Unlike some pastors I’ve known, I never kept count of the many weddings at which I officiated. Some colleagues were so good at keeping track (with the help of their secretaries, probably) that they have an exact number. Not me.

But I can tell you how many weddings I didn’t do: two. OK, probably many more than that. No doubt I was asked to conduct ceremonies on dates I wasn’t available, and I was asked to officiate by couples who really didn’t want a religious service, and I said no thanks. Get a Justice of the Peace.

One of the two non-starts that come to mind happened (or didn’t happen) when I was in non-parish ministry. I had become a kind of chaplain to the radio community of Richmond, VA, and I did lots of weddings for radio station personnel. In the midst of my doing some required premarital counseling with a radio station executive, he and his bride-to-be pulled the plug on the event over some debts he owed. I included some financial planning with my couples, knowing that money issues were the cause of much marital strife. When the bride found out that her fiance was heavily in debt, she suggested postponing the wedding, and his response was something along the lines of, “Postpone? Hell; Let’s just forget the whole thing.” I’m sure she wound up happier when the shock wore off.

The other wedding I didn’t do never got to the “meet the couple” stage. And I was serving a church when the initial call come to me at home. Even though I was Associate Pastor at the Bon Air Presbyterian Church in Richmond at the time, the telephone call came from a couple that had “met” me through one of my radio programs, not the church. When it was established that I was indeed “the Jeff Kellam on the radio,” the by now familiar question came next: “Are you a real minister?” Besides being a rock deejay? Yes, I am.

The woman on the phone explained that she and her husband had set a date, but they were having trouble finding a pastor to do the ceremony. I went over my ground rules first: 1) I only do Christian wedding services; 2) I require premarital counseling. Both were fine with her. So, next came the calendar question, because if I didn’t have the date free, the ground rules were moot. October 31, she told me. I checked my book. The date was OK. Honestly, the date didn’t register as, you know, Halloween.

But in further conversation, it dawned on me. She told me again that they’d had a hard time finding a minister to do the ceremony. It’s going to be at the John Marshall Hotel, downtown. I’d done religious weddings in “secular” spaces before, I told her. No problem.

“And, I should tell you that we’ll be in costume.” Oh? I’m thinking, isn’t almost every wedding done in costume? I mean, look at the bride! And the groom doesn’t exactly dress in street clothes usually. But I sought clarification.

“What kind of costumes?”

“Well, I’ll be dressed as a medieval bride.” Again, this didn’t seem terribly out of place. Although I couldn’t picture how a medieval bride would look a whole lot different from a model on the cover of “Modern Bride” magazine. I inquired about her husband-to-be.

“Well, he was going to be dressed as a medieval groom, of course.” [Of course! A matching set!] But something had changed?

“He found something he liked better,” she explained. “He’s going to be dress like a gladiator.”

Only now is it dawning on me. Costumes…October 31…oh oh. “A gladiator, you say. Like the ones who slaughtered the Christians in the coliseums?”

“Well, I don’t know about that. It’s just that he liked the costume. Oh, and the attendants and ushers will be in costume too.” I hesitated to ask, and I didn’t. The woman on the phone then hastened to add that I too would be welcome to come dressed as…something. Anything I liked. “It’s going to be a fun wedding, for sure.”

At this point, I’m thinking that even we clergy-types very often wear a costume of sorts every week, if not every day. Customs (and costumes) vary from tradition to tradition when it comes to vestments, collars, and colors. I prefer the white cassock/alb (or off-white; I’m not a virgin).

By now, I am imagining the bridal party dressed in giant cigarette boxes, like those dancing Chesterfield packages from black and white TV days. And maybe the groomsmen would be dressed as pirates, cowboys, or cow-pirates. Lord, I can’t do this.

“I’m really very sorry,” I said. “I’m a fun guy, but I can’t do a wedding where everyone is pretending to be someone or something else. I just don’t see anyone keeping a straight face as I read through the liturgy and ask you to take sacred vows. I hope you have a wonderful time there at the John Marshall on Halloween, but I’ll be standing at my front door passing out dimes.” Dimes. Yep. (Must have been an idea our dentist had.)

My caller was quite disappointed in me, of course. “Oh, you were our last hope,” she explained. That always makes you feel good, to know that you were at the bottom of the list. Like being the last one picked for a junior high team. I suggested maybe she could find a judge or someone who might do a perfectly nice ceremony for tying their knot. I was thinking that maybe the judge could wear a priest costume. “I wish you all the best,” I said as I breathed a sigh of relief that I had stood my sometimes shaky ground.

I’ve written here previously that my colleague at the Bon Air Church had half-kiddingly accused me of “doing anything for money.” He had applied that charge (note to self: not a good word to use in this context) to my having done a wedding in a shopping center. (See elsewhere in my blog history for a perfectly reasonable explanation for that one.) As I hung up the phone that evening, I couldn’t wait to tell Bob that I had some scruples after all. Some.

I know that almost every clergy person of every ilk could write a book about all the weddings that provided drama, humor, and inspiration in their ministries. Thanks for letting me tell you the story of a wedding I didn’t do.

Tomorrow, I will write very carefully of how I got along with church musicians. My wife will proof that entry first.

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