I’ve been aware for several years now of a trend that seems to have begun where trends often seem to: on the west coast. While very slowly working its way east, this phenomenon seems to be losing a bit of steam and I’m not sure it will ever truly take off.
What I speaketh of is the practice of renting out funeral chapels to couples who are looking for a site to conduct their wedding. Yeah, I was a bit bowled over when I first heard about this one, too. But since I have been asked about it a few times (always by curious folks, not once by someone who is truly interested in getting married in a funeral home), I thought I would toss out a few random thoughts about this topic.
To be completely honest, we have used our Downtown Roanoke chapel for a wedding on two separate occasions. The first was when a young woman lost her grandmother only a few weeks before she was due to get married. The bride-to-be was adamant that she wanted her grandmother to be at her wedding, and came up with an idea: “What about conducting a wedding in your chapel after my grandmother’s visitation is over on the night before the funeral?” We, of course, replied that Oakey’s would be agreeable to such a function in our chapel, and the couple did indeed get married with her grandmother’s casketed body right alongside of them in our main chapel. Of course it was only open to immediate family, and they still got married a few weeks later in a public ceremony at a church. And while some may find such a scene in our mortuary to be appalling, our rule has always been to (when possible) tell a family that we will do all in our power to accommodate their requests.
The second time our chapel was used for a wedding was when one of our staff members and his wife asked if they could use it in such a manner. Since they scheduled their wedding on a Saturday evening (a time of the week when we have the fewest visitations because of the lack of Sunday funerals), I told them to proceed with their plans and get married in our chapel. I attended the wedding and have to admit that it was a beautiful event! The bride and groom used a church next door to our facility for their reception, and years later are happily married with two cute kids!
There was another occasion where there was ALMOST a wedding at our downtown facility. About ten years ago, a couple thought our building was a church and came inside asking if they could get married there. When we informed them that Oakey’s was a funeral home and not a church, they looked so heartbroken that I made a few calls and took them up to West End United Methodist Church, where Rev. Bernard Via performed their nuptials. We took some of Oakey’s specialty items up to the church and gave out flashlights, letter openers, and ink pens to the newly betrothed couple!
And while before my time, the area where the Oakey’s front reception desk now sits saw a NUMBER of weddings performed prior to 1938. That’s because before it was Oakey’s, it was the manse for a Presbyterian church that was located on the site where WSLS-TV 10 now stands. The manse was where the ministers lived, kind of like a parsonage is now. When I first came to work at our firm back in the mid-70’s, I had older couples tell me that they had eloped in the middle of the night and knocked on the door of the parsonage to have the preacher (I’m guessing garbed in pajamas/bathrobe with a night cap on his head!) marry them. The older couples would point right to the location near our front desk where they stood, too. So 318 West Church Avenue is no stranger to weddings!
But I do not foresee weddings figuring prominently as a revenue stream for our organization. I certainly have no plans to market our funeral home as such, and the abundance of houses of worship and reception halls in our valley tells me that there are plenty of sites for brides and grooms to say “I do”. More importantly, I’m pretty sure that our housekeeper (Norma) would spaz out if she had to clean up birdseed or rice every Sunday morning!!