When "Our Town" and a Wedding Liturgy Converge

Andy and Bettina gather as part of their ceremony.
Andy and Bettina gather as part of their ceremony.

I was honored to officiate the wedding of Andrew Wassenich and Bettina Burgett this past September. Andy and Bettina met at Pilgrims and over the past couple of years, the congregation has been able to witness their falling in love with each other. That hasn't happened at Pilgrims since, I don't know, 1955.

Andy and Bettina met in community. Their own expressions of justice work fused together in their relationship born at Pilgrims.

As we were planning their wedding ceremony, and given the fact Andy works in theater, a theatrical expression of community was woven into the liturgy.

Inspired by Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town, Andy and Bettina decided to begin their ceremony rooting their bodies in community. As the ceremony started, as the prelude ebbed and flowed, Andy and Bettina sat in "their pew" as their friends and family came into the sanctuary and found their place in the pews. As people came in, there were Andy and Bettina sitting peacefully in their spot, with their community slowly filling-up the space around them.

Our Town highlights the advance of time. It gives witness to the artfulness and value of daily living.

Our Town attests to the importance of companionship and community:

  • The welcome from the stage manager
  • Audience participation
  • The actors in the audience who interact with those on stage
  • The presence of various groups in the play: family, choir, wedding party, funeral party, community of dead souls.
  • Using symbols--objects, colors, figures, characters to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
  • Seeing into a window of time.

Check out these parallels:

  • I (stage manager) welcomed folks with the call to worship
  • Throughout the service people participated in the verbal blessing of Andy and Bettina, had a voice in the prayers, witnessed their exchange of vows, and a laying on of hands + sharing of hopes and dreams at the end of the liturgy.
  • We also participated by crying. There was a lot of crying. Just ask Andy. At one point I felt this massive surge of emotions come up from my core, which led me for whisper into my microphone-d voice, "holy crap."
  • Andy and Bettina started off in the pews and made their way forward, interacting with those of us already on "stage"/ wedding party.
  • We had various groups in the sanctuary/audience: family, we were a giant choir, a wedding party, friends, co-workers, and the energy of those who have died.
  • We didn't sing "Blessed Be the Ties that Bind" but we did sing "Come and Find the Quiet Center." Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see all the things that really matter, bet at peace, and simply be. Wilder used "Blessed Be" to symbolize how human love and God are bound together. Andy and Bettina did the same with "Quiet Center."
  • As Andy and Bettina sat in the pew, we were able to see time condensed into a moment. From their births, baptisms, confirmations, to finding each other at Pilgrims to now sitting in the pew on their wedding day, we were able to see the vast movement of past, present, and future in their lives. We also that movement of time reflected back on to us (example: being Andy or Bettina's parent(s), seeing them in the pew, and wondering, "where did time go?!")
Our Town Wedding
Our Town Wedding

Is it liturgy? Is it theater? Is it one-and-the-same?

As Andy and Bettina rose out of their pew, they showed us where their relationship is rooted---in community. In the simplicity of sitting in a pew as the ceremony began, they gave a window into their daily life. In that very pew is where Andy and Bettina sit almost every Sunday. This is their life and they welcomed us into the artfulness of their daily living.  They gave us a glimpse into their life of companionship and where the sacredness rests--in the physical presence of human community.

The proximity we had with Andy and Bettina in that moment created an intimacy with all gathered.  We ended the ceremony with an increased level of intimacy with a laying-on-off-hands and sharing/calling out of hopes and dreams.

In their sitting, we could identify more closely with Andy and Bettina on their wedding day. People could talk with them, give them a hug, notice them. This all happened as part of the service. I think this is *huge* in a wedding since ceremonies can take on an otherness of the couple---meaning in weddings we are usually dressed in unfamiliar clothes, couples stay hidden off prior to the ceremony, there is little community interaction, and we engage in patriarchal wedding traditions that embed us in socially constructed ways of being.

Is it liturgy? It is theater? Is it one-and-the-same?

Congrats to Andy and Bettina!