In the almost 27 years I was minister at
Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley, California, I performed over four
thousand weddings. I have co-celebrated weddings with Roman Catholic priests,
Rabbis, Islamic Mullahs, Buddhist priests and Judges of various types. I've done
weddings in castles and churches; in hotels and on hilltops; on boats large and
Every weekend of my life for those 27 years, I had an average of three wedding
ceremonies to perform, for couples young and old, ready or not. I want to share
some things that happened at - or on the way to - the altar.
In the context of weddings, I've had animals who thought they were people:
I remember Ralph, the poodle. The mother of the bride insisted that the family
dog be included in the wedding, since he was so much a part of the family
(virtually their "fur-child!") Would that be OK with the minister? The family
even brought Ralph to meet me. I was assured he wouldn't do anything impolite on
the Chapel carpet.
I decided I didn't have a responsibility to rescue this family from whatever
level of inter-species equality they wanted to achieve, and I agreed Ralph could
be seated with the rest of the family for the wedding. On the day of the
wedding, walking beside the mother of the bride as she was escorted to her seat,
was Ralph, dressed in a doggie tuxedo. He sat nicely during the wedding, and
walked out with other family members when the ceremony was over.
Other dogs have been included. Several have been even the "Best Dog." The Bride
had her Maid of Honor and and the Groom, his Best Dog. The Maid of Honor had the
Groom's ring to hand to me at the appropriate time, and the Best Dog had the
Bride's ring, in a little pouch tied to his collar. [We got a human being to
sign the license instead of the Best Dog.]
At a wedding in a back yard in El Cerrito, a retired merchant seaman was
marrying his beloved. His parrot was not pleased with all the excitement of the
arriving guests and impending party, and from inside the house, screamed
seaworthy obscenities [most of them rhyming with either "hit" or "truck"]
throughout the ceremony.
Nervousness plays a part in this big landmark event called a wedding.
When people get nervous, things sometimes get a little out of focus. Some people
get aggressive and snappy; others get quiet; others hyperventilate. When the
nerves strike, little things get bigger, sometimes to a ridiculous degree.
I remember one bride who was particularly snappy at everyone. As the time of the
ceremony got closer, she got snappier. I just stayed out of the way. Finally the
hour arrived, and, as I went through the Parlor - where the Bride and her party
were hiding out until wedding time - on my way to the Chapel, I said "See you in
She replied "We can't start."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"We can't start the wedding. I'm not ready."
"Why aren't you ready?" I asked.
"My nail polish isn't right," she said.
"What do you mean your nail polish isn't right?
"Well, see," (she showed me) "on my little finger, there's a flaw in the polish.
I can't go. Everyone will see." .... (We started the wedding.)
I remember one nervous groom who looked at his beloved, as they were about to do
their vows. I asked him the question about his intention to take this lovely
young woman as his wife. He opened his mouth to say "I do," and nothing would
come out. He couldn't make a sound! He tried again; nothing. Finally, on the
third try, he managed to squeak out an "I do."
Another couple were actors. They had met and fallen in love in the course of
their work together at a theater company in San Francisco. These two wanted to
have a larger spoken role in the wedding ceremony. They wanted to say lengthy
statements to each other about just exactly why and how much they loved each
I told them, as we got together to plan the wedding, that this was real life,
not the stage. The real-life emotions of the day could sneak up on them. They
assured me they were professionals. They could do it. The groom, in fact, got
quite angry that I would even consider warning them about possible difficulty in
speaking. He told me in no uncertain terms that this was their wedding and they
would do it as they had planned. I assured them I wasn't going to stand in their
The day of the wedding arrived. We were in the Berkeley Rose Garden, with 150
guests, and a beautiful wedding party. The bride and groom turned to face each
other and speak of their love and eternal commitment. Both started to cry.
Neither was able to speak. Because, as professionals, they didn't need prompting
or help, they hadn't given me copies of what they planned to say to each other.
There was no way I could help them. Their guests, their families and I waited as
each struggled to give brief and incoherent voice to their innermost feelings.
Finally the vows were completed and we moved on in the ceremony. The rings were
next. I gave the ring to the groom, who had insisted that he make his simple
statement to his bride - again without my prompting. As he put the ring on the
bride's finger, he said "With this wing, I thee red."
At an outdoor wedding in exclusive Piedmont, California, the guests were seated
in a circular patio area. Behind the wedding site was a rising, ivy-covered
hillside with a large hedge at the top. The official photographer for the
wedding did his traditional pictures of the processional and snapped a few
perspectives of the wedding in progress. Then he had an idea.
He circled around the wedding and guests and out of my field of vision. I heard
him climbing the hillside behind me.
I proceeded as best I could. There was some thrashing noise whenever the
photographer moved about on the ivy-covered hillside to get an even better angle
on the wedding in progress. The guests were fascinated with this brave man with
expensive equipment in a rather precarious position on the hill. Finally there
was even more thrashing-around noise as the photographer got hopelessly tangled
up in the ivy, tripped, fell down and rolled down the hill.
It's hard to keep talking when absolutely no one is listening, but I persevered.
By this time I could have been reading from the Kama Sutra and no one, including
the Bride and Groom would have noticed
Speaking of things going on behind my back during a wedding, I was asked to
officiate at a wedding at a grand old Berkeley hotel in February one year. It
had been a particularly cold winter, and the Bay Area had suffered a week of
temperatures below freezing. The Saturday of this wedding the temperature
finally began to rise, and things were thawing out.
We were in a corner room on the main floor of the hotel, with a spectacular view
of the Bay Area.
Soon after the wedding began I heard water hitting the outside of the picture
window behind me. It sounded as though a gardener was aiming a hose at the
window. This was odd, I thought, but it wasn't something I could control.
As I continued with the wedding ceremony, the stream of water against the glass
got stronger, as though the gardener had turned up the pressure. I noticed the
guests staring at the glass behind me, watching what I couldn't see.
About that time, I noticed there was water on the floor around my feet, and that
the Best Man, Maid of Honor and I were in fact standing in water. The wedding
coordinator for the hotel was watching from the back of the room with a look of
horror on his face. The Bride and Groom were watching the advance of the water
toward them with increasing fascination. I began to hear sirens of emergency or
fire vehicles approaching the hotel.
I still had no idea what was causing this flood, but I proceeded with the
closing of the wedding ceremony. The bride and Groom kissed, the bride grabbed
her flowers from the slightly damp Maid of Honor, and the two of them headed for
the door just before the water reached the hem of the bride's gown.
It seem the pipes of the fire prevention sprinkler system of the hotel had
frozen. There were several sprinklers right outside the picture window, and as
they thawed out, they burst. Water was spraying with such force, it was coming
in around the edges of the window and into the room. Whenever the sprinklers go
off, the fire department is automatically called. Needless to say, we took
pictures of the wedding party and families in another room.
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