I was a wedding photographer before I was a minister. And it was great training ground for the ministry.
Tuesday I met a young lady who was looking for a church where she could have her wedding ceremony. She was already married. Her [now] husband was preparing to deploy with his unit. So the couple went to the courthouse to get a quick marriage license. However, the couple sincerely wanted a Christian ceremony. They wanted to exchange vows and rings in a church before God and their family. So they started searching for someplace to accommodate their needs.
But finding a church to accommodate them was proving to be quite a task. Some places were too expensive. Other churches had too many rules and regulations. Other places didn’t allow an outside minister.
I understand some of these situations. I’m a pastor now. We have to set boundaries so we can do what we do more effectively. Yet, it was reminiscent of some of my days as a wedding photographer.
I was a wedding photographer for ten years before I became a minister. There were multiple challenges to my trade. The parents of the bride and groom didn’t always get along. The bridal party attendants were sometimes drunk and rowdy. And, occasionally, the couple argued about paying the bill…to me. But the greatest challenges usually came from the minister and the church staff.
There was one wedding where the minister gave me very clear and harsh instructions of where I could and could not go. He told me that if I crossed a certain [physical] line, then the earth would open up and swallow me whole dragging me into the depths of Hades. No. I’m not kidding.
Neither was he.
At another wedding, I arrived and began setting up my equipment. Then I searched for the priest to confirm church guidelines and ceremony details. As I approached him in the sanctuary, he lit me up with a barrage of insults. I had walked through a restricted (although unmarked) area that was considered too holy for a lay person to tread upon.
But the one situation I remember so clearly is also the one which disturbed me the most.
I arrived at the church to find my bride in tears. The night before, at the rehearsal, the minister had questioned the groom about his faith. The minister decided the groom did not meet the minimum faith requirements. The groom, according to the minister, was not a Christian and he would not perform an unequally yoked marriage ceremony.
So I stood there with a weeping bride who was three months pregnant and unsure if she was getting married or not. Fortunately, another minister agreed to officiate on short notice.
Wedding photography was my ministry even before God called me to be a pastor. I was a Christian and viewed it as a way to serve and minister to others. I prayed for my couples from the time they booked my services until the day I delivered their photos. It was a way I honored God and the sacrament of marriage.
But none of these ministers, priests, or pastors knew this about me. They saw a photographer who was in their way and taking up their time. I was disposable. Someone who would never sit in their pew on Sunday morning. They never asked. It probably never even crossed their mind.
We all have bad days; even pastors and priests…and photographers. Today was a “bad day” for me. You know…one of those days when you have no patience and could use a little more sleep. We have days when we don’t have the energy to ask questions or take the time to listen. We all have those days when we are glad there is grace available…lots of it! I say this because I understand.
But I photographed weddings for TEN years! I spent 40+ weekends a year with brides, grooms, and wedding officiants. I was at Catholic weddings, Baptist weddings, Jewish weddings, and even Eastern Orthodox weddings. I saw Nazarene weddings, Methodist weddings, and non-denominational weddings. I did poor weddings, middle-class weddings, and a few wealthy weddings. I photographed white people, black people, Arabic people, and Asian people. I even photographed an atheist wedding with a purple cake.
And every time I entered a Church…I held my breath.
Not because of the bride and groom. I held my breath because I didn’t know if the pastor would be a jerk or not.
I was a Christian. I was preparing to become a minister myself. And I was afraid of you, my pastor friends! How much more those who have no church background or affiliation? How much more?
Here is my lenten challenge:
Pastors, ask God to check your heart over the next 40 days. Ask Him to help you be like Christ. We don’t have to be perfect. For some of us, we just need a little softening.
Christians, ask God to check your heart over the next 40 days. Ask Him to help you be like Christ. We don’t have to be perfect. For some of us, we just need a little softening.
For myself, I am asking God to check my heart and make me a little softer, gentler, and more like Christ.