True joy in a parish hall


“Has anyone seen the crystal cake stand?”

“Who has a lighter?”

“Is there an extra tablecloth?”

“Do we have any more knives?”


It was 4:45, and every minute was crucial. Harried preparers spouted off their questions in rapid succession, desperate for immediate responses. It was hectic, and frenetic, and entirely delightful. And by 5:00, miraculously, we were done. The party could begin.


My dear friends were married last weekend. And at their reception, I was caught up in a beautiful realization as we all feasted, rejoiced, toasted, and danced. As I arrived with the rest of the bridal party to the parish hall to help set up, I was taken aback with the flurry of activity already afoot. Close friends had arrived hours earlier and were hard at work, laboring to transform the modest, windowless basement into a lovely scene of celebration. They were hanging billowing white curtains to hide boxes and stacks of chairs along the periphery. They were fastening strings of lights above, creating a delicate, twinkling canopy. They were unstacking elegant china plates, wiping cardboard remains from their glistening surfaces. And I happily jumped in to help.


As I tottered around the room, my feet throbbing from unforgiving high heels, another wedding guest arrived early to help. We chatted briefly (“How do you know Catherine?” “We were in French class together!”) and before I knew it, she handed me flip flops without a question. Blessed relief. I spotted the elusive crystal cake stand and handed it off. I straightened silverware and pilfered prized knives for place settings that would serve guests of especial honor. I gathered and boxed stray packaging, hiding it behind those increasingly necessary curtains. The minutes whittled away, and soon the guests were streaming in.


The joy and excitement multiplied over and over. I hugged old friends and marveled at new babies. We cheered as the bride and groom made their grand entrance, and we glued our smiling faces to theirs as they shared their first dance. Toddlers clambered up and down steps, and those nearby—their own parents at times and perfect strangers at others, no matter—kept a close watch. I talked literature with a groomsman and parenthood with an old friend. I scanned the room to no end, taking in the utter beauty of it all.


Hours later, we enjoyed the last song and reversed the setup process. Dozens stayed behind to help. We folded tablecloths, emptied glasses, deconstructed tables. There were scattered claps and reluctant laughs at the sound of a broken glass, a few jumping up to help sweep and discard its remains. With full bellies and feet sorer than before, we sleepily and happily restored order to that humble hall.


“Your marriage is not just for you,” the priest had said in his thoughtful homily. “It is for your family, friends, neighbors.” It was at once a touching sentiment and a concrete, visible truth. Their marriage is for us; it’s for me. As I sat in stacked chairs beside the lovely bride, indulging in a welcome break, we watched as her beloved groom helped with the cleanup. We watched the curtains and lights come down, the tables restored to their former homes. We watched friends serve uncomplainingly, giving with their hands and feet, folding and wiping and stacking. We watched love.


And so began the married life of dear Catherine and Matthias, with true joy in a parish hall.



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