Every wedding is special, priests will tell you-but when things don’t go as planned, some are more “special” than others.
Including children and dogs in a ceremony, frequently requested these days, can lead to unintended consequences, says Canon Judy Rois, executive director of the Anglican Foundation of Canada, and a parish priest for some 30 years.
She recalls, for example, a pair of flower children, one girl and one boy, who came to fisticuffs partway down the aisle-and things just got worse from there.
“They both just decided they had had it with this whole idea, and just plopped down,” she says. “I forgot which one of them just threw up-threw up badly-and the other one started crying.”
Rois says people will at times dress their doggie attendants in fine style-in special canine tuxedos, for example.
Of course, underneath the finery, they’re still all dog.
“Dogs don’t usually come into a cathedral or church and walk down an aisle perfectly. They’re sniffing and they’re barking,” she says. “The time of a kiss or something, that’s when barking can start or the dog can try to get between the bride and groom.”
Fasting before the event in order to squeeze into flattering attire may seem like a good idea at the time. It seems it doesn’t always work out as planned, however.
Rois recalls a wedding in a beautiful church in an idyllic country setting, in which the bride, decked out in a grand, flowing gown, was to process down the aisle accompanied by music from a live string ensemble.
Unfortunately, the weather was stiflingly hot-and the bride was up against other physical challenges.
“What she had done in order to fit into this very lovely wedding gown was starve, as some brides do, for a couple of days ahead of time,” Rois says.
On the day of the wedding, the bride felt a cold coming on. Her response, Rois says, was to take a hefty dose of Sudafed.
It seems the sedative cold medication was the last straw.
“She looked stunningly gorgeous coming down the aisle, but partway down she just fainted,” prompting a collective gasp from the congregation, Rois recalls. “She sat in the vestry and we waited until she kind of came to.”
The wedding was able to go ahead-though the bride needed to be propped up throughout.
Of course, heat isn’t the only element Canadian wedding parties need to contend with. Archdeacon Paul Feheley, who is principal secretary to the primate as well as priest-in-charge at St. Chad’s in Toronto, still remembers a wedding day scheduled for a beautiful, clear December day.
It was beautiful and clear, at least, in the morning. As the hour of the blessed event grew nearer, however, a “horrific” and completely unpredicted snowstorm swept in, he recalls.
Feheley was able to drive through the storm to the church with a few minutes to spare-but the anxiety of everyone mounted as the hours passed without any sign of the groom.
Groom and best man finally appeared, Feheley says, almost three hours late, having had to abandon their car, slowed to a standstill, for the subway-only to end up on a subway train blocked in by snow on an above-ground stretch of track.
The nerves of the couple, priests say, can manifest themselves in unpredictable ways-at times causing uncontrollable laughing through the exchange of vows, says Dean Nissa Basbaum of the Cathedral Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Kelowna, B.C.
At the other extreme, recalls the Rev. Allan Higgs, former honorary chaplain at the RCMP Chapel in Regina, Sask., is what he refers to as “the 20-Kleenex wedding,” when the bride was unable to contain her tears of joy from the moment she walked through the church door.
“The bride from the moment she walked through the door before the service began-tears just flowed and she was crying all the way through,” Higgs says. “I had a bunch of Kleenexes up my sleeve, so I would dole them out one at a time to her.
“She was so sincere in her love for her groom and what that meant, and what her life was going to be like, that it was so important, and she was so thankful to God for that man that was coming into her life and what they were building together,” he recollects.
The congregation was well aware that the tears were joyful, and Higgs, who says he liked to use humour at weddings, elicited laughs by handing her each tissue with a flourish.
While weddings involving more than one culture, faith or language are not uncommon nowadays, Higgs recalls a wedding at the chapel, which was multifaith, multicultural and multilingual. The bride, a Presbyterian, spoke English; her fiancé was a French-speaking Muslim. Higgs found a French-speaking United Church minister-who happened to be from India-to preside. The wedding involved French, English-and Arabic.
“At the conclusion of the service, the groom was surprised when I said a blessing in Arabic which had been taught to me by an Egyptian friend,” Higgs says.
Sometimes weddings can be humbling for the priest. Basbaum recalls planning a wedding for a woman whose sister had been married in the same church a little more than a year earlier. Basbaum served at the time as co-rector with her husband, and the idea with this wedding was that one would preside and the other would preach.
“I suggested that perhaps my husband should preach since I had done her sister’s wedding and half the congregation would be the same people; although the sermon would not be exactly the same, there would be elements of this that would be,” Basbaum says.
“The bride-to-be didn’t miss a beat when she quickly said, ‘Oh, that won’t matter because no one will remember what you said anyway!’ ”
It’s usually only in retrospect, Feheley says, that he’s able to smile at weddings in which the unpredictable intruded.
“They’re funny now, but at the time, of course, you’re trying to do everything you can to make it right,” he says.