I am no longer surprised at the perfectly dumb requests people make for their weddings, or even their funerals. Not that I haven’t given in to some of them; bad taste is always a liturgical option for some Christians. Unless the family wants to include a prayer to Moloch, there’s hardly a pastor these days with enough guts to refuse.
There was that one time I ended up playing straight man to the groom’s dog. I didn’t know anything about the animal until perhaps three days before the wedding. I consented to do it as a guest pastor, so I’m not entirely at fault here. But the interim pastor knew about it. The board of deacons knew about it. Certainly the wedding party knew about it. Nobody told me a thing, and when they did it was too late to back out.
Admittedly, the Rottweiler did not have an entirely central role in the ceremony, being listed in the bulletin only as the ring bearer. I remark only in passing that anybody who was at all connected to the wedding was listed in the bulletin, complete with brief biographical lines, including the dog; everyone except the pastor.
Come time to ask for the rings, the pooch comes up the aisle, somewhat reluctantly, being hauled on a tight leash with the bride’s brother at the other end (one of my former catechism students—I knew he needed another year). The dog looked as if he would prefer being elsewhere, and from the way he was straining against the leash, it seemed as if he might succeed in getting there. The animal was mannerly enough, I suppose; nothing got left on the carpet at any rate.
Yes, I was unnerved. I’m hardly fond of Rottweilers in any situation. That probably accounts for me addressing the bride by her sister’s name. Just that once though; I corrected myself thereafter.
Oh, I think I’ve mentioned before the pregnant bride who wanted Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I Got Love in My Tummy as a wedding solo. I did refuse that request despite such affecting lyrics as:
Yummy, yummy, yummy,
I got love in my tummy
And as silly as it may seem
The lovin’ that you’re giving
Is what keeps me livin’
And your love is like peaches and cream.
It was hard, I will admit, to argue against it.
Funerals tend to be a bit more sedate, though not always without dogs. I read about some fellow from the Hamptons whose basset hounds were listed as honorary pall-bearers. Whether they made it into the sanctuary or not is unknown.
There was the one funeral I did for a Kansas City rocker, a fortyish guy who was still waiting to make it big. A single-car accident cut that off, I’m afraid. He was another fellow only marginally connected to the congregation, and by marginal I mean by only the most tenuous of relationships. Well, relationship may suggest more than intended. If I remember right—it’s been awhile—it went like this: He was dating the former wife of a long inactive member whose mother was yet a member. So the ex-wife’s ex-mother-in-law asked me to do the service. Once you put it together, of course, it made perfect sense for them to give me a call.
The amateur rock scene in Kansas City is, well, amateur but not unknown if you know the right people. I knew a Christian couple that from time to time had jammed with the deceased. I had them put the music and musicians together and we ended up with a rock mass, the center of which was a Billy Joel look-alike who played a piano as if he was born to it. Trouble is, he acted like he was doing just another gig. He would complete a piece, leave, wander the hallway a bit, come back on cue, play, and do it all again. He was supposed to play during the Eucharistic distribution but he missed the cue and we never saw him again.
And then there’s “The Happy Trails Event.” I’ve never conducted a Happy Trails funeral—God has been good to me—but a friend told me of one she attended last month. I make note of it here so you won’t be surprised if it shows up playing at a church near you.
The entrance hymn (on a pointed request by the widow, I’m told) was I Walk the Line played from a Johnny Cash CD. Marty Robbins’s hit, The West Texas Town of El Paso, served as the hymn of the day. The recessional—you’ve been waiting for this, yes—was Roy Roger’s and Dale Evans’s signature farewell:
Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.
It's the way you ride the trail that counts
Here’s a happy one for you.
There are limits, of course. I will not give wedding vows while skydiving, snorkeling, or riding shotgun in a NASCAR pace car. I have never been asked to do any of those things, but I just want everyone to know up front that there is a line I simply will not cross. Other than that, if all we are talking about is bad taste with no real impairment to the proclamation of the gospel, sure. Though “other than that” sometimes does open a pastor up to some remarkably goofy stuff.
Russell E. Saltzman is the development pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Gothenburg, Nebraska.
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