Gather in, gather ’round. It’s the opening strains of a good story. And the first words, the first notes, the first movements matter. They will either hook the listeners or lose their interest. Think of all the amazing first lines of great books: Genesis, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, A Tale of Two Cities. And can’t you hear the opening notes of “Star Wars”? Or “Stairway to Heaven”? Or Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”?
Weddings are no different.
The opening words gather the guests into a single purpose – to join together in creating a marriage between two people. It’s a joyous occasion, so those opening moments should set that happy tone. The guests are not just there to while away some time passively watching and waiting until the reception begins. No way – the guests are special people. They’ve been invited to be present because they matter to the couple. They create the community that will surround the couple during the wedding, and also into their marriage.
Additionally, those welcoming words should gather the couple into the sacred space of marriage. Walking into the wedding is always the most emotional moment. The anticipation, the entrance of the wedding party, and finally the bridal entrance with beautiful music. It is important to center the wedding couple after all of that – center and focus on each other.
One of the biggest jobs of the officiant, then, is to not just show up. And it’s not to emcee an event.
Your officiant is more of a narrator.
In those gathering moments, they should be gifted in delivering the opening notes of your marriage. They should be gifted in creating a warm, comfortable, and welcoming space for you and your guests to relax into the unfolding love story being told.
There might be one other funny purpose of those opening lines, as well!
One of the funniest stories I have ever heard about a gathering is from a couple friend of ours. They had traveled to a friend’s wedding in another state. Miscalculating travel time to the church, they missed the processional, but slid into a pew in the back of a church just in time to hear the pastor’s welcoming words. Within three sentences, they realized they were in the wrong place. When the pastor welcomed the bride and groom, my friends did not know the names. Looking around, they realized they knew none of the guests. They’d gone to the wrong church. So, while I think the gathering does all of the above, it also, humorously, serves as a double-check — did you show up at the right place?
Next week I’ll talk about moving from the welcoming moments into the message, sermon, or homily.