April 2009: Chamber of the heart

April 2009: Chamber of the heart

A lot of couples—80 couples last year —see Claire Goodman as the figure who presides over one of the most important moments of their lives. She’s an interfaith minister who officiates at their weddings, and it’s up to her to not only blend various family and religious influences, but to lend an air of holiness and calm to the proceedings.

Yet she’s also an entrepreneur who’s been in business for herself for five years. She maintains an active wedding blog, books weekday wedding packages, and, she says, “I always have an idea or two or three or four in the hopper.” Goodman works from home—specifically, from her bedroom—and her workspace is an interesting blend of the spiritual and the practical. Her bookshelf, for example, holds several dozen volumes of wedding traditions from all nations and religions, alongside Blogging for Dummies.

The room, which she calls “the primary reason I bought the house,” is tucked under the eaves of a small bungalow in Fry’s Spring. A dining table serves as the desk, facing a large bed and beyond that, the backyard. Out a side window is a big dogwood tree. The workspace is small, but crisply organized: “I don’t like to waste time looking for things,” she explains.

Over her calendar, Goodman has pinned up a quotation: “Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” About her work, she says, “It’s never boring.”

“I do a lot of things here, but I don’t meet people at the house—all the insurance stuff about having people come to your home. Plus, when you work at home, it’s nice to have a reason to get out. I go to C’ville Coffee [to meet with engaged couples]. Toan [Nguyen, owner] knows me and knows what I’m doing there; I’ll often introduce him to the couple.

“This is my iMac, which is my friend. I love my iMac. And each couple has a folder; these are all couples I’ll be marrying this year.

“This is my family’s dining room table. It’s not in very good shape, but it’s well loved. Initially this table was here [against the stairwell]. [Moving it here] gave me a whole other wall and separates it from the bed. This was my husband’s TV table. The TV—I don’t watch much, but sometimes I have it on for background noise. I watch ‘Oprah’ occasionally.

“I’m not at my productive best until the afternoon. I come in the morning, check e-mail, Facebook, then go away. I clean the house, go out for a cup of coffee, meet someone for breakfast. I make a point of getting out of here. But I do often work until 9 or 10 at night.

“[In this economy] people are cutting back on guest lists, limos, but I’m less expendable. I’ve been really fortunate to have a good flow of inquiries.

“A couple last year wanted to do a ritual called the Bell of Truce. They said it was Scottish; they had Scotch-Irish heritage and wanted to honor that. I had never heard of it and couldn’t find it in my books. But I found it online.

“The idea is, when you’re getting into it together and there doesn’t seem to be a place of compromise, one of you can ring the bell, which you keep in a prominent place in your home. You have an agreement that you’ve made ahead of time that the argument then ends, you go to your corners, and you come back to it when the heat is gone. So we got a bell, they had it engraved, and we explained it [during their wedding ceremony]. And we all wished them well and that it would be a fabulous tool for them.

“I do a lot of interfaith couples—Hindu/Christian, Jewish/Christian, agnostic/Buddhist….I meet so many unique couples. In May I’ll hit my 300 mark. But I still meet with couples who want things I haven’t done before.”

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