When I casually mentioned to an elderly relative of mine that we were going to a wedding, he curiously asked, “Is it a church wedding?”. Uninitiated as I am to the mysteries of matrimony in general, I wasn’t entirely sure what the significance of a church wedding was in particular except to divine the obvious that it captured the more conventional aspect of the affair. In any event, I was able to report that indeed it was to be a church wedding, and in most respects traditional as far as I knew. Because the wedding was to take place was in the hinterland of the Township of Lanark Highlands we had previously toured the site to ensure we found our way there on time on the appointed day.
The church is located in the hamlet of Playfairville and is called the Zion Methodist Church originally constructed in 1860. Recently it was completely renovated though preserving the historic structure in tact in every possible way. It is a charming and unimposing white clapboard building set upon a high point of land close to Fallbrook Road. There is a flight of stairs leading to the wooden double front doors. Inside one adjusts quickly to the fact that the church is exceedingly small and that the structure, unlike most churches, is apparently wider than it is long which creates an elliptical impression. On each side there are rows of pews for two people; in the middle there are longer rows for about ten or possibly more people. There are about five rows in all three sections. The front of the church is a raised platform on the left of which is an old pump organ with an ancient oval mirror mounted on its cabinet to allow the organist to see what is going on at the back of the church. In the middle of the platform is the lectern, and on the right are three more pews presumably for a choir. There is a railing which separates the platform from the congregation. At the back of the church is a narrow steep wooden staircase leading to a snug balcony, where there are two sections of three further rows of pews. This is where we eventually sat since the ground level pews were already congested. From the high vantage of the balcony we were conveniently able to see all.
Upon our arrival at the church we parked on the gravel shoulder alongside the road in front of the church. Our eyes were immediately drawn to what was clearly an intentional work of art – an extremely muddy truck (which turned out to be the groom’s Ford F150) on the back panel of which was thumbed in the dried muck “Just Marry’ed”. We then caught sight of the groom and several of his male wedding party all clad in black suits complemented by long white silk ties, lending an air of mafioso to their appearance. They stood about the entrance to the church, smoking cigarettes and chatting with one another and the arriving guests. Quiet words of congratulations were extended to the beaming groom as people shook his large hand. The groom reported that his Best Man was further down the road where he could be seen having a drink from a store of spirits at the back of his own truck. One of the wedding party was a nephew of the bride, about fourteen years of age. He looked about as comfortable in his formal attire as did the other gentlemen who the bride had previously told me were all construction workers. Complementing the pastoral landscape was a small herd of light brown cattle in an adjacent field of undulating grasses. It was a sunny day, not too warm, with a pleasing mixture of fluffy white clouds in the otherwise blue sky.
The guests were people of mixed ages though predominantly young. The bride was only 24 years of age, and the groom was 25. When others (all young couples) joined us in the balcony before the commencement of the ceremony, we caught whiff of liquor as they ascended the narrow staircase. Some of the young girls were sporting rather provocative fashions, though their sylphlike figures certainly warranted them doing so without scruple.
The ceremony began to take shape as the male wedding party assembled at the front of the church on the right side of the platform. There they were joined by the Minister who I only heard referred to as “Sam”. The Minister was appropriately clad in a nondescript suit. He had a twinkle in his bespectacled eyes, alabaster skin, rosy cheeks and a quick smile. I thought he resembled Billy Graham, the well-known Evangelist. When he later spoke to the assembled throng his accent was thick enough to cut with a knife, distinctly Lanark County, that unique blend of Irish and Scottish brogue.
Then arrived the bride’s maids, one by one, each stopping to allow herself to be photographed, then taking their respective places on the left of the platform.
Finally, the bride wearing a traditional white gown, train and head dress was escorted by her father to the centre of the platform where the groom dutifully awaited her. The Minister began his address with a little joke about a young school girl who had kissed a little boy, the romantic feat having been accomplished with the assistance of two other little girls who caught the boy and held him down. The punch line, however, was when the Minister turned to the bride and said, “Good catch!”. What followed that uplifting introduction was a ceremony greatly disinfected of any religiosity and more embellished with fundamental truths about sharing and caring, forgiveness and love. The bride and the groom exchanged the customary vows, which, upon the invitation of the Minister, they sealed with a kiss to the delight of the wedding guests who applauded as a sign of approbation.
A moment more was spent by the bride and the groom signing the register, also on the platform, and the Minister then officially pronounced the happy couple man and wife.
Outside, following the exit of the wedding party and closest relatives into the summer afternoon, people met and greeted one another. True to form, the bride, though composed as the occasion might require, never lost her common touch, making all her guests feel welcome and important.