Hear the one about the couple who got married outdoors in a blizzard? On April Fools’ Day? Deliberately? Or how about the time the dog chosen to be ring bearer took off for a romp in an adjacent field instead of proceeding down the aisle? Those are just a few of the experiences related by Karen Hart, a notary public from Bar Harbor who has performed more than 450 weddings, including some on short notice. She’s been asked, “Can you marry us at three o’clock today?” and she officiated with at least one bride who was quite pregnant, while she and her new husband were about to board an airplane. By the way, the couple married in the Nor’easter remain married after nearly 20 years.

Closer to home, former mayor of Lewiston, and mayor of Auburn, John Jenkins, now offers a service called Notary Nuptials, and was once asked to officiate at a local wedding while dressed as The Cat in the Hat. The wedding vows included liberal sprinklings of Dr. Seuss’ rhetoric. “The first wedding I performed,” Jenkins said, “was when a couple who worked for the city of Lewiston while I was mayor asked if I would marry them. The wedding took place in the mayor’s office.”

The familiar notion of weddings performed by justices of the peace hasn’t happened in Maine for some 10 years, but the alternative is that anyone with a notary public license in Maine can officiate. Maine, Florida and South Carolina are the only states in which notaries can perform weddings, but the process really is appropriate: The role of a notary, deriving from practices in ancient Egypt – where most people were illiterate and required the services of professionals in order to transact business – and continuing throughout medieval Europe has evolved to “formerly witness transactions involving paper documents.” Among other things, that includes licensed marriages.

Virtually any adult citizen of Maine can be commissioned as a notary, and all Maine notaries can perform weddings. Sally Brochu, a former chaplain at St. Mary’s, was once asked by a nurse if she would she officiate at the nurse’s wedding. When Brochu said she didn’t have a notary license, the nurse said “Well, go get it.” Brochu did and has performed numerous weddings since; not all that many, by her account, “but those I have [done] have been a real joy,” she said, including for her own granddaughter and her husband.

Notaries public can be a more affordable alternative to conventional officiants, and are often asked to conduct ceremonies at non-traditional locations, from backyards to beaches, airplanes to hot air balloons, although many have also appeared in churches, too. Those notaries who particularly enjoy officiating at weddings set their own compensation rates, often charging less for those close to home, with a surcharge or mileage charges imposed on those more than 100 miles away. Many also offer complete wedding planning services. Most will assist the couple with developing their ceremony, writing their vows, and doing whatever they can to help make the experience personal, meaningful and memorable. But, while no particular training is required for notaries to officiate, the membership association: Informed Notaries of Maine – www.informednotariesofmaine.org – provides its members with instructional materials, and the website includes listings of those who enjoy officiating.

A former president of INF, Kathleen Arsenault, who works at Bates College, has done “about 20 weddings,” and warns that couples should be careful about selecting a notary. “For example,” she explained, “using blue ink on the wedding certificate can nullify the whole proceeding. And filing the documents is a time-sensitive process, too.” And, she added, notaries who do weddings “have to love what they’re doing. You certainly can’t make a living at it!”

Ellie Bowie, who operates a service called Enchantment Wedding Services, in Lisbon, has performed more than 40 weddings in just “a couple of years.” She provides full-scale event planning services, too. She functioned as an in-house notary for an employer a few years ago, and some co-workers asked her to officiate for them. “I just love brides, love seeing happy people, love seeing the start of new lives,” is how she sums up the perspective of most of her colleagues.

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