Friday, August 14, 2009

The Church Wedding

When I told my father that Robert and I were going to my Assistant's wedding this afternoon, he asked, "Is it a church wedding?". Uninitiated as I am to the mysteries of matrimony in general, I wasn't entirely sure what the significance of a church wedding was in particular, except to divine that it captured the more traditional aspect of the affair. In any event, I was able to report that indeed it was to be a church wedding, and in most respects traditional as far as I knew. Robert and I had previously visited the site of the wedding, since it was in the hinterland of the Township of Bathurst, and we wanted to ensure we found our way there on time on the appointed day. The church is located in the hamlet of Stanleyville, which likely houses little more than the very church in which the ceremony was conducted.

The church is called the Zion Methodist Church, originally constructed in 1860. About two years ago it was completely renovated, though preserving the historic structure in tact in every possible way. It is a white clapboard building, set upon a high point of land close to the road (Brook Road), with a flight of stairs leading to the wooden double front doors. Inside, one adjusts quickly to the fact that the church is exceedingly small, and that the building, unlike most churches, is apparently wider than it is long, which creates an elliptical impression. On each side there are rows of pews for two people; in the middle there are longer rows for about ten or possibly more people. There are about five rows in all three sections. The front of the church is a raised platform, on the left of which is an old pump organ with an ancient oval mirror mounted on its cabinet to allow the organist to see what is going on at the back of the church; in the middle of which is the lectern; and on the right of which are three more pews, presumably for a choir. There is a railing which separates the platform from the congregation, much as one would see in a court room between the barristers and the gallery. At the back of the church is a narrow steep wooden staircase leading to a balcony, where there are two sections of three rows of further pews. This is where Robert and I sat, since the ground level pews were already congested. From this high vantage, we were able to see all both above and below.

When we parked upon our arrival alongside the road in front of the church, our eyes were immediately drawn to an extremely muddy truck (which turned out to be Elizabeth's Ford F150), on the back panel of which was thumbed in the dried muck "Just Marry'ed". We then caught sight of Wilson (the groom) and several of his male wedding party, all clad in black suits, complemented by long white silk ties, lending an air of mafioso to their appearance, as they stood about near the entrance to the church, smoking and chatting with one another and the arriving guests. Words of congratulations were uttered to Wilson, as people shook his large hand. Wilson reported that his Best Man was further down the road, drinking from a store of spirits at the back of his truck. One of the party was Steven (about fourteen years of age), the nephew of Elizabeth. He looked about as comfortable in his formal attire as did the other gentlemen, who Elizabeth had earlier told me were all construction workers. Complementing the pastoral landscape was a small herd of light brown cattle in an adjacent field of undulating grasses. It was a sunny day, not too warm, with a pleasing mixture of fluffy white clouds in the sky.
The guests were people of mixed ages, though predominantly young. Elizabeth is only 24 years of age, and Wilson is 25. When others (all young couples) joined us in the balcony before the commencement of the ceremony, I caught whiff of liquour on somebody's breath. Some of the young girls were sporting rather revealing fashions, though their sylphlike figures certainly permitted them to do so without scruple or diffidence.

The ceremony began to take shape as the male wedding party assembled at the front of the church on the right side of the platform, where they were subsequently joined by the Minister, who I only heard referred to as "Sam". The Minister was appropriately clad in a nondescript suit. He had a twinkle in his bespectacled eyes, alabaster skin, rosy cheeks and a quick smile. I thought he resembled Billy Graham, the well-known Evangelist. When he later spoke to the assembled throng, his accent was thick enough to cut with a knife, distinctly Lanark County, that unique blend of Irish and Scottish brogue.

Then arrived the bride's maids, one by one, each stopping to allow herself to be photographed, then taking their respective places on the left of the platform.

Finally, Elizabeth, wearing a traditional white gown, train and head dress, was escorted by her father, Mr. Brian Henderson, to the centre of the platform, where Wilson dutifully awaited her. The Minister began his address with a little joke about a young school girl who had kissed a little boy, accomplishing the act through the assistance of two other little girls who caught the boy and held him down. The punch line, however, was when the Minister turned to Elizabeth and said, "Good catch!". What followed was a ceremony greatly disinfected of any religiosity, and more embellished with fundamental truths about sharing and caring, forgiveness and love, that sort of thing. The bride and the groom shared the usual vows, which, upon the invitation of the Minister, they sealed with a kiss, to the delight of the guests who applauded as a sign of their approbation.

A moment more was spent by the bride and the groom signing the register, also on the platform, and the Minister then officially pronounced the couple man and wife.

Outside, following the exit of the wedding party and closest relatives, people met and greeted one another. True to form, Elizabeth, though composed as the occasion might require, never lost her common touch, making all her guests feel welcome and important.

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