Over the years, one of the unexpected developments and joys of being a Friends Minister has been that people sometimes ask me to officiate at their weddings. If I know the family, or have some kind of a real connection with one or both of the couple, I am happy to be a part of their wedding day.
For me, it’s a spiritual opportunity. I seek ways to create openings so that the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit may be present within the ceremony. The “feel” and content of the weddings I’ve solemnized have been as varied as the couples taking part. Some have been quite simple, at dawn by the seashore, and others more lavish, with large bridal parties, limos and three-foot tall wedding cakes. None, however, compare to a wedding ceremony that I was honored to conduct last week. But first, let’s set the stage for this special wedding day.
Everything about how this couple found each other eight years ago is generally not recommended in the “how-to” manuals of courtship. Sandy, found her man on the Internet, literally while moving from state to state to avoid a dangerous person from her past. Walter, Sandy’s fiancee, is a gentle man, and has worked hard for every cent he’s ever made. In 1989 he managed to get a mortgage and buy the house he’s lived in ever since. He had a home, a job and was lonely.
For several years I was the only person “up north” who knew “Sandy’s” real name, where she came from and what life-altering challenges she dealt with in her twenties and thirties. I first met her after she called my agency seeking help with getting her boys enrolled into public school. Like other social and outreach workers involved at the time I figured this Internet romance wouldn’t last long. However, time and in this case, love, would prove me wrong. Eventually, Sandy moved out of a deplorable one room welfare-assisted transition motel and into her boyfriend’s house. In time they had a child together, Sandy worked on her GED and the years went by.
“We’re getting married”
Six months ago Sandy called me to ask if I knew any ministers. “We’re getting married,” she said with pride in her voice. “Walter says that we should be married, legally,” she said. “And I thought that you might know of a minister who would marry us.” After determining that she in fact loved this man, and that Sandy was equally excited about getting married, I told her that I might be able to help her out with her search for someone to marry them.
It took three weeks for us to find a mutual time so that Sandy, Walter and I could sit down together. Walter works every day that he can, which means seven days a week out-of-town, usually, as a gas station kiosk attendant. But the station was temporarily shutting down for tank replacements, so Walter had three days coming up when he’d be off from work. So we met then, during what he called, his “vacation.”
This was only the second time that I had met Walter. The first time he seemed friendly enough, though exceptionally shy. Later, after that first meeting, Sandy told me that Walter was afraid of me. She said he didn’t like social workers and government workers, because they always took things away. This time, years later, I was the minister, and as Walter said near the end of our meeting, “You seem like a really nice guy. Besides, if Sandy likes you, so do I.”
Despite their modest existence, hard-scrabble decor and the noisy menagerie of pets moving about in their cages in their home, what was immediately evident to me during our meeting was that this couple was very much in love with each other. There it was, that glow, that wordless gaze of knowing and communicating that flows between lovers as they shared, with my prompting, what they wanted for themselves and for their future together.
Their desire to marry wasn’t about money, social status, or the expectations of extended family members. In fact, except for two children, there would be no other family members physically attending their wedding. Sandy had a short list of requests of her wedding day: that they would be married somewhere next to the ocean; someone would give her away; they would exchange rings; and her Dad, who is terminally ill in a nursing home down south, would be able to listen to the ceremony on Sandy’s cell phone. (Unfortunately, though, Sandy’s Dad would not feel well enough to listen in when the ceremony began.) When I asked how many people would be attending their wedding, Sandy began counting on her fingers; “Seven,” She said, “Maybe eight. It depends if Bobby, my cabbie friend, can make it that day”
Seaside Public Parking
On Wednesday, October first, we met for a noontime wedding at Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven, MA on a grassy knoll overlooking Buzzards Bay. The forecast called for showers on and off all day. But as our ceremony got underway it was still dry. As we gathered dog walkers paused at a distance to watch, seagulls glided overhead and in the distance scallopers slowly made their way in to port. Two large pickup trucks with construction workers eating their lunches arrived and sat in their vehicles enjoying the vista, and soon our ceremony. As the officiant, I was a little uncomfortable with their proximity. But it was also evident that it was our little wedding party that had planted itself in front of their daily lunch spot. Moms with young children, who were leaving the nearby playground, paused, then sat down on the benches to watch.
I stepped back for a private moment with Sandy and Walter before the wedding began. Walter wanted to know if it would be alright for him to have the memory of his dad with him during our ceremony. I said, ‘Of course.” And with that he quickly produced a simple square black box containing the ashes of his father and held it under his arm. After our discussion Sandy walked to stand next to Mr. Lopes, her next door neighbor, who would give her away. Also present to support the bride was Carmon, a social worker who, like me, has known and worked with the family for many years.
Walter stood to my left, and Bobby the Cabbie served as Best Man just off of Walter’s shoulder. Realizing that he would need to free up both hands for the service, Walter carefully entrusted holding his Dad’s ashes to Bobby. Behind Bobby stood Sandy’s two oldest boys in their dark-colored pants and crisp white shirts.
“Who gives this woman, this day, into marriage?”
Just before beginning I asked, “Who has the rings?” This prompted each boy to lift out the homemade corsages nestled in their shirt pockets and reach in to retrieve a ring that each were carrying. As if on cue they held them up for all to see. “Let’s hand them to the Best Man,” I said. And with that, we were ready. I used a traditional Wedding Service adapted from the Book of Common Prayer and opened the ceremony with prayer and proclamation. “Who gives this woman, this day, into marriage?” I asked.
“I do,” Said Mr. Lopes. And with that Sandy processed down our grassy imaginary isle and stood to my right, facing Walter. Carmon fulfilled the duties of Maid of Honor and followed up to stand by the bride to be. I whispered the vows to each so that they could say them aloud to each other. At some point in the middle of exchanging rings the skies noticeably brightened. I whispered my observation about the weather brightening to Sandy and Walter. And like a moment within a moment, they both giggled as we continued.
Within a matter of ten minutes the vows were completed, the rings exchanged and I joyously pronounced them husband and wife. A closing prayer was shared by all followed by clapping and hugs all around. Even a few distant onlookers started to clap and a car horn tooted nearby.
Within minutes, cars were loaded and the bridal party was off to a nearby chain restaurant for lunch. As I drove away I thought, how wonderful and complete this little service had felt. Proof enough that less is sometimes so much more.
This story was told with permission of the couple. I insisted, however, that names, and a few details would be altered to safeguard privacy.