I admire problem solvers, situation handlers, risers to the occasion. These are the people you call on to change a tire in record time, figure out exactly why your computer isn’t running like it should, sync any of your devices to any other, pinpoint the reason water is dripping through the ceiling of your garage, and perform an emergency tracheotomy. You know people like this. Maybe you are one. If so, I bow to you and pay you homage. There is no crisis situation to which such people cannot rise to save the day, solve the problem, avert the crisis.
I wish I were that all-competent, versatile problem solving individual, but alas, my wheelhouse is rather small. Oh, there are situations in which I could potentially help avert a crisis. They wouldn’t have to do with computers or flat tires. But I think if I happened upon a emergency roadside birth situation, I could offer moral support and model deep breathing for the mother. The medical part is a hazier in my mind, but I do carry nail clippers in my purse and hand sanitizer packets and I have seen several movies that featured such scenes. I know how to perform the Heimlich if someone in a restaurant gives the international sign of choking. In a hypothetical culinary emergency I could make a house presentable for company and prepare a meal for 20 people in approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. I could mediate a dispute between two angry soccer moms on the sidelines of a high school soccer game. That’s all I can think of right now.
Most of my crisis expertise has to do with pastoral situations. I once prayed with a young woman trapped in front seat of her car after an accident and calmed her down until the medics arrives. I’ve prayed with students scared about preaching their first sermons, with families in hospital waiting rooms, with bereaved spouses and with nervous brides. Calming nervous brides is actually one of my fortes. It is amazing the effect one calm person can have on a whole group of anxious people.
It is a good feeling when you are able to help avert a crisis drawing on a very specific set of skills and background. Since I have at times had the experience of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the reverse experience is quite refreshing. This past weekend, my husband Murry and I attended the wedding of his cousin Susan’s daughter Katie’s marriage to Grant. That makes me the bride’s mother’s cousin’s wife. We don’t know the bride and groom that well. They would not have expected us to come to Pennsylvania from Texas for their wedding. But I thought it would be a good chance to see family at a non-funeral event. It was also Father’s Day weekend and Murry’s dad lives in York, Pa., so we traveled from Dallas to Carlisle, Pa. for the wedding. I wore a blue dress and, at the last minute, threw a long white scarf around my neck I hadn’t intended to wear. We arrived at the Carlisle Ribbon Mill, an old ribbon mill converted to an event center in downtown Carlisle, at 2:55 pm for a wedding that was to start at 3:00. I greeted the row of relatives we were sitting with and took a deep breath. Sometimes it’s nice to be in the congregation and not have a leadership role.
We chatted with family we hadn’t seen for months for several minutes, then people started looking around and wondering why, at 3:10, the wedding still hadn’t started. All the bridesmaids were present in their lovely green J.Crew dresses. The bride was present. The groom and groomsmen were waiting in the wings. The DJ was in place. The young wedding planner was pacing back and forth at the back of the room. I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I looked up into the worried face of Aunt Minnie, (my husband’s aunt and the bride’s grandmother). “Come with me, Alyce.” I followed her to the room where a beautiful young bride was standing looking out a window with an anguished expression on her face. Minnie said, “My pastor is doing the wedding and he hasn’t shown up. We think maybe something has happened to him, but he hasn’t called. And it’s almost 3:15. Can you perform the ceremony?”
I felt a surge of adrenalin. No book of order. No Bible. Don’t really know the bride and groom well enough to personalize a homily.
Katie and I closeted ourselves in the dressing room. I told her I had been married 30 years and it was a wonderful adventure to embark on. I told her that in every wedding I had ever performed something had gone wrong. And this was it. So everything else was going to go great. I assured her that I was ordained and it would be legal. I prayed for calm and peace to be upon her.
I then asked for 2 minutes to myself. I didn’t think to have someone run out to the parking lot and get my iPhone so I could call up the Order of Marriage. I just scribbled a few words on a cocktail napkin to remind me of the order and a couple bullet points for a wedding homily from their Scripture, 1 Cor 13, and it was go time. I reminded myself that every pastor should be able to do this. I also reminded myself that I had married many, many couples in my time, including one 2 year period in which I married my sister, my daughter and my own mother. I reminded myself to breathe. I adjusted my white scarf to look like a stole.
I started with “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here ”…and rolled it on out from there. The pastor showed up at 3:40 pm. He thought it started at 4. He saw me up front marrying the young couple and went home. As you may know from former blogs, I have absolutely no moral ground to stand on in judging someone else for not showing up on time for something. I prayed that he would not beat himself up about it too badly later. In the course of my remarks, I remember mentioning all three members of the Trinity. I emphasized that Jesus Christ as the center of the service and their lives together. I mentioned that the vows ask not, “Katie, do you love Grant, and Grant, do you love Katie, but “Katie, will you love Grant and Grant will you love Katie.” I hit the highlights of richer or poorer, sickness and health and better and worse. Katie and Grant, the young bride and groom, rose to the occasion beautifully, accepting the last minute change with grace and poise.
Before we left the wedding Aunt Minnie stopped me to thank me for pitching in. Her husband Jim had been a pastor before he passed away a few years ago. “I’m going to have a little talk with my pastor about writing things down,” she said, “but I’m not going to be too tough on him.He did such a wonderful job conducting Jim’s funeral Besides, I think this is Jim’s doing. Jim wanted a family member to perform the wedding.”
Who knows? Maybe so.
The moral of the story is like air travel- we have several choices of carriers.
If you are a pastor invited to a wedding or worship service, have the order of worship handy and a wedding homily in mind.
Never leave your iPhone in your trunk because it doesn’t fit in your clutch purse.
Be prepared for any crisis, or, take someone with you who is.
What about you? Please share your comments and stories about rising to the occasion!