Getting hitched? Taking the plunge? Tying the knot?
If you’re getting married this spring, summer, or fall, you might consider calling on someone who can provide a bit of levity to your vows—as well as a spiritual essence. South Fork Valley’s Matthew Thuney provides all this and more with his Weddings With Spirit & Wit.
Thuney’s career path took many turns before he landed on wedding officiant.
Among his first memories is his grandmother reading to him from the Bible at night. “As a kid, I kind of liked going to church, although I loathed Sunday School,” he says, “so I’d beg my parents to let me stay in the pew instead of marching off with the other kids. That way, I got to hear the sermon.”
At that young age, he says, is probably when he became intrigued with theology and philosophy. It seemed right that his career path would lead toward the ministry. He jokes that in college he undertook really “practical studies” in religion and anthropology, did well in school and, after graduation, was accepted into Yale Divinity School.
“One of the things you’re required to do in seminary is serve an internship, and I did so at a local college,” Thuney says. “I quickly discovered, in my early twenties, that I was far better suited to exegesis and translation than I was to dealing with actual people and their questions and challenges. So much for the ministry.”
Instead, Thuney entered the retail world, trained to be a radio broadcaster, and eventually moved to Bellingham, where he owned and operated a business for 16 years, and also met and fell in love with a woman and her two kids. Because he needed to support his family, he left his business and went to work for someone else.
Eventually, his family moved out to “the hinterlands of the eastern Whatcom foothills,” where his wife’s family originally settled almost 100 years ago. He wrote a book, Bucolia: Hijinx in the Hinterlands, got to know the neighbors, became involved in local community-building efforts, and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this “magical place.”
Over the years, people who knew of Thuney’s spiritual background asked him to perform memorial ceremonies, give eulogies, that sort of thing. He was honored to do so.
“When our new friends across the road asked me to perform the wedding for their son and his fiancée, I jumped at the chance,” he says. “Never done a wedding before, and what a welcome change of pace!”
Thus began his career as a wedding officiant—and Thuney can’t imagine a more fulfilling job.
“My motto for couples is, ‘This is your day, make it your way.’ And, being a humorist, I always try to incorporate a wee bit of fun. Hence, ‘Weddings With Spirit & Wit.’”
Thuney says he has celebrated just about every kind of wedding ceremony one might imagine. “From standing in for pastors who weren’t available to performing pagan handfastings,” he says. “It’s all been a great joy.”
He prefers—as do most of the couples—outdoor settings.
The Pacific Northwest offers so many picturesque places and Thuney says he usually has good luck with the weather. He tells folks he “has connections.”
But even when the weather seemingly betrays the day, the memories are enhanced.
“One time at the stone bridge over Whatcom Falls, with the rain coming down in sheets and the falls roaring mightily behind us, I had to shout to be heard,” Thuney recalls. “But everyone had a smile on their face, and something to talk about for years to come.”
This past winter, at Picture Lake, with the bride all dressed in white and a flowered wreath gracing her hair, the snow began to fall and a bird appeared out of nowhere to encircle her head. “It was a scene straight out of a Disney movie!”
With the pandemic, Thuney says, “it’s been all about elopements: ceremonies that are short and sweet,” with couples planning for bigger bashes later, when things return to “normal.”
It’s a good plan, Thuney says.
“You’ve already gotten over the nervousness of actually getting married, so you’ll be able to celebrate your union with ease when the time comes, and in the company of all your friends and family.”
Thuney observes COVID protocols, and generally just a few guests—family and friends—attend.
But two witnesses are required, and he says that on occasion he’s had to “round up a couple of neighbors to serve that purpose.”
“And, on rare occasions,” he says, “we’ve had to recruit some passersby at a park. Funny thing is, whenever we celebrate a wedding in a public space, an audience always seems to magically appear. You finish the ceremony and hear all this applause and cheering!”
One of the wedding elements he likes to include is a unity ceremony.
“This can take the form of something traditional, like the lighting of candles, pouring of sand, or…something else,” he explains.
“The first time a couple proposed a log-cutting as their unity ceremony, I had to ask, ‘What? How is that a unity ceremony?’ Turns out it’s an old German tradition. The bride and groom saw through a small log together, with the log symbolizing a challenge they meet and conquer together.”
One of the three he’s performed particularly stands out.
“As the bride and groom pulled and tugged their two-handed saw together through their wooden challenge, every time the bride brought the saw back towards her, on the down-stroke, the handle came inches from catching in her flowing gown.”
“Concentrating on the task, she didn’t notice it, but the guests sure did. With each stroke, as the handle came ever closer to the gown, the crowd gasped, then released its breath, then gasped again. The bride, befuddled, couldn’t fathom their reaction…until she was apprised of the perilous situation after the ceremony.”
Thuney also likes to add a “love story” to the ceremony. He asks the couple to send him a brief outline of how they met and how their relationship progressed, with funny and touching elements that occurred along the way. He then creates a narrative to include in their ceremony.
“The love story invariably adds elements of humor and pathos,” he says, “setting both the guests and couple at ease.”
“I always tell my couples: ‘There’s gonna be a glitch or two, but those are the moments that make a wedding memorable,’” he says. “And on the big day, it will all come together the way it was meant to be. Rejoice!”