Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Wedding Story

Let’s leave for a moment our anxieties over coronavirus, civil unrest and what our church of the future will look like and read about one of the happiest occasions in the life of most people – their wedding day! This is a reprint of an AMEN Corner written many years ago about the first wedding that I ever officiated at. It was a pastor’s worst nightmare. I’ve neither added to nor exaggerated anything about this blessed event – I didn’t need to. This is exactly what happened...

Dear Friends,
June is the traditional month for weddings and I will always remember the time we were invited to Leslie’s (not her real name) wedding in Harmony, Ca. A very quaint, rustic town of only 18 people, Harmony is located just south of Cambria and the entire “town” consisted of a boutique winery and a wedding chapel. The tiny chapel was filled with flowers and twinkle lights and it was a fairytale wedding. The reception was at the winery and all was gourmet and elegant. But years after the fairytale wedding, Leslie’s Prince Charming had turned into the evil hunchback ogre and the divorced Leslie was ready to get married again. 

The ink had barely dried on my denomination’s ordination papers when Leslie asked me to officiate. I remembered her last expensive and elegant Harmony Chapel wedding and immediately told her that I’d be happy to. She told me that it would be held at their favorite restaurant in Palmdale and it had a garden area perfect for the wedding. In my “mind’s eye” I saw a gazebo, waterfall, flowers, twinkle lights and an elegant reception dinner under the stars. This would be my first wedding as a minister. I sent my best suit to the cleaners.

It turned out to not be an actual “restaurant.” The owner of the biker bar had done his best for Leslie and her biker husband-to-be and worked hard to make the weed covered back lot into an acceptable venue for a wedding. He’d tied up his two pit bulls over by the dumpster to avoid any dog bite lawsuits. He’d dragged some old fake Ficus trees and decaying artificial flowers out of the bar and arranged them around a patch of dirt in the corner of the yard. Guests were seated on folding metal chairs that had been out in the direct sun all day. Women with backless dresses or miniskirts screamed as they sat down. Empty beer kegs had been removed from a rusty steel storage shed so that the bride could use it as her changing room. The aluminum kegs stacked next to the ceremonial dirt patch added a festive ambiance. 

Leslie had changed into a white pantsuit and exited the shed, but as she walked through the weeds to where the procession was to start from, she stepped in a pile of pit bull poop that squished up around the sides of her cute, pink western boots. The lovely bride said a word not normally used in the wedding ceremony and we were ready to begin. As the bride walked down the dirt “aisle”, the “best man” played a Guns ‘N Roses heavy metal song on an electric guitar that, to my knowledge, was not a traditional wedding song. Women were frantically swatting at flies attracted to their hairspray and perfume. 

It was well above 100 degrees in Palmdale on that Saturday afternoon in June. There was no shade in the “garden.” The sun was beating down on us and sweat was pouring off my face. We were engulfed in the odor from the bride’s right boot and the maid of honor had her hand over her nose and mouth. Her stomach heaved and I took a couple of steps toward the groom’s side of the dirt patch in case the maid of honor did something dishonorable. Remember, the ministerial suit had just come back from the cleaners. I don’t want to say I rushed the ceremony, but I didn’t dawdle with any unnecessary niceties. The groom kissed the bride and left her standing alone as he rushed down the aisle to go relieve himself after too many pre-wedding beers. The bride and I adjourned to the blistering hot storage shed where I filled out the marriage certificate using an up-turned beer keg for a writing desk. The reception was burgers, chili dogs and all the beer you could drink. I expressed my most sincere regrets to the bride for being unable to stay. The groom was still in the restroom.

I’ve read other pastor’s wedding stories where after the pastor said, “Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband,” the bride thought for a moment and said, “No.” Where the bride and her father fought with light sabers coming down the aisle to music from Star Wars and neither the pastor nor the groom knew they were going to do that. Where the bride had requested that 1 John 4:18 be read: “There is no fear in love; instead perfect love drives out fear.” Unfortunately, a confused lay-reader read John 4:18 at the wedding: “For you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” Where the pastor did an outdoor wedding and the bride chain-smoked cigarettes during the entire service. When in a country club wedding the sound guy used the wrong CD, and as the bride walked down the aisle, everyone heard Tony Bennett singing “The Lady is a Tramp.” And where the bride and groom were both avid hunters and the pastor was asked to officiate at their wedding by talking through a speaker placed in an animatronic deer head.

By the time you read this AMEN Corner, there may not be enough time for you to get married in June but I have some available dates in July to officiate at your wedding. You do need to know that after that first wedding ceremony, I did institute some pretty strict rules you’ll need to follow. I will not marry bride and groom in a biker bar. Guests may chew tobacco if it’s an outdoor wedding but must not spit during the service and both bride and groom must remain sober throughout the entire ceremony.  Amen?

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