– Featured in: The Family Oriented Wedding
It was a giant step for Johnna Reeder, a divorced public relations executive focused on her rapidly rising career, to marry into a ready-made family – one that included two school-age children who needed lots of time and attention. But after three years of dating Kurt Kleymeyer, a 39-year-old financial services wholesaler, Johnna admits that her priorities shifted.
“Our dates did not consist of the fine restaurants and exciting theatre to which I had become accustomed,” explains 37-year-old Johnna. “The kids were part of our dating relationship from the start, so we did things like roller skating, seeing family films and other child-appropriate activities.”
This unusual courting ritual worked for the metropolitan Cincinnati couple. Johnna fell in love with both Kurt and his kids, 10-year-old Emma and seven-year-old Alex. So when the couple decided to marry, there was no question that Kurt’s children would be a central part of their wedding. However, Johnna wasn’t sure exactly how to make that happen. With the help of a local jeweler, she found the perfect answer to her dilemma: a simple and emotionally satisfying family service that gives children a meaningful role in the wedding celebration. This five-minute ceremony – known as the Family Medallion service – can easily be integrated into any religious or civil wedding ceremony. It differs from the traditional wedding in only one respect: After the newlyweds' exchange rings, their children join them for a special service focusing on the family nature of a marriage. Each child is given a gold or silver Family Medallion (in the form of a pendant, ring, key ring or lapel pin) with three interlocking circles, a symbol that represents family love in much the same way the wedding ring signifies conjugal love.
The jeweler had used the Family Medallion and family wedding service in her own blended family wedding and enthusiastically recommended it to Johnna. Since she didn’t sell Family Medallion products in her shop, she gave Johnna the website address where she could get more information. “I checked it out,” Johnna recalls. “I loved the symbolism of the Family Medallion. And the wording of the family ceremony that accompanied it epitomized what was in my heart. I write for a living and I couldn’t have expressed any better the sentiments about the importance of children in blended families.”
Both Johnna and Kurt say they will never forget the special family service that was the highlight of their September 2009 wedding in the backyard of the home of Kurt’s father and stepmother. Just
when everyone thought the wedding service was about to end, the minister announced that there would be a special ceremony during which Johnna and Kurt would formally promise to love and care for Emma and Alex. While the minister read the words of the ceremony aloud for the guests to hear, Johnna and Kurt gave the Family Medallions to their children. It was a tender moment, with a lot of hugging. “I was so surprised and excited,” recalls young Emma. “It made me happy that Dad and Johnna did something so special for me and Alex.”
For most of the guests at the Reeder/Kleymeyer wedding, the family service was the pinnacle of the day’s events. Many were touched to tears. “I can’t tell you how many people told me they had never before witnessed such a wonderful and unique ceremony for children,” Johnna says.
The family wedding concept is an idea whose time has come now that one in three new marriages involves single parents with children living in the home, according to the Stepfamily Association of America. The Family Medallion wedding ceremony was created by Dr. Roger Coleman, minister, and president of Clergy Services, Inc., an organization in Kansas City, Missouri, devoted to developing family-oriented services for weddings and other important life events. Dr. Coleman was frustrated that virtually no religious or civil wedding ceremony acknowledged the existence of youngsters. “A marriage with children is a lot more than simply a union of a man and a woman. It is the merging of two separate families.”
Today, more than 15,000 couples annually – primarily in the U.S., Canada, and Europe – use the Family Medallion ceremony to help strengthen the bond between parents, stepparents, and children. Clergy and justices of the peace increasingly embrace Coleman’s family ceremony,
integrating it into the weddings they perform. Some even caution couples not to underestimate the importance of recognizing during the wedding the young children either spouse brings to the marriage relationship.
“When children aren’t included in a significant way, you can see the haunted look in their faces. You get the sense that they’re thinking my mom or dad just promised to love someone else forever. What about me?” says Pastor Brian Eastman, the minister who performed the family wedding for Johnna and Kurt. Eastman is pastor of the Revelation Spiritual Church of Christ in Cincinnati. “So many problems in adults can be traced to childhood and the belief that there’s not enough love to go around. When this occurs, the child grows up with the sense that he or she is not entirely lovable, a belief affects virtually all aspects of one’s adult life.”
Johnna and Kurt believe that their decision to have a “family wedding” will strengthen their family bond for years to come. “My parents divorced when I was six years old,’ explains Kurt, the father of Emma and Alex. “Divorce is hard on kids. I wanted Emma and Alex to understand that they were not losing Johnna to me through marriage. I think the family wedding service did just that. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”
As far as fifth grader Emma is concerned, the family wedding meant she was gaining a step mom who loves her very much. She wears her Family Medallion ring every day and proudly shows it to friends. “I tell them it means that all of us – Dad, Johnna, Alex and me – came together as a family.”