County Clerk Helps Couples Strengthen Their Marriages

With divorce rates declining, couples seem to be finding new solutions to their marital issues. Those who have been married for a long time may seek couples counseling, or may try less traditional ways to refresh their love. Some opt to renew their vows and can now do so while supporting their local government. With the Pope’s new writing on divorce, couples have several ways in which they can view marital strife in the face of divorce. 

Building A Chapel

If you live in West Michigan, it currently costs 20 dollars for a marriage license. Muskegon County Clerk Nancy Waters decided that she wanted to encourage more people to get married. In June 2015, she did so by building a “make-shift” wedding chapel in the back of her office. She has officiated many ceremonies there, including same-sex weddings. However, once a couple is married, their need for government validation mostly disappears.

Vow Renewal

Waters was approached by County Commissioner Jeff Lohman. Lohnman asked Waters if she renewed wedding vows in her chapel. At that point she hadn’t, but she saw this as an opportunity. “I thought that that could be a new feature for us and so we are rolling out today our new service,” Waters told MLive. She decided that Muskegon’s government could make money off of vow renewals while offering couples a unique service. Vow renewals cost 25 dollars and include an officiated ceremony, a certificate, and a copy of the vows.

Needing A Bigger Room

The Lohmans’ vow renewal ceremony took place on April 9 and was held in a larger room above the chapel in Waters’ office. They needed the larger room to accommodate the guests they’d invited, which included members of their original wedding party and the heads of several county departments. Having so many people at Muskegon’s first government-officiated vow renewal will likely bring more visibility to this new service.

Pope Francis On Divorce

This week also revealed new information about divorce. Pope Francis released a document wherein he reevaluated divorce in the Roman Catholic Church. The document, called “Amoris Laetitia” was 256 pages long. It encouraged Catholics to view divorce as a personal decision rather than a decision restricted by the Church.

Paul J. Bradley, Bishop of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, feels that this update from the Pope is positive. Bradley feels that it shows Catholics that they are allowed to make mistakes. He says, “The document is a reminder that no one, and no family, is perfect.”

One thing that the Pope has not updated is the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage. However, Bradley’s reaction to the Pope’s release is reflected in his diocese’s specific work in strengthening marital bonds amongst families.

Similar Goals

It seems that Nancy Waters and the Diocese of Kalamazoo have similar goals. Both seem to be taking different approaches to creating stronger marriages. Waters, however, has also been doing so for same-sex couples. She was the only county clerk to sign off on same-sex marriages in 2014 during a brief time where it was made legal. For this she was named Libertarian of the Year by Michigan’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

No matter if someone lives in Rome or Grand Rapids, both Waters and “Amoris Laetitia” seem to ask the same thing of the world: to give marriage another chance. After all, marriage is not limited to a political or religious paradigm. The Pope reminds us this with his words, while Nancy Waters does so with her ceremonies. Both seem to want the world to stay married.

Kloosterman, S. (2016, Apr. 7). For $25, This County Clerk Will Officiate Your Renewal Of Wedding Vows. MLive. Retrieved on Apr. 25, 2016, from

Parker, R. (2016, Apr. 8). Kalamazoo Catholic Bishop Welcomes Pope’s ‘Beautiful Work’ On Family. MLive. Retrieved on Apr. 25, 2016, from