Visiting the Priest
As much as Byron hated to admit it, Julie was right; there was a lot to plan for the wedding. For the next few weeks, he had to order a tux, go get rings, and send out invitations. Julie had sent out far more than he had. He hadn’t planned on inviting anyone, but with Julie sending out close to 100 invitations, he thought he’d better send out a few. Deep down, he hoped this particular Lutheran Church didn’t stick too strictly to the old tradition of his family on one side and hers on the other. It would be a bit awkward when they have to stand on her side and his side being his lone dad. While he had sent out a few invitations, he thought the only person to show up would be his dad.
It was only a week ago, three weeks after he got engaged that he finally got the courage to call his father and tell him that he was engaged. Actually, he probably wouldn’t have even done it then, but he knew the invitation was about to arrive and thought he’d better mention it to him before the announcement did it for him. Luckily, while he knew his father loved him, talking about personal stuff was never their strong point. They loved doing things together: camping, hunting, fishing, and working on the farm he had grown up on. All the memories of his childhood were good, but the one common factor in all the things he did with his father were silence. His mother had always been the one to ask about school, work, girls, and everything in life. With Dad, the conversations were always short, and now that his mother had passed away, they only got shorter. But he wondered if this engagement would be the thing that might force his Dad to ask some personal questions, so, with a little fear, he dialed.
“So, how are things going?”
“Good. I have some big news.” Silence followed, clearly his Dad was waiting for what it was. “I’m getting Married.”
There was a short silence before his Dad said, “Great.” And then, feeling he ought to say something else, said, “Congratulations.”
“I know it’s quick, but the wedding is in a few weeks, and I was hoping you’d come. I sent you an invitation. It should be there soon.”
“Great. I’ll be there.”
Byron expected some questions like, “who is she?” or, “how’d you meet?” but silence filled both sides of the phone, and Byron finally said, “Well, have a good day.”
“You too. Love you son.” And that was it. His Dad had always been short on details but he knew in part it was because he was short on judgment and always full of acceptance. But while he worried a little about how is Father would react today was the day that an encounter with a different Father was on his mind, one he feared far more than the encounter with his own Dad. It was Father Young, the local priest at the Lutheran church. Byron didn’t think it was common for priests or pastors, or whatever you call them, go by Father in the Lutheran church, assuming that was more a Catholic thing. But common or not, Julie assured him that he went by Father Young. Supposedly, he came from a long line of Episcopal Priests, and while the religion didn’t stick, the name did.
So, with no shortage on fear, he parked his car in the parking lot of St. Marks Lutheran church. The light blue Toyota Prius already in the parking lot announced to him that Julie had beaten him there. A smile ran over his face as he saw it. She would give him a hard time about arriving first, even though he was on time, but that he was looking forward to it. He liked her subtle and almost flirtatious jabs. In fact, while he was extremely anxious for this whole wedding thing to be in the rear view mirror, the one regret he had was that it would end his regular interaction with Julie. He hated pictures, invitations, shopping, and planning, but doing it with Julie made it bearable. If he were honest, more than bearable, he looked forward to seeing her.
“Hey, Julie,” He said as he approached the front doors with her standing waiting. She looked down at her watch, faking irritation. “Oh, so what time does your watch say?” Byron asked clearly trying to rub in that he was indeed on time.
“It says you are late.”
“You need a new watch.”
“I thought I explained this to you, if you aren’t 10 minutes early, you’re late.”
“No, the first time you said five minutes and last time when you showed up barely on time, the topic didn’t come up at all.”
“It’s a rule with varied application, and clearly I alone in this relationship know how to properly apply it. For example, one should always arrive early so they don’t leave their bride standing at the front door of the chapel. Doing so is exceptionally risky; she may get bored and pick up another one of her many suitors who happen to walk by.”
“A very risky situation indeed. Do your suitors regularly pass by this thoroughfare of pedestrian traffic?” Byron said motioning to the totally deserted side walk in front of the church.”
Julie laughed lightly as she said, “Well, we better go in before you make us officially late because I am so busy explaining the facts of life to you.”
As they entered the church, Byron’s light mood ended and he felt a heavy burden on his shoulder. The church as beautiful. it was an older church and was cathedral-esque in its grandeur. The wood pews looked newly polished as the sun flooded through the stain glass., this church really felt like the real deal, there was a reverence in the building and the fact that this felt like a real church that would be a great place to connect with God made Byron feel very uneasy. Somehow, being married in the eyes of the guy running the drive thru wedding chapel on the strip didn't seem wrong in the slightest, but saying, “I do” in front of a priest in the edifice built to religious worship under the circumstances did not sit well with him.
Looking closer at some of the stained glass he noted that one window depicted the story of someone getting married. The first window showed a rather dark and somewhat disappointing wedding. Then it showed the young man going back to work. The artist had worked extra hard to make the work appear to be arduous and painful. Well, after a few more depictions of back breaking labour, there was another wedding with the same man and a different bride that appeared much brighter and overall more joyful then the first. Byron new the place was famous for weddings but could not figure out why any chapel would have such a story in stain glass. It appeared either the focus was ‘marriage is nothing but painful work,’ or ‘don't worry, your next marriage will make you happy.’ While he was puzzling over the stained glass, Julie had already headed for the priest office. Finding that Byron had failed to follow, she went back, grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him from his gaze and in the right direction.
They opened a door, and it took them from the beautiful chapel to rather normal looking office. “Hello. So good to see you,” said a nice-looking middle-aged man behind the desk. "Come in." He continued. Byron was a bit surprised. When he thought of meeting with a priest, he thought of sitting down in the pews with a man in a large robe or toga or something. This guy simply had on a nice shirt and tie. In fact, he was dressed a lot like Byron. The priest also seemed to young. Despite his name being Father Young, Byron had very much imagined someone opposite. Somehow, at some point in his life, he got the image of a priest being old and he had assumed that’s how all priests were. Thinking now, he realized this didn’t make much sense.
"So, Julie, this must be Byron", the priest said shaking Byron's hand. It was clear he must know Julie. Byron didn't even realize that this was her church. He figured she just picked it because it looked nice.
"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Byron. I'm Father Young." the priest said.
"Good to meet you." Byron said.
"Have a seat." Father Young said as he went back behind the desk. "So, you two want to get married. I think that is wonderful. How long have you two been dating?" Byron had mostly thought this would be a logistical meeting. You know the, ‘I stand here, you stand here, you say this, I say this and it will cost X.’ Even this made him uncomfortable, but had he figured there were to be deep, piercing, personal questions like, ‘how long have you been dating?’ he would have been petrified and come up with evasive answers. Given his lack of preparation and since Julie knew the Father, he thought he would just let her answer. After a long pause it was clear Julie had a similar strategy.
Finally Byron looked at Julie and said, "How long has it been?"
Julie, clearly not in the habit of lying to clergy, simply said, "I hardly remember. It's gone by so quick."
Father waited, clearly expecting they would continue with something like, “well let's see it was before you bought the new car and that was a year ago... but Julie and Byron had technically answered the question and weren't volunteering any thing else until another one was asked.
"Well, how did you meet?"
Boy, those priests sure know how to get to the heart of a subject. Byron had no idea what to say now. It's not that a flat out lie didn't sound good to him but he didn't know if Julie wanted to lie to her priest so he decided if a tactic worked once why not try it again, "How did we meet?" he questioned turning to Julie.
She smiled at him the kind of smile that did not leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy. "Remember we ran into each other at that little dessert shop at the Belogio." She said with the perfect hint of, I can't believe you forgot our anniversary, in her voice to come off as believable. Boy was she good at this, and it was sure coming in handy now however he was wondering if he could ever truly trust someone this good at half truths.
"Oh, that's right, how could I forget. I was getting ready to do some interviews for work and we just started talking. We enjoyed each others company so much I cancelled my next interview and we went out to dinner." He said doing his best to sound hopelessly in love. With a little encouragement from Julie he was getting the hang of this. Their dating experience was beginning to sound, not half bad.
"So, Byron, what do you do for a living?"
Here, Byron had little to hide, but since meeting Julie, he had determined not to hear any more lectures about how only married people really know about marriage, and, knowing that telling Father Young he was a marriage councilor would cause that, he simply said. "I am a councilor"
"At a school?" Father Young replied.
"No, I have my own practice." Byron said trying to keep it as simple as possible.
"What type of counseling?"
"People, mostly." Byron wished he had left off the mostly and new it wasn't the answer that Father Young was looking for, but it had the desired effect and there were no more questions about his work.
"Byron." You could tell by Father Young’s tone that the getting to know you questions were over. "What church do you belong to?"
"Oh, well I haven't really attended church in years. I don't really belong to any church."
"Do you see God as an important part of your future marriage with Julie?"
Oh, boy, how do you give a half truth answer to a yes or no question. Not only that, Byron new the statistics; he was always encouraging couples to be united in faith or come to agreement on where they stood religiously. It helps marriages, but their marriage was different. He didn't want a marriage in the eyes of God, just in the eyes of those around him. He was wishing that he would have been more persuasive about that drive thru chapel.
Fortunately, however, he had seen hundreds of men just like him squirm under difficult questions when he was on the other side of the desk, and if there was one thing men were good at when under pressure, it was acting dumb.
"I just haven't really thought about it before."
Byron new this would illicit a speech from Father Young, but sitting and taking a speech was a lot easier than coming up with answers to questions. Father Young was a very good speaker, and Byron agreed, in principle at least, with everything he said in his rather lengthy speech on God and marriage.
After his speech, he started another speech about how running a church was expensive. Byron was confused at first as to why this was part of the marriage speech, but realized he was preparing to tell Byron that the marriage would not be free. This was a speech Byron felt no need to make Father Young go through the pain of giving, because it was obvious that while Father Young enjoyed delivering the speech on marriage, he did not enjoy the follow up speech on money.
"Father Young, we plan on paying for the opportunity to marry here." Byron said interrupting the speech.
Father Young was obviously relived and followed it with, “We welcome any donation, but the ceremony does cost us a certain amount.” Father Young relayed the cost and Byron assured him that he was happy to pay. Byron was pleased to pay him for the service. Byron's guilt was building, but somehow, paying Father Young eased some of the guilt.