I headed to the wedding of my niece in Laguna Beach, Calif., and was surprised (read: mildly scandalized) that she was not getting married in a church. I kept reading the invitation to see if I had missed the name of the church.
My brother is a pastor-missionary, and his daughter is a woman of rare virtue, so I didn't understand. When I arrived at the location it was a beautiful restaurant that specializes in weddings and other big events on the Pacific Coast Highway, nestled among cliffs and shaded with exotic trees and flora. It was Eden.
On the first level was a terrace with about 20 tables covered in linen tablecloths and long-stemmed water glasses decoratively stuffed with linen napkins matching the bridesmaids' dresses. Up a wide and winding stone stairway was a higher terrace where the nuptials would be performed. We took our places and watched our beautiful bride ascend.
My niece's pastor came from Florida for the event and gave a charge to bride and groom that was briefer than a sermon but proved that sometimes less is more; I remember everything he told them, and it was solid-no 50/50 thing, but 100 percent from each partner is the ticket. And commitment is necessary to tide over patches where emotion thins.
So it was all good, and I learned something about myself that everybody else evidently already knew: that there is nothing magic about a church building, stained glass, statuary, incense, kneelers, a nave, a wooden pulpit, or pews in a row. The presence of God is wherever the people of God are gathered in worship, and a minister is a minister under a canopy of California fan palms as much as under a rib-vault ceiling.
And my niece is just as married as if she had exchanged rings in my home church (which, come to think of it, is a converted Italian restaurant).