Friday, May 29, 2015

Aisle altar him

It's wedding season again. Time to dust off the Pachelbel Canon, which I can play in my sleep (fortunately), download the latest popular I Love You Forever song to run through with the soloist, grab the organ shoes and head off to the church.

This July we'll be getting two new pastors at Faith church (by appointment of the bishop) which really throws off my mojo. I've probably played at least 200 weddings by now (who's counting?) 19 of which were for family members before I reached adulthood, as well as subbing in a variety of churches for persons I did or did not know well, and Faith usually has a dozen or more every year, so I've been at this a while and worked with a number of different pastors. But for a really well oiled machine you can't beat working with a familiar pastor. You don't have to ask what the cue lines are, all of the procedural items are smooth, even the rehearsal goes according to plan. I've even got the jokes at the rehearsal memorized.

That's right, Methodist pastors. I'm blowing your cover. You guys use the same jokes every time. Unless it's a family member of someone they've married before. Then they have to scramble for new material. That's fun to watch.

My first regular church had a pastor who liked to give his "two in a canoe" speech during the wedding ceremony. It was a good message. I could do it from memory. He did, too, actually: he always wrote his sermons on a legal pad (diagonally), basically memorized it, and spoke without notes on Sundays. But his "canoe" speech was delivered virtually identically every time over the several years I worked with him, and I could say it with him. He'd look out on the assembled multitude and open, "Days like this always make me think about canoeing." If there was a thunderstorm outside that just made it funnier. Then he'd go on to tell about his first experience as an inexperienced canoeist ("we hit rocks, we hit trees, we went around in circles, we had a terrible time..") and compare that to the first six months of marriage ("I thought you paid the electric bill. What do you mean there's no money in the checking account? Meatloaf again?!? Not tonight honey, I've got a headache.") But eventually, in the canoe as in life, he started to figure this marriage thing out. ("You start to learn what you can expect from the other. There is a division of labor...") Then he'd go into the peaks and troughs that life throws at you. Just as there are "the shallows....the rapids....the deep water" so life has its moments of tension and ease, times of struggle and repose. At the end he'd tell them that the best thing for their marriage would be to invite Jesus Christ into the canoe with them and wish them "happy canoeing!"

That was the ceremony itself. At the rehearsal he'd tell the groom after the ring ceremony that if the ring wouldn't go on all the way to just "jam it on her finger" and then tell the bride to be "very gentle" as she put his on.

At the start of the rehearsal he would counsel the nervous bride that as she started to process to simply focus on the aisle ahead of her. As she got closer she would be able to shift her gaze to the altar at the front of the church, and finally, her groom. Finally she should focus on him. Remember, the pastor said, "aisle...altar...him. Aisle altar him."

If you don't get it, say it out loud. Faster.

Whether you find these jokes funny or not they were definitely time tested and crowd approved. Besides, something I learned from this first pastor is that not only is humor a great lubricant in a tense situation, when people are groaning at bad jokes they are also enjoying themselves. Apparently it's so bad it's good.

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