Friday, 28 September 2012

of being both bridesmaid & minister on my sister's important day

I woke early, having not slept much on an inflatable bed whose air held the cold from the floor in the family room of my family home. One of my sisters was on the sofa bed in the same room; the other, in her old bed in her old room (the other old bedrooms are now sewing & craft rooms for my mum). The youngest of three sisters was getting married that afternoon, and preparations for bride and bridesmaids began with hair and makeup at one bridesmaid's house at 7.00 am. On a Saturday.
Two hairdressers curled and twirled our hair as we drank champagne, ate chocolate croissants for breakfast, and painted our nails and faces.
I sat on the floor, toenails drying in the sunshine through the window, reading the prayers and reflection I would be leading that afternoon. For not only was I to be bridesmaid; I was the minister officiating as well.
The groom had asked if I would be minister for the day, as I am about the only minister he knows. His request was met with a - 'Hang on, she's my sister,' from the bride, 'what if I want her to be my bridesmaid?' Happily, we figured out a way for me to do both.
And so it was that I was preparing for bridesmaid's duties, and for minister duties, that sunny Saturday morning almost a week ago.
Back at the family home, we tried to eat lunch, but the nerves were beginning to build, finished off make up, and as late as possible, got into the dresses.
The photographer arrived as dresses and shoes were being done up, and started with the arty shots of bouquets, glitter-soled wedding shoes, and engagement ring. Then it was our turn, out in the garden that for 14 months mum has been overhauling, and which is looking better than ever.
Then I was into the car, not the wedding car, an ordinary car, heading up to the church with alb & stole ready to wear over the dress. I can't remember when I have been quite so nervous - for the first wedding I did, perhaps, but I was silent all the way to the church as mum chattered away, stomach churning, taking deep breaths, trying not to think, 'Who do I think I am, that I could preside at my sister's wedding?'
Because, of course, this is precisely who I am. As I knew when I got out of the car and greeted groom and groomsmen, family members on both sides, congregation members helping with various elements of the service, and my colleagues in ministry who are or have been my sister's ministers at Blackwood Uniting, where the wedding was taking place.
I received a gift from said colleagues, when they took me into the office and prayed with me, helping me to connect with the Spirit whose presence I sought to accompany me in this task.
I got the boys set, welcomed the congregation, then met bride and bridesmaids and dad in the foyer, looking my sister in the eyes and telling her to breathe; then took my place as the first to walk down the aisle.
I didn't walk down as bridesmaid, but I did walk down during the musical intro to the song (once it finally started, after a few nerve-racking moments of waiting ...).
Photo: Coral 'Cogs' Smith
And though I had fought the nerves during that welcome to the congregation, once we began, I was into my stride and loving every minute of presiding at my sister's wedding. It is a privilege to be invited into this role in anyone's life, but to be a minister in the Church of my family, and so many of my extended family, too, is meaningful beyond description.
As we signed the register, I smiled to see three Agnew signatures on the certificate - that wouldn't happen terribly often I don't imagine! And I deliberately stayed out of the photos by the table with the wedding party - I don't know if my sister will regret that or not, but it seemed to me that I was, in that moment, minister, not bridesmaid, so I let the bride be the one white dress in the photo.
It has been satisfying to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback for the way I held people in the space that afternoon, issuing an invitation to participate in communion that made it clear there was no obligation to do so, and creating a sacred yet relaxed atmosphere for this special moment.

At times in the past couple of weeks, with some other obligations such as a storytelling tour to Western Australia, I have found it a little tricky to juggle the two roles of bridesmaid and minister. But having my time again, I would still do both without any hesitation. To stand beside my sister as bridesmaid in the month of celebrations for her wedding was a joy and a delight. To stand before her and my brother-in-law and the community of their family and friends as celebrant on the day was an honour.

Being a minister is not a job I do, it is part of who I am, and in many ways, is an important part of how I am in relationship, even with my closest family.

1 comment:

Anne Magarey said...

How beautifully you describe this incredible experience, Sarah. The sacredness and joy of this wedding, the love of your family, is palpable and an absolute delight.