Chasing Grace

This past weekend, I officiated at the marriage of my niece, Gracie Galloway, to Chase Brown. They had been dating for twelve years, meeting at my former school, Holy Innocents Episcopal School during middle school days. You, no doubt, can imagine the ups and downs of twelve years of relationship across adolescence, college, and young adulthood. Their relationship is a testimony of tenacity and love.

It’s a storybook tale…..young caddy leading the field at Augusta, Cinderella story……wait, that’s another fairytale.

Chase asked Gracie to marry him on the lawn at Cherokee Country Club, with a video production crew discreetly hidden in the hedges. So far so good.

The rehearsal dinner was stunning at Fredricka Country Club’s Boat House, which is, for the uninformed, what we call “high cotton”.

The wedding itself was at historic Christ Episcopal Church there on St. Simons Island. The church building itself was built in 1885. Prior to that John and Charles Wesley preached underneath the live oaks there, after Oglethorpe brought his crew over from England. It had a prior church building which was desecrated by Northern Aggressors…..that’s a joke, son. Actually it was in bad shape so they decided to rebuild it.

There is a charming love story behind the building, intriguing enough to beguile visiting writer, Eugenia Price, to investigate and write the first of three novels on St. Simons, eventually choosing to make it her home. Here’s the story.

Anson Dodge came to visit St. Simons when he was only nineteen years of age. He fell in love with the island and the Christ Church parish, deciding to go to seminary and return as the small parish’s priest. In the process, he fell in love with a young woman, Ellen, and married her. Obviously, Anson was a person of passion, and I assume a romantic.

After the wedding, they went on a European honeymoon which ended unfortunately with Ellen’s death in India. Anson brought her body back to St. Simons, and dedicated his resources in building the new church building in her honor. In an odd Gothic style twist, he placed her body underneath the altar so that he might be near his beloved as he celebrated the Holy Mysteries of Communion. Later, the body was moved and placed in the church graveyard, where they are buried side-by-side. And so it is with that legacy of love, Christ Church offers a holy setting for the vows to be made between two mere mortals, caught in the romantic spell of love.

It is a stunning setting, built with local heart pine boards by shipwrights whose expertiste left a navicular look to the structure, more so than any other church I have ever been in. The wood dates back to 1885, with only a natural patina giving color to the structure. Painted stained glass adds some powerful images of biblical stories, along with tasteful lighting that adds a traditional caste to the setting. The small size of the space only adds to the intimacy, and I can not imagine a better place to exchange any kind of vows, blessing new life, or marking the end of a human’s journey. It defines “holy space” for me.

Honored by Gracie’s request that I officiate, I had two pressing concerns. The first was that I not stumble coming out of the sacristy, using my cane to steady my legs functioning without a quad tendon. The betting odds were mixed between Las Vegas and my nephew, John. My son bet against me, smelling a sure thing and windfall profits to assist in the promotion of his new album. But the old boy came through, moving stealthily across the front of the church, finding the security of a podium to hold onto, thanks to the kindness of the sexton and the church ladies. My liturgical stroll was not quite like my reckless romp of abandon when I would single-hand my sailboat the Galway Harp, in all kinds of blows, with no fear of falling. Those days are long gone, but I made it. One goal down.

The second goal was to move beyond the social trappings of the moment and drill down into the bone marrow of the vows. I said it, not looking for a laugh, but emphasizing the degree of difficulty of what was going on in the small holy space….wedding vows. Two sentient beings making solemn vows to one another, in the context of God and the community. It is a covenant, a triadic commitment between two people, and the God that gave them life, and the community that surrounds them. I did not want Gracie and Chase to miss this.

In the Episcopal liturgy, it is stated that God created marriage as a way to bring joy to God’s creatures. Now, this is an important starting point: God intending joy for those in God’s creation. It wasn’t on a bad day without coffee when God thought up marriage. It was not just to subjugate the physical passions of humans as one Baptist Sunday School teacher and one coach tried to lay on me. It was for JOY….imagine that.

I think about my two kids. I was with a bunch of fellow parents at this wedding. After they were inebriated, plied by wine, champagne, and an adult elixir, brown or clear, they began to opine about their kids, children that we watched grow up together. Now these children are adults, and the question is not about their accomplishments and conquests, but it’s about their happiness. As parents, we naturally and natively care about their joy. It’s in the way we are wired, the Divine imprint that we share with our Creator. That’s a worthy starting point when you start to ponder about God and your relationship with your Creator. God wants joy for you… amazing supposition.

And so, a church full of people gathered to witness these vows. And as a part of the Episcopal liturgy, I asked them if they would do all in their power to support Gracie and Chase in their life together, and they responded, with a little help from the old priest, “We will”. And we did so because we are like God in this way. We want joy to abound for this young couple.

After the vows, we made out way to The Vine for a reception, a venue managed by my own daughter, Mary Glen, who was a nervous wreck trying to make sure things were perfect for her cousin, Gracie. My brother and I have been most fortunate to have our families in close proximity after he began his career in Omaha and I was in the Lone Star State. We both made it back to Atlanta for most of the child raising, giving “the cousins” a gift of life together. Watching the six of them at the reception brought a smile, and led me to make a note to my brother as to what a smart move it was, what geniuses we were. It’s easy for us to agree on that.

The band was killer, 1st Generation, a band out of Atlanta, got the old folks out on the dance floor with some classic Motown and grabbed the younger crowd with some Bruno Mars and Uptown Funk, my favorite. “If we show up, we gonna show out, smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.” Words to live by.

My fabulous sister-in-law, Cathy, provided some stunning party favors that lit up the night and the dance floor. It was a party her Illinois parents enjoyed, leaving me wishing that my folks could have been there to celebrate the love Gracie has found. It was a good night.

There is a line in the prayers that always seems powerful. May those witnessing these vows find their own vows strengthened and their loyalties confirmed. That was definitely true for me on that special night on this coastal island of Georgia. I like to imagine that Anson and Ellen, and Olin and Doris, maybe even Glen and Glennie May were looking down on the events of that night and experiencing joy. Maybe so.

Blessings on Gracie and Chase as they begin their journey as wife and husband in the covenant of marriage. I’m betting on them.

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