to witness and support that choice. Experienced singers and friends who had never sung a note came together, and every song and every smile felt like an offering and an affirmation. We felt so loved, and so grateful.

picnic_04

That night, we built a bonfire and enjoyed beer floats and leftover pizza with our overnight guests. Stargazing and chatting with them was a beautiful way to take a first step into the other side of our lives together – the ordinary, everyday friendship and joy that we hoped to carry forward, and that would mark our lives (even when we weren’t the center of attention). Even the very determined mosquitos couldn’t take away from it!

ceremony_18

My funniest moment:
During our ceremony, we passed our wedding rings to be blessed by our family and friends, and we planned on singing a favorite song while they passed. We made copies of the song, and had a good representation of singers, but we miscalculated how long it would take to pass the rings! My sister, who was helping us with the laid-back logistics of the ceremony, led our guests in four impromptu choruses at the end, until the rings got around… and we stopped laughing.

picnic_33

singing_03

What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?
Friendship makes the world go round, and friends make a wedding work! Since our wedding was pretty do-it-yourself and we were planning from across the country, our friends set up chairs and did dishes, helped make our decorations and designed our invitations, planned the singing, and rolled with any surprises or snafus. We emerged from our celebration deeply grateful for our loving and beloved friends, and for having the kinds of relationships with our communities where we felt comfortable asking for their help and support to make our wedding possible.

singing_48 kelsey&christine

singing_44 newlyweds

Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

  1. Oh dear. What a gorgeous wedding! It looks like a joyful time was had by all! I also wanted to say that I was very affected by your vows in a way that I don't often experience. Would it be alright with you two if my partner and I adapted them for our future ceremony?

    2 agree
    • Of course! Thanks so much for asking. We found it so helpful to have other people's awesome (and sometimes awful) vows to build on and adapt. Good luck with your upcoming, awesome wedding!

  2. Such a warm and beautiful wedding! It's lovely when a couple manages to make their ceremony really personal, instead of following a traditional wedding program. Also, gorgeous art on the wedding contract.
    – Lucy

    1 agrees
  3. What a wonderful dress ! First I saw it, then I read that you actualy made it ! Waw ! I love So much things about you're wedding : the pic nic, the fire pit, the fact that you sang your love for each other and the people who are with you for your beautiful day.

    2 agree
  4. Nice wedding contract. I've never thought that you could design your wedding contract that way. Not sure if that is possible here in Hong Kong. But if it is indeed possible, I would have my wedding planner in Hong Kong designed one with yellow and blue shades. Haha. And make it bigger as well so I could hang it in our house.

  5. Hello, there! Like so many others, I was very moved by this wedding, especially the words you shared from your ceremony. My partner and I are embarking on our own ceremony-writing journey: would it be all right with you if we took your words as a starting point? Many thanks!

    • Thanks for asking! Yes, you're welcome to use them however you like. Hammering out our promises ended up being the most important part of solemnizing and "declaring" our marriage – saying them out loud at a party was just a bonus :).

      Good luck!

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.