A Wedding A Drunk and An Unspoken Rule
While pastoring one of my churches in Pennsylvania, I was asked to marry a couple from the church. I was not ordained at the time but said that if they got married through the courthouse, I would marry them in a public ceremony. So they did.
It was a great honor to be asked to do the wedding. The couple had been together for a long time and had decided that they wanted to make it official and had asked me to do the honor.
Finally, the big day came around. The wedding was a nice family-only wedding done in a backyard under a gazebo. The ceremony only lasted a half hour, and then there was a break before the reception which would be held at another home.
I had been invited to the reception and knew the family well. They had become good friends since I had moved to the town and I saw no reason not to attend. However, no one had ever mentioned the unspoken rule of pastoring to me. That rule was simple; don’t go to a reception if there is alcohol served.
I arrived at the home for the festivities and talked with many of the people there. The night brought fun conversation as people were more and more surprised that “the pastor” was at this party. But a few very important things happened that night. You see, where most pastors would not have gone to that event for fear of association, I didn’t care, no one had told me I shouldn’t go.
While there a nice lady by the name of Mary came by. Mary had already had plenty to drink at another party that day and showed up pretty well intoxicated. Somehow during the night, she ended up sitting down next to me at a picnic table. We began talking and during our conversation, someone asked Mary if she knew who I was. She replied no, and then they began to explain that I was the pastor who had done the wedding. I was also the one who was pastor at the church she had attended in the past. And then it all clicked.
Mary began to apologize for smoking and being drunk in front of me. A realization of who I was had instantly caused a fun happy drunk to become a serious wishful sober as if I had the power to condemn her on the spot as pastor. We talked for a while and then the fake soberness passed and became sorrow. She began to tell me about her trouble with alcohol, how her son had ended up in jail, and how her daughter had gone to a Christian college. She felt betrayed and alone.
At one point while we were talking she began to get upset about the fact she was smoking in front of me. At that point, I could have passed a judgment and agreed with her, but this woman was hurting. So instead of arguing with her, I simply told her that I was still eating at McDonald’s so I had no right to judge her on making the unhealthy choice of smoking. What I was more worried about was her drinking.
After a while Mary got upset, not by anything that was said, but because she seemed to be sobering up for real. Once that began to happen, she had to leave. The interesting thing about our conversation was that I at no point started a conversation with her, she did it all. All I did was ask questions based on what she had said and she would keep it going.
Later that night I met another intoxicated person named Paul. Paul approached me towards the end of the night and asked what side of the family was I on. What I didn’t know at this point was that Paul had been put in charge of the pig roast and had been drinking since pretty early in the day. The whole time I had been there, I had not seen his cup go below a quarter tank and you could tell he was feeling pretty good from it.
Paul was not satisfied with my answer that I was not really from either the bride or groom’s side. I didn’t want to go into detail about being the pastor and embarrass him the way I had with Mary, but he continued to push. Eventually, I had to tell him that I was the pastor who had performed the wedding, to which Paul responded with a kind of growl/sorrowful exhale. He questioned me again, “Wait, you’re the reverend, and I’m drunk in front of you?” I smiled and said yes. To which he put his arm around me and began to become happy again. He asked me many questions within a short period of time and at one point told me he was proud to know me because in his church, he “wasn’t allowed near the reverend.” He then called for his young son to come over and told him that he needed to touch my arm because I was a “man of God.”
Then something snapped inside Paul’s head! A light came on! And the next question/statement out of his mouth surprised me. He began to tell me that he would be coming to church in the morning and wanted to know where the church was. I told him that I doubted that he would be there but he insisted. And then he asked the next question; “What time does it start?”
I told him that the service started at 8:00 AM and that same growl/sorrowful exhale came back. “That’s early!” was his response. But that didn’t last long. He soon decided that we could have church and then go for breakfast. Finally, his wife came around the corner. Of course, Paul had to tell his wife all about the “man of God that let him touch him.” And the two disappeared towards home with Paul yelling the whole way about going to church the next morning and then going for breakfast.
I am sure most pastors have heard the drunken “I need Jesus” or “church” speech at some point and I really never expected to see Paul again. The next morning, I got up and headed out to the church. Just before things got started, a car pulled up out front, and out came Paul and his family. They had made it to church as he promised.
Saint Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” You see, I don’t know how you, as a pastor or a leader, handle these kinds of events. Maybe you attend or maybe you don’t. Maybe you have simply never given it much thought. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that an unsaved man saw something that night and was moved so much by it that he came to church as hung over as a man could be to find what it was he was looking for.
This was not me being Super-Pastor, it was me being real. Even to this day, I am concerned that the story comes across as bragging, but there is nothing to brag about. It was simply me not knowing that there was an unspoken rule and doing what seemed right.
Never allow your concern for your reputation to get in the way of ministry. Remember that Jesus himself was often picked on by the leaders of his time for being around those that were considered the outcasts of society. That is why his ministry grew! He was different, and people saw it!
People in our time are drawn to genuine care. They don’t want a pastor that acts like he cares on Sunday morning but really doesn’t show it the rest of the week. Sunday-only pastors will only foster Sunday-only Christians. If this is a problem in your life ask God to help you understand and care for those around you and find ways to meet people where they are in your community, even if that is out of your comfort zone...
As for Mary, there will be more on her later.