One year when the Oakland Raiders were in the playoffs, a couple had arranged
for me to conduct their wedding ceremony in their home. They hadn't counted on
the Raiders' schedule, and as it turned out, the wedding was to begin during the
fourth quarter of a crucial game. I listened to the game in the car all the way
to the house, and sat in the car as long as I dared before the starting time of
the wedding. The game was a real cliffhanger. Finally, 15 minutes before the
wedding was scheduled to start, I gathered my things from the car and went to
the front door.
The person who answered the door took one look at me and his face fell. "Oh," he
said, "I guess we'll have to do the wedding." The whole group (perhaps 12 people
including the wedding couple) were huddled around the TV in the living room.
Someone in the room shut off the television. The tension in the room was
"No, wait!" I said. "If everybody really wants to see how the game comes out
before we do the wedding, that's OK with me."
Everyone - bride and groom included - relaxed. We watched the game. The Raiders
won. Then we had the wedding.
I have been involved in surprise weddings, one in the middle of a Halloween
party thrown by the secret bridal couple. All guests were to come in costume. I
came as a minister, with my robe and the biggest Bible I could find. The couple
were appropriately dressed as a bride and groom. The party progressed and
progressed, waiting for someone to comment on the obvious.
Finally one guest turned to the bride and groom and said, "Hey, you two are
dressed as a bride and groom, and that guy over there is dressed as a
minister... Why don't you two get married?" The couple said "OK!," called me
over and I called the meeting to order and began the wedding ceremony.
The catering director of a Bay Area hotel fell in love with the master chef, and
the two asked me to do their wedding. The ceremony was to be on Thanksgiving
morning, in the hotel's huge kitchen, in the midst of preparations for serving
3000 thanksgiving dinners. They didn't want any fuss made over them, so the
wedding was a secret.
I arrived early and was stashed in a pantry. At the appointed time, the catering
director called the management offices downstairs and announced there had to be
a meeting - right away! - in the kitchen. Within five minutes, all the
management of the hotel - the coworkers and friends of the chef and catering
director - were in the kitchen. The chef called a 15 minute break. I appeared
out of the pantry in my robe and announced that a wedding was about to happen.
Everyone was shocked.
It was a great wedding! And after he kissed the bride, the Chef yelled, "Back to
I have never had a bride or groom back out of the wedding at the last moment. On
one occasion, however, we couldn't get the bride to come out of the dressing
room. The time for the ceremony came and went. The guests were in the Chapel.
The organist was running out of music. The Groom was not-so-patiently waiting in
the back room of the Chapel.
It seems the bride had bought her wedding dress on short notice at a fashion
show. She had seen the dress on a model, but had never tried it on herself
before the day of the wedding.
The dress, it turned out, was cut to her navel in front and farther down in
back. There was almost nothing to the dress above the waist. The poor bride,
realizing her mistake, was frozen. She didn't know what to do.
Only with the help of a lot of double stick tape and a vallium from a friend,
did she finally make it down the aisle. My heart went out to her. She was not
the happiest bride.
The devastating Oakland Hills firestorm happened on a Sunday in October. It was
beautiful, dry weather, and there happened to be a healthy breeze. None of this
would have been negative, except that the dryness and the wind both made a small
brush-fire into a deadly inferno.
A couple had scheduled their wedding for 2:00 that Sunday afternoon. After the
regular 11:00 A.M. worship as members and friends left the Chapel for
refreshments in the main building, there was a blackness to the sky south of us.
It had to be smoke.
There was an immediate and contagious sense of anxiety among church people, who
quickly downed a cup of coffee and went home to check on their neighborhood and
call friends who might be in harm's way.
As the last of worshippers left, the Bride and her party arrived to begin
preparations for the wedding. They had seen the smoke, but had no idea of the
seriousness of the fire. At that point, the fire was still picking up steam.
The groom and the best man arrived half an hour later. They told me they had
come from the Rockridge area where the groom owned a home. The best man had met
the groom at his home and the two had sorted out the mysterious pieces of the
rental tuxedos together. All decked out for the wedding, the started out for the
As they drove out of what was to be the fire area, they began to realize how
serious the situation was becoming. After a little discussion, they tried to
reverse direction and go back to the house to get the animals out. They were
prevented from reentering the neighborhood by the fire authorities.
The best man's mother also lived in the area, and the two realized that if the
groom's neighborhood was in danger, perhaps the best man's mom was in danger as
well. After being blocked again by authorities, they gave up and drove across
Berkeley to the church. At this point large pieces of ash were falling around
the church whenever the wind shifted in our direction.
"Don't tell the girls," they said.
The wedding went off as scheduled. I think the groom understood how much
planning and work and nervous energy his bride had invested in the wedding day,
and he didn't want to spoil it. The best man's mom was at the church for the
While the wedding took place, the groom's house and the best man's mother's
house burned to the ground. It wasn't until after the reception, when his bride
had had a chance to unwind and hear from other guests about the extent of the
fire, he told her they would have to change their plans and go to a hotel. There
was no home to go home to.
The weekend after the Oakland Hills fire, I had a wedding at the Claremont
Hotel. The Claremont had been a landmark on the day of the fire; a symbol of the
fight to keep the firestorm from spreading any further. One week after the fire
the hotel was still operating on emergency power. The smell of smoke was still
in the air. The hill behind the hotel was a scene of absolute devastation.
The wedding took place in a room with about half the light it would have had if
the hotel had been operating on full power. The kitchen sent me word that any
delay in the start of the wedding ceremony would be appreciated, since they were
on reduced power and not fully functioning. Ultimately they did a fantastic job!
I was struck with the courage of this young couple. The circumstances made me
rethink how great an act of faith it is to commit oneself in marriage. We don't
live in a culture that places high value on commitment. Each partner knew of the
fragility of love, but they chose to celebrate its power instead. Within a block
of the hotel were stark reminders of the tentativity of life and human
Nonetheless, the Bride and Groom said their vows to each other and left for
their honeymoon in new clothes and a rented car. They had lost everything,
including new furniture and unopened wedding gifts, the week before when their
new home in the Oakland hills was consumed in the fire.
Seldom have I been more impressed with the resilience and faith we human beings
can muster to overcome obstacles in the name of love.
I hear brides speak of wanting every thing to go perfectly at THEIR wedding. I
tell them I don't do perfect weddings; I do human weddings. Where there are
human beings involved, perfection is impossible. Sometimes it's me:
I've forgotten their real names, perhaps out of the embarrassment of the moment,
but the bride and groom could have been "Carl" and "Debbie." At the beginning of
their wedding ceremony, after the processional, with several hundred guests
listening, and the families and wedding party poised for the Big Event, I
proceeded thus: "Friends, we are gathered in this place to witness the joining
of Cebbie and Darl in holy marriage....."
I realized I had switched the first and last halves of their names. Some guests
were chuckling and the bride and groom looked at me like I was crazy. I took a
deep breath and started again: "We are here to witness the joining of Cebbie and
Darl..." The place fell apart. People howled. The bride and groom giggled and
the bridesmaids rolled their eyes.
When everything died down, I took a deep breath and started again, dreading I
would hit the same mental short-circuit I'd stumbled on before. I got through
it, but for the rest of the ceremony, I was in great fear that I would again
mess up Carl and Debbie's names.
It turns out that I am not alone in suffering from this kind of brain
malfunction. Milton Cross, who hosted major musical events on radio for many
years had problems at times. His most memorable blooper was at a newsbreak
during one of the Texaco Opera broadcasts live from the Metropolitan Opera in
New York: "And now," he said, "stay stewed for the nudes."
Harry Von Zell is remembered for introducing President Herbert Hoover as Hoobert
Heever. He then corrected himself and announced "Hervie Hooter."
The one I get greatest comfort from, though, is the same guy, Harry Von Zell,
introducing the former Edward VIII and the woman he loved as "my dear friends,
the Duck and Doochess of Windsor."
I have good memories of the weddings I have done. I feel privileged to have
shared with these people in the celebration of their relationship. There have
been tears, but they have been tears of deep feeling and great joy. I've been
honored to share in a small way in the lives of these couples, who at that
moment at least, held each other in great appreciation and affection.
I was asked to read an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem at times for couples. It
expresses what may be so for many couples, though they might not use these
How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways
. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach,
when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's Most quiet need,
by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints,
I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life!
-- and, if God choose I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
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