The church’s pastor on my wedding day joined with a Presbyterian pastor who then was my brother-in-law to perform the ceremony. The marriage lasted nearly 27 years and produced two incredible daughters, many years of happiness and several years of the kind of marital stress I never imagined would happen.
All of that floods back to me as I stand here on North Platt Street and think back to those fun, innocent days and, especially, to the worship service that created a married couple.
Sometimes I think people in churches forget the powerful effect they can and often do have on people. Those of us who attend every Sunday tend to lose track of the uniqueness of what church can offer and the almost magical way in which our rituals create permanent landmarks in people’s lives.
Because I was only about 3months old at my baptism, I of course have no memory of the Rev. Edgar Smith of Park Presbyterian Church in Streator, Ill. – the congregation in which my mother grew up – pouring water on my head.
But I know that my journey of faith began in that place, and sometimes when I’m visiting my grandparents’ graves in Streator I’ll drive by that church, which is also where my oldest sister was once married.
Because we should not underestimate the effects ritual can have on the lives of people, we should make sure that we do that ritual well and with great care. It’s easy, I’m sure, for pastors to think, “Well, this is just one more wedding (or funeral or baptism).” But that road leads to trouble, to missed opportunities, to a failure to honor the people for whom the ritual will mean the world.
Do our seminaries impress on our future clergy the many ways in which they are memory-makers for their congregants? Do they make sure to tell seminarians never to lose focus when participating in the ceremonies that will mark the major events of someone’s life?
Just before I came here to Albion, I was in Niagara Falls, Ontario, for some meetings and was watching the insistent water run pell-mell toward the cliffs. What is so easy to lose track of is that each drop of water is somehow different, somehow unique. And that as each drop tumbles over the falls it creates a different pattern of splash. It’s not all just one endless, repetitive flow.
And that’s what churches must remember. As a congregation’s members come and go, each is unique. It may appear — especially in long-established congregations — that there’s just one steady stream of members being born, getting baptized, confirmed, married and buried. But that’s not the case at all.
Each is unique and precious in God’s eyes, and if we fall into a careless routine as we offer the rituals of faith, we devalue the very people for whom Christ died.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at [email protected].