Tag Archives: wedding

Spring watch

Housework cried out for my attention yesterday morning, and then I drove off to officiate at a wedding in Rhode Island in the afternoon, so I had no time to get outdoors. Fortunately the wedding was at a conference center out in the middle of the woods. It was a two and a half mile drive from the highway along increasingly narrow and winding roads. I kept the car windows down, and listened:
…teakettleteakettleteakettle, that’s a Carolina Wren…
…a little piece of a song, Baltimore Oriole…
…chipchipchipchipchip, Chipping Sparrow….

Then I arrived at the conference center. The wedding was to be outdoors, overlooking a small pond. We did the rehearsal. The wedding got delayed for an hour. It looked like there might be a thundershower at any moment so I didn’t dare go for a walk. I stood on the porch and watched the edge of the pond:
…tiny bird, black with a flash of red: American Restart….
…slightly larger bird on a twig, every few seconds flies out to snag insects: Eastern Kingbird…
…something small and brown, without binoculars there’s no telling….
For those minutes, I was totally focused on birds.

It didn’t rain. At last the wedding started. When you officiate at weddings, you’re presiding over twenty minutes that are very important minutes to at least two people, so I become very focused on the ceremony. And at this wedding, there was another Unitarian Universalist minister in attendance, someone whom I respect and who has very high standards, which increased the intensity of my focus even more. Yet I couldn’t quite turn off my earlier focus on birds. During the prayer I heard a buzzy pee-a-wee pee-a-wee, and I thought: Eastern Wood Peewee. It wasn’t a distraction, I was just doubly focused.

In the middle of the vows, off in the distance, some flute-like notes; was that a Wood Thrush? (the song of a Wood Thrush is one of those few sounds that truly thrill me to my marrow). “Please repeat after me….” It was a Wood Thrush. A little thrill passed down my spine, and the superstitious side of me thought: This must be a good omen; this marriage is going to be blessed. No focus on my part, no professional critique by another minister, no amount of preparation, will ever equal the importance of the glorious song of one small drab brown bird.

That was a surprise…

I officiated at a wedding this afternoon, and during the service one of the wedding party fell over in a dead faint. Yes, it was just a faint — the groom’s father had had EMT training, and checked to be sure — and yes, a visit to a medical professional has been promised. I have to say that it was a very well-done faint — it happened just before the vows so it was at a convenient break in the service; and far more importantly, no permanent damage resulted.

Now that I think about it, a wedding has all the ingredients for fainting — uncomfortable, restrictive clothing that keeps you from breathing properly; not getting enough sleep the night before; forgetting to eat before the service; standing for long periods of time; and plenty of emotional tension — so it seems to me that people should faint at weddings, and on a fairly regular basis. Yet somehow this is the first time I happen to have seen someone faint at a wedding.

Later note: Still don’t really know what happened, but I’ll bet this faint was actually the first signs of the stomach bug that’s been going around….

What about memorial services?…

Memorial services are on my mind at the moment, because I’ve led two memorial services in the past week and a half. Weddings are on my mind, too, because at church we are in the midst of reviewing our wedding policies. So today when I started thinking about how to create more engaging worship services, it suddenly occurred to me that common, ordinary Sunday worship has to be connected with memorial services and weddings.

Maybe I need to explain why they need to be connected. A memorial service, a wedding, and a regular Sunday worship service all deal with the big human mysteries: life, death, birth, suffering, hope, grief. Take hope and grief as examples. Regular Sunday worship is a time when people can, among other things, reflect on their day-to-day hopes and griefs. A memorial service is a time when people can, among other things, grieve the death of someone they loved and hope for a continuation of life. A wedding is a time when people can, among other things, grieve over losing a son or daughter or friend or sibling to a new household and a new more important relationship; and of course a wedding is a time of hope and joy.

Thus you can see that weddings, memorial services, and regular Sunday worship services share important themes. You could also add christenings or child dedications, and confirmation or coming-of-age services to this list. You could also add special services such as Christmas eve candlelight services. The same theological and religious themes run through all these types of services. That says to me that if you want to change regular Sunday worship services, or if you want to add other new worship services to your worship line-up, any changes should be linked to all the other special services your church offers.

Think about it this way. Every church is going to have a few people who are “twice-a-year attenders,” people who rarely come to regular worship services. But these people do attend Christmas eve candlelight services, they do come to weddings and child dedications and memorial services. And, with a fair amount of regularity, a child dedication or a memorial service touches one of these twice-a-year attenders deeply enough that he or she starts coming to church regularly. When that happens, doesn’t it make sense that the wedding or memorial service look enough like a regular Sunday worship service that that twice-a-year attender feels comfortable?

For example: as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, I feel that means that as a minimum every service I conduct has to have something like a sermon. I feel that the sermon is perhaps the most distinctive part of Unitarian Universalist worship; after all, we claim to be people who think hard about religion, which is related to our claim to be people who disdain empty ritual as a kind of idolatry. Further, a Unitarian Unviersalist sermon (at its best) is really one installment in a long-term constantly evolving dialogue between the minister and the congregation, thus acknowledging the priesthood and prophethood of all believers. (Not that I’m a big fan of sermons myself — I don’t process auditory information particularly well, so I tend to drift off during sermons — but I recognize that sermons are central to my religious tradition.)

So a memorial service that I conduct will always have a reflection or homily on the deceased person’s life. A wedding that I conduct will always have a homily about marriage and the couple’s path to marriage. Child dedications are usually too short to include even a homily, but I do make a point of explaining what we are doing when we dedicate a child. And so on, for other special services.

To stick with the specific example of sermons for a bit longer, all this means for me that any alternative worship service I want to engage in on a regular basis has to contain something equivalent to a sermon. Maybe you can change the form of the sermon a bit, but any sermon has to be the original, thoughtful creation of the worship leader, something that engages the congregation in a long-term dialogue. To go beyond the specific example of including a sermon, any alternative or special worship service that I do has to feel enough like a regular Sunday worship service that if you attend one, you won’t be entirely at sea attending the other.

In short, I think it’s time that those of us who are advocates of alternative worship in Unitarian Universalism address these questions: Will your brand-spanking-new alternative worship format be able to handle memorial services and child dedications? –and– What is so central to Unitarian Universalist worship that it must be included in any alternative worship service?