Friday, 27 September 2013
By Carl Hansen
I begin with a confession: After nearly 50 years as a pastor, who has conducted many weddings, I am not a great fan of officiating when they are held at out-of-doors.
If truth be told, I much prefer ceremonies that are held inside, preferably in a sanctuary, where the temperature and humidity can be controlled and a good sound-system is available.
My preference was confirmed recently, when I conducted a marriage ceremony for a picture-perfect couple in the mountains of Colorado. The setting was also picture-perfect: an early evening with comfortable August weather in a lush, grassy meadow next to a small creek, with pines and aspens for a backdrop.
Even the setting sun I was facing, which had been a problem at the rehearsal the night before, was mercifully shielded by clouds as the service began.
Shortly after family and friends began to take their seats on the folding chairs set up in the meadow, we noticed another group drifting our way: a number of elk moving down the mountain toward the stream where we were gathered.
At first, only a few of these majestic animals could be seen crossing the nearby highway and coming toward us but shortly before the wedding processional began, the number of elk increased dramatically. By the time the bride made her appearance, more than 30 elk had formed their own congregation a few short yards away from us on the opposite side of the creek.
Cameras brought to record the wedding were now being used to capture this sight as well as people lined up on our side of the creek to snap pictures of the elk who seemed completely unperturbed by our presence.
Sadly, one of the elk was accidentally hit by a car as it tried to cross the road so we soon had the sound of a siren added to all the other noises around us.
Police were soon on hand to tend to the injured animal and to handle the traffic that was slowing down and beginning to block the highway as people left their cars to take pictures of the elk and our little congregation in the meadow below.
The sound of running water continued, augmented by the grunts and bugles of the elk; sounds that increased dramatically the when two bulls in the herd squared off and locked horns in battle.
At that point, on cue, the bridal party began to make its way from a nearby church toward the far end of the meadow where we were waiting. All of the bridesmaids except one had the good sense to wear flats or flip-flops on their feet for negotiating the long walk over uneven ground. But one lone bridesmaid whom we learned later had never before worn high heels of any kind, chose on this occasion to wear a pair of very narrow high heeled shoes.
She negotiated the long walk clinging to her male escort like a drunken sailor, nearly falling several times before she joined the other young women lined up with their backs to the stream as we waited for the bride to make her entrance.
The bride, by the way, came across the meadow gracefully, steady and calm, wearing no shoes at all.
No amplification system was provided and while that posed no problem for the bagpiper who began and ended the service, the guitar-flute duo was barely audible over all the outside noises around us and I had to use my best “outdoor voice” to be heard when it came time to begin the service.
Initially, everything went well. The bride was kissed by her father as he linked her arms with the groom. The opening prayers were said and several appropriate readings were given. Only one of the elk needed to be shooed away when it seemed to express an interest in crossing the stream to join us.
But then, midway through the homily, a sudden commotion drew all eyes to the stream. The bridesmaid who was already unsteady on her high heels apparently locked her knees, fainted and toppled down the embankment into the rocks and rushing water below.
This, of course, led to a short “time-out.” She was pulled from the cold, shallow water, placed in a chair and attended to by medical personnel who were guests at the wedding. Once it was determined she was not injured and needed no additional emergency care, the service continued.
The homily, shortened considerably, was completed. Vows and rings were exchanged, the couple kissed, the congregation applauded and the bagpiper led everyone to the reception dinner in a conference center located on the hill from which the elk had first appeared.
The elk decided not to follow us; apparently they were content to spend the rest of the evening in the meadow across from the area we were now vacating.
While this service will certainly go down as my most memorable outdoor wedding, it is not the only one that provided a unique experience.
A few years earlier, I officiated at another wedding in the Colorado Rockies where four-wheeled-drive vehicles were needed to transport everyone up a series of narrow, muddy roads so we could stand at the edge of a cliff in ankle-deep snow to witness the couple exchange their vows.
Another unforgettable ceremony took place in early spring on a hillside in Kansas where we were informed, after the service ended, that the groom and his father had spent several days earlier that week killing dozens of rattle snakes which were just then emerging from hibernation.
Nor will I ever forget the lake-side service where I stood just inches from the end of a dock causing my wife a moment of panic when the wind came up with such force that it threatened to blow me into the lake along with the flower arrangements that were caught by members of the wedding party just before they went into the water.
I fully realize that indoor weddings have their own potential hazards - anyone who has conducted a marriage ceremony can tell stories of mishaps that have occurred in those setting as well.
But at least if a member of the wedding party faints in a sanctuary, the nearest water is usually several feet away where it is safely contained in the baptismal font and those of us who are responsible for speaking or for performing music will likely not have to compete with the ambient sounds of water, wind, wild animals, sirens or passing traffic.
While there is much to be said for the beauty of nature in an outdoor setting for a wedding, if given the choice, I am more than willing to trade all that for conducting the ceremony inside even the most humble of sanctuaries where everyone can count on being safe and dry.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]