“Honey,” I said a few months before the wedding, “everyone says that we should make lists of our priorities for the wedding so that we know what the each other’s non-negotiables are.” There had been no disagreements thusfar, and we were committed to a simple celebration without most of the bells and whistles that have somehow become “essential”, but I still wanted to make sure we were on the same page with what little planning we had to do. I suggested he name three priorities.
“I don’t know,” he replied from the driver’s seat. “I guess, church? Having a meaningful ceremony. That’s really it. And shrimp cocktail at the reception.” I smiled to myself and exhaled.
We had no bridal party, asking our siblings to serve as our witnesses. We had no trolleys or limos or party buses, just an SUV we rented because the winter had banged up both of our cars. We rode to the church together and processed in together. We had no cake, no signature drink, no band or DJ, but boy, did we have some church.
I invited the students from the collegiate choir I work with to sing and play for the ceremony. I expected maybe 12 or 15 to sign up, but instead we had about 35 singers. Three violins, brass quartet, handbell choir, timpani, piano and organ, all directed by my supervisor and mentor from the college. There were only two priests – I had to narrow it down. The altar was crowded, to say the least.
When I’m helping people plan liturgical celebrations as part of conferences or workshops I often tell them to imagine a photo of the event. This will be the lasting visual that people have of the entire conference, so what is the image you want to leave them with?
Commercial American romanticism suggests that my husband and I should have been alone up there on that altar, sealing our devotion with individual promises and shutting the world away. What a lie that would have been. For as intense as our particular love for each other is, it is undoubtedly tied to the hundreds of loving relationships that we have with other people in our lives. It’s not that our love does not exist without our community, but that we do not exist.
While assembling our cast of thousands for our music ministry, I quipped a few times that I wanted to have the type of wedding that would make people want to go to church. We were bearing witness that day not only to companionship and commitment, but to living our lives with God in mind and in communion with the Church. For as much as our guests were witnessing to their love for us, we were witnessing to our love for God, our families and friends, and each other.
I didn’t realize until after the wedding that our celebration showed all of our college-aged guest musicians what a nuptial mass could be, that it didn’t have to be cookie-cutter but could demonstrate the reality of our relationship. When I see the pictures of us on the altar with dozens of people crammed up there behind and beside us, I am so grateful to have had them all with us not just because they made beautiful music, but because they reflect the truth of who we are, and who we want to be: welcoming, generous, friendly, and loving.
After our guests gathered for a group picture on the church steps we zipped off in the same SUV we had arrived in together so that we could be at the reception venue to greet our guests. I suppose we should have done more photos then, but we had done many before the ceremony with our families and knew that our magnificent photographer could capture the moments without needing an exhaustive multi-hour session.
So instead of retreating for more portraits we grabbed glasses of prosecco (and my husband claimed more than his fair share of shrimp) and worked the room, hugging people and showing them to the bathroom at the historic estate, directing them to the bar and appetizers, and delightedly being among the people we love.
Our photographer did indeed document our day in marvelous fashion, and we have plenty of pictures of just the two of us. But when it counted, up on the altar before God, breaking bread, the image is crowded, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
All photos by the incomparable Kendra Stanley-Mills