Ryan Rutledge, a childhood friend of mine, called me last autumn with a request that almost took my breath away.

Ryan and Natalie LaRocca wanted me to officiate the wedding.

What are you waiting for?

Ryan said that Ryan and Natalie had not yet established a relationship with clergy members at any parish near Ponte Veda in Florida where they moved during the pandemic. Ryan, who is Catholic and has done public speaking, shared his idea with Natalie.

“How about Larry?”

Natalie was enthusiastically in agreement.

How could I possibly say no?

In a quick process, I was soon ordained as an online minister of the Universal Life Church. I printed off a certificate issued by the nondenominational religious organisation, marking the first item on my list.

My wife Suzanne Mrozinski and I were about to marry 18 years ago at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church, Saline, Michigan. We attended workshops and talked with clergy about our faith, as well as the family we wanted.

Ryan and Natalie wanted me to try my best, even though I was 1,000 miles away. I wanted to make the most out of one of my greatest opportunities and responsibilities.

I was part of a long line of first-time officiants. The Universal Life Church claims it has ordained over 20 million people, but it isn’t the only one offering this service.

The Knot reports that 51% of 2020’s wedding couples had a friend or relative officiate their ceremony. This is an increase from 37% in 2015. According to the 2020 Brides American Wedding Study 25% of couples get married by a friend/family member.

Anna Price Olson, Bridemagazine associate editorial director, stated that modern couples want to say “I do” in their own way. Working with someone who is familiar with the couple allows them to customize the ceremony to their liking, which makes the entire experience more personal for the couple as well as their guests.

With three decades of sportwriting experience from Michigan, I asked Ryan and Natalie questions. I spoke with them both separately and together. I fact-checked all my notes and also left some details as surprise that I thought would make them laugh or cry.

I’m used to thinking of Plan B in the event of an unexpected play or rewrite. As I discovered that Ryan’s sister Regina Forest was going to read the exact same scripture as me, Corinthians 13.

It reads, “Love is patient.” It says, “Love is kind.”

After considering other options, Colossians 3:12-14 seemed like a good fit. The closing sentence is “…overall these virtues put forth love which binds all of them together in perfect unity.”

I made a Google Doc of my notes, printed it and packed it in a red folder to take with me on my flight to South Florida.

I was even more excited when I arrived at the Postcard Inn Beach Resortand Marina Islamorada, where my wedding was scheduled to take place. I was also nervous. Although I was certain I would be able to do it, I wanted to prove that Ryan and Nat believed in me.

Elizabeth Seligman was my wedding planner and gave me valuable tips like when to ask people to stand and when to sit.

She said, “When you say, ‘You may now kiss her,’ get out of her way so that you don’t appear in the photo.”

It’s there.

I believe.

I was afraid of forgetting to leave and ruining the image.

Ryan and Natalie were gathered with just over 100 family and friends for a sunny afternoon. I prayed that my preparation was adequate to match the enormity of the occasion.

Then I felt calm and stood before a microphone in a bright-blue suit, which was identical to the one worn by Ryan, his twin, and Regan. After asking everyone to sit down, I congratulated Alice and Tony LaRocca and Brenda Rutledge on being married almost 100 years.

My belief in Providence, the divine guidance of our lives, brought Ryan and Natalie together was shared by me. Ryan was forced to leave Charleston, South Carolina by Hurricane Florence in September 2018. He then went to Florida to rekindle a relationship that had started at a wedding that year. Ryan met Natalie’s daughter Mia the weekend after the hurricane had passed. Their day on the beach convinced the divorcée mother that she had found the right person.

Ryan and Natalie reunited after Hurricane Dorian ravaged the coast one year later. They discovered she was pregnant.

Ryan said to me, “That day changed everything.” “We are moving faster than I thought. Because she’s half of me, I was okay with it.”

Ryan proposed to Cooper Rutledge just a few months after he was born.

My role as a rookie officiant was something I enjoyed. It was a role that I felt comfortable in because I interview people and share their stories.

As with my day job it’s not all about me. I remember to get out of the path.