By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery
As promised, part two of a three part series on Pastoral Offices. Last month I shared about the honour and privilege of presiding at many funerals over the last 24 years. This month, the joy of doing weddings.
Oft are the times I have met a former high school classmate, a college or someone from the early years of my broadcasting career. As you would expect, the first question is, “So what have you been up to?” My immediate answer: Well I’ve married a dozen women!” (that was the number the first time I answered the question. I’m guessing today I might be able to claim I’ve married as many as 75 women – and 75 men!) The look of bewilderment is priceless, until I tell them I’m an Anglican Priest, and then it turns to shock and disbelief! For some reason people didn’t see me in this career!
Seriously, I made a brilliant decision early on when asked to officiate at weddings. I chose then, and have continued to this day, to do all my own marriage preparation. That came, in part, from not being overly excited by the weekend course with a dozen or more couples that I went through before my own marriage to Suzanne. It lacked the personal feel, asking questions just seemed weird, and it was clear that each couple was at a different place in their relationship and spiritual journey. Given that each wedding requires (at least in my scheme of things) three preparation sessions, along with a rehearsal and the day of; and that has been a significant time commitment. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Marriage is about a relationship between two people and God. But that third person, the person officiating, needs to build a relationship as well. When a couple stands before me, I know who they are, their likes and dislikes, how they met, what they like to do, their plans for their life together. That, I believe, allows me to provide a service that meets them where they are.
And that service can take a lot of different forms and more than a few interesting side trips. From a couple in their teens to friends who were 69 and 65 when they got married; from cowboy hats, tail coats, blue jeans and boots, to zoot suits, to formal tuxedos; from a 56 Chevy to stretch limos; I’ve seen many, many things at weddings.
Some highlights! The above mentioned friends, who had known each other since childhood and after losing partners, found that friendship turn to love. I think I cried as much as they did that day. Speaking of tears. I’m amazed at the number of dads and grooms that will allow the true emotion of the day touch their spirit. There is no other feeling like doing a baptism for a couple that you have married, unless it’s baptizing a bride at the wedding rehearsal! It’s cool to do more than one wedding within the same family, because the weddings are usually totally different. Music really does make a difference. A couple leaving to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” created such a sense of joy that everyone danced down the aisles. Just as Canon in D moves emotions from deep within. Ringbearers and flowergirls are absolutely wonderful, especially when you let them be themselves; even if it doesn’t quite fit the planned script.
That leads me to let you know a secret. I’ve never done a wedding that has come off exactly the way it was planned. And that is a good thing. Adlibs are often among the best things. I remember well a bride who arrived at the front of the church literally shaking with nerves and emotion. I knew that in this space she couldn’t relax and enjoy her day. And so out of my mouth came the words “that was a nice run through. Now why don’t you head to the back of the church and we’ll do it for real!” She started to laugh and smile and the tension left her and it was a great day.
A piece of advice here. Always keep your eye on groomsmen. They do strange things. A group approached one day, asking if I knew how to pin on their corsages. I said that was not in my job description and they should find someone with knowledge in that area. A few moments later I heard a strange banging sound. I walked through the door and found them with my office stapler, attaching flowers to their rented tuxedos!
From traffic reports via cell phone from the 401 to explain when family members would get past this traffic jam, to brides arriving nearly an hour late, to brides arriving an hour early, to churches full to the rafters, to an intimate gathering of maybe a dozen people. Every wedding is special and unique.
Oh, and every wedding has a least one heart stopping moment for the clergy person officiating. A wedding register not on the table I put it on, a microphone I know I turned off still live, watching rings slide dangerously close to the edge of the book as I blessed them, wondering how I could possibly have volunteered to sing a solo at a wedding as the first notes on the piano sounded, the terror of looking at the bride and for a split second I can’t remember her name!!!
What I do know is that on the day of every wedding I have ever done, I have always felt the presence of God, I have always treasured the faith that has been shared with the couple and is now evident to all around them. To see the love in their eyes, to believe their future together to be bright and to know that I had some small part in bringing them to this magic day before God.
Next month, the controlled chaos of baptisms!
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James’ Westminster, London.