Jenice Armstrong: New place for weddings

EAGLES wide receiver Jason Avant knows he's going to get teased in the locker room because of what you're about to read.

After all, it's not often that you hear a professional football player talking up the importance of marriage and commitment.

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Jason Avant: Trust in God

You all but expect a man in Avant's position to hang out in nightclubs enjoying some of the benefits that come with being a player in the National Football League.

But instead of getting his party on, Avant is all about his young family and about encouraging his teammates and others to embrace the institution of marriage. Avant has even gone so far as to get involved with the opening of a wedding chapel in Center City.

That's right, a wedding chapel.

Think Las Vegas-style wedding site within blocks of City Hall and LOVE Park. Called the With this Ring Wedding Chapel, it's at 1307 Vine St. And although it's a far cry from the extravagant settings any Bridezilla worth her tiara would demand, it's a whole lot cheaper, too.

I'd call it bargain-basement cheap except that it's up a steep set of stairs.

For as little as $250, a couple can get hitched there.

So what if the flowers are silk? Or that it costs extra for candlelight? You can tie the proverbial knot for the price of dinner for two on Restaurant Row.

Avant lent his celebrity to the chapel in hopes that by giving couples an affordable option, more will take the step and make things legal the way he and his wife, Stacy, did three years ago.

Avant, whose own parents never married, said that as a kid that his only role model for marriage was an aunt and uncle.

After committing himself to God, he was celibate for four years before he married his wife, who was a virgin when they married. The couple, who live in Clemonton, N.J., have an infant daughter.

"We want to see people come back to what God said about marriage," Avant told me yesterday. "In today's society, you sound old-fashioned, but these are the things that work. I play in the National Football League, and I can't say that it's the most believing of those traditional values. As a matter of fact, people believe you are a player or a pimp . . . everyone is not like what you suppose them to be."

With this Ring opens at a time when increasingly Americans are delaying marriage or opting to have children out of wedlock.

"I think people are walking away because we have this idea that it's not going to work in the first place," Avant told me.

"The reason I believe that my marriage is working is because my trust isn't in my wife. My trust is in God," Avant continued. "Whatever happens with my wife, my relationship with God is secure. I'm praying over my wife, that she has a mind to continue to serve God."

Avant met the chapel's owner, Michelle Thomas, at his church, Yesha Ministries Worship Center, at 23rd and Snyder.

With this Ring opened in May but the grand opening was last Thursday.

Two weddings, both second marriages, already have been held in the chapel and several more are booked.

For budget brides or those who don't want to get married in a church, it's another option.

Social worker Julie Dorelie, 37, for instance, doesn't want to get married at her home church, Sharon Baptist, because of the size of the sanctuary.

"I hate when you go to a wedding and you have, like, 10 people," she said. "You say, 'OK, she didn't have a whole lot of friends to invite.' I like how this is personal."

As for his reputation on the football field, Avant's not worried about getting ribbed about his involvement with a wedding chapel.

"I get it all the time. I get talked about and ridiculed. But with that ridicule, you gain respect. At the end of the day, when they go through struggles in their home, they come to me for advice."

Send e-mail to heyjen@phillynews.com. My blog: http://go.philly.com/heyjen.