I have held onto this funny funeral story for nearly three decades, largely due to the fear that no one would believe me--but it’s true! It was in my first church in the foothills of the Appalachians. The town in which I pastored would remind you a lot of Mayberry, except that we had more characters than the Andy Griffith Show ever thought about having... and they all went to my church. Attracting characters is one of my spiritual gifts.
It was a Sunday afternoon funeral. The deceased was an elderly woman whose survivors were a daughter and son. I’ll call them Mary and John, because those are their real names. John and his girlfriend lived with his mother--while she was living, of course! Mother did not like it one bit that her son was “living in sin” under her roof, but she needed the income to make ends meet.
When I arrived at the funeral home, John and his livein girlfriend met me; they were sobbing. I put my pastoral arms around him and said, “What’s wrong, John?” He said, “Well, preacher, you know how Mom always wanted to see us get married?” I said, “Yes, John.” He said, “Well, we want to get married.” I said, “That would have made your mother so happy. Stop by my office this week and we’ll make some wedding plans.” He said, “We want to get married TODAY!” I said, “Well, John, we’ve got your mother’s funeral, and then I’ve got a committee meeting to discuss repairs on the mimeograph machine at 5:00 (just had an unsanctified flashback thinking about that mimeograph machine!), and then church service at 7:00; I won’t have time for a wedding today.” He said, “I mean RIGHT NOW!” I said, “RIGHT NOW?” He said, “RIGHT NOW! So Mom can see us get married.” I said, “Give me a minute, John.”
I had no idea what to do. I was fresh out of Bible college and had only one funeral and one wedding under my belt--certainly never a combo! So, I went to John’s older, smarter sister thinking she would bail me out. I said, “Mary, John and his girlfriend want to get married.” Mary said, “Oh, how wonderful!” I said, “But they want to get married today, right now, so Mom can see.” Mary burst into tears and said, “That’s exactly what Mom would have wanted.”
Still perplexed, I sought out the wise counsel of the seasoned funeral director. He was the most dignified man in town. I thought, if anybody can help me out of this one, it’s the funeral director. As I explained the dilemma to him, he stood there with his arms folded across his neatly-tailored navy blue pin-striped suit. I said, “What do I do?” The man whom I had never seen smile got a slight smirk across his face and said, “Give the family what they want.”
So I whispered to the organist what was about to happen, and she switched from playing “The Last Mile of the Way” to “Here Comes the Bride.” John grabbed his cousin Floyd to stand up with him, and the funeral director walked John’s girlfriend down the aisle while his assistant propped up Mom in the casket so she could get a better view.
After I pronounced them husband and wife, there was applause, and then folks went back to grieving as I read the 23rd Psalm. When the service was over, I led the casket to the hearse. To my disbelief, Floyd and some of the other cousins were tying tin cans to the back of the hearse. And yes, we honked our horns in the funeral procession all the way to the cemetery!
MARK HOLLINGSWORTH serves as senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene in Edmond, Oklahoma.