Vermont is a lovely place to visit. Vermont, you know: Green Mountains, Birkenstocks, second-least populous state in the Union. And the only state whose borders form an outline of its initial.
But there are things I don’t completely understand about Vermont. For example: They say it’s part of New England. This can’t be quite right. It’s not even one of the original 13 colonies, is it? And it’s landlocked. Old England is an island; no state this far from the ocean should be part of something called New England. I think we might allow Vermont to be designated “honorary New England,” but this is as far as I can go. All in favor, say Aye.
There’s another little issue. Vermont has now taken $100 from me.
I had the honor of being invited to officiate at my nephew’s wedding this summer, but he fell for a girl who grew up in Vermont, which of course inclined her to want to be married there.
It wasn’t as simple as getting in my clergymobile and driving across the border and opening my little black book and conducting the ceremony. As a clergyman residing in Massachusetts, I seem to be regarded by the state of Vermont as something of an alien. So the state of Vermont has taken steps to protect itself. There are hoops for interloper-clergy to jump through. Forms for carpetbagger-clergy to fill out.
And fees for intruder-clergy to pay.
You can get away with paying just $24, if you can get the prior approval of the “probate judge” in the town where the wedding is going to take place. This should have been simple, especially since the site of this Vermont wedding was literally a few feet inside the state line. I could have stood on the Massachusetts side and, using my Big Preacher Voice, married the happy couple as they remained standing over on the Vermont side.
But of course, this being summer, the judge was on vacation. (Probably at the Cape, don’t you think?) So I moved to Plan B.
As my intrepid Ipswich attorney discovered, in Vermont you can bypass the local judge by asking the Vermont secretary of state for something called a “Request for Authorization to Officiate at a Vermont Civil Marriage.” This is a very imposing document: “PLEASE PRINT CLEARLY,” it booms in boldface capital letters across the top. “WRITING MUST BE LEGIBLE FOR CORRECT PROCESSING.” I believe there are retired schoolteachers in a musty basement in Montpelier, huddled over stacks of these forms, clutching red pens and tsk-tsking about the irregularity of Massachusetts clergy’s ascenders and descenders.
Then, at least 10 days before the ceremony, you deliver this form to the “Vermont Secretary of State Temporary Officiant Program.” Which makes you feel like a criminal, or a Star Trek droid.
You also feel strangely lighter. About $100 lighter. Yes, this filled-out form must be accompanied by $100. Otherwise it’s essentially compost.
There is something wrong with this picture. If Vermonters-in-love do not find Vermont clergy entirely satisfactory, should Vermont make Massachusetts pay for this service? Perhaps every time an out-of-state clergyman is hired for a wedding in Vermont, some random member of the Vermont clergy should get a bill in the mail for $100.
Sad to say, however, hiring a Massachusetts clergyman is no guarantee of a good wedding. I did a very bad job of officiating at my nephew’s ceremony.
But I swear, it was accidental. It had nothing to do with begrudging the hundred bucks. I promise. I mean it. Really.