The church being the church
A pastor’s reflection on a special marriage ceremony
It is easy to see the faults of the church. It’s easy to see the failures of any congregation. Sometimes it is possible to become cynical, to imagine that the church is the last place we are likely to catch a glimpse of God’s reign. Yet, once in a while, we get surprised.
I got a phone call on Friday afternoon. The woman on the line introduced herself as Deanna. “Could you do a wedding on Sunday? Very simple, just the two of us at our house.”
“Do you mean the day after tomorrow?”
“Yes, just something simple.”
Now I realized these people were desperate, and it happened that I was free Sunday afternoon. But I needed to ask: “Why are you calling me?”
She answered, “Because when we were homeless, we lived at your church for a week, and we have never forgotten how well you treated us.”
Now, I was very much interested in this wedding. We had hosted these people through a ministry called Families Moving Forward (FMF), a group that houses homeless families in churches.
Now this family had a home! And they wanted to be married!
So I got down to business. “Do you have a license?”
“Do you have your witnesses?”
“Yes, you need two witnesses to sign the documents to make the wedding legal.”
“How old do they have to be?”
Not your children, I thought. “They have to be adults.”
“Maybe Gina would do it.” Gina was a member of our FMF team. So it seemed that Deanna and her fiancé did not know two adults that they could invite to the wedding.
“How about if we have the wedding here at church at noon on Sunday,” I said. “Then I can line up two witnesses.”
“OK,” she said.
So I called the directors of our FMF team (Gina was out of town) and they were happy to be witnesses. They asked, “Can we invite some of the others who worked with Deanna and her family?” Well, I hadn’t thought of that, and I hadn’t asked, and I needed to get their permission first. I never got through to them until Sunday morning about 9:00. The fiancée, Michael, answered the phone.
“Happy wedding day,” I said. “Can I invite a few others to the wedding?”
“Sure,” he said.
At the beginning of worship, at 9:30 a.m., I explained that we had a wedding at noon and anyone who wanted to stay or to return was welcome. I figured that eight or ten might be able to stay.
When I started shaking hands after the service at 10:45 a.m., Gene came up to me. “Do you think they’ll have a wedding cake?” he asked. I hesitated. “No, there’s no chance they’ll have a cake.” “I’ll see what I can do,” he said as he headed out the door.
Mary came up to me next. “You see those flowers from Don’s funeral,” she said. “I can’t stay for the wedding, but leave those flowers there and then afterwards, send home that nice basketful with the couple.”
Luann said, “I’ll get some coffee going.” Karen said, “I don’t play piano very well, but I just learned Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D.’ I could play that for their processional.” Kyle said, “I’ll get my camera and shoot some pictures.” The custodian said, “I’ll set up a unity candle.” Linda, also a pianist, said, “I can play most of the hymns. I’ll play a hymn if they want to sing one.” Steve said, “I’ll get my video camera and shoot a video of the service.” Someone brought a guest book for people to sign.
A ceremony like no other
When Deanna and Michael marched down the aisle at noon to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” there were 45 people in church. Their witnesses, formally dressed, waited with me at the front, their two little girls in matching floral dresses looking like flower girls. We had prayers and lessons and a sermon and a hymn and a unity candle and a kiss and applause as they processed out.
At the reception, someone insisted that they cut the cake together, with both of their hands on the knife, as a photo was taken. Then they were to feed each other cake by hand. Deanna smeared cake on Michael’s nose. People cheered. Kyle snapped photos. There were four freshly wrapped gifts on the table near the cake, one of which was a photo album for the pictures, another a gift card for a dinner out. We sat down to cake and coffee. But within minutes, people were clinking their glasses. The bride and groom stood and kissed. Their children beamed.
An hour later, after the photos, after the crowd had left, Deanna and Michael gathered up their gifts, their cards, the remains of the wedding cake, and their marriage certificates, and drove away. They were a little giddy, and a little bit in shock. So was I.
This ceremony was planned in 15 minutes, and carried out an hour later. Yet no one who was present will ever forget the wedding. I have never been prouder of a congregation. Actually, nothing unusual happened. It was just a bunch of people being the church.
The Rev. Morris Wee is senior pastor of Advent Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Maple Grove, Minnesota.