One of the virtues of being a minister/chaplain is that you are often present at important moments in family life. Weddings and memorial services are the most obvious such occasions. The officiant is sometimes the lightening rod for the emotions of the moment. I tell couples that at weddings I can help deal with the anger that will from time to time crop up. If the bride's family really does not like the groom, they can dump their anger on the minister since they generally do not know me and will feel better having vented. More often the gesture of offering a place for anger is all that is needed. It is painful what we do to one another at our most important moments. Memorial services are easier since the center of attention does not speak back.
That is why at a recent wedding, I felt myself fortunate to be given a gift by the groom's family. The wedding was lovely and afterward I broke my habit of avoiding the reception to have dinner. I sat with the grandparents and aunt of the groom, put another way, the really old folk were at the same table. They were lovely people, long retired cultivators of skills that make retirement meaningful. From the mid-west, the church was the social center of their lives as was their family. Their gift to me was the description of their grand-children and the spouses they had brought into the family: Asian, Hispanic, African-American, Anglo, they loved and accepted them all and were proud of them.
I have had half a dozen weddings this fall. All have been traditional male and female unions; all have been inter-racial. One recent wedding was marked by a portion of the ceremony being in Mandarin so that the bride's family could hear this important ceremony in the language they were most comfortable with. Such gestures are not unusual and are very important.
In a time when marriage is increasingly seen as transitory, I am not sure what saying "Until death parts us" means to those repeating vows. I know what I would like it to mean. But I do know that marriages that bind together diverse cultures with vows and commitments made before communities of friends and family can have a profound impact on the world we live in. The harsh edges of ethnic pride will be ground down as the "other" become part of the family. Disappearing as well is the stereotype of the narrow mid-westerner. Not all the gifts at a wedding go home with the bride and groom.
Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute