Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day of Love

Yesterday afternoon we went to a wedding in the Rose Garden at the Zoo. I have officiated at many weddings, but never one in the Rose Garden, and we dearly love this couple so both Wes and I were excited to attend.

An old friend of the bride and groom, the officiant had just gotten his license off the Internet. He was so eager that he started the wedding without the bride. Then he stopped and we all stood up and waited for the bride to come down the aisle. He forgot to tell the people to please sit down after the scripture reading. So we looked around at one another and just sat down.

Later, at the reception, he bragged about how it took all of forty-five seconds to get his license and it takes three years for most people to go through seminary. His girlfriend said to us, “Yeah, wasn’t he great?! You know how you go to most weddings and it’s not at all personal and the minister is just reading something? This was much better.”

Kudos to me for just sitting there with my mouth shut. As Wes said, “I didn’t want to make him feel bad.” I didn't say anything about how the only personal thing he said was that he introduced the couple to each other. And then he read some stuff about marriage. And both Wes and I noticed he got off on saying, “By the power vested in me by the state of Washington, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” No one says that anymore. It’s so unnecessary.

What he didn’t get was that you don’t go through three years of seminary just so you can officiate at weddings. You do it because you feel called by God to serve as a minister. Weddings are such a tiny part of it. If you work in a church, there’s putting together the Sunday service which means picking the scripture, the hymns, getting the readers to read the scripture, writing the sermon, gathering the announcements, practicing your sermon. That’s just for Sunday.

Monday through Saturday there are the committee meetings, the counseling, visiting the sick, praying for your congregation, helping with the youth group, dealing with any personnel and building maintenance issues, meeting with community clergy and taking part in various walks and demonstrations. Then there are the funerals and the weddings. It’s unbelievably hard work.

I never felt called to parish ministry. As a hospital chaplain, ministering to patients, families and staff means that I concentrate on just a small portion of a parish minister’s job. Perhaps I do more funerals than a parish minister.

And yes, I officiate at weddings, but only for close friends. That way the service is very personal. I refuse to be paid because this ceremony is my gift to them. I know I can give them something nobody else can.

I also know that at a wedding, every married couple there relives their ceremony. And every couple there, married or not, thinks about their relationship. So it's an amazing opportunity to offer words about love, forgiveness, spiritual growth and calling forth the best in one another.

I wish I had asked this Universal Life minister if he was going to start doing funerals now. But of course you don’t need any power vested in you by any state to officiate at a funeral.


Jim Barker said...

As a ULC minister - I completely agree with you Deborah. In Washington State, anyone can marry anyone... which is how I think it shoud be everywhere. I have been asked to marry people because of my connection with them, not because of my "status". I got the ULC "ordination" because I thought I would need to officiate a wedding in another state. Thanks for the refreshing perspective. :)

Susan said...

Debra Jarvis officiated our wedding. And I swear! It was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had! Everybody probably says that about his or her own wedding – it would only be right.

Ours had some unusual elements: A tree instead of rings, a luncheon for 5 instead of 50, poetry but not readings, altitude rather than attitude, multiple locations. And Debra Jarvis – unusual because not all that many people have the amazing fortune to be married by her.

Rich and I met Debra through very good friends. We knew we were asking a lot when we approached Debra about performing our wedding. There was no getting around the fact that she is at one end of the spiritual-belief scale and we are at the other. But she agreed! Debra told us that she didn’t care what we believed, as long as we had put careful thought into it.

Whew! Next obstacle: Multiple locations, small crowd.

We started with a lunch at our house: my dad, Rich’s mom, Debra and the two of us. During the meal, she said some very thoughtful things about marriage, couples, us.

After lunch, we went into our back garden for a ring ceremony. For us, this meant planting a tree. In her poetic way, Debra described our plan: The tree would represent our life together – roots growing deeper, a new ring each year, growth, seasons. We all took turns helping plant it.

Then we piled into the car and went to Lake Union. We climbed aboard a seaplane, and off we went. From the lake we could see Rich’s office and Debra’s building. We toured around the north end of Seattle for a bit, flew over our house, then said our vows above Rich’s family’s property on the Kitsap Peninsula. (Actually, I trust that Rich said his vows. It was so loud that he could have been reciting a grocery list!)

Back on solid ground, Debra finished the ceremony. She said more amazing things. I remember thinking, “I’ve got to remember this!” But of course I don’t. I was marveling at the brilliant day, the huge smiles, the people I love most, and the fact that I hadn’t actually needed the barf bag. (Debra gave me a copy of what she said to us.)

Every year on our anniversary, Rich and I count our blessings. We are more in love, more satisfied with our lives, more thankful than we were the year before. We are blessed with continued good heath and amazing family and friends. Especially, we are thankful for Debra Jarvis. She made us the couple we are today.

The day I married my friend, our friend married us.