Wednesday, September 26, 2007

And the Bride Wore Silver...

I used to be a wedding snob. I was an elitist. I would only marry couples who attended my congregation...or who indicated that they would attend (and did attend the requisite three times for me to marry them). I only married couples who took the official "Pre-Marital Inventory Test" and who then were counseled by me for at least three sessions (and often more). I looked down on "Rent-A-Pastors," as I called them. I believed that there were things one needed to do if one wanted a church wedding by a "professional."

But, my standards...they have changed. I'd like to believe it has more to do with grace than with lowered expectations. It started with some good friends who were marrying for the second time (one after being widowed). Good friends who were wise and insightful and who would learn nothing from aforementioned "Pre-Marital Inventory Test" that they didn't already know themselves. Good friends who didn't need me to counsel them, and who knew well enough to schedule their own appointments with a marriage therapist if needed.

Perhaps they were my gateway drug. From there it was a free for all, a slippery slope of wedding officiation madness...hell, I married a CNA from our office to her fiance of a year with only one pre-marital meeting. Talk about a walk on the wild side... I married a former student in a pagan ceremony in a garden at the college where the only attendants were the couples' parents and two of their favorite orchids. I'm not sure how popular I'd be in the CoB given the fact that the admonition for that wedding was "don't mention Jesus...we're not sure how we feel about him."

It used to be that I wouldn't officiate a wedding without proper church approval, without the requisite counseling standards. And then I decided I could forego with those needs, but would only officiate ceremonies of people who were friends, as a favor to them. And then...well, then, I walked into a new world.

Because... this weekend was my radical indoctrination into the wild world of "Rent-a-Pastoring," the world where one snaps on a collar and hands out a license.

You see, I couldn't say no to this request. I couldn't say no because I was asked by Shelby. Shelby, Dr. B.'s kindly nurse who did, after all, perform the insemination that did finally produce Grayson. And, well, I love Shelby. And due to all kinds of issues I didn't ultimately get to officiate Shelby's wedding, despite the fact that I would have loved to. And so, when Shelby's sister's best friend was getting married and called me, how could I say no? Despite the fact that I'd never met her or her fiancee. And despite the fact that I had always judged Rent-a-Pastors. And thought, maybe, that I was selling my soul.

The wedding was last weekend. The couple were wise enough and old enough to know what they were doing. It was the third marriage for the bride, and the first for the groom. They chose to wed in a tent in their backyard, in the company of about 200 of their closest friends. The groom rode his Harley Davidson right up to the tent gates (a modern day hero arriving on his steed if ever there were one). The bride's backless dress displayed her tattoo. The recessional was to the song of a heavy metal band with the lyrics, "Smoke 'em if you've got 'em..." But the love, the love in that sweet couple's eyes was widely apparent.

I was telling my colleague, Scott, about it on Monday morning. Wondering whether I had sold my soul by officiating ceremonies of people I'd never met before being contacted by them to marry them. And Scott said, "Don't you think everybody deserves to have a ceremony that reflects who they are? Don't you think that each of us is spiritual in his or her own way? Don't you think that a minister saying, 'Of course I'll welcome you by officiating at your wedding' says more than anything else? Don't you think it's an issue of grace?"

Well, yeah. Duh. How could I not see that before?

Grace abounds. Even for those of us who live beyond the margins. Whether that means we officiate at the wedding of the stranger, or ride our motorcycles to that wedding. Grace abounds all around us. How could I be so slow to learn?


Anonymous said...

This really made me stop and think. After being forced to go through the Catholic marriage prep which sounds similar to what you've done for parishioners and "flunking" it the first time out, I can see why you are starting to change your opinion and allowing grace to be present in all of it's unique forms.

Yes, we failed marriage prep but another priest came in and rescued us so we could still marry in a timely manner. The marriage readiness test stupidly lumped "tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs" into one question. Since we fought and struggled with James quitting smoking, we both put down that it was an issue in our relationship. At our 2nd session (where we were promptly told to leave and not come back for at least a year!) James was accused of having a drug problem and we got yelled at because we didn't have enough friends in common (I'd lived in Iowa a year and still maintained most of my close friends back home). UGH.

I'm watching 2 friends in their mid-thirties prepare for their first wedding. It was supposed to be in May but because she's moving here from England, they found out from the immigration lawyer that it would be easier on them to bump it up. They're marrying in November and couldn't be more happy, more in love, and more ready. Our entire group of friends (and yes, to the pastoral associate from hell: I do have friends in Iowa now) couldn't be happier.

Grace does abound, Christen. In our friendship as well as many other places.

~Kathy T.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Like you, I used to be a wedding snob. (I was a pastor once upon a time.) I wouldn't officiate at anyone's wedding unless I was sure that they were "properly Christian." Unlike you, I can't tell you the exact moment or experience that changed my mind--and my heart--but changed I was, and I gladly helped couples to marry that I had never seen before and would never see again. Grace was given to me, I learned to give grace to others. Amen. Amen.