Settle around the campfire, kids, we’re going to tell HORROR STORIES!!
Don’t be scared, Little Jimmy, this is gonna be FUN!
Over the past 12 years I have officiated at a good number of friends’ weddings and commitment ceremonies. Almost all of the time, the experiences have been absolutely delightful and make for wonderful, happy memories.
And then [cue scary music] there are the times that they have been just awful.
My favorite is the time an old college friend got in touch after many years and flew me out to California in order to do her wedding. While she and the bridesmaids (also friends of mine) went off to get their hair and nails done, I was left to rot in a crappy hotel room (the other girlfriends were staying together somewhere else). I remember the punch in the gut I felt when she cheerily informed me that she and the bridesmaids would be going off to do “girl things” and they’d see me at the wedding location later. Wow. I guess becoming a minister stripped me of my girl status. I was devastated. A family member kindly invited me to go out with her to run some errands, so I spent that time SHOPPING FOR MEDICAL EQUIPMENT for sick granny or grandad. Nothing gets you in the mood for a festive occasion for which you have traveled thousands of miles like pricing bed pans and wheelchairs!
I was totally depressed by the time the ceremony rolled around, but did what I hope was a good job with the service. As my college pals laughed and sparkled, I felt like a troll. My (now former) friend did give me a thoughtful gift for my services, though: ONE LONE wine glass in a box from Crate & Barrel. Wow! Not only did I totally appreciate the message of, “Enjoy a glass of wine BY YOURSELF, LOSER SINGLE PERSON” — I loved the thoughtfulness of sending me off to my next destination (a conference in New Orleans) burdened with a piece of stemwear in my luggage.
I gave it to a flight attendant.
When I wrote a note to my friend confessing that I felt hurt by her treatment of me, she responded nastily that I should have appreciated her generosity in paying my airfare and hotel. Hmmm. Well, considering that I would not have considered attending her wedding had she not asked me to officiate, that argument was less than persuasive.
Life lesson, and this is especially for you, seminarians: Being a minister or priest will make you something of a curiosity or exotic species within a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Those with plans to marry will think it’s SUPER COOL to have their own personal clergyperson on hand to do the service. Be smart. First of all, don’t accept every invitation or you risk becoming exploited and exhausted. Second, accept invitations only for people you really love who are sure to include you in all the festivities and consider you part of the wedding party, not some kind of hired hand on the level of the caterer’s staff.
Secondly, remember that no matter how good a friend you are, you still have religious authority and professional responsibility for the service. You are not just a treasured guest, you are at work. No drinking before either rehearsal or ceremony. No skipping a rehearsal if one is needed just because you pal tries to cajole you out of it. If you require, as I do, a copy of a couple’s self-composed vows before the service, do not tolerate complaints that you are being a control freak. Say “no vows, no service” and retire to your room. This is just an example: you will have your own “musts” that no friend should be allowed to persuade you to neglect. You have to be willing to insist on certain elements of preparation or protocol even with the best of buddies.
I giggle thinking of that last bit of advice which comes from one of my favorite real-life experiences: My best and oldest buddyroo was getting married and she and her beloved decided to write their own vows. “Wonderful,” I said, “But I need a copy of what you plan to say as a cheat sheet in case you get choked up and entirely forget your words.” I knew from lots of experience that my ability to quietly prompt would very likely be necessary in the heat of the moment. My buddy’s fiancee obliged me immediately, but my friend herself kept postponing and postponing and blowing me off and saying she didn’t NEED a cheat sheet, she was sure to remember her vows… and finally it came to a small smack-down and temper tantrum (hers, not mine). She’s not much of a tantrum giver and no one’s idea of a Bridezilla, so I thought it was kind of funny.
However, I stood firm and by the time we got outside to do the ceremony in that beautiful yard in which we had often played as children, I had my friend’s vows in hand. I believe she submitted them to me on a napkin, written in crayon. If memory serves, I believe she kind of flung them at me muttering something about my being a control freak. I cackled wickedly in response.
SO guess who, mid-way through her vows, became overcome with emotion and could not for the life of her remember the next phrase, or even part of a phrase of her vows? I let her sweat it out for a few long moments as she gazed into her almost-hubby’s eyes in sheer, blanky, teary confusion.
Then, “Would you like some help?” I asked ever-so-softly, and she and her entire family burst into laughter. She was SO. BUSTED.
The photograph we have of that moment — all of us roaring with laughter in the green yard — is in my church study and remains one of my most prized possessions.
P.S. The marriage is a happy one and they have two beautiful daughters.
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