I hate doing weddings. There, I’ve said it. I’m a better burying priest than I am a marrying priest; the family has an excuse for their behavior at a funeral. That being said, I’ve done all sorts of weddings: on the beach, in the mountains, in someone’s living room, and occasionally even in the church. At almost every wedding, there has been a photographer or videographer, and I always make it a point to talk with them ahead of the service to make sure our expectations are in line with one another.
Mostly, I’m a laid back guy, but there are some limits to what even I’ll allow happen during a wedding, especially a wedding in the church. At a few outdoor weddings, I’ve allowed the photographer a little more latitude, usually at the bride’s mother’s request, and on most of those occasions, everybody has regretted it, as the photographer stood in line of sight, snapping and flashing all the way through. One way or another, however, the expectations have always been clear before the ceremony began.
I think that is what makes this video that went viral last week so uncomfortable. It seems as though expectations were either not well articulated causing this mid-ceremony exchange takes place.
Most of the feedback coming from this story going viral has been negative toward The Rev. Ed Erb, and he probably deserves much of the blame. His response to the ABC News crew doesn’t help his cause, but I’m here to tell you that he’s not the only one at fault here.
As I watched the ABC News video, a couple things struck me. First, it is fairly obvious that the bride and groom are not members of Father Erb’s parish. Their body language prior to the meltdown as well as the interview with ABC News both lead me to believe that he was a hired gun for this wedding. My first reaction is, if this isn’t a solemn religious ceremony for you, why’d you hire the guy with the collar? There isn’t room here for my tirade on the tenuous role priests play on behalf of the state in wedding ceremonies and wedding ceremonies alone, so suffice it to say, being the hired gun at a wedding is about the hardest thing a priest can be asked to do. Secondly, the ceremony is outdoors and Father Erb isn’t wearing any vestments. This leads me to assume that the wedding was intentionally informal. If that is the case, then part of that informality is probably a videographer traipsing around all willy-nilly, but again, it all depends on what was agreed upon beforehand. It seems as though Father Erb could have made his expectations more clear, but for a seasoned wedding photographer “don’t be in the aisle” should be clear enough to not be standing directly behind the priest snapping the shutter like an AK-47 in the midst of the service.
Ultimately, what makes this story go viral is that it is a priest who is behaving badly. There is nothing America loves more than building someone up in order to tear them down. For hundreds of years, priests have been placed on a pedestal, next to Jesus himself, and expected to act as such. To our discredit, we’ve lapped up the praise and tried to pretend that we don’t stink, but let me be the first to tell you, priests are human too. We have bad days. We get irritated. Sometimes, we even lash out. If that sounds too much like a normal person, it is because we are normal people. Clearly something crawled up Father Erb’s craw. Clearly, some expectation, spoken, inferred, or unspoken, was trampled upon. Clearly, etiquette dictates one not act like that when officiating a wedding – hired gun or not. BUT. But sometimes this happens.
And in this age of cell phone cameras, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram, clergy need to expect to take some heat for behaving badly, even when we think we’re in the right.