I was allowed to download wedding photos of Jeremy and Eleen Ling. They are the last couple whose marriage I would solemnise in my forty years of pastoral ministry. I was surprised I became sentimental as I viewed photos taken by Eirik Tan of me presiding over my last marriage ceremony.
OLD WEDDING PHOTO ALBUMS
It made me wonder: if this is the last, whose marriage was the first I had solemnised? I could not remember. I looked at my old photo albums and there were quite a number of photos of couples whose marriages I solemnised, and a few of me at the pulpit giving the exhortation, and only one of me doing the solemnisation: Peter and Susan Ting’s wedding. I could not jog my memory no matter how hard I tried. Even my wife was clueless.
One picture in particular stood out. It was a picture of me and my mentor and predecessor, Pastor Johney, laughing about something at a wedding that he had solemnised. Priceless picture.
The old photos put a smile on my face and I decided to take some snapshots of a few and sent it to one or two persons. These photos made me look at a younger skinny me with a full head of hair, and sometimes with a mustache.
SIGNS OF MY GOING
In recent years, I have noticed photos and videos of my balding head in wedding photos, and I winced each time. It reinforced my conviction that it is time to make a final walk down the aisle and lay down my book of Marriage Service.
I am glad my successor of the English congregation, Pastor Alvin Lim, will be taking over this solemn responsibility. Besides MDiv, and counselling degrees, and experience in marketplace and church leadership, he has a full head of hair! However, the application process was delayed and that is why I was still doing this despite my retirement.
FROM TENSION TO CONFIDENCE
The early years of giving wedding exhortations were tense because I was too eager to make an impression, to capture the audience’s attention by making the message interesting, with humour, stories and quips. Trying too hard to be memorable.
In the later years, I realized that I need to keep the main thing the main thing. The vows and declaration are the most important climatic moment and all other components of the marriage service: the songs, the videos, the processional music, the message, must be subservient to, and should not outshine the apex of the ceremony. I began to develop spartan homilies of ten minutes length based on a Bible text that the couple want to make into a key reference point for their marriage. I want the focus to be on the solemnity and power of the vows.
JOY IN THE MIDST OF CHALLENGES
Doing this duty has its challenges: holding marriage preparation sessions, giving priority to the dates chosen by couples and working my schedule around them; preparing wedding exhortations; going through a rehearsal; and getting dressed and conducting the ceremonies. Despite this, I have always found it a joy to do weddings. Funerals are draining emotionally. Weddings are totally different. You get immersed and infected with the joy that is oozing everywhere you look. You cannot help but be flooded with the goodwill and happiness of everyone around you.
Now as I say goodbye to solemnisations I feel thankful for the privilege of being a part of what would be one of the most significant event in a married couple’s life. I grieve, but I am so thankful to God for the privilege in the last four decades.
What has been your experience of Christian marriage services? What were your loves and loathes? What is for you the most important component or part of the whole service? What are your greatest frustrations during this disruptive pandemic year that has past?
If you happen to know that you are the first couple whose marriage I solemnised, do let me know in the comment box or drop me a WhatsApp note. Thank you.