Credo: Melanie Cameron

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People,Liz Essley
Cameron is the president of St. Anthony's Bridal, a Bethesda nonprofit that aims to help brides on limited budgets celebrate their weddings without breaking the bank. Cameron, who is also a mother of three and a freelance writer, says St. Anthony's serves all kinds of people, including immigrants, teachers, soldiers and the terminally ill.

Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?

I am Roman Catholic. What I love about the faith is the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The other awesome pieces of my faith that I love are the Catholic social teachings and Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body."

Why do you think it's important to help women have low-cost weddings?

I feel that the wedding industry puts pressure on a woman through etiquette, through the expectations of family, through the expectations of friends, through traditions. It actually tends to draw a woman away from her spouse-to-be. Our mission is to encourage couples to make those decisions together and not to have to go into debt before they're even married.

The call I feel in ministry is rooted in Christ's first miracle. In the wedding at Cana, by Christ fulfilling his mother's request, he restores dignity to a detail that was missed by the couple -- enough wine. His first miracle, his first true act of revealing his heavenly power, brings dignity to the celebration of marriage of a newly married couple. That is the heart and soul of my work.

Did your own wedding make you want to help others in this way?

Yes. My wedding was five and a half years ago, and basically five minutes after I got engaged to my wonderful husband, I gave him a huge hug and said, "I want you to plan this with me." And there were so many instances the wedding industry came out in negative ways. I went to a bridal shop and was looking at dresses, when a woman came out and said, "What's your budget?" I said, "$800." And she said, "Well, we only carry below size 10, and the dress you're looking at is $3,000." So those types of experiences just made me feel sad, but also just limited and embarrassed about a low budget. I used my engagement period and journaled all the experiences I had. Then a year ago, my husband and I put together a workbook for couples that helps the bride and groom discern that these decisions we're making will influence our marriage. The book is called "Christ on Your Guest List."

Wedding vendors push brides to buy so many things: special Champagne flutes, elaborate bouquets, his-and-hers forks. What do you think is really necessary for a wedding?

An officiant, a bride, a groom and a witness. Really the commitment is the thing that's most valuable to a marriage. We at St. Anthony's hope that we can give brides on any budget a beautiful reception, a reception that reflects the celebratory feeling.

At your core what is one of your defining beliefs?

I should use my gifts and talents and share love and meet the needs of others.

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