Always striving to give their clients the best, Kelly is currently enrolled at the New York Institute of Art and Design to become a certified wedding planner.
Kelly Sullivan Joyner
A NOTE FROM KELLY:
I didn't set out to start a business with only women officiants, but that is what has happened. While I know several male ministers that I can refer anyone to who may want a man, this business is now female owned and operated.
We are strong women working to make the world a better place by marrying the people. ALL of the people!
Photo by Aubrey Peebles Photography
“There’s something in the water in Macon – if you have any kind of artistic ability, any little glimmers of creativity in your soul, this town’ll bring it out of you,” says Kelly Sullivan Joyner, paralegal at Nelson & Smith by day, wedding officiant/planner at Willow Cottage Weddings on evenings and weekends, and full-time artist and lover of life. Kelly’s only been a Maconite since 2010 – she was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and her father’s service job relocated the family to Warner Robins in 1975, where she moved in down the street from and became fast friends with Moe Dyer, who would become her lifetime compatriot. Kelly majored in Fine Arts in college and went on to hold a fascinating array of jobs, among them Montessori teacher, graphic artist, and police officer; she even went to FBI training for forensic art, a job which has sadly since been taken over by computers, and she has drawn hundreds of composite pictures of witnesses/suspects.
Although Kelly had been working in Macon since 1993, her husband’s job as a firefighter in Warner Robins kept them rooted in the small military town; when he switched jobs, they moved into Willow Cottage in Macon, a charming 1917 Tudor in Vineville’s Historic District, and almost immediately Kelly felt inspiration nudging her to pick up her paintbrush. Portraiture was her first love, but she also enjoyed the lively signage and buildings Macon had to offer, so her artistic repertoire expanded, as did her love for this city and all its vibrant beauty.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, and couples all over the country ran to their local courthouses, excited to make their love legally bonding on such an important day – but two of Kelly’s friends, Debra Ford and Kristy Clark, were disappointed to find that none of the judges in Dodge County would marry them. In fact, the judges had stopped doing all weddings in protest of the new law. Undeterred, Kelly and the couple came up with a solution. Kelly hit the internet and got ordained as a marriage officiant, then called around and found a location – Parish on Cherry in downtown Macon – and the longtime couple ended the day by having a wedding that was even better than they’d dreamed.
“At that point, I realized this was something I’d always wanted to do,” says Kelly. “I’ve always been an advocate, and I wanted to be able to offer the service I’d offered my friends to others too.” And that’s how Willow Cottage Weddings was born. Some additional team members were added – Moe Dyer is available as an officiant, and Koryn Young works as a planner and coordinator as well as an officiant. “I couldn’t imagine a better person to work with in this capacity,” says Koryn of Kelly. “She is a bright human in a gray world.”
Willow Cottage Weddings performed 20 ceremonies in 2016, and they’re on track to surpass that number in 2017. “We’ve done about as many straight weddings as we have gay ones,” Kelly says. “One couple picked us because the bride’s mother was gay, and their minister wouldn’t let her stepmother walk her down the aisle. I’d never even thought about that kind of ripple effect of judgment before. It’s sad. That feeling has no place in somebody’s wedding day.”
One look at the reviews Willow Cottage Weddings has received online thus far, and you’ll see that Kelly and company are doing an amazing job of bringing joy, acceptance, and love to these couples on their special day. They were recently honored with the Couples Choice award on WeddingWire due to their impeccable five-star rating and glowing reviews. Responsive, accommodating, warm, welcoming, delightful – these are all words clients have used to describe them; words that should be a part of any wedding day, ideally. Willow Cottage Weddings is doing their part to make wedding equality – the idea that all couples deserve the wedding of their dreams, free from judgment and condemnation – an integral part of marriage equality, as it should be. “Clients will get in touch with us and say, ‘You’re always laughing and smiling in the pics of you at ceremonies,’” laughs Kelly. “That’s because we come to it with joy, and we feed off the joy in the room. I always apologize in advance at the beginning of every wedding for crying – I can’t help it! Weddings make me happy-cry.”
Willow Cottage Weddings offers a variety of options for creating your special day – everything from simple ceremonies performed in the couple’s choice of venue to all-inclusive, intimate packages performed at Willow Cottage (a romantic, charming, newly-renovated space in the building that used to house Kelly’s art studio). The content of the ceremony is also tailored specifically to each couple’s wishes, with Kelly and the other officiants’ input and guidance – “it can be as religious or non-religious as you want,” says Kelly. The best bet for couples looking to plan a wedding is to check out Willow Cottage Weddings’ website, then contact Kelly via phone or e-mail and go from there.
“This is bittersweet,” says Kelly, “but of all the same-sex weddings I’ve done, only one of them had both sides of the brides’ families present. In every other wedding, one side of the family refused to support the relationship, so it was so beautiful to be here for this one. They held it on a farm in south Georgia, and both brides’ mothers were there supporting their daughters. It did my heart good, because there’s a little heartbreak in any wedding with half a family missing.” Despite the unfortunate, misguided judgment and disapproval that can come along with being a nontraditional couple, Kelly and company see the future as hopeful for same sex couples. “It’s a lot different than it was when I came out,” says Moe, who has been an out gay woman for the past 32 years. “The road has been paved. The younger generation – our hope is in them. They’re nonjudgmental. They see that we’re all just people. Love is love is love, and that’s the bottom line.”
And everyone involved with Willow Cottage Weddings agrees that Macon, in sometimes stark contrast to surrounding areas, is “a kind of blue bubble in the center of a very red state,” as Kelly puts it. Moe says “Macon’s a pretty eclectic place – where there’s music and creativity, there are usually more people who are openminded and accepting. I’ve been out for 32 years, and my partner and I have never had a problem here.” In Kelly’s case, her easygoing, all-inclusive advocacy – and appealing sense of humor – comes to her naturally. “My family’s pretty liberal,” she says. “Our holiday arguments are all about who can out-liberal the other. And my mom’s so cute – she’s 80 years old, and when she hears that I’m doing a wedding, she’ll ask me ‘Is it boys? Or girls? Or one of each?’”
MEET KORYN YOUNG
So, what can I say about Koryn? Well, I can give you the “deets”, as they say. She’s a minute whirlwind with a fading New York accent who is a planning and coordinating genius and keeps me in line with the business finances. She has either been in charge of, or on the board of, many of Macon’s finest events, including Bragg Jam and Magnolia St. Soapbox Derby. She is a graduate of Leadership Macon 2012 and continues to be involved there as well. When not officiating or planning weddings with me at Willow Cottage Weddings, Koryn successfully runs her own event business called Macon Experiences. Although not from Macon, and definitely not Southern, she still has managed to gather a network of “guys” who she can always call on to get the job done. Whatever the job is.
But all of this just tells you that when you hire Willow Cottage Weddings you know that Koryn is going to be a driving force to make sure your wedding is perfect. Nothing here tells you about Koryn’s heart, and her heart is huge. Koryn opens her door and her arms to those in need of a place to crash, a cup of hot coffee, or just a hug and an ear to listen. I have seen her choke up with emotion when officiating weddings because she loves her “job” so much. Koryn stands 100% behind the adage that everyone deserves the love they need and want and she travels this great state to perform weddings at various prisons, which can be difficult to coordinate, but she’s up to the task.
Two years ago when I was becoming overcome with weddings to officiate I put out the word on FB that I needed another officiant. Koryn immediately responded. We knew each other, though not very well, I know that this was the best decision I ever made for this company. Koryn was already ordained and had also performed several weddings – including one of the prison weddings! In the beginning, all we were doing was officiating and Koryn started out as my backup. Then we started being asked to help plan weddings. So we sat down and worked out a system.
I am a dreamer. While I can be practical when I have to, it is with great self-control and will-power. I would rather be decorating and creating. Koryn is the pragmatic one. She tells me my budget and makes me stick to it. She will have an idea and together we will make it happen. She finds the used brick and I come up with how to decorate them for our cool industrial centerpieces. Then together we make it happen.
Any bride or groom who hires us to plan/coordinate/style/or officiate their wedding can rest assured that Koryn will be there to make sure it all happens according to plan.
Oh, and if you don’t know her – look for her at Storytellers the second Tuesday of every month. She runs that, too.
Moe Dyer - Officiant
Maureen "Moe" Dyer and Kelly Sullivan Joyner have been friends since they were 12 years old. Now, we won't tell you just how many years ago that was, but suffice it to say the movie "Dazed and Confused" is reminiscent of their youth!
Moe has always been a caregiver and a get the job done kind of woman and as an RN she is no stranger to stress. So, when a bride called late one night in a panic because her officiant had backed out a week before the wedding we knew we had to do something. Kelly and Koryn were booked, so the obvious answer was to take Moe up on her passing statement that she would be interested in being an officiant. There was never a doubt in Kelly's mind that Moe wouldn't rock this gig, which is just what she did. In fact, in her review the bride called Moe her "rock," which she has been for Kelly and so many people in Macon, GA over the years.
Love is love and when Moe married her wife Andrea in 2017, Kelly was honored to be their officiant. Moe is the go to girl, the one who will step in and save the day, and do a fantastic job in the process. And a bonus is, if someone passes out during the ceremony, she will know just what to do!!