Here comes the bride, so where’s the pastor?

By Alyce McKenzie, Special Contributor…

Most of my crisis expertise has to do with pastoral situations. I once prayed with a young woman trapped in the front seat of her car after an accident and calmed her down until the medics arrives. I’ve prayed with students scared about preaching their first sermons, with families in hospital waiting rooms, with bereaved spouses and with nervous brides.

Calming nervous brides is actually one of my fortes. It is amazing the effect one calm person can have on a whole group of anxious people.

Recently my husband Murry and I attended the wedding of his cousin Susan’s daughter Katie’s marriage to Grant. That makes me the bride’s mother’s cousin’s wife. We don’t know the bride and groom that well. They would not have expected us to come to Pennsylvania from Texas for their wedding. But I thought it would be a good chance to see family at a non-funeral event.

I wore a blue dress and, at the last minute, threw a long white scarf around my neck I hadn’t intended to wear. We arrived at the Carlisle Ribbon Mill, an old ribbon mill converted to an event center in downtown Carlisle, at 2:55 p.m. for a wedding that was to start at 3. I greeted the row of relatives we were sitting with and took a deep breath. Sometimes it’s nice to be in the congregation and not have a leadership role.

We chatted with family for several minutes, then people started looking around and wondering why, at 3:10, the wedding still hadn’t started.

All the bridesmaids were present in their green J. Crew dresses. The bride was present. The groom and groomsmen were waiting in the wings. The disc jockey was in place. The young wedding planner was pacing back and forth at the back of the room.

I felt a tap on my shoulder.

 Scarf to stole

I looked up into the worried face of Aunt Minnie, the bride’s great aunt. “Come with me, Alyce,” she said.

I followed her to the room where a beautiful young bride was standing looking out a window with an anguished expression on her face. Aunt Minnie said, “My pastor is doing the wedding and he hasn’t shown up. We think maybe something has happened to him, but he hasn’t called. And it’s almost 3:15. Can you perform the ceremony?”

I felt a surge of adrenalin. No order of worship. No Bible. Don’t really know the bride and groom well enough to personalize a homily.

“Of course.”

Katie and I closeted ourselves in the dressing room. I told her I had been married 30 years and it was a wonderful adventure to embark on. I told her that in every wedding I had ever performed something had gone wrong. And this was it. So everything else was going to go great. I assured her that I was ordained and it would be legal. I prayed for calm and peace to be upon her.

I then asked for two minutes to myself. I didn’t think to have someone run out to the parking lot and get my iPhone so I could call up the Order of Marriage. I just scribbled a few words on a cocktail napkin to remind me of the order and a couple bullet points for a wedding homily from their Scripture, 1 Corinthians 13, and it was go time. I reminded myself that every pastor should be able to do this. I also reminded myself that I had married many, many couples. I reminded myself to breathe and adjusted my white scarf to look like a stole.

I started with “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here,” and rolled it on out from there. The pastor showed up at 3:40 pm. He thought it started at 4. He saw me up front marrying the young couple and went home.

With my history, I have absolutely no moral ground to stand on in judging someone else for not showing up on time for something. I prayed that he would not beat himself up about it.

In the course of my remarks, I remember mentioning all three members of the Trinity. I emphasized that Jesus Christ was the center of the service and their lives together. I mentioned that the vows don’t ask “Katie, do you love Grant, and Grant, do you love Katie?” They ask, “Katie, will you love Grant and Grant will you love Katie?” I hit the highlights of richer or poorer, and in sickness and health. Katie and Grant, the young bride and groom, rose to the occasion beautifully, accepting the last minute change with grace and poise.

Before we left the wedding Aunt Minnie stopped me to thank me. Her husband Jim had been a pastor before he passed away a few years ago.

“I’m going to have a little talk with my pastor about writing things down,” she said, “but I’m not going to be too tough on him. He did such a wonderful job conducting Jim’s funeral. Besides, I think this is Jim’s doing. Jim wanted a family member to perform the wedding.”

Maybe so.

The moral of the story is like air travel—we have several choices of carriers.

If you are a pastor invited to a wedding or worship service, have the order of worship handy and a wedding homily in mind.

Never leave your iPhone in your trunk because it doesn’t fit in your clutch purse.

Be prepared for any crisis, or, take someone with you who is.

The Rev. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology. This column is adapted by permission from a post at her blog, Knack for Noticing,

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