Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stepping Back Into the Real World: An Inclusive Wedding

If you've followed my blog the last couple of days you know that I have been part of annual gathering of clergy and lay people numbering between 900 and 1000 people. It is always an enriching experience with multiple worship services and styles, intentional decision-making about ethical responses in our world and opportunities to connect with friends from years past and years to come. The down side is that after several days of such enriching time together there is the transition back into the "real world."

In the real world not everyone I meet shares the same faith experience or values what I value. In the real world I become the "preacher" for a congregation and community, instead of a worshiper experiencing the gifts of others. The real world is full of situations that could make one cynical or discouraged. But last night's transition into the "real world" was a soothing one.

I had forgotten until the trip back home, while I was talking with my spouse on the cell, I was reminded that the daughter of family friends would be married later in the day. She is the daughter of "the other Fletcher's" in our community, who have been our friends for a couple of years now, and acquaintances several years before that. They, too, are adoptive parents of two children, both of whom have been affected before birth by the alcohol use of their birth mother. They have four children by birth, as well, the second oldest of whom was married last night.

Claudia and I had trouble convincing most of our children that they should join us for the wedding. They could think of nothing worse than dressing up on a Friday night, even though it was an opportunity to celebrate with our family friends. So Claudia and I took two of our willing children and attended the wedding.

You might understand that for me, as an ordained minister, weddings are just one more part of my vocational life. Truth be told, I would rather do almost anything else as a pastor than officiate at a wedding. The preparations for the wedding itself include several months of pre-marital counseling, working as requested with the couple to plan the service itself, enduring the rehearsal and then showing up to officiate and announce that they are "husband and wife together." I have found that weddings are very labor-intensive endeavors with a lot of stress and anxiety ... and that's just how I feel. (I can imagine how the couple feels).

I've been a part of all kinds of weddings, from a Star Trek-themed wedding (in which the opening words of the service were in Klingon), to outside weddings in the midst of summertime gnats, mosquitoes, winds and clouds, to winter weddings in the midst of blizzards. These are in addition to the "regular" weddings that are not all the unusual or distinct.

Let me just say it. Weddings don't do much for me, generally speaking.

But last night's wedding was a very touching one for me, because it helped to conclude for me what had been a week full of decision made on behalf of social justice in the world and thoughts about how the church can be an instrument of righteousness and equity. Too often leaving a high-minded denominational meeting like the one I've described the participants put their materials into a notebook, place it on a shelf in their office or study and don't think much about it again. Lots of talk, lots of thought, but not much action on behalf of the vulnerable in the world. That's always a distressing thing to me.

But last night I experienced a refreshing wedding. It was in inclusive wedding that sought the participation and joy of all God's people, not just the most talented, or the most beautiful, or the most socially appropriate or acceptable. To be sure, people of those descriptions were in attendance too, but what touched me so much is that the bride and groom selected others, "less than perfect" by culture's standards, to participate in their service.

The bride's younger brother and sister (whom I describe above) were the ring bearer and flower girl. Having seen each of these kids in "real life" many times in our home and theirs, I wondered how it would all turn out. Sometimes the excitement and anxiety of new situations and large crowds cause special needs kids to respond in ways that are socially difficult. Inappropriate words or sentences, behavior that is attention-getting (whether it was intended to be or not), screams, cries and tantrums are not unusual in those situations.

But both of her younger siblings performed marvelously. They did exactly what their roles required of them, and if I had not known of their challenges, I would thought they were just like any other kids of their age. It was delightful to see how their presence blessed the wedding moment.

The bride and groom also selected a special needs young woman to stand with the bride. It may be the only time in her life that this young woman (she is thirteen, I think) ever stands near a wedding altar. The abuse received at the hands of early caretakers in her life have left her with challenges in her gait, in her speech and in her comprehension. As she and the "typical" young man walked in as part of the wedding party, I was touched by her inclusion.

The two young men handing out the wedding programs are two of the disabled individuals that the bride works with as an attendant. It felt good to see their very public and face-to-face involvement with those attending last night's wedding.

I have officiated at many weddings. I have attended many more. But I have never had the opportunity to observe a wedding service in which so much of God's precious diversity in human life were included in a very public way. It is a delight to know a family who over the years has instilled such values in their young adult daughter and her husband. I probably don't need to tell you that such sensitivity is not that common for most young adults in their 20's.

What a pleasure it was to step back into my "real world" by seeing the justice I had heard spoken of all week lived out by a family who has been living it for years. And it doesn't hurt that the family shares the same last name as ours. That's the kind of association I can live with!

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