The Wedding of Stephanie Holly Dick and Bryan Joseph Fleming
The Wedding of Stephanie Holly Dick and Bryan Joseph Fleming
July 8, 2006 at Grace United Methodist Church, New York
At the end of a festive evening at the wedding reception at The Swan Club in Glen Head, I hugged the mother of the bride and whispered in her ear, "Now are you sorry I came to Valley Stream in July 1973?" Wendy and I and a few others know whereof I asked. She was a very pretty fifteen year old to be seen that summer morning weeping crocodile tears because we were arriving and her friend, the departing minister's son, was leaving. Thirty-three years later Wendy was teary eyed for another reason, the bittersweetness of a daughter's launching out on her own with a life's partner. Wendy nodded and smiled a "No" to my teasing question.
Stephanie and Bryan exchanged vows in the church to which I had been appointed in 1973. Fr. Thomas Moriarty, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Hewlett, formerly an associate priest at Holy Name of Mary Church in Valley Stream, was going to participate in the ceremony, but the wedding date conflicted with his vacation schedule. Same with Grace Church Pastor John Cole, on a Caribbean cruise: so I soloed.
It's been four years for me in retirement; but it was like I never missed a beat. The substitute custodian didn't know the necessary preparations. So I unlocked the doors, turned on the audio system, lit the lights, replaced Sunday's bulletins with those for the wedding, put an aluminum foil sheet underneath the Unity Candle, found a candleholder for the individual candles, told the videographer where he could stand, and handed out the honoraria. Thanks to Larry Walker the air-conditioning cooled the nave. As is my wont, I even counted the number of burned out incandescent bulbs in the narthex's overhead lamps. Three. Amazing how old habits return.
Stephie and Bryan were punctual in their arrivals at the church; but a photographer intervened and the processions began ten minutes late. Sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, all were part of the very handsome wedding party, including junior ushers, flower girls, and a ring bearer. Dad Bill Dick escorted his daughter down the aisle, gave her a kiss and presented her hand to Bryan. Stephie's Uncle Paulie (Heinzel) read from Colossians 3.
Earlier, conducting a getting-to-know-you exchange with Bryan, I discovered that he, a graduate of Hofstra Law School, works as an investigator for the Department of Homeland Security. That job became my launching pad for the wedding sermon.
Here's my message:
I want to speak to you about homeland security. No, not about protecting our subways… or bridges… or harbors. That I leave to the experts like you, Bryan. I have in mind another kind of homeland security, making the home secure. Making the home you are going to be making together secure. I won’t claim any expertise on this subject, but I will note that I have had more than fifty-one years doing it personally, with two sets of children interrupted by a few years of an empty nest. So maybe I do know more than a little about what it takes to make a home secure.
Of course, it can all be boiled down to a single word, one which Paul, Uncle Paulie and the Apostle Paul, propose, love: as in, Colossians 3:14, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
We could leave it at that and get on with the wedding, the vows, the rings, the candles, the kiss. But I ask you to indulge me for just a minute or three as I try to put some flesh and blood into that four letter word, love. That it means truly caring, with its sturdier component, having a spine, telling the truth, correcting, encouraging.
We have a couple of fourteen year olds in our home. They spice up our lives in retirement. You know, Stephie, of whom I speak. You were their last babysitter, May 2002. As is the wont of teenagers, they present Pa with an endless list of “Can I have’s.” Can I have my own cellphone? Can I have a trampoline in the backyard? Can I have the newest version of X Box? Like I said, the list is endless and the costs likewise. I do feel the urge, when they ask, to subscribe to the advice given by the mother of a dozen children, that she always tried to find a way to say “Yes” even when she was saying “No.” But No” it sometimes must be, for young souls’ sakes, to protect them from the tyranny of their own hungers. What we must do for love.
The same goes for husbands and wives. Telling the hard truth gently to your spouse can be one of the most certain acts of love. When the doctor’s advice is ignored. When the bills get out of hand. When you just get mad at each other. Of course, none of these exigencies will ever stop at your door! But, just in case they do, listen to love’s imperative: to want for each other the best in life, and actively to help each other find it, even and especially when it requires difficult measures. I know you are up to it. Stephie, Bryan boasts about you, that “she is an excellent giver of advice, a good decision maker, and a genuinely nice person.” You know already: love is no pushover.
See what you have ahead of you in your life together. It will be a joy, an experience eternally satisfying, if you go at it with strong love. A love that will make your home secure.
But I would not slight another face of love, romance, what brought you into each other’s arms eight years ago… and kept you there to this day. Your love for each other can be, as the two Paul’s have told us, “that which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Talk about a secure home, what makes it supremely that is the way you treat each other, kindly, generously, and thoughtfully. God is in the details, the architect told us. God is in the details of our days, how we live together, the forgiveness we exchange, the elbow room we exchange, the grace given and received, the readiness to hope for the best and to work to see that that is what develops. Your love for each other, in the home, in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, will bind everything together in perfect harmony in your home.
Little eyes will someday be looking on and drinking into their souls the words and attitudes you accord each other and the world. The love you truly share with each other will make it secure for them.
You have only to look behind you to you left and to your right, those secure homes from which you have issued, to know that Paul and Paul and Pastor are telling you the truth.
The sermon concluded with the pastor's now-customary benediction: God bless you, Stephie and Bryan, we bless you too!
Moms, Norma and Wendy, lit the individual candles representing son and daughter. After the bride and groom said their vows to each other, they touched their candle flames to the large unity candle. Prayer, benediction, kiss, and recessional followed.
The wedding guests reconvened at 6 PM at the Swan Club in Glen Head. We danced, we feasted, we played the DJ's games, we talked, we laughed and, well, we did all of the kind, fun, and joyful things God put us on earth hoping we would do with each other.
I found the reception an excellent opportunity to renew acquaintances with those for whom I had been a pastor for the better part of thirty years. Here are two couples at whose weddings I presided and one in which I participated:
We fox trotted across the dance floor around 11:30. I hugged the bride's Mom, and asked her the question with which this report began. My bride and I stayed the night in a classy Roslyn Heights hotel, courtesy of the bride's Mom and Step-Dad. The following morning Barbara and I drove to Garden City to look in on the GC Community Church, whether or not they had installed air-conditioning as I strongly recommended in my review of August 4, 2002. Check it out at the following: www.criticalchristian.com/reviews/review.asp?id=26. They have! Installed A/C, that is. But, of course, no one remembered my review, nor did anyone other than me credit me with the cooling airs on a very hot summer morning. For reasons of little importance I decided not to write a review of the service... but I'd be happy to explain why to anyone curious.
The sweet aftertaste of the wedding continues. Doug Hastings sends these two photos, one of Critical Christian and his bride, the other of the bride and groom and a very smiley pastor (with the tie he purchased a year earlier for Barbara and his fiftieth wedding anniversary).