WHEN Michelle Kelly told her seven-year-old daughter, Kati, that she was going to marry David Slaven, Kati seemed to approve of her mother's decision. But as the wedding day approached, Kati began to express some of her fears. ``She accused me of loving David more than her,'' Ms. Kelly recalls. ``She wasn't satisfied when I explained I loved them both, but in different ways. I know Kati thought she was being abandoned, because she refused to believe that David and I were coming back after our honeymoon.''
Both Kelly and Mr. Slaven were frustrated by their inability to ease Kati's insecurities. They wanted to do something tangible to help Kati understand that she was going to be an integral part of their married lives.
Then, a few weeks before the wedding, Kelly read a newspaper article about a family-oriented wedding ceremony that was designed to emphasize the important role that spouses' children play in the remarriage relationship.
It was different from other marriage rites in only one respect: Children actually participated in the wedding ceremony and received from their parents a special medal and chain.
The sterling silver medal, known as the Family Medallion, is meant to symbolize family love in the same way the couple's rings represent conjugal love.
Kelly and Slaven discussed the Family Medallion concept with their Methodist minister, who then agreed to adapt the church's wedding service to include the special family ceremony.
During the wedding, after the couple exchanged rings and pronounced the matrimonial vows, Kati was summoned to the center of the altar, where she stood facing her mother and stepfather.
While the minister explained the family nature of remarriage to all present, Kelly and Slaven put the medallion around Kati's neck and formally pledged to love their smiling daughter, ``even as we surround you now with our arms of support and protection.''
Then the hugging started.
``They gave me the medallion because they think I'm special,'' Kati says. ``I know now that Mama still loves me, and David loves me, too.''
Her mother agrees that their ``family'' wedding was a key factor in making Kati feel wanted. ``To this day, she still refers to the wedding as `the day we got married,''' Kelly says.
The couple's minister was also touched by the power of the ceremony.
``The social, psychological, and spiritual bonding of two adults and their children from previous marriages is a very complex process,'' says the Rev. Stuart W. Herrick, minister of the Rosedale United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kan. ``I've never seen anything that focuses on that bonding like the Family Medallion does.''
Since last fall, the medallion ceremony has been used in weddings of many faiths and denominations. It was begun by the Rev. Roger Coleman, chaplain of Urban Ministry for the Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Mo.
``I was marrying more and more people who had children from previous marriages,'' Mr. Coleman says. ``Most couples sought to include their children in the wedding by having them serve as flower girls or ring bearers. But once these young people walked down the aisle, their involvement in the wedding ended.
``In my experience, the average child comes to the wedding of one of his parents with a great deal of excitement and expectation. But as the traditional ceremony progresses, focusing entirely on the couple, the child is cut off from the feeling of being part of what is going on.
Coleman says that in the case of a marriage involving children, there's a lot more going on than the union of a man and a woman. ``It's the merging of two families,'' he says. Unable to find marriage rites that recognized the children of spouses in a meaningful way, Coleman developed his own family ceremony.
This five-minute addition to the traditional wedding includes a discussion of the crucial role of existing children in remarriage, a formal commitment on the part of spouses to care for all children in their new family, and the presentation of the medallion.
The medallion is an inexpensive medal with three raised interlocking circles on its face. The first two circles represent the man and the woman, and the third encompasses all the children either parent brings to the remarriage relationship. Each child is given one.
Coleman, who has subsequently shared his ceremony with clergy nationwide, says he was initially stunned by the change in character of such family services.
``The wedding became a moving event, during which everyone present became aware that the marriage involved the children as much as it did the bride and groom,'' he comments.
``Giving each of our four sons a medallion was a lot more than just pomp and circumstance,'' says Kathy Walker of Muncie, Ind. She and husband, Paul, each had two sons from previous marriages.
``The special family ceremony told our sons and everyone else who attended our wedding that we had made a decision to live our marriage as a family and that we were committed to growing together in God's love.''