Collar buttoned? Check.
Candles lit? Stole on? Cell phone muted? Check. Check. Check.
Great. Only two hours to go.” Oops.
That was me on a Saturday evening in late June. Pacing. Early. Eager. I have officiated dozens of weddings since my ordination, but this wedding was different. Not only was this going to be the first wedding I had officiated since before the start of the pandemic, this would be the first in-person act of worship I have led since the shut-downs began. I was nervous.
I had grown so accustomed to being able to stop and re-record if I missed a word or felt I had spoken too fast. I was becoming very comfortable with the only live audience being the figures in the stained glass windows. Even more so, I was anxious about doing this well. Amid the masks, the symptom checks, the distancing, I desperately wanted this to feel special, holy, right.
As someone in their early 30s, I am in the high wedding season of my life. Right after Christmas, the ‘Save the Dates’ and invitations from friends planning their nuptials began to fill my mailbox. Then in early April came the ‘postponement’ notices as couples announced their weddings would be rescheduled from late spring to late summer. Finally, came the announcements: We did it. We got married. Celebration to follow when it’s safe. As the global pandemic rages on, countless couples have delayed, cancelled or hurried their wedding plans. And with so much still unknown about the future, many--including this couple--have decided to wed now and party later.
In my anxious waiting for the couple to arrive, I readjusted the lights, read through the service six times, and washed my hands thoroughly. Then, a knock on the door. They had arrived. Entering in a pandemic-style procession--the bride, the groom, the photographer--nods, gentle meeting of eyes, no hand-shakes.
We got into position. I stood in the high chancel, 10 feet away the couple stood on the floor, the photographer on the far side of the chapel. Once safely distanced, we lowered our masks, smiled, and began: “Dearly, beloved…”
Then suddenly, it was as if heaven and earth collapsed and we were in a thin, holy place. My nervousness faded away as the couple looked longingly into one another’s eyes. In the emptied chapel our voices echoed off the walls. I do. I will. I pronounce. Vows were made. Rings were exchanged. The Blessing was given. And a new life for this couple was formed.
Then, after the marriage was sealed with a kiss, we recessed in the same orderly fashion as when we began. We raised our masks, nodded at one another, and the couple departed.
As I locked the door and stood in the silence of the chapel, I could still feel God’s presence. And in that moment I was filled with gratitude for this hallowed ground, the ministry of Old South Church in Boston, and for our God who is still calling new life into being.