Saturday, October 20, 2012

As long as you both shall live

When you teach, you get close to some of your students, and some of your students get close to you, and within those two groups there is significant overlap. When you teach college students, some of your students meet each other and fall in love, and some of those students are those who are close to you and vice versa. And some of those students end up getting married.

And when you teach religion, and your first boss was a Lutheran minister who officiated over the weddings of many of his students, some of your getting-married students will ask you to be the minister at their weddings. And although you are not called to be clergy in any established church, in this age that is no impediment to becoming a person authorized by the state to perform weddings.

That is how I became internet-ordained several years ago when the first of my students asked me to preside at their ceremony. It's the greatest honor and tribute to have this service requested of you. I've never said no.

Today is the wedding day of F. John and Hannah. I was very close to F. John when he was a student in my program a few years back, and given that he kept signing up for my classes, I would imagine he feels the same. I was the adviser for his undergraduate thesis. He was my teaching assistant for a freshman seminar.

Hannah wasn't a member of my program. But we all considered her an honorary member. She showed up at all our public events. She hung out in the dorm. She knew all the professors by their first names.

So when I got a call this summer from F. John asking me to officiate at their wedding ceremony, I was doubly pleased. I knew it was a joint decision for this couple to choose me. That's pretty special.

The event is taking place outdoors on beautiful Mt. Nebo, on a crisp but not cold fall day, with brilliant sunshine filtering through the leaves and shining off the Arkansas River visible in the valley below. I drove up yesterday for the rehearsal. The road up the mountain is "steep and crooked" according to the signs, and that's an understatement. On the way down I counted ten hairpin switchbacks. I was nervous yesterday about whether the Subaru would have the power to make it to the top, but in second gear with the A/C off, I needn't have worried. Even so, I'm glad I don't have to drive that every day.

The wedding party is filled with my students. All the groomsmen are graduates from my program. The congregation will be dotted with alumni and faculty. It's not my day -- it's F. John and Hannah's day. But I couldn't be prouder to be standing up with them at their request, speaking the words, making it all legal. From their past I appear to inaugurate their future together.

F. John runs marathons and wrote his thesis on the concept of cool. Hannah is a talented artist who knows her way around a pair of knitting needles. It's like they are far more advanced versions of myself, split into two people. Surely it's fitting that I'll be the one to tell them today that God has joined them together.

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