Magazine article The Christian Century

Tying Knots: A Pastor's Wedding Adventures

Magazine article The Christian Century

Tying Knots: A Pastor's Wedding Adventures

Article excerpt

THE BRIDE WORE a white dress with pearls, a veil and a big red nose. The groom had a rainbow wig, and instead of patent leather shoes, floppy brogues as big as boats which were coming apart at the toes. All around them a raucous band of clowns held forth on tubas and big bass drums.

"Do you, Gilbert, take Glenna to be your wife?"

"I sure do."

"Do you, Glenna, take this clown to be your husband?"

"I do," she smiled, and someone honked a horn.

About 70 clowns had gathered around a motel swimming pool as passersby stared in wonder. One little girl, wrapped in a towel and dripping on the green carpet, wanted to know if someone was putting her on. The preacher said a few words that she couldn't quite catch, and then she got a signal that it was all in earnest.

A big cheer went up in the motel courtyard, drums thumped, and the great machinery of music ramped into choruses of "When You're Smiling" and "When the Saints Go Marching In." To which the bride and groom danced, not waiting for any formal party. A few clowns even jumped into the pool to punctuate the song.

I've done a lot of questionable weddings for poorly matched couples with doubtful taste. Yet I look back on that wedding fondly. It may have been utterly pagan, but it was joyous, and Jesus was there.

To be honest, most weddings are pagan. Very rarely does a ceremony today put God front and center, and when it does, the guests mutter how impersonal it was. Weddings are, for the most part, unserious but highly expensive affairs far removed from the values of a church. Will Willimon speaks for many ministers when he says, "Happy events like weddings are among the most unhappy things we do."

Maybe that requires some explanation. But you would understand if you had come with me to a lakefront home awash in thousands of dollars' worth of flowers, with a magnificent trellis that the hired man had just finished. BMWs and Land Rovers filled the driveway, and cases of Moet champagne were stacked by silver buckets of ice. More resplendent than the wedding party, and more dignified, caterers in starched white smocks arranged tables of meats, cheeses, fresh fruit and ice sculptures.

All was not well, however. The bride was over an hour late and the groom was plowed. He stewed outside the garage, fished in a cooler for another beer, and mused about her. "A princess in her own mind," he said, among plenty else that was more colorful.

But she showed up before the guests gave up, a little unsteady on her stiletto heels, balancing herself with a bouquet, assuring everyone that the shrimp would wait. All the cautions raised by months of premarital counseling seemed to have melted in the hot sun. Everything had been paid for, so what else was there to do except get them married?

As the bride's ten-year-old daughter processed glumly down the grassy aisle between the rented chairs, wearing a dress too small for her, a boom box played Axl Rose's "Sweet Child o' Mine." Then the bride herself appeared on the arm of her maid of honor--maybe not the traditional way to do it, but they made it down the aisle.

Pointlessly earnest, I did indeed speak of marriage as a holy and honorable estate, not to be entered into lightly. I reminded them that there would be hard days when love would be tested, when the vows they spoke could be kept only by God's grace. "Please repeat after me," I told the groom. "'I give you this ring ...'"

"I give you this ring," he said uncertainly.

"'As a sign of my vow ...'"

"As a sign of my vow."

"'And with all that I have ...'"

"And with all that I have ... except my boat. She doesn't get my boat!"

For just a moment, I think, the shrimp stopped thawing. The bride's daughter froze. And in the stunned silence, the bride laughed as if her man had said something so characteristically asinine that now everyone knew just what she was marrying, to hell with us all. …

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