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Relax, You’ll Get Married

A minister’s edding primer

By Jo Page

Unlike cars, marriages are interesting only when they break down.

Broken-down marriages are the stuff of movies and books, TV talk shows and Hollywood celebrities. A good marriage is boring—everybody knows that.

But I get to look at the faces of each bride and groom every time I perform a wedding and you can take my word on this: There has never been a bride or a groom who wanted anything other than that most boring of things, a good marriage. There is just a moment—it’s hard to describe—when naked hope seems to make their faces glow silvery and luminous. Often liquidy, too, because at that point a lot of brides and grooms have tears in their eyes.

It is a private moment and I am a privileged witness. But getting that shining glimpse of palpable hope almost always makes up for all the taxing parts of getting a couple actually wed.

First you have to go through all that premarital stuff. I like to keep it simple: We meet maybe three or four times. I ask them to tell me their love story, which, with the reciprocal narcissism of the deeply-in-love, they are always more than happy to do. And actually, it usually is touching. Or at least, their knees are. They sit haunch-by-haunch on the couch in my office, generally better-groomed than I am—I guess they figure they have to wear their Sunday best.

Eventually we talk about the service. It’s simple and straightforward: opening prayers, readings, optional sermon, exchange of vows and rings, announcement of the marriage, blessing and closing prayers. They can add music, hymns, more readings, blessings by their parents and so on. We will plan the service together all the way.

Fortunately, when older people get married they usually want less of the pageantry and folderol of a storybook wedding. But younger people often want the all accessories of the day: the sappy unity candle, the white paper carpet (somebody always trips on it), the Purcell “Trumpet Voluntary,” groomsmen anxious for the open bar at the reception and a bevy of bridesmaids wearing colors found only in bridal shops and gelato stands.

In the cases of these pageant weddings, there comes a time when, late in the game, one or the other of the couple has had it up to here with wedding details. The spiral notebook they have been using to track their progress is looking dog-eared. There is a problem with one or more of the relatives. Or the reception site, or the transportation arrangements. Or all of the above.

It happened with my own wedding: The pastor who was to assist at the ceremony got caught groping a 13-year-old boy and was removed from his job. The friend who had agreed to cater the reception severed a nerve in her hand a week before the big day. My in-laws were in a train wreck coming up from New York City for the wedding weekend.

It sleeted the day of the wedding. The reception was in a gallery hung with oil paintings of dismembered heads and other body parts rendered in a style to make Gericault proud. Not only that, but it had been a posthumously mounted show—in memory of the painter who had committed suicide the year before. If omens mean anything it should not be surprising that we divorced.

So I am generally sympathetic to all the little details that can go awry. If the bride becomes teary or the groom is exhibiting signs of acute obsessive-compulsive disorder, I understand. But in spite of all my sympathy and sometimes utterly forced congeniality, I keep wondering how many times I will have to go through PMS—premarital syndrome—with couples. Why can’t they just relax? Because what is uniquely worrisome to them is business-as-usual for me. I’m a trained professional—one way or another, I’ll get them married.

Of course, that can’t happen before the ordeal known as the wedding rehearsal, something older couples often wisely skip and for which ministers are deeply grateful.

Because some awful things occur at wedding rehearsals. First, they would not be complete without the wedding-rehearsal know-it-all. Unfortunately for my gender, the know-it-all is usually a woman. Unfortunately, it is often the mother of the bride. Knowing that I am a woman and the mother of daughters worries me: When wedding-rehearsal day comes, will I be able to avoid the dreadful trap of micromanaging the session? After all, I am a genuine wedding-rehearsal know-it-all. Seasoned and savvy. When the time comes, somebody stop me.

The wedding-rehearsal know-it-all doesn’t have to be the mother, though. Sometimes it’s a friend. Or the groom’s sister. They know all the right ways to do things and they will challenge anyone who challenges them. So there is usually some frosty discussion about the ‘groom’s side’ and the ‘bride’s side’ as if the church sanctuary were a gigantic bed. Seating the mothers always seems to elicit some conflict. How the bridal party gets down the aisle is reliably a headache.

“Step together. Step together,” the know-it-all will say.

“No, that looks stupid,” somebody else says.

Yes, I’m thinking. Yes, it really does.

“Go slow,” the know-it-all says. “And smile!”

Then there are procedural questions: When does the maid of honor take the flowers? Does the soloist face the couple or the congregation? Should the bride’s train be bustled up for when she lights the unity candle and then let down before the recessional?

Who cares? I’m thinking. And why does she have a train on her dress in the first place? This is not the antebellum South.

Wedding rehearsals take a lot longer than they ought to, but probably not as long as they might because fortunately there is always somebody itching to get it over with so they can go out and get a drink. Somebody besides me, that is.

Finally, wedding day arrives; and with it, unexpected glitches or surprises. The limousines get lost on the way to the church. The bride has a coughing fit. A little voice crows from the congregation, “Mommy, I’ve got to pee!” The unity candle fails to light. A slug crawls up the pastor’s ankle.

The unexpected is predictable.

But then the moment comes when the bride and the groom take each others’ hands and turn their backs to the congregation and turn their shining faces toward me. I only hope my face can reflect some of that shine out on the congregation. Because in spite of all the tedium, irritation and hassle of weddings, there is nothing quite like seeing the faces of the bride and groom as they stand together and say their vows.

It’s one of the bravest things anybody can do—get up and pledge to love another person, come what may.

I know it’s true that some of them won’t love each other, come what may. I’m divorced. I know what it feels like to have love fail to do what, in love, was promised.

Yet right then, in that holy moment of love firmly pledged, hope is so real you could almost cut it like a wedding cake. And that hope goes a long way in making all the headaches of weddings worthwhile. Because when there isn’t too much pageantry and there is a palpable sense of commitment, a wedding service is one of the strongest affirmations of life.

So relax, no matter what happens, love will make your faces shine.

 

2007 Bridal Guide Home


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