Memorial Church offers unique wedding experience for Stanford community
Wedding Coordinator Melissa Prestinario guides couples of all faiths and backgrounds through the Stanford Memorial Church wedding process. For alumni, faculty and others at Stanford, it's a chance to celebrate in a venue both near to their hearts and unlike any other in the United States.
With a confidence that would make most wedding planners envious, Stanford Memorial Church Wedding Coordinator Melissa Prestinario reports that of more than 100 weddings that have taken place in the university's famed sanctuary in the last fiscal year, every single one went off without a hitch.
"The wedding day always falls together perfectly," Prestinario said. "I think because it is such a fine-tuned process here, there's really no room for issues or errors of any kind. It's magical. There's such a spirit of joy and helpfulness about the day."
Current students, alumni, faculty, staff, regular members of the Catholic Community at Stanford or University Public Worship and children and grandchildren of any of the above are eligible to hold their weddings, civil marriages, same-sex blessings and renewals of vows in the on-campus church. (The Faculty Club also is available for weddings.) All faiths and religious backgrounds are welcome.
Prestinario took over as wedding coordinator in January of this year after working in public relations and luxury retail and owning an event planning company. She is the sole coordinator for weddings at Memorial Church, though she is currently training a backup coordinator.
She stressed that getting married at Memorial Church comes with a set of procedures to which couples must be willing to agree.
"It's not really Rent-a-Church," she said. "It's an entire process that one accepts and applies for."
Counseling session included
Prestinario guides each couple through a streamlined procedure that begins with an initial meeting with her three to six months before the ceremony in which the couple reserves a date and Prestinario outlines the church's requirements. Before each wedding, couples must complete the Taylor Johnson Temperament Analysis, a personality assessment, followed by three hours of premarital counseling, and meet with their assigned Stanford clergyperson, who will officiate at the ceremony.
The Taylor Johnson analysis serves to guide the counseling sessions, which are common practice before weddings in many churches, Prestinario pointed out. She said she has never dealt with a couple who refused counseling.
"Typically everyone just sticks with the program," Prestinario said. "I don't think anyone teaches us how to be married, so it's nice when we're given some tools, and assessing our strengths and weaknesses as a couple shines a light on a lot. Basically, the premarital counseling is just a way to talk about those things and get some tools on how to communicate about that for the future."
Music is always provided by Memorial Church music director and organist Robert Huw Morgan, unless he assigns an alternate. Couples are responsible for providing their own florists and photographers.
Prestinario runs a one-hour rehearsal the day before the wedding. On the wedding day each couple is given use of portions of the church (including the Round Room and the Bride's Room) for a total of two hours and 15 minutes to get ready, hold the ceremony and pose for formal photos afterward. All weddings take place on Saturdays at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. or 5 p.m. During the high season from May to October, every slot may be filled.
Debunking the myth that there is a five-year waiting list, Prestinario said as long as couples aren't too picky about an exact day or time slot, they shouldn't have trouble securing a date that works for them.
Though the process is brisk, the history and artistry of Memorial Church create an experience that is difficult to find on the West Coast, Prestinario said. Workers from Venice created mosaics and stained-glass works of art that rival many churches in Europe.
Bridget Dunnington and Maureen Sullivan, two of Stanford head baseball coach Mark Marquess' three daughters, were married in Memorial Church, in 1996 and 2009, respectively. Their mother, Susan Marquess, said they were most impressed by the church's beauty and grandeur.
"Maureen's husband Tom's family is from the northeast, and they could not get over the church," Marquess said. "Who gets married in a church like this? It's like getting married in a cathedral."
In addition, Jane Stanford's vision for the church – a place for people of all faiths to feel welcomed – creates a feeling of inclusiveness that many couples find very special, Prestinario said.
That welcoming atmosphere was part of what attracted Linda Reid, '88, to the idea of marrying her husband, Scott, in Memorial Church in 1994. With varying religious experiences and affiliations among their families and friends, she appreciated the church's multi-faith atmosphere.
"That was really neat. It was such an all-encompassing culture," Reid said.
United by a Stanford bond
Reid and Prestinario also cited a strong bond with Stanford as a reason why many couples decide to get married on campus.
"I think because Stanford is such a small school and it is very intimate and most of these people have lived on the campus for many years, I think it is like home," Prestinario said. "I think getting married here is very sentimental to most people."
Reid agreed that closeness to family and friends made Stanford an especially meaningful place to be married.
"I had many friends from Stanford, about a dozen girlfriends that I'm still close to, so it was fun to be on campus with all of them," she said.
The Rev. Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life at Stanford, estimates that he performs about 25 weddings at Memorial Church every year, and said it's one of the highlights of his work.
"Memorial Church is such an incredible, gorgeous place, and it's an opportunity and a privilege to meet with people before this great rite of passage in their lives," McLennan said. "To discuss the meaning of marriage and be with them at this critical time is one of the most amazing things I get to do as a clergyperson."
McLennan said he works with each couple to make the service personalized and meaningful. Readings can be tailored to the religious backgrounds of the bride and groom, and a five-minute reflection after the readings can address the couple's hopes and dreams, their families, what marriage means to them, and more.
"Everything is there for discussion – what's most meaningful and memorable to them," he said.
If couples are interested in being married in Memorial Church, Prestinario recommended they contact her as soon as possible to reserve the date and to be sure they know exactly what they're in for.
"Just know that there is a very solid practice here and be OK with all those requirements," she said. "Sometimes people aren't happy with the limited time frame for photos and things like that, but rather than wrestle with it, it's better just to make it work within the time frame that you have, and you're guaranteed an absolutely beautiful day."
To set up an appointment with Prestinario, email email@example.com or call (650) 723-9531.
Robin Migdol is an intern for Stanford University Communications.