The wedding I’m remembering took place in August, 1972 at Shalom House, the ecumenical campus ministry center at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater that housed a collaborative Roman Catholic and Protestant campus ministry.
The bride and broom were students active in the campus ministry. Max, we’ll call him, a counter-cultural jazz flutist with long hair down his back raised in the arch-conservative Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church, had become involved in the progressive protestant campus ministry. The bride, whom we’ll call Elizabeth, was raised Roman Catholic and was active in the Catholic Campus Ministry.
Because it was a “mixed” marriage involving at least one Christian tradition that viewed the other as going to Hell, Father Charlie and I officiated together at the wedding. Charlie, a much loved priest known for his light touch and quick laugh, and I were colleagues and best of friends.
Imagine the scene in the small Shalom House living room.
Father Charlie and I take our places at one end of the living room, followed by Max, who has replaced his normal attire of blue jeans and a tie-dyed shirt with the light tan polyester suit purchased just for this occasion. Elizabeth enters wearing a lovely traditional white gown every bride still wears, forgetting the ancient meaning of the symbolism. They’ve “known” each other, as the Good Book puts it, for quite awhile.
The mid-afternoon temperature is in the high 90s. There is no air conditioning. Max is sopping wet, sweat pouring from his nose and chin onto the new polyester suit.
It seems he’s in danger of fainting. “Don’t lock your knees,” I whisper to Max, just hang loose.” The whole room feels more than a little uptight. Wisconsin Synod Lutherans and Roman Catholics don’t share the same space, except at the drug store.
Because the guests are from war traditions, Father Charlie and I have printed out every word of the service. The bride and groom, and each of the 50 guests has a copy of the service. Every word of it.
Father Charlie’s and my words are in regular type; responses by the bride, groom, or congregation are in bold type. Charlie and I had agreed to alternate leading. But we have also decided that whichever one of us is not leading will help prompt the congregation in the bold type responses.
All is well until we come to the consent questions, the “I will” questions.
Charlie, reading the regular type, asks Max the question. Max responds: I will.
I ask Elizabeth, “Will you have Max to be your wedded husband, to live with him and cherish him, in the holy bond of marriage?”
The bass voice from next to me answers I Will! before Elizabeth can respond. I look at Charlie, Charlie puts his hand to his mouth, opens his eyes wide and says, “Oops!”
Father Charlie and I worked together for four fun-filled years. The day of Max and Elizabeth’s celebration of Holy Matrimony was a Mr. Bean kind of day.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 11, 2015