It was a wedding with no direction, a wedding that was so disorganized most of the guests had no idea where it was even being held. In the middle of a park surrounded by a train, joggers, a duck pond, and a rock show, I found a church.
Carvell and I had been invited to his friend Reed’s wedding. Reed, the groom, was a special type of person. The very definition of ADHD and the long-term drummer for a rock band, now he was adding husband to that list. Carvell had lived and traveled with Reed for a couple of years. This wedding was a chance for Trey to see his Raleigh crew, a crew that he missed very much.
We arrived at the unmarked venue and I was mesmerized by what I saw. People of every walk of life: musicians, a hippie wearing a “snake skin” suit, drug addicts, country club folk, and a tattooed minister dressed as Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame were in attendance. Everyone took a seat and a young man pulled out a guitar and started playing quietly. The groom’s father let the garden snake he had caught loose and it slithered toward the pond. The pastor, Rev Hank, begin to speak of love and acceptance. He asked us to take a minute and think of those who were not afforded the right to marry. Immediately, I knew that my dad back home in Paducah had flinched and I thought, “Dad is dying on the inside.”
This pastor and service was very different from what I was used to. Growing up church had been Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights without fail. The pastor had looked a certain way and that way matched the congregation. They were a matched set. The church services almost always followed the same routine. We would sing hymns, pray, sing another hymn, and then the service would start. After the service ended, normally with an alter call, we would go out to eat and I would never think of the service again. Church was something I did, not something I felt.
Pastor Hank spoke of dignity and understanding. He asked those of us who had gathered for the wedding to wrap the couple with love and to keep them surrounded by our community of protection. He said that as friends and family it was our jobs to love them. I had been attending church for 30 years and this seemed like such a novel idea. Could it really be that simple? Just love each other. My life had been spent worrying about what sin I had just committed. Was that the sin that would doom me to hell? I think I am a good person; I try to do right by people and not be hurtful, but it just never seems good enough. On that warm day I discovered a church.
As Reverend Hank pulled out the ring box he said something that I missed and Carvell said, “Pay attention Heather.” It was difficult to pay attention because there was a great deal going on that day. Geese were quacking like mad. Joggers were running past the wedding and stopping for a second to watch the festivities. A band playing a Rock the Vote show could be heard in the distance. I was focused on where the garden snake was and had managed to miss my own engagement. It would have been very romantic, I’m sure, had I been paying attention. After the ceremony we walked up to Reverend Hank and he handed us the ring box. Inside was my engagement ring. I hit Trey and yelled, “Get out.”
We left the wedding and attended the reception at the bride and groom’s home. We ate cake and celebrated the couple. We laughed and discussed politics, religion, and music: no topic seemed taboo. This was a revival of spirits. All walks of life were joined together, their oddities were on display, and no one was ashamed. I could not help but to be shocked that this type of community existed. This community is what I wanted, a place that I could openly be different, where I was labeled neither a sinner nor a saint. I was just Heather, a woman that questioned her place in the world and in her family. Among this church the fact that I was socially liberal meant nothing. In this church our oddities were embraced, not hidden and secret.
That night I looked at my new ring 1,000 times from 100 different angles. I was in love and I was going to be married to someone I found infuriating, impossible, and interesting. While I was thrilled with my engagement what I found that long weekend was equally as important, a group of people who were as interesting as the stories Trey had told me. I had expected to feel apart from everyone but they had embraced me both figuratively and literally. Church isn’t always found in a building with four walls and a roof. Church is when two or more like minded people worship together. That weekend they bestowed love and grace on not just the bridal couple but a new couple as well.