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Wedding Surprises

October 11, 2010


Weddings are joyful occasions, but they can be full of surprises.  Rarely have I seen a wedding proceed exactly the way it has been rehearsed.  Tensions are high, there are many people involved, and there are numerous opportunities for things to go wrong.

Clare and I were married on a hot, humid summer day at the Methodist Church in Leesville, South Carolina.  My three brothers and Clare’s brother, Ben, were the groomsmen.

The wedding went along as we had rehearsed.  I said my vows.  The minister asked Clare to repeat her vows.  Before she could respond, there was a loud crash!

Clare’s brother, Ben, had been sick with a fever all night.  He told no one.  Standing next to a bank of candles in that very warm church, Ben fainted.  His mouth hit the altar rail, knocking out a front tooth. Blood gushed everywhere.  My brothers picked up his limp body and hauled him, his arms and legs dangling, out of the sanctuary.  Clare’s dad jumped from his seat and went out with his wounded son.  After about five minutes, the father of the bride returned.  Clare, shaken by the entire episode, spoke her vows to me.

I think that Clare had an advantage. When she repeated “for better or worse” she at least had inkling about what that means.

Fainting at weddings is commonplace.  I’ll never forget the day that I pitched a doubleheader.  Before the vows, a groomsman passed out.  After the vows, a bridesmaid swooned.  The wedding was at high noon and both attendants had refused to eat anything before the ceremony.

Some years ago I conducted an entire wedding service with the bride and groom seated together on the front pew.  As the bride came down the aisle, the groom had become pale and unsteady.  I had them sit so that the groom would not faint.  I’m not sure how their wedding pictures turned out, but at least when they left the sanctuary they were married.

In forty-six years of ministry I have seen numerous wedding mishaps. A bride fell flat on her face as she was ascending the platform stairs because she stepped on the inside of her dress.

Young couples often want to include in their own ceremony everything they have ever seen in other weddings.  One couple, both musicians, overloaded their service with too much music. Their five-year-old ring bearer grew so fatigued during the long ceremony that he put his little pillow down on the steps and stretched out to take a nap.

Unthinking groomsmen, forgetting that a wedding is a worship service, are given to practical jokes. The worst in my experience was a time when the bride and groom had planned to take communion together.  Someone put Tabasco Sauce on the bread and put vinegar in the chalice. Ever since that day I give what wedding directors have come to call my fear of the Lord speech. I include the stern warning at the rehearsal, reminding those who are a part of the ceremony that we all are worship leaders.

At the rehearsal of a debutante bride and her groom, a football player from the hills of Tennessee, I gave my speech as usual. The fraternity brothers serving as ushers and groomsmen exchanged knowing looks as they listened to my admonition.

The day of the wedding they were polite and well-behaved all the way through the wedding. As the new bride and groom processed from the sanctuary, a commotion arose in the vestibule.  The groomsmen padlocked one end of a logging chain around the neck of the groom. The other end of the massive chain was padlocked to the wrist of the bride.

The bride and groom were literally in chains for the remainder of their wedding pictures and for their first dance. The pranksters finally turned the key over to the bride late in the reception.  One of the groomsmen explained to me, “Preacher, in East Tennessee we usually chain them up before the wedding, but after you put the fear of God in us last night, we decided to wait.”

A couple, both dog breeders requested that two of their award-winning German Shepherds serve as ring bearers.  I suggested that the dogs seemed more important to them than having me officiate.  They got married without the dogs.

Weddings are occasions of gladness, fraught with opportunities for things to go wrong.  Above all else, a wedding is a worship service, a time of reverence and joy. If candles go, ferns topple over, or knees buckle, the wedding can still be a meaningful experience.

I have officiated at weddings in churches and in private homes, on Blue Ridge mountainsides and on sandy beaches next to the Atlantic Ocean.

A wedding I recall fondly took place in the hospital. The bride, a terminal cancer patient, was dressed in a white gown. The groom stood at her bedside. Rarely have I been a part of a more joyful occasion.

Their vows were witnessed by family members, nurses, and a caring physician. “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, ‘til death do us part.”

Both the bride and the groom knew full well what their vows meant.

One week later, I conducted the funeral service for the bride.


Kirk H. Neely
© October 2010




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