When my oldest daughter was three years old she was passed from lap to lap in the parish hall of the church I was serving.
Each Sunday between the early and late morning worship services, an impromptu group of oldsters from mid-seventies to late-eighties would gather at a large round table to drink coffee – sometime twenty strong. They were the edge of a generation that was dying in a campus congregation that was being reborn. My sweet towheaded daughter looked so thoroughly content as I passed through the hall, always on a different lap from the one I’d seen her on only moments before.
Then there was the diocesan church camp where she learned to sing silly and raucous songs, play goofy games, and make intense friendships for a week. After that there was the Church youth group where she could vent anger about the priest who was changing everything (me), learn to box as an exercise in community-building and self-esteem, and eventually learn that her progressive values were always welcomed to be heard in church, which was not always true in her less diverse school.
That little girl is now a young professional about to be married. She and her fiancé have planned their wedding as an act of community (my description not theirs), with the ceremony in a park followed by games, and then later, a dinner reception and dance party in a church.
Whenever an event does not follow a cookie-cutter pattern it requires more work, and there is no preset pattern to ease the work and preparation for this wedding. As a result the wedding is a group effort and the bride and groom have mobilized twenty-five or more family and friends to play different parts. They seem to have access to a small but endless army of friends to perform any needed task, which of course with any wedding, there are legion.
Nothing evokes the community nature of the way this wedding is planned like the photo shoot itinerary following the ceremony. The group photos have names like “The Love Statue” and “Happy Hollow” and “The Big Chair,” all referring to icons of places and events in which each group once shared a sense of community or still do. I can’t help but think back to that parish hall and that group of graying and balding oldsters who had shared their long lives with one another.
Perhaps my daughter would have been the kind of person to cherish and nurture friendships anyway, but I like to think that growing up in church surrounded by the love of unrelated adults and peers alike, left a deep and luxurious mark of community upon her heart and soul. In my heart, as I prepare for the moment I wrap my stole around their hands for the final blessing, I feel deeply grateful to all those people in all those churches for the imprint of their love bestowed upon my daughter.