Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Parishes’ wedding coordinators help organize details, ease stress

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the May 24, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

In many parishes, when a couple approaches a parish priest or deacon to schedule a wedding, the priest or deacon helps the couple plan everything. From working through a marriage preparation process prior to the wedding, to the wedding rehearsal, to the wedding itself, the priest or deacon does it all. In other parishes, however – typically, larger parishes – you’ll find someone whose job, or ministry, is to guide couples through the process of planning and celebrating a Catholic wedding.

At Spokane’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, Elizabeth Woodfill served as wedding coordinator for years until she recently passed the baton to Sherry Schmidt.

“I was on a committee, about nine or 10 years ago, with the wedding coordinator before me,” Woodfill said, “and she wasn’t going to be able to do it anymore. It was, ‘Oh, Elizabeth, why don’t you do this for me?’ and silly me, I didn’t realize it was going to last as long as it did.”

Currently, the Cathedral parish has between six and eight weddings per year. “I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I needed to be,” Woodfill said. “I had to fly by the seat of my pants.’”

Over the years, Woodfill’s job description became clearer to her. “I had a form that I had the brides fill out to help me understand what they had planned. I talked with the couples prior to their weddings, and as it got closer to the wedding date I walked through things with them and answered any questions they might have. I was the person who ran the rehearsal. I was responsible for opening and closing the church, and making sure that everything was done, the alarm set when we closed up, and the same things would need to be done the day of the wedding. I would have to open up for the florist and the photographer, and I answered questions and did whatever needed to be done, until after the wedding, and then I would make sure that everything was picked up and cleaned up. Then I would lock the doors.”

Now and then a couple, or the bride’s mother, would request that something unusual be included in the wedding. “I got pretty good at saying no,” Woodfill said, “if that was something that we just weren’t going to do, and reminding people that this is the cathedral, and not everything goes.”

Still, she said, “almost always, the people that had the reputation for being difficult to work with were not, and the people who were going to be easy to deal with turned out to be the most difficult.”

At St. Aloysius Parish in Spokane, which has between 55 and 60 weddings each year, Kathy Yates’ title is “marriage pastoral associate,” and she has been helping couples to plan their weddings for over 15 years.

“When I first began,” she said, “the parish advertised in the Sunday bulletin for a sacristan for weddings. A lady from the altar society had done this before me, and it took me about a year to realize that there was a much greater comprehensive need than just unlocking doors and getting things ready for Mass. After that, I began interacting with the couples. At that time we still had marriage preparation by the priests, whereas today we have a marriage preparation program, that groups of couples attend.”

Yates’s responsibilities include processing annulments, and coordinating wedding preparation and planning for Gonzaga University’s student chapel, for the new chapel at Gonzaga Prep High School, and for the chapel at Gonzaga University’s Jesuit House, in addition to serving St. Aloysius Parish. “Not all the marriage preparation for all the couples goes through St. Al’s,” she said, “but we need to make sure it does happen and keep track of all the paperwork. I point the couples in the right directions and make sure they understand what needs to be done in order to have a sacramental marriage in a Catholic church or chapel.”

Yates has a team of women volunteers who help to coordinate the weddings in the several places for which St. Aloysius is responsible. “We have a whole list of questions that we have developed over the years that pretty much cover everything that will happen between when they arrive and when they leave. The coordinator is there to make sure things run smoothly and to assist the priest. We have many different priests who come through, and the coordinator needs to deal, ‘on the fly,’ as it were, with whatever comes up, because each priest has a little bit different style, which needs to be integrated into what’s going on.”

At Spokane’s Our Lady of Fatima Parish, the wedding coordinator for two years now has been Monica Stenzel. “I asked for (the job),” she said, “because I was thinking that with the new church (building) we might have more weddings than before. I asked our pastor at the time, Father Jim Kuhns, and he thought it was a good idea.”

Stenzel says that she doesn’t think she has yet worked with a typical couple. “At first, couples were wanting to ask me questions about theology, and about the sacrament (of marriage), and they don’t have any idea what they’re entering into. So now we’ve established that they need to first call Deacon John Byrne and actually begin the marriage preparation process, which is supposed to start four months before the wedding.”

So far, Stenzel says, Our Lady of Fatima has had only about five weddings a year.

“I sit down with the couple and ask them questions. Mostly it’s logistics about the ceremony, and the building. We don’t want children younger than age three taking part in the wedding, because it usually results in unpleasantness all the way around. One couple wanted to hand out chocolate kisses and bubble bottles, for blowing bubbles, in the sanctuary, and I had to say no. The bride actually started to argue with me about that. I also get in touch with the photographer and the florist and make sure they know when they can come in and what they’re allowed to do.”

Stenzel also supervises each wedding rehearsal. “Usually,” she says, “it’s the day before the wedding. The priest or deacon, ideally, is in charge of the rehearsal, and I’m in the background making sure that no phones are ringing, and no children are exploding. Most people have an idea of how they want it to be, but they don’t know how to achieve that. I encourage them to work with our music minister, Fred Williams, and they need to understand that there are guidelines regarding the kinds of music that are allowed at a Catholic wedding. Some want to bring their own musicians, family or friends, so I tell them who to talk to about that.”

During the wedding itself, Stenzel finds that if there are young children in the congregation she needs to help them deal with the situation by providing tissues, and toys or books.

At Spokane’s St. Thomas More Parish, Claudia Dressler is the full-time parish secretary, but for 13 years she has also worn the wedding coordinator hat, mostly on weekends. St. Thomas More averages 12-14 weddings per year. “I guess Deacon John Sicilia (now Director of Deacons and pastoral associate of St. Charles Parish, Spokane), when he was here, asked me to do the job because the parish staff knew I had been a florist,” Dressler said.

As parish secretary, Dressler responds to couples calling with questions, or asking for scheduling possibilities. She also attends the rehearsal, and takes notes “so I know how the wedding is to go the next day, because every priest is different. Then the day of the wedding I’m there from when the bride arrives – and these days, they usually arrive three or four hours ahead. I set up the church for the wedding, help get boutonnières in place, and get people to photographers when they need to be, and all that. I get everyone in line when it’s time to walk down the aisle. Then after the wedding, I break down the church, clean it up, and get it ready for the next Mass, whenever that will be.”

As with most wedding coordinators, Dressler has had a few unexpected requests. “I had bride and groom one time,” she says, “who wanted the dog to be in the wedding. But it’s interesting that on more than one occasion, in the course of the wedding day, I’ve had the bride say to me, in the course of all the wild stuff, ‘I should have taken the money.’ With all the rigmarole, and all the chaotic circus stuff, the stress level gets to a point, and all of a sudden you can see in their eyes that simple would have been better.”

Since she began serving as wedding coordinator, Dressler has seen some changes, however. “Today,” she says, “more of the couples getting married are older, in their late 20s and into their 30s, and their feet are planted on the ground more. They know that they are there for the sacrament rather than for a princess foo-foo happening.”

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