Over the past forty-two years, Reverend Ted Anderson has seen more knots tied than most sailors or fisherman on the island. The now retired reverend of the Unitarian Universalist Church estimates that he’s presided over two thousand Nantucket weddings since becoming a man of the cloth. It’s a colorful history that includes no shows, cold feet, the island’s first same-sex unions, and, of course, lots of love and kisses. N recently grabbed a pew with Reverend Ted to talk weddings.
N: HOW MANY WEDDINGS HAVE YOU PREFORMED AS A CLERGYMAN?
ANDERSON: Probably about two thousand couples since I was ordained in 1967 from Yale Divinity School. Most of those were, and still are, on Nantucket. I began preaching here in the 1970s. I figure by the time I shuffle off this “mortal coil,” I will have married everyone on the island at least once.
N: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WEDDING VENUE?
ANDERSON: I don’t have a favorite per se. I like them all. I have married couples in the steeple of the Unitarian Church, which was lovely. I have married couples on the water, on Tuckernuck, on Coutue, and at Eat Fire Spring because of the Indian lore that island springs are mysti- cal and good luck. I’ve married couples at the Nantucket Yacht Club then ran over to Great Harbor Yacht Club and married a couple there that same day. At-home weddings are nice, and I do love the ‘Sconset Chapel, although they are only open for business three months out of the year. All the churches are beautiful here, really.
N: MASSACHUSETTS HAS ALLOWED LEGAL GAY MARRIAGE SINCE 2004. HAVE YOU MARRIED MANY GAY COUPLES HERE ON NANTUCKET?
ANDERSON: Yes, both legally and illegally. Out of sympathy in 1996, I married a very loving couple earlier when one of the partners was on her deathbed in the hospital. I married another couple in 2001. It is so much better now, legal and out in the open.
N: AS A UNITARIAN MINISTER, ENCOMPASSING ALL FAITHS, DO YOU WEAR A CLERICAL COLLAR AND BLACK SUIT WHEN YOU PERFORM A WEDDING?
ANDERSON: No, I prefer a dark suit and a tie, even though I hate wearing ties. So if I’m putting on a tie, the couple better show up.
N: NOT SHOW UP? YOU MEAN SOME DON’T?
ANDERSON: Absolutely! I hate no shows. Sometimes, I put on my regulation suit and tie and set out for the appointed wedding and I am the only one there. Once, I arrived at the address given me and knocked on the door and all I heard was a vacuum cleaner. The couple had called it off, but had forgot to call me off.
N: DO YOU USUALLY ATTEND THE WEDDING RECEPTIONS?
ANDERSON: No, almost never. If I attended all the ceremonies I have performed over the years, I’d weigh four hundred pounds by now.
N: DO MANY COUPLES WRITE THEIR OWN VOWS TODAY, OR IS THAT TOO 1970S?
ANDERSON: Well, the intent is there for couples to do that, but usually the job gets put off and eventu- ally they just go with the old tried and true, which
is what I like best. But I leave out the “obey” stuff, and the “’til death do us part” bit. It makes no sense: You don’t stop loving someone after they die. It’s a ridiculous notion.
N: HAVE YOU EVER DONE ANY UNOFFICIAL MARRIAGE COUNSELING BEFORE THE CEREMONY?
ANDERSON: Yes, if asked, I will always help a nervous, or as I like to say, “excited couple.” Occasionally I warm some cold feet a few days before the ceremony. And if asked the secret to my own marriage of forty- two years, I have one piece of advice I share: Think. Just think. Americans don’t like to think. They tend to ignore things until the problem is in their lap. There are two brains in a marriage, which are always better than one brain when a problem arises. Learn to think together as a team. Learn to think out loud with each other. Communicate. Come up with better solutions if the first one doesn’t work. When problems arise, and they will, you’ll learn to be less threatened. If a couple doesn’t practice solving little everyday problems, larger issues will just overwhelm them, and one or the other will throw up their hands and say, “I can’t deal with any of this!” Then you’ve really got a problem.
N: DO YOU EVER TEAR UP WHILE PERFORMING A CEREMONY?
ANDERSON: Well, I married all three of my children. For one of my daughters, I walked her down the aisle and presented her to the groom, then stepped in front and married them. That was pretty emotional.
N: WHAT WAS YOUR OWN WEDDING LIKE?
ANDERSON: It was my bride, Gretchen, my parents and I. That’s it. The Reverend Fred Bennett married us at my parents’ home in Polpis, and then we went to the Ships Inn and had fondue, and then went home to the Unitarian parsonage. It was perfect. We celebrate the day every year by having lunch at the Chanticleer restaurant in ‘Sconset. We celebrated our forty-second anniversary this July.