This is the time of year when many couples decide to get married. When they do, they often call a member of the clergy.
This week, as I was sharing some of the more — shall we say — wedding requests I’ve received, someone suggested that I write them in a column.
“OK,” I said. “The column might seem a bit random, but I have no shortage of random thoughts.”
At the outset, let me say most ministers I know would rather do a funeral than a wedding. I know that may sound like an odd preference, but there are two reasons for this.
First, the personality of most ministers isn’t well suited for the pageantry details of a wedding. However, clergy often do exceptionally well with the pastoral care required at a funeral.
Second, wedding participants are very particular about details; funeral participants have simple requirements, such as good empathy and a caring presence. That’s not too hard for most pastors. But, at a wedding, if I so much as mispronounce a middle name, my name is mud.
For those reasons, planning starts with premarital counseling. The first question often is about the honorarium. Because of a few memorable moments I’ve had in the past, I require payment in advance.
Two incidents inspired this requirement. Once, a groom stopped our march toward the altar, exclaiming, “Wait!” He then extended a $100 dollar bill toward my face, saying, “Here ya go, Bud!”
Another time, a bride summoned me to her dressing room, where she met me in the doorway in her slip and push-up bra. She positioned her checkbook on the doorjamb and insisted I accept her check that instant.
During our premarital session, I always try to clarify a few rules. One year after rousing a drunken groom at his home wedding, I added the rule, “No alcohol before the wedding.” One “smart” couple brought their keg to the church parking lot — presumably to drink after the wedding.
There are times when premarital counseling has concluded with me declining the wedding.
For instance, one couple wanted to know if it would be a deal-breaker if they left out the till-death-do-part concept. A second couple wanted to change the phrase to, “Until love do us part.” Both were deal-breakers.
One of my most memorable deal-breaking moments was when a military couple requested that I avoid mentioning God because the bride’s friends would be offended.
I wanted to ask them if they had noticed the sign “chaplain” over the door.
When pressed, she finally admitted she and her friends were witches. She had been reluctant to come to the chaplain, but her fiance told her that military chaplains don’t charge for weddings done on duty.
She understood why I couldn’t do the wedding, but the groom was a bit angry.
It took the intervention of the good witch to sway the argument.
“Dear, don’t you understand? We would be hypocrites if we promised something we don’t believe. Furthermore, the chaplain would be a hypocrite for leading us to promise something he knew that we did not believe.”
I was stunned — under her spell, as a matter of fact. I have quoted her words of wisdom to nearly every engaged couple who has come to my office.
Finally, my funniest story took place a few weeks after my own wedding, when Becky and I were forced to re-enact our ceremony. It seems that every single picture the photographer took of us as a couple failed to develop properly.
Gratefully, after 29 years of marriage this month, we have. Happy anniversary, sweetheart.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write [email protected] or visit www.thechaplain.net.