A Labour of Love

Once she retired from Alberta Justice after 40 years, where oaths were a part of the job, it was time for something new. By then, she had already been performing wedding ceremonies on a casual basis for 20 years, so making the change wasn’t a deep plunge. From probation orders to marriage vows, Gerda is no stranger to administering oaths, but finds it an especially fulfilling privilege to help couples take the step towards their happily ever after. “I just want everyone to have a marriage as filled with joy and happiness as I was lucky enough to have.”
The moment that sweeps her away at every wedding is watching the bride walk down the aisle. “I usually cry at weddings,” she laughs, “but when I’m working, I have to hold it together.” But the job starts long before each bride takes those steady steps and involves more than just the vows. From holding babies while oaths are exchanged, to slipping tissues to a perspiring groom on the verge of fainting, the more stories Gerda shares, the more it sounds like she’s a full-time wedding coach. She has to be ready for anything.
A feuding couple is late for their ceremony, and as the bride walks down the aisle, the pair are starring daggers at each other. Gerda is calm and steady, telling the distraught groom to just focus on her – because at that point, they have built a solid rapport. If nerves are escalated, she whispers in a moment of pause “we’re almost done” to a sigh of relief from the anxious couple. She’s seen her share, but hasn’t seen it all yet. Every wedding comes with its own challenges and customizations. “It’s about what works for each couple,” she tells me. And that, I learn, could be anything.

Weddings can be as formal as a ceremony in the beautiful Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens, where a couple in their 60s share vows over a decade in the making, to sitting in the couple’s kitchen while the witness dines on Chinese food. And Gerda speaks of them all with the same fondness and dreamy gleam in her eye.

But it isn’t all rose-petals and champagne cheers, this is a career for Gerda, and she treats it with as much respect and diligence as any professional. “This is my job,” she tells me, “and sometimes I have three weddings booked in one day, so scheduling can be tight.” So a sudden switch from a morning to an evening ceremony might be out of the cards, but Gerda always tries to make it work. “Being early is important,” she emphasises. “Fifteen minutes is all it takes to ease the nerves and ensure everything goes off without a hitch.”

I learned a few more useful tidbits as Gerda continued to share. The price of a commissioner is locally regulated, but you still should shop around and find someone who is a good fit for you, especially since the initial consultation is free. A rehearsal is not mandatory, nor does the commissioner have to attend the rehearsal. The ceremony is standard, but can be customized to each couple.

I dare to ask if anything has ever gone wrong, and all she does is laugh. “At my first wedding, I asked, ‘Who gives this man to be married to this woman?’ and the entire room of 70 guests cheered, ‘We do!’.”

She does it all: short vows to be commemorated later, an official wedding before a tropical destination ceremony, vow renewals – and she loves every minute it. “Every moment with the one you love is a treasure, from the first vow to the thirty-year renewal, and it is my privilege to be a part of the journey.”
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