Wedding Bells or Ding-a-lings

Seems like everyone is getting married.

There’s been a log jam created by the disaster of 2020, now cramming into the normal rush to the altar.

I hear from my high school friend, Julie Stevens, that her amazing wedding venue, Kimball Hall in Roswell, Georgia, is in full-tilt boogie mode, which is how she likes it. It’s a fabulous setting in the north side of Atlanta, and there is no better caring and enthusiastic wedding planner than my Julie. Truth is, I have killed and buried three wedding planners underneath the Cathedral….but let’s keep that quiet.

All these weddings got me thinking about that social event that surrounds the basic thing called the “blessing of a marriage”. I thought I might take a break from my hard work of saving this Republic and have some fun reminiscing about my vagaries of weddings in my wide, wide world of marriage sports.

Let me establish my credentials. As the former Canon Pastor at the Cathedral in Atlanta, I have officiated at more than my fair share of marriages. We did three weddings every weekend at the Cathedral: Noon, 4 PM, or as I referred to it as a “Matinee”, and the Evening soiree at 7:30 or 8 PM. I was shocked that the old priests, like me now, were so “kind” as to pass on the weddings to me. It meant I often had three rehearsals on Friday night, and a string of nuptial events on Saturday. In my six years there, I did more weddings in that period than most priests do in a lifetime. Lucky me.

Sheer numbers of weddings will produce an increasing number of possibilities for the unusual. And I feel like I have had my fair share. Here are just a few that POP:

A mother of the groom is dressed in black garb that resembles an Amish outfit, ringing a large brass bell, outside the church as members gather, proclaiming a doomed marriage.

Aunt Bessie in the Cathedral pulpit, armed with new Sony video camera, meticulously recording and accounting for each person in attendance seated on the pews. I had to remove her to start the ceremony. I threw her out like the umps removed the argumentative Bobby Cox, God bless him…not Bessie.

The maid of honor was murdered in her hotel room at the Doubletree Hotel on Saturday morning. When I informed the bride of the death, I thought she might call the wedding off. Bad call, Canon Galloway. Without missing a beat, the bride said, “Melanie can fill in”. The wedding went on as planned, with the “fake news” that the missing murdered maid (alliteration rules with 3m’s) was merely missing with malady (three more). I had the additional job of informing the wedding party of the real facts at the Piedmont Driving Club, including the girl’s date.

I did many celebrity weddings but none as fancy as a famous ABC persona whose daughter was married at a white-tie affair at the Cathedral. Barbara Walters, Hugh Downs, and my favorite, Howard Cosell, were all in attendance. I tried to put some reality to the moment by using a stand-by line: “I wish I could wave my arms in a magical incantation, blessing you, and sending you off into the setting western sunset in a horse-drawn carriage, where you will live happily ever after.” Damned if there was not a team of white horses and white carriage out front of the Cathedral horseshoe drive to whisk the charmed couple down Peachtree Street to their reception. At the reception, Barbara made note of how smoothly I had woven in the horse and carriage into my remarks. I could not help but ask if she knew of any sit coms for a priest in the works.

I did a gorgeous wedding, returning to the Cathedral for a special bride and groom. Their wedding was covered by Southern Living and so there I am in the folds of this favorite journal of my mother. I only wish she could have seen it.

A physician and therapy nurse were getting married and wanted their therapy dog, a Bernese Mountain dog, to be in their wedding. Ever wanting to please, I allowed the dog to process down the aisle to stand by her master, the Best Dog. To my surprise, the dog paused and knelt as she came to the middle of the crossing in front of the altar. Talk about being upstaged. Letterman’s stupid pet tricks could never top that. But, I paid dearly with the Altar Guild who were incensed that I would allow a canine to enter the Holy Space. I retorted, I let in wedding planners! I will let you do the verbal math.

I’ve done a number of wedding in exotic settings. Recently, I did something I swore I would not do: officiating at my daughter’s wedding. It was on the marshes of Glynn, here on St. Simons Island. It was mid-Covid, so it was just immediate family with a drone from Iraq dive-bombing the event. Reagan, my Black Lab grand dog served as Best Dog, but no bowing, or even a nod. I did catch a lick, if I am not mistaken.

I did several weddings in one of my favorite spots, the old Dekalb County Courthouse. As I had worked for an attorney next door while in college, it has a certain mystique. I once did a wedding of a well-known rap artist who wanted his bride and him to “jump the broom”, an old West African slave tradition, which was most auspicious and fun.

I officiated at a wedding in a back yard in Sandy Springs, where the bride was of an Episcopal/Roman family, and the groom was Jewish. I consulted with my friend, Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, who helped me with some of the ritual aspects of the Jewish rite. I got to put the glass down for the groom’s STOMP and had the privilege of offering the wonderful blessing of Mazel Tov. Not bad for a reconstructed South of God guy from the Southside. Mazel, indeed.

Most of the weddings went off without a hitch, with the wedding contract dutifully signed by the bride, groom, me, and then sent to some gray filling cabinet in a county office. The weddings for family, friends, special acolytes of mine who grew up, all are special in my mind and memory. And there was ONE special wedding that I helped to derail when it was obvious to me it would be a disastrous end. It something I am actually quite proud of.

Of course, you want to ask me “what was the worst wedding ever?” And it would be my own. It was packed with Atlanta physicians and Delta employees, and the people and youth of Decatur First Baptist where I had served as an associate minister before beginning my doctoral work. The officiant was my former boss, “roommate”, and friend, Dr. Bill Lancaster. I was surrounded by my friends and fraternity brothers as groomsmen, my dad as my Best Man, no doubt. My high school best friend, Paul McCommon, sang the Ave Maria in the Baptist church with his gorgeous tenor voice. That part, the marriage ceremony went fine, but it was the wedding that was seriously lacking.

The wedding was THE worst. The reception was in the ubiquitous Fellowship Hall found in all Baptist churches. We could not get the Druid Hills Country Club as it was booked. And so there was no champagne, wine, liquor, not even my Southside go-to Boones Farm. No, Baptist punch. And no band. I had contacted James Brown, as I am still digging on him. And my buddy Elgin Wells and Extravaganza was booked, so no band with which to get down. Rather, I wound in a receiving line, the ONE thing I swore I would NOT do. My dad quipped, this is to get you ready for marriage and a family. Jesus, what a comedian.

To top it off, I had the photographer from HELL! He allowed, while taking my family pictures before the wedding, that he was called by God into this ministry. With my mother, dad, and brother in full pose, I asked him how he knew. Did the Lord drop an Nikon on your shoulder? Actually, I used another part of his anatomy. He was not amused.

The photographer was a Nazi, ordering folks around like a prison camp commandant, taking picture after picture, following the ceremony, holding us up from my beloved reception line. As we were trying to get the hell out of Dodge to our honeymoon, he kept “getting one last shot”. My favorite picture is of my forearm-lifting God’s photographer into the ceiling as we made our escape in my betrothed’s classic white Malibu….the Boo, as my decorated Jeep sat patiently to the side.

It is my experience that weddings, like funerals, bring out the best and the worst in families. I once opined at a Marriage and Family conference that a wedding was like a funeral, in that, something was dying, that is. the family of origin. Things will never be like they were before. The family, as it was, is ending. That is why people cry at weddings. Not just out of happiness, but because they recognize at a deep level, there is a death. Hopefully, the birth of something new is happening as well, which also brings tears. The profundity of the moment breaks through the cellophane pink surface of a social event to make known that something significant is happening. Reality breaks through.

I’ll close my Southern hero, Will Campbell, who would do weddings in a prophetic style. He would take the wedding license, in triplicate, from his coat pocket, look long and hard at the document, in a conspicuous way. Then, he would take his pen, sign the license, hold it up in the air, let it go, allowing the paper to flutter unceremoniously to the ground, or floor. Then he would utter in a somber tone, “Render under Caesar what is Caesar, but unto God what it God’s!” As the document lay lifeless, he would break into his Southern mountain twang, “Now that we’ve taken care of that, let’s get on with the marriage!” An old minister/priest can get by with that sort of thing.

So those are the weddings I remember. I hope it has prompted your memory, and perhaps your sentiment. Blessings.

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