Confess . . . everyone loves everything about their jobs . . . right? I don’t think so . . . so why should clergy? As a pastor there are parts of my job that I do not like. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t like them, but I do them. Don’t we all? Don’t we all because the good usually outweighs the bad. It is same for clergy.
One of the parts of my job as a pastor that I do not like--I don’t hate it, I just do not like it, is performing wedding ceremonies. Weddings are at the bottom of my list of pastoral duties that I have to perform . . . just above doing duty in the nursery. Most clergy will admit, behind closed doors, that they would rather do a funeral than a wedding. Hey, I don’t need any closed doors to admit that I prefer a funeral over a wedding any day of the week . . . dead people don’t talk back!
I recently did a wedding for a wonderful couple . . . they were cooperative, cordial, and wanted to keep it simple. They were wonderful to work with and the actual details for the wedding service fell into place quite easily. Everyone was happy. This is usually the case, the plans and details for any wedding always go smoothly . . . it is the rehearsal and actual wedding that tries my soul and patience.
So it was with this particular wedding.
Living in Montana, couples seem to want to use the great outdoors as the sanctuary. I can’t blame them, Montana is a beautiful place with God’s most beautiful sanctuary. This couple decided to get married outdoors, by Rock Creek, which flows through much of the area I am living in. Rock Creek is a healthy, rapidly flowing river—especially at this time of the year when the snow is melting in the mountains and all that water is draining down. Rock Creek is a noisy creek in mid-June. I am fairly soft spoken, and I was no match for the creek. Thank goodness for amplification, right? Amplification is only good if is actually amplifying . . . I’m not sure the system that was used did much in that department. I could not hear myself, which makes me think that no one in the congregation heard me either. Oh well, it does not matter . . . those who needed to hear me—the bride and groom—heard me loud and clear.
Outdoor settings, in Montana, do not only have to deal with noise from creeks, but there is also the possibility of critters making an appearance. I do not care how focused the wedding party and congregation is on the service, a moose or bear making an entrance will surely be a distraction! Thankfully, the moose and bears did not show up.
Oh, John, you are thinking, chill out. Weddings can’t be that bad. Well, let me tell you about the “joys” of weddings. Let’s begin with the rehearsal. Rehearsals have changed over the years. It used to be that the wedding party would wait to start the party after the rehearsal . . . not so much anymore. Rehearsals are the start of the party now. Now they just hold their drinks—if the rehearsal is not in a church, if it is in a church they guzzle it down in the parking lot and straggle in—as we go through the rehearsal. As long as no one is stone cold drunk, can stand up, and do what I ask in a cooperative manner, I don’t mind. What I do mind is that often no one ever offers me a drink! Shoot, if I had a couple of drinks before the rehearsal, I might actually enjoy weddings a whole lot more. It might even move up the list.
At the rehearsal, supposedly the pastor is in control . . . not anymore. Now there are wedding coordinators and often the mothers of both the bride and groom to contend with. I don’t know which is worse . . . had God turned them upon Pharaoh as a plague, the children of God would have been allowed to leave Egypt a lot sooner than they did.
Now the most difficult part of any wedding is getting the wedding party in and out. Everything else is a piece of cake. Because the logistics of entering and exiting are so important, I spend the brunt of my time going over that part of the service. I would estimate that 75 percent of the rehearsal is dealing with this movement. If everyone can remember that, well, we have the wedding licked. The difficulty in this is in the size of the there are very few small wedding parties in this day and age. Usually, a wedding doesn’t go off without at least ten to twelve—minimum—in the wedding party. Have you ever tried to herd cats . . . if so, you are beginning to get an idea of what a pastor has to deal with in a wedding rehearsal. Because of the factors presented at the rehearsal, the rehearsal takes a heck of a lot longer than the actual wedding. It is the pastor who needs the drink!
Another frustration of weddings is determining what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. This typically has to do with music. The Wedding March is acceptable to start a wedding . . . You’re Having My Baby, is not. I am pretty flexible when it comes to music—I like just about everything, but rap—and, I pretty much allow anything as long as it is not tasteless and offensive. I draw the line at You’re Having My Baby.
Things happen at weddings. Unexpected things. Things that you cannot plan for no matter how prepared one might be. Brides and grooms faint. Grooms step on their bride’s train, trip them, and watch them do a face plant. Best men forget the rings. Flower girls and ring bearers can’t stay still, scream for mom and dad, and blurt out that they need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the vows. People cry . . . well, some actually lament with the complete ripping of clothing, ranting, and raving. The minister grabs the wrong folder, uses the wrong vows, and addresses the maid of honor as the bride. Candle blow out. If it can happen, it happens; but one can never be prepared for everything.
One of my favorite happenings happened several years ago. The bride and groom were standing at the bottom of the stairs. I invited to join me at the top of the stairs to begin the ceremony. The bride began to walk forward, but could not move—the groom was standing on her train. Being a nice guy, I asked the groom to lift his foot. Of course, he lifted the opposite foot—not the foot that was on the bride’s train. I said, “No, the other foot.” Yes, it got a good laugh at the expense of the groom . . . but, after ten years of marriage, they still talk about it.
As difficult and frustrating as weddings can be . . . I still do them. I guess I just have a poor memory, but I still do them. True, funerals are easier, but I still do weddings. I grin and bear them. Actually, I think that weddings are emphasize that beyond all the pomp and circumstance of the wedding that they have planned, it still comes down to them and God. I explain that it is not important, no matter how much everyone else thinks it is, that they be heard throughout the ceremony. The vows they speak are between them and God—if those three are listening . . . well, then, everything is good. They are the ones who need to hear it, embrace it, and promise to live it forever.
I do not do weddings that often. The wedding that I recently performed went off without any major problems, though the sound system sucked. Everyone did what was expected of them . . . the bride and groom professed their love to one another . . . and, no one had to go to the bathroom during the service . . . including the pastor (though it was close!). It was a beautiful service and I was honored to be able to be a part of this milestone in the lives of both of them. As I watched them say their vows, looking into one another’s eyes, I almost felt as if I was invading sacred space. There was great joy. The groom exclaimed that it was the greatest day of his life as he hugged and thanked me for my part. Kind of humbling for something that I would rather not do.
I think that I should have been the one hugging the bride and groom . . . thanking them for reminding me of the sacredness of love between two people in the midst of this craziness we call life. To Jake and Janelle, I wish them the best as my prayers will always be with them. Despite everything . . . they were joined in holy matrimony . . . in the sight of God. It was beautiful . . . but, I still don’t like doing weddings!