Without a doubt my favorite ministerial activity is marrying people. For me it is more than simply the ritual and the single day of joining them together; I delight in the months of planning, the meetings and getting to know the couple, their histories together and apart, their concerns and hopes. There is little more exciting than sitting together with them over coffee and talking about why they've decided to make their union an official and legal one, why they choose one another. Then the sitting down part, writing the homily. Below is my most recent, written for a couple whose male half I've known since teenagerhood. Each of them has had issues and difficulties they've had to process and, after confronting their problems alone, have realized another person will meet them with them. I've often said it's an honor to be with someone as she dies; it's equally an honor to be with people as they come together.
There is a symmetry to marrying a day before Thanksgiving. Doing so ensures that in the future you will never be able to celebrate the one without thinking about the other. Both of you have celebrated other thanksgivings in the past with other families—your families of origin, families of friends, and for both of you, families composed of other partners. But from today forward you will celebrate this time of year with a new family composed of the members you are responsible for having brought together. The two of you plus your children you bring to this union.
How similar this is to the legend of the First American Thanksgiving. We’re all familiar through repetition of it in school and in popular culture. How the Wampanoag tribe, neighbors of the early settlers, took pity on their starving neighbors and showed them better and more efficient crop-planting procedures, and how the grateful Pilgrims repaid that kindness with a huge shared feast. Whether or not this is accurate is beside the point: it makes for a good story. Sometimes a good story is better than history.
In the future you will tell other people similar good stories. The story of visiting the bar with friends where the other was DJing and realizing the two of you were the only sober people in the place. The story of your little week away from the world in Amsterdam where you decided to betroth to one another but not to tell anyone else. You may have had some indication as you grew closer that your growing relationship would become this melding of two separate tribes, a sort of contemporary Brady Bunch.
But like the coming together of the English and Dutch Pilgrims and the Native Wampanoag, you will have periods of discord and fights. As all tribes come together there are problems. You are two individuals who have made your own ways in the world, raised children on your own, lived your own lives. You are too strong to submerge all your choices and opinions in favor of the other. As you’ve put it, you don’t feel a need to front for each other. You recognize your own selfishness for your time together. Sometimes that selfishness will require you to have some of that time apart. That’s as it should be. You’re like two trains that have come cross-country separately, each with your own complement of baggage cars, and now are joining to make the rest of the trip together. Such a union is expected to have creaks and groans and periods when nothing fits.
But if there is one thing I would wish for you it would be that you always remember it’s better to be happy than to be right. In the future I hope you give thanks for the blessings of relationship and love. Human beings long to be in community, yearn for companionship, but keeping it is never easy. In the years ahead there will be times of conflict and sometimes of trial. That is as it should be. There will also be times of joy and exultation. That is also as it should be. I hope for you that the joys will outnumber the trials. The two of you are become a union. The six of you are become a union. Keep your union strong.