01 May 2010

The Pocket Knife Wedding

The following event actually happened when I served Immanuel Lutheran Church in Boonville, MO (1994-1998), though I don’t remember the precise date. This is a story that I've told many times over the years as "oral legend," even promising to include it in "my memoirs" someday.

Now I learn via email that the bride and groom have submitted video of this event to America’s Funniest Videos, and they want me to sign a release form for the show to air the video. On top of that, I also recently received an email from one Tim Pearson, a writer with Midwest Magazine, soliciting wedding stories from a clergyman’s perspective, evidently for a book that he is researching and writing.

So with all of this in mind, I finally move my story of "The Pocket Knife Wedding" from oral legend to story in print for possible publication … and eventually "my memoirs."

Friday Evening: We had just finished the rehearsal for John and Phyllis' wedding. We sat in the church basement enjoying the rehearsal dinner put on by the family. After the dinner, the bride's brother-in-law came over to tease her about possible pranks to be played on the wedding day. One of the pranks he mentioned involved the rings and the pillow on which they would be tied. Phyllis gave a stern warning: "You will not touch those rings!"

Saturday Afternoon: The wedding was going without a hitch and according to plan. The procession, the exhortation on marriage, the Scripture readings, the sermon and the hymn all proceeded without incident. Then we finished the all-important wedding vows and moved on to the ring ceremony. As we had rehearsed the evening before, the ring bearer tried to untie the simple bow on the pillow in order to give the rings to me. He could not loosen the knot. After he gave a couple of firmer tugs in vain, I reached over and tried to untie the knot myself. No luck. I tried with a bit more force. Still no luck. I could sense the wedding party getting a bit restless. I took the pillow from the young lad, held it in my left hand, clamped my officiant’s book between my left elbow and my side, and with my right hand tried to untie the knot again. Nothing. The congregation was beginning to stir. I set the book on the Communion rail and the pillow on top of the book, hoping to get a better grasp on the ribbon and better leverage on the pillow for pulling. I gave it good yank, but the knot would not budge.

At that moment John’s aunt, who was sitting in the front pew, shouted loudly enough for all to hear: "YA NEED A POCKET KNIFE?" Everyone burst into laughter. John and Phyllis both turned red with embarrassment. John did an about face, descended the three steps to the nave floor, and went to receive the pocket knife from his aunt. Many in the congregation were still chuckling, some much more loudly than others. John came back up into the chancel and returned to his place beside his bride. He extended his hand to give me the pocket knife.

As soon as I took the knife, we heard a funny sound and John had a surprised look on his face. The front clasps on his suspenders had come loose. The suspenders sprang up while his slacks suddenly fell down! This time the congregation erupted with raucous laughter as they saw John’s slacks drop beneath his tuxedo coat! He quickly caught them before they dropped much farther. He hiked them up and scrambled to prevent his tuxedo coat from getting caught in the back of his pants.

As the congregation continued to laugh, I used the pocket knife to slice through the white ribbon on the ring pillow. The rings finally came loose. I placed them on my officiant’s book, returned to my place in front of the bride and groom, and the service continued. As the laughter died down, John and Phyllis apologized, but I said, "Don’t worry about it. You'll certainly remember 'your day' now." Then John whispered, "Well, at least we're having a good time."

Following the service, the bride and groom greeted guests in the church basement for the punch and cake reception. As I had to take my robe and stole off, I was last in line to greet the newly married couple. When I greeted them, Phyllis apologized profusely. I thought she was referring to the service itself and said, "Don't worry about it. It's all done." She said, "No, you don’t understand. I tied that knot on the pillow. I was so afraid my brother-in-law would get to the rings that I must have tied that knot super tight."

Postscript: Three or four weeks later, after John and Phyllis had returned from their honeymoon, they came to church one Sunday morning. In the greeting line after the service, John said that he had a gift for me. I said, "Oh?" He pulled out a Swiss Army style pocket knife, handed it to me, and said, "Keep this in your pocket for future weddings." Thankfully, I have not needed it for any weddings, but the pocket knife still sits in my desk drawer in my home study.

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