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Wedding Day—How to Have the One You Want

Step out in faith—with jitters or not—and unseen agents will come to your aid.
Rick and Carol on their wedding day
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When I think about it, I’m not sure how we stuck to our guns. Neither Carol nor I are given to rock the boat. To use her word for it, we’re “biddable.” But when it came to planning our wedding, we were firm. We would be married in our church in New York City, in what was then a pretty dicey neighborhood, a small ceremony in the Chapel of the Angels. End of discussion.

I can still hear Carol’s exasperation after long phone conversations with her mom. Her mother had her own ideas about where the wedding should take place and the reception that would follow, the tent on the lawn, bouquets of flowers, poached salmon, jazz trio…

“Fine, we can have the reception at Mom’s house in Connecticut,” Carol said.

How would we get our guests from Manhattan to Connecticut? “We’ll put everybody on a bus. But the wedding will be here.” “Here” meant our church, the old Victorian pile of stone and Romanesque arches that had stood on its corner of Manhattan’s Upper West Side for almost a hundred years.

Choosing the Right Chapel

The place was named for the archangel Michael, and the big Tiffany windows at the front showed him in armor, girded for the last battle. Just in case you missed the biblical reference, the words were inscribed on the arch above: “There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.”

But by choosing the side chapel, we were looking for something less bellicose, more intimate. There the windows featured angels at the Annunciation, the Resurrection, and the angel who was John’s guide to the New Jerusalem.

Heavenly Hope Angel portrayed in stained glassYes, the church was a little down at the heels, with cracks in the plaster, peeling paint, rickety pews, and wire mesh on the outside of the stained-glass windows to protect them from stones, bricks or bullets. Not too many years back a parishioner had been mugged on the front steps. Perhaps my future mother-in-law wasn’t so far off in declaring that we’d need armed guards at the door.

But Carol and I were part of a young, scrappy congregation determined to bring back the old place, revive it as it was reviving us. We sang in the choir, volunteered at the soup kitchen, put on plays and found our friends among those rickety pews. We believed in the church, believed in its future.

No “Here Comes the Bride”

Most importantly, we wanted our faith firmly stamped on our wedding ceremony. We’d have a homily and communion, because that was how Jesus reminded His disciples He’d be present in their lives and we wanted to be sure He’d be present in ours.

There’d be no dum-dum-da-dum, “Here Comes the Bride.” We’d enter singing a hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” with that wonderful phrase “From heaven he came and sought her/To be his holy bride.”

“Maybe you should just elope?” Carol’s mother suggested.

There were some minor skirmishes leading up to the eventful day; we resisted the introduction of armed guards—St. Michael and his winged compatriots would provide protection enough.

Dealing with the Families

We were especially grateful to our minister, who reassured us in our pre-marital counseling. A 60-something bachelor, he said with wry humor, “You are the only sane ones going through all of this. Your families will act out. Think of them as animals in a cage. Throw them a bone once in a while.”

Carol bought a simple wedding dress at a discount shop on Orchard Street, but she agreed to let her mother decorate it with some family lace (“something old, something new”). And her mom could invite as many friends as she wanted to the reception.

On that luminous April day I walked past buses, brownstones and hulking brick projects to the church. The first question the good minister asked, “Have you got the rings?” sent me hurrying back to the apartment. They were on the bureau, right where I’d left them.

The angel of the Resurrection Window stands amongst the liliesCarol looked stunning in her Orchard Street dress. We listened to our friends make music in the prelude, then walked up the aisle together, singing as planned. We wanted everyone else to sing with us, following along in their hymnals, but I can remember them craning their necks and staring at us instead. No matter.

Getting the Big Things Right

So much of what we hoped for and believed in has come true. That church grew, and when our kids came along they raced to Sunday school classrooms and choir rehearsals, finding lifelong friends. The dicey neighborhood became more settled, the wire mesh came off the windows and they were restored. The walls were repainted and cracks repaired.

Not long ago I was showing someone the chapel, saying, “This is where Carol and I got married.” I looked again at the angels. Perhaps they weren’t just artful figures in glass but images of help and comfort that had sustained us through the years, their light illuminating us, their wings shielding us.

What I was sure of and what I would tell any young couple planning a wedding today: Get the big things right. Make very clear what is important to you and declare it to each other and to the world. Be sure you’re happy, then step out in faith with jitters or not. Do that and the angels of God’s mercy will carry you through the rest of the way.

Read More: 10 Wedding Prayers and Blessings

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