The Rev. Laura Cannon specializes in two words: I do.
And those two words have taken her all over the mid-Atlantic, from hotels and historic mansions to sandy beaches, museums and restaurants to the intimacy of a couple's home — even surprise nuptials at an annual chili feast.
But Cannon didn't set out to become a wedding officiant. It's something the 31-year-old Ellicott City resident stumbled into, and it clicked.
"For me, the greatest joy is being part of someone's most special day," she says. "While each couple and wedding is unique, they all have the common elements of excitement, anticipation, joy and love. I always end up feeling like every couple is my favorite."
Cannon is an untraditional minister, the kind she finds that many couples are seeking.
"People choose a wedding officiant for many different reasons," she says. "For some, they are interfaith and want a person who can honor both faiths; some are religious but want to have an outdoor wedding; others are nondenominational and want a ceremony that reflects their unique relationship; still others may want a same-sex union."
Although she also practices and teaches Reiki, and performs other nondenominational officiant services like baptisms and funerals, weddings have become a large part of Cannon's work, with about 80 ceremonies a year.
Her first was eight years ago, at the request of one of her Reiki students. (At the time, Cannon already was ordained through the Universal Life Church's online program — a step she'd taken in order to gain access to hospitals outside of business hours to conduct healing work.)
Reflecting back on that first wedding, she says, "The ceremony was a big 'A-ha' moment. Standing there and recognizing the power of bearing witness to their love and faith was one of the most powerful moments of my life."
The requests for her services at weddings have continued rolling in since then, with venues as varied as the National Aquarium and a casual chili dinner party.
The latter, an annual event hosted by the couple, required Cannon to sneak in the back door so as not to spoil the couple’s surprise for their guests.
"Everyone was confused about who I was, but the minister robe started to give it away," she recalls. "People caught on and started crying and clapping. It was one of those weddings I will always remember."
Having grown up in Columbia and graduated from Wilde Lake High School, Cannon has made many local connections through her work.
High school sweethearts and recent graduates of Wilde Lake High School, Bethany and Greg Hamill were married this past fall by Cannon at The Elkridge Furnace Inn.
Finding an officiant to fit the couple’s needs turned out to be "one of the greatest challenges we faced during the planning process," Bethany says.
"My parents felt very strongly that I should be married by a minister; however, we faced a road block," she says. "We met with two different ministers at my church who refused to marry us because Greg and I do not share identical religious beliefs."
Upon recommendations, the couple met with Cannon, who left them "feeling very positive, excited and relieved after all the stress from the beginning of our search," recalls Bethany, adding that they discovered several Wilde Lake connections.
"As many of our guests noted after the ceremony, Rev. Laura seemed to have known us for years. It was a special ceremony because it felt natural and was true to us as a couple," Bethany says. "My favorite part was when Greg messed up his vows and said that I make him 'cry' instead of 'laugh.' It calmed my nerves as I was laughing at the error, and it made the moment very real."