I recently officiated at a wedding where the groom’s immediate family were atheists. After the rehearsal, the Mother commented how much she appreciated my ‘welcoming’ spirit, how I conducted it, so as to make is comfortable for everyone.

I managed to mumble some series of words I hoped expressed ‘you are welcome.’ The more I thought about this the more I became disappointed in myself. I was afraid that I had somehow betrayed what Christian worship is.MO_merian_merian0091

Then, as I was ruminating on this (OK, perseveration is my strong suit) I remembered that the sentimentalist in me does not allow us to rehearse the entirety of the service. Basically we only rehearse the processional and the recessional. The substance of the service is reserved for the worship service itself. OK Padre, ease up on yourself.  Maybe we will manage to get specific when we actually celebrate this rite in the liturgy.

I wonder about ‘non-believers’ in church because I’ve been thinking about the narrative from 1 Kings 8, where Solomon dedicates the temple. The King is, of course, preaching to the Choir so-to-speak. The presence of God is so evident, palpable even, that in the mist the priests cannot perform their duties. They are ‘blinded’ by the presence of God. There is a brief ‘commentary’ that recognizes that God is present and that there is the gift of authority and legitimacy to this gathering.

Yet,  Solomon is not fooled. He knows and acknowledges that God is not contained in these four walls. He remembers and petitions God’s active presence in the world so that whoever prays an earnest prayer may be answered by a God who reveals Himself in forgiveness.  Even more challenging is Solomon’s interpretation of these events.  He sees quite clearly that while attentive and available, God is not controllable…God is not your butler who retrieves your desires.  God does not give a durn about you getting that parking spot close to the door at the Walmart.

The grooms family are really nice, smart, funny people. The whole thing moves me to remind people who gather regularly in God’s house that prayers are heard elsewhere also…sometimes in the least likely of places and in response to phrases that we would not recognize as prayer.

I also find it particularly strange that the King recognizes that this God is not necessarily aligned with (as Walter Brueggemann says) our political, moral, ethical project.

I didn’t say I liked it this way, I am just saying that is the way it seems when we stand in the temple, filled with smoke, and cast our prayers into that space between heaven and earth.

I do not know why ‘non’ believers call me up and ask to have their wedding here in our church.  It is a beautiful building but there are many beautiful buildings that can nicely hold a wedding.

When couple’s come I usually ask them why they want to get married in church (because most of the time I haven’t seen them lately).  “It’s a lot easier,” I say “to just go to the Justice of the Peace and then have the big party.”  No one is more surprised than me when they say that they have a sense of God’s presence here and that is important.