Thursday, June 19, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
Holly Springs does weddings in fine style
Weddings are such a Southern phenomenon you would almost think we invented them. And Holly Springs does up a wedding in such fine style, I often wonder if there is any other place on earth where more effort and enthusiasm goes into having one. Even a quiet, family affair can turn out to be a great production.
I lived in Chicago for a number of years and attended and presided over some very high society weddings. However, even the most modest Holly Springs wedding puts those Chicago weddings to shame. In actual numbers, there was never an occasion I saw in Chicago when more than 150 attended a wedding. In Mississippi, the bride and groom usually have at least that many cousins, and the bridal attendants lined up in their tuxedos and formals will sometimes represent at least ten percent of the figure named above.
And the flowers at a Holly Springs affair! Occasionally I, as the presiding minister, can sympathize with Moses as he must have felt, when the Lord addressed him, as out of a bush!
Being the youngest minister in age and seniority in the church I served in Chicago (which had as many ministers on its staff as we often have members present at some of our early services in Holly Springs), I was assigned the duty of performing weddings for persons who were not members of the congregation, but who simply rented the church (and minister) for their occasion. That was an experience far different from Holly Springs where everybody has a church home and the Southern “sense of place” runs so deep that people come back here for weddings and funerals “to the fourth and fifth generations.”
This August we will christen a baby for the Matthew Greenes (Matthew is the grandson of Gene and Allie) who will represent the fifth generation of that family to be baptized in the walls of our old church. It really is as Olga Reed Pruitt said in her wonderful book about Holly Springs, “It Happened Here” that: “You never quite get over the feeling that time turned back for you here. And you will return. Everyone does.”
We have just had a grand wedding in the Kirk, as we like to call the Holly Springs Presbyterian Church, and Bea McCrosky and Andrew Tolsdorf of Jackson, were dispatched down the road to marital bliss with all the usual pomp and ceremony. Bea grew up in our church, as did members of her father’s family all the way back to the first pioneer settlers in the 1830s, and she was but a tot when I first came to this interesting old place.
The Rev’d Ben Dunagan, my erstwhile predecessor, who lived where Linda Stubbs does now, liked to tell how one day soon after I was installed in his old pulpit, the bell rang at the back door, and it was Bea. She had come to see “her old preacher.” Well, now I am the old preacher, and it is humbling to watch as one generation gives place to another.
Once when conducting a wedding in Chicago, everything went wrong. (Something goes wrong at every wedding, and I say it bodes good luck for the happy couple.) The main thing is that they get pronounced husband and wife, and if they really loveeach other, it really does not matter if some little glitch in music or ceremonial occurs. But in that ceremony in Chicago, the organist finished the processional march before the bride was half-way down that long aisle (there must have been fifty rows of pews in that church), so that all you could hear was the click, click of her spike heels as she finished her walk in deadly silence down that cold, slate floor.
Then, flustered as I was, I realized I could not remember the name of either bride or groom. (They were strangers, of course, and I had “trusted” my memory.) Casting about during the extended silence as the aforementioned high heels continued to click, I desperately considered what to do, for unlike the service for infant baptism, where the minister booms forth, “What is the Christian name of this child?” there is no opportunity in the official marriage service to inquire as to the happy couple’s names.
I was about to exit the chancel on the pretense of a coughing fit and make a quick inspection of the marriage license which I had reviewed moments earlier in my study — when — coincident with the bride’s staccato arrival at the altar — I suddenly recalled the couple’s monikers, and the service went forward without further occasion for embarrassment or remark.
Since then I carefully write out every word of the service, including the bride’s name, the groom’s name, and for good measure, my own name, in case it should need to be called. It takes me at least a week to get over a wedding, but of course, I have to preach to all the “survivors” on Sunday morning, and with only a few hours of rest, we all cast a knowing glance around the room at one other. Another Holly Springs wedding has come and gone!
In our church in Chicago, as here, I became by inclination as well as default, the congregational historian. And my historical research soon revealed to me that the biggest “boom” of weddings in the Windy City was right after Pearl Harbor at the beginning of World War II. All the sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Station wanted to marry their sweethearts before they were shipped out to war. The parish register shows as many as eight weddings a day were performed during that period.
One lady came seeking my help, needing a record of her marriage date, so she could obtain her Social Security. I looked in the church’s wedding book but to our chagrin there was no record of her wedding. She became incensed and said, “Are you saying that all these years I have lived in sin?” (At this moment, our preaching minister’s wife entered the office, and the always-proper Mrs. Davies, overhearing, cast a suspicious eye my way.) “No ma’am,” I said in the kindest Southern accent I could muster.” “All I am saying is that the preacher must have forgotten to write your wedding down in this book.”
Subsequent investigation revealed that this lady and her husband were married in our Chicago church by the Navy chaplain, who wrote his weddings down in the Navy’s book, for although the church graciously invited the chaplains to use the church’s chapel, only the weddings performed by the church’s clergy were recorded in the Presbyterian book.
Bea, rest assured that you and Drew are in our book. And with all that taken care of, while you and Drew are on your honeymoon, I am going to take a rest. God bless you, and come on back to Holly Springs. As Mrs. Pruitt says, “Everybody does.”
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