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More couples asking friends, family members to officiate weddings

Kala and Jonathan Kvernen, who recently moved from Fargo to North Carolina, had their friend, Jon Bertsch, of Mapleton, N.D., officiate their wedding. Special to The Forum1 / 2
Jennifer Palmer, who grew up in Ayr, N.D., and now lives in Maple Grove, Minn., officiated the wedding of a friend and her husband in Hawaii several years ago. Special to The Forum2 / 2

FARGO – Jon Bertsch didn’t set out to officiate weddings.

But a joke between friends led to a meaningful wedding for a former Fargo couple and a bit of a calling for the Mapleton farmer.

Kala Kvernen, 24, said she and her husband, Jonathan, didn’t like the idea of a big, scripted, traditional wedding.

“We just kind of wanted something plain and simple,” she said. “We really thought we also wanted somebody to marry us who actually knew us and who we knew as well.”

They didn’t have ties to any churches, and they weren’t comfortable getting to know a pastor or priest in just a few months.

“One day I jokingly said, ‘What about Bertsch?’ ” Kvernen said. “There’s just something about him that makes him such an amazing person. He also has the perfect blend of sarcasm and serious at the same time.”

It’s becoming increasingly common for people to ask someone other than a religious leader or a judge to officiate their weddings.

Fewer couples are marrying in religious institutions, according to a survey by XO Group Inc., a global media company and creator of the wedding planning website,

XO Group surveyed nearly 13,000 U.S. brides and grooms who married in 2013 and found that 33 percent married in a religious institution, compared with 41 percent in 2009. While 63 percent of couples hired a professional ceremony officiant in 2009, 57 percent of couples did last year.

In North Dakota and South Dakota, 97 percent of couples hired or used an officiant. Of those, 25 percent used friends or family members. Of the 94 percent of Minnesota couples who hired or used an officiant, 33 percent hired or used a friend or family member, according to the study.

Jennifer Palmer, 38, who grew up in Ayr, N.D., and now lives in Maple Grove, Minn., officiated the wedding of her friends, Kristen Rodacker Oeltjenbruns and D. Jay Oeltjenbruns several years ago in Hawaii.

“They wanted to do something different and nondenominational, but felt I would be a good person because I am spiritual,” she said.

Palmer became certified online, looked into the license requirements for Hawaii and researched what to put into a ceremony.

“It was very special,” she said. “It’s such an honor to be asked and that they would consider me to be that special person who would bring their lives together.”

While Bertsch’s friends’ request started out as a joke, when he agreed to officiate their wedding, he took the responsibility seriously. He went through a sort of pre-marital counseling session with them and gave them the marriage devotional book, “The Love Dare.”

“It’s basically putting the other person’s needs ahead of your own and thinking about the other person first,” Bertsch said.

The 27-year-old performs Christian-based ceremonies, he said. He writes them with some similar themes and in similar formats, but personalizes them to the couple.

“I ask both the bride and the groom three pet peeves that they have of the other person and three things that they just love about the other person and then I bring those things into my sermon in a certain way,” he said.

“We were blown away by his level of professionalism,” Kvernen said. “A lot of our guests were very, very surprised as well.”

And the experience, Kvernen said, made the day even more meaningful.

“It was so great and I feel like my husband and I wouldn’t have the same happy, joyful, great memories of that day if he didn’t do the service,” she said. “It completely meant the world to us.”

The Kvernen’s wedding was Bertsch’s first officiating experience, but he’s now getting ready to marry his fourth couple.

“It has definitely snowballed from there,” Bertsch said.

It takes less than two minutes to become a legally ordained minister of the Universal Life Church at simply by filling out an application with a name and address. The ordination is free and legal and grants people who become ordained the right to perform legal wedding ceremonies.

There is also a link to state wedding laws. The Universal Life Church Monastery encourages ministers to contact county clerks where they plan on performing weddings to make sure the county accepts the ordination and determine what forms of credentials are needed for a marriage ceremony.

Some counties charge a fee to file ordination credentials.

Tracy Frank

Tracy Frank is a SheSays, Variety, and Farmer's Forum reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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