I grew up Southern Baptist. I lived at the church not only on Sunday but I was there for Wednesday night suppers, Tuesday night Royal Ambassadors, Thursday night witnessing, and on Friday or Saturday there were often youth activities to attend. I was religious. Some of my friends were Catholic, which for us Southern Baptists in those days was one step away from a cult. Methodists were okay but misguided, Presbyterians needed a good dunk, Episcopals were half Catholic and half Protestant in other words mixed nuts.
So you can imagine when one of my best Catholic friends ask me to be in his wedding, I was very curious how the pagan rite went. John, my friend, and I played football together and I hung out at his house a lot. John, as a teenager, was a bit awkward with women. In fact I believe if we had not set him up for his first date he would have remained a bachelor. But we knew he liked this girl so we arranged for them to meet and have a date at a party. We chose an open setting because we were not sure how he might act. He was the same guy, as I laid on his bed, who came into the room with bulging cheeks and said, “Look I am popping a pimple” and pressed his cheeks and spit out mayonnaise all over the place. We had sincere doubts that his sense of humor would be understood by any woman.
So at the party we introduced John to his date and they sat down together in uncomfortable silence for a while. I encouraged him to talk to her. He looked very unsure of himself but finally mustered the courage to speak. He reached out and touched her on the thigh and said, ‘You have fat thighs”. We all looked horrified. Of all the awkward things he could have said this was not even on my list. But, she, to her credit looked at him and said, ‘Your hair is way too kinky”. And that was the beginning of John’s dating life.
In fact John was the first of my friends to get married. He joined the Army and became something of a ladies’ man. And it was his Catholic wedding I was invited to be a groomsman. The wedding would be lead by two ministers a Catholic priest and a Baptist minister. His fiance was Baptist. So on one side sat the Catholics and across the aisle sat the Baptists. Now among my unchurched friends I quickly became the ‘expert’ of when to stand and sit and how to behave. The only thing was that I knew nothing of the Catholic ceremony and traditions. Of course the Catholics do everything wrong. They sit and stand and even kneel more than is appropriate. So during the Catholic section you would see the Catholic devout rise smoothly up and down. On the Baptist side we were watching the Catholics to see if we should be sitting, standing or kneeling. Needless to say the Baptist side was always one or two beats behind the Catholics. They were standing, we were sitting. They knelt and we struggled with the prayer bench banging it to the floor. And so the whole comical scene went on through the service. At last the Baptists sighed in relief for their awkwardness when we got to the Lord’s Prayer. We all knew this one. Except that the Catholics do not have the last line of the prayer as we do. So when the Catholic side stopped the Baptist side continued until they realized the Catholics and their priest had stopped. Now each Baptist was on their own. Some kind of mumbled to an instant end. But a few of us decided ‘what the hell’ we will continue to the end but by the end there was only about three or four of us left. So the crowd of 200 had turned to see when the three stragglers would stop. Some Catholics probably were worried that the Baptist version had no end.
But the ceremony did end. We had the reception. The Baptist minister did not attend because the liquor flowed too freely. The priest, to my shock, was fully engaged in the flow of alcohol. But the thing that made the reception so unusual was John wanted to celebrate with his new Michigan family by playing football. Some of us in the wedding party realized now why we had been chosen. We were his ex-teammates and he wanted to beat his new horde of in-laws. So out in an empty field John and his party waited for the arrival of her brothers, cousins and such to arrive for the big game. I was thinking it would be a nice friendly touch football game. I was also thinking since they were from the North it wold be a civilized game. Then they arrived in overalls with no shirts and flaming red hair. Each over six feet and none under 250 pounds. And it was announced this would be a full contact game.
An hour later bruised, bleeding, and aching in every part of our bodies we returned to the reception. I felt bad for the bride as we carried her crippled black-eyed groom to her. We won but most importantly we had bonded in the mud with his new family. I have to say I enjoy Catholic weddings.