I just received an email that reads: “Hello, Reverend Sean! Congratulations on being ordained for three years…!”
I laughed because I thought it was junk mail. Then I realized—hey, wait a second—this was a legitimate email. Let me explain:
Three years ago, I actually became ordained in the state of Alabama so that I could officiate a wedding for a lady who wrote to me asking me to perform her ceremony.
I had never conducted a wedding before, so I was not enthusiastic about the idea. I’m not what you’d call an ultra-religious guy. I am just a Regular Joe who prays mostly during third down situations and happens to have several openly Episcopalian friends.
But the bride was insistent. So was my wife, who when she heard the idea indicated that if I refused to officiate I would be walking with a limp for the rest of my life.
Thus, the next step was to figure out how to legally perform an Alabama wedding. For help I called the Escambia County courthouse. The conversation went like this:
ME: Yeah, hi, I’m supposed to be marrying two people, how would I go about this?
HER: Sir, polygamy is illegal in Alabama.
So we were off to a great start. What I learned was that I had to become ordained through a recognized religious organization. Any organization would do.
The lady never explained HOW exactly I was supposed to convince a major world religion to give me wads of unbridled authority. She just said it was against the law to conduct weddings if your only official religious affiliation was limited to saying the occasional grace at Thanksgiving.
I thanked her for her time, then called my friend Ray Jay who, aside from being a dirt-bike mechanic, once officiated his brother’s wedding in his backyard. I attended this wedding. I will never forget it. The Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill punch and spray-cheese hors d’oeuvres were superb. I asked him about becoming a clergyman.
“Aw, it’s easy to get ord’nated,” Ray Jay assured me.
“You mean ‘ordained?’”
After Reverend Ray Jay told me what I needed to know, his heartfelt parting words were, “Don’t forget, being a minister means that now you can park in handicap parking spots.”
Ray Jay told me about a neutral religious website that sold basic wedding ordination packages for—this was a major selling point—under fifty dollars. So I filled out a bunch of forms containing important generic questions like: “Can you fog up a mirror?” “Do you believe in something?” “Are you a convicted felon?” “If not, are you interested in becoming one?”
After that, I was good to go. I was every bit as ordained as Jimmy Swaggart. They sent me a bunch of stuff in the mail. What a thrill.
The actual wedding was in Brewton. I arrived a few hours early while everyone was setting up flowery decorations. When people saw my dirty truck pull into the parking lot they covered their mouths.
My truck is well known to be so messy inside that when you open the door the structural integrity of the garbage pile on the floorboards is compromised. Trash began spilling out like an avalanche.
Among this garbage were candy wrappers, my dress shoes, various soda cans, a toolbox, Corn Nuts, and—this is totally true—a small potted fern someone gave me for speaking at an elementary school. I had never found a proper place for this fern so I just kept it in my truck. Somehow—I am still telling the truth here—the fern thrived.
When I crawled out of my vehicle I was barefoot, chasing a rolling Coca-Cola can across the parking lot. The wedding planner approached me.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said. “You can’t park here, we’re about to have a wedding.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m the preacher.”
She had to be revived with cold water.
The service was magnificent. For the vows, I used a book my wife bought at a flea market long ago. It was a leatherbound “Book of Common Prayer.” She bought it for ten cents. I know this because a little sticky price tag on the front still read, “10¢.”
I was wearing black trousers, black blazer, and black necktie. I looked like one of the Three Tenors. Either that, or a limo driver. Not to mention I was overdue for a haircut.
When the bride walked down the aisle she was accompanied by sniffles. And I started to tremble. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I felt like such a fool at the altar. I had no business in this room.
Soon, the couple stood before me. And something happened. I got caught up in the weight of the moment. The bride and groom were looking at each other the same way all lovers do. I felt water build behind my eyes.
I said, “Dearly beloved…” and my voice broke. I could hardly finish my sentence.
But the ceremony went okay. And at the reception everyone danced like crazy. I even danced the Funky Chicken with a bunch of kids. Weddings bring out the best in me. There’s nothing I love more than love.
Before the party was over, I bid everyone goodbye. I walked past a gift table on my way out. I stopped in my tracks and noticed the mountains of presents with gold ribbons and shiny wrapping paper, and I was left with a warm glow.
I just hope the bride liked her potted fern.