I am that strange pastor who prefers officiating weddings to funerals.
I have always been told such pastors were like unicorns in ministry; we just don’t exist. Maybe my preference has been shaped by my lucky experience. All of the weddings I’ve conducted have run smoothly, had minimal family drama, and been assisted by a capable team of church members ready to play extra music when needed and sending the flower girl down the aisle at just the right moment.
My husband, Matt, doesn’t have a strong preference about his favorite services to lead. But you would think his experience might plant him firmly in the funeral camp. The weddings he conducts tend to come with surprises. At his first wedding, the bride and groom officially exchanged vows the day before in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Another time, he had to keep the groom calm for 45 minutes while a search party set out to locate the bride’s missing veil. Then, there was the one with the 26-member wedding party. Really, 26 bridesmaids and groomsmen. And the one where the flower girl and ring-bearer danced behind him on the chancel for the entire ceremony. Yet all the couples went away married, joyful and blessed.
Despite the crazy things that can happen at these most stressful and anticipated events, both of us are still convinced that wedding days are wonderful. On those days, we ask God to bless two people who have found a relationship that brings them energy, joy, security and love. We take time to recognize the families and communities that stand ready to support the couple through good times and bad. We allow the couple to show each other their best selves and to set a high standard for their life together. We find ways to blend their personalities — even a love of Star Wars or the family pets — into a celebration of God’s gift of marriage.
I audaciously believe that we pastors have the opportunity to shape the day for all those gathered together. We can ask people to stop, slow down, take in what’s happening and infuse the blur of events with a sense of Christ’s peace. We can remind all those gathered that marriage is not just about happy times, but is an especially good teacher of patience, sacrifice and self-giving love. We get to remind ourselves and the congregation that we are not on our own to make things work, but are surrounded by God’s love, strength and guiding hand.
The strange and amusing things that often happen at weddings are good preparation for the real experience of marriage. Sometimes marriage goes smoothly and sometimes there is chaos. Matt and I can attest to this truth. In the times when things seem to go wrong, spouses can discover how love that stretches and bends often gets stronger. Or, as Rob and Kristen Bell say in their book “The Zimzum of Love,” each partner gets to zimzum, or “create space for the other person to thrive while they are doing the same for you.”
Whether in a sanctuary or a fast food parking lot, we pastors have the ability to create space to witness the beauty of two lives being joined in the presence of God. Any drama or missteps are just practice for the journey of marriage that follows this one, special wedding day.
EMMA NICKEL lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she serves as stated supply pastor at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Greensburg and Matt as associate pastor at Highland Presbyterian Church. They enjoy homebrewing, playing with their cat, Scout, and are anticipating the birth of their first child in September.