I just counted up, and to date, after 30+ years of ministry in four cities, I have officiated at 343 wedding ceremonies. That’s a lot.

I have thoroughly enjoyed them all, and have more than a handful of stories to tell from them. One of these days I’m going to get all these (and funeral stories, as well as baptisms, routine Sundays, and all other kinds of experiences) written up, and use the title of this post as the title of a book. Here’s a sample of what can happen when you thought it was going to be an ordinary, routine, kind of service.

I was getting ready for the wedding ceremony on Saturday of a guy who was (is) a member of our church, who was marrying a lovely young woman who was not a member of the church. That is neither here nor there, but the fact that she was from Romania is a pertinent fact.

No, this was NOT a mail-order-bride kind of deal. She had won a Fulbright Scholarship and come to Georgia State to work on a Masters degree. along the way, she landed a job at the Centers for Disease Control here in Atlanta. Somehow she met this guy, they fell in love, and were getting married. We’d met for four premarital counseling sessions, planned the ceremony, and talked everything through. Her parents and siblings were coming from Romania for the wedding, and we had talked about her parents’ grasp of English, and what I needed to do in the ceremony to make it work well for them. They understood much more than they spoke, but we all felt comfortable with the way things were looking.

Friday afternoon we all met at the Church for the rehearsal. I talked everyone through what we were doing and going to do, then we got everyone in place as if the processional had just ended. The bride’s father was standing between the bride and groom (OK, an editorial comment here. That’s the way it is supposed to be. Some wedding directors [who can be third cousins to Satan, for the record] like to have the father on the bride’s left arm for choreography’s sake–they think it is a clearer shot to his seat without stepping on the bride’s train after he gives the bride away, but there is powerful symbolic value to having him between the couple until he gives her away. Here endeth the lesson.)

I talked us through the first part of the service, through the traditional questions of intent, then I turned and looked at this Romanian father and asked, “Who brings this woman to be married to this man?”

He looked at me and said, clearly and firmly, “Her mother and I.” Perfect. Spot on, just perfect. I talked him through taking her right hand and placing it in the groom’s left hand, then giving her a little kiss on her cheek, and then turning to his right, away from the bride and toward the groom, so he would not step on her dress and/or train.

As he turned, and rotated until he was face-to-face, eye-to-eye with the groom, he stopped, and looked the groom in the eye. He raised his right hand, index finger pointed straight up, as if to make a point. Then he made the slash motion across his throat, and the groom’s eyes bugged out, my jaw hit the floor, and everyone in the room held their breath . . . until the bride and her father started laughing out loud! The tension cut, we all realized this was a joke! The father went on to his seat, the groom heaved a great sigh of relief, and we all went on with the rehearsal. It went without a hitch.

And the next day, the wedding went without a hitch, as well-and the father did not repeat his action!

A couple of years  later, I was walking through one of the overflow spaces after one of our Christmas Eve services, when I saw this couple, and recognized her parents with them. My face lit up like a Christmas Tree, and theirs did, too. We moved to greet each other, and I smiled, looked at the father, and promptly made the slash motion across my throat. He erupted in laughter, as we all did, and we wished each other a Merry Christmas before parting.

A year or so after that, the couple had their first child, and I was honored to be asked to administer the baptism. It was a great reunion of the families, as her parents came over from Romania. Then a couple of years later, along came child number two. But grandparents could not swing the trip this time. I got an idea, and called the bride to ask if her parents would watch the worship service live on the internet (we webcast our services.) She said they would, so I asked her to teach me how to do the baptism in Romanian. She argued that it would be too hard, but I persisted, and she said it, slowly, so I could write it down phonetically. I ran it past her, she was surprised that I got it right, and said so.

All weekend I practiced it out loud, so it was firm in my mind. The moment came in  he service, and when I took the child in my arms, I asked if the bride’s parents were in fact watching on the internet in Romania. She said they were, so I said, “Well, I hope I get this right, but if I mess it up, the Lord knows what we are trying to do.” And I administered the baptism in Romanian, and handed the baby back to them.

Later that morning, between a couple of the services, I saw the couple. The bride said she talked to her mom on the phone, and when I said the first words in Romanian, her mom started to cry.

That may just be the greatest compliment I have ever been paid.

Advertisements

I was married at high noon in Montgomery Alabama, at First United Methodist Church, to Anne Elizabeth Upchurch (thank goodness in our culture the bride takes the groom’s name; can you imagine the Reverend Dr. Chuck Upchurch?!)  on August 27, 1983. We have just celebrated our 30th anniversary; I think we’ll make it.

It was explained to me at the time that a noon wedding is as “high” a wedding as an eight o’clock PM wedding, so the men all wore white dinner jackets, and thank you very much, we looked pretty darn good.

The wedding was the third one in Lib’s family in three years, so they pretty well had the wedding thing down. While I’d been “schooled” in weddings, this was the first one I’d been in, so I just did what I was told. I was told what time to arrive at the church, dressed, and where to go, so I cooled my heels as best I could.

On your wedding day, you wake up earlier than you want to. This was the case with me, as I recall, so once I was up and moving, my brother and I went for about a four-mile run so I could deal with some of my jitters. I arrived back at the motel, and Hunter went on for another mile or so. I chatted with a friend by the pool, but was starting to get excited/nervous, so I asked my Dad to bring me a biscuit from the restaurant, and went to my room. I did not have much of an appetite, but knew I needed to eat something.

After showering and dressing, the next thing I knew I was at the Church, and after a flurry of pictures, it was “time.” I have vague recollections of the ceremony, I know I was there, because I’ve seen the pictures, but it was a blur. We walked down the center aisle, out of the church into a limo, and straight to the Country Club. The rest of the wedding party and our families did the same, we shot a few pictures, and the party began.

It, too, was a blur. I have some faint memories of seeing a few particular people, but for the most part, it was a lot of smiling and nodding. Then someone told us it was time to leave, so we headed upstairs to change clothes.

Why can men change in three minutes, but it takes women a good half hour?

Anyway, Lib came out, all the bridesmaids massed downstairs, Lib threw the bouquet, we ran through a shower of rose petals to a car, and my brother-in-law Sam Campbell drove us to where we’d stashed a car.

We got into Lib’s Honda, and headed for Atlanta, where we were to spend the night before flying out Sunday morning for our honeymoon in Jamaica.

About halfway to Atlanta, I told Lib I was hungry; she reached into the back seat and got one of the box lunches that the Club had given us, and opened it. There was a scoop of chicken salad in there. Not a sandwich, a scoop. No fork, no spoon, I don’t think there was a cracker in there. Inedible while driving a stick shift on the Interstate.

We arrived at the Ramada Renaissance (I think it’s Westin now), and we were taken to the Honeymoon Suite on the Concierge Level. We walked into our spacious room, with flowers, candles, champagne, and the Concierge left.

Lib opened her suitcase, and there was a note there from her brother (who’s been married a year) telling her how wonderful marriage is, and how happy he was for her. She got a little misty, but then turned and looked at me with a “come hither” look and said, “Well; what do you want to do?”

I said, “Let’s go get something to eat.”

Lib said, “WHAT?!” And this other head grew out of her neck. It sprouted horns, and had long fangs, and breathed fire. “WHAT?!” It said.

“Look, Lib,” I said, “I’m hungry. I really did not get breakfast to speak of. I did not get anything to eat at our reception. And I’m smart enough to know that if I don’t eat something now, I’m not going to get anything else to eat tonight.”

She begrudgingly agreed that I may have a point there. If I’d had half a brain, I would have called room service; but no, we went downstairs and ate in the restaurant.

Do you know what is on the top of the list of things that brides do not want their groom to eat on their wedding night? A Reuben Sandwich. I mean, who wants sauerkraut breath in their face on their wedding night? But guess what I had that night? Yep, you guessed it. It’s a great sandwich, but not the wisest choice I’ve ever made.

So we ate dinner, then went upstairs, and the rest is now 30 years of history.

If you’re reading this and planning a wedding, make sure you think through eating after the ceremony. And leave Reubens off the menu.

That was just plain stupid.

Wedding ceremonies happen at all times of the day and night. That said, I think the earliest ceremony at which I have ever officiated was a 10:00 AM ceremony, and I don’t think I have done one any later than 8:00 PM. My preference, frankly, is noon.

That’s probably because my own wedding ceremony was at noon. But I have learned through the years that there are some advantages to that time.

For one, Emily Post says that a noon ceremony is as “high” a wedding as an eight PM ceremony. We wore Dinner Jackets at my wedding. Two, the couple will wake up on the day of their wedding earliuer than they want to, and the first thought that crosses their mind before their feet hit the floor is, “Today’s the day!” The longer they have to wait for the actual ceremony, the greater the buildup of anticipatory stress, and the higher the likelihood that they will murder someone in a snap of rage. Having the ceremony at noon has them getting on with things.

A noon ceremony also allows them to enjoy the reception, to hang around for a good while and enjoy the party and the people before making their getaway. It’s actually possible to travel some on the wedding day with a noon wedding, or at least not to feel rushed about things post-ceremony before leaving the next day for the honeymoon.

I recall one noon wedding in particular. It was not a large ceremony, in fact it was in the Wilson Chapel at Peachtree Presbyterian Church (which seats a little over 100 people). It must have been summer, because as we were starting the ceremony, a frog-choker of a rainstorm, with accompanying thunder and lightning, broke over us. (Thank goodness it was not an outdoor ceremony, which are often dicey with weather. I always tell people when they plan an outdoor ceremony that “I’m in sales, not management,” pointing out that I can’t control the weather.)

At any rate, the ceremony had begun. I’d welcomed the congregation, and made the appropriate statements about marriage. I’d delivered the “Charge to the Couple,” in which we essentially acknowledge that if the couple will do certain things, then God will do certain things.

In the ceremony that I use, next comes the “Questions of Intent.” This is that historical question that lays it all out, asking the couple–each in turn, first the groom, then the bride–if they REALLY want to do this.

So this particular Saturday, as a storm moved in around us, I looked at the groom and asked, “John, will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in healt, and forsaking all others, will you keep yourself only unto Jane, as long as you both shall live?”

No sooner were the words out of my mouth, than a terrific clap of thunder BOOMED on top of us, shaking the Chapel and startling everyone in it. The groom himself darn near jumped out of his shoes, and as the thunder echoed off into the distance, and everyone settled back into the ceremony, I simply looked at the groom, cocked my head to the side gently, and raised both my eyebrows as if to suggest that God was listening in, ever-so-expectantly, for his answer. The bride and groom both, as well as everyone in the Chapel, caught the humor in the moment, and lauged, as the groom said, with more enthusiasm than he would have used had the thunder not hit at the moment, “I WILL!!!”

It’s never a bad thing to laugh in a wedding.