Scott and Tammy were a couple of twenty-year-olds living together in a small apartment near Lincoln United Methodist Church when I came there to serve as their first Intern Pastor in 1970. They were a local version of the “flower children” of the Sixties, smoking weed, sitting on pillows on the floor since they had no chairs, and working for just enough to get by. They were also expecting their first child, so their lives were about to change, and they were giving some thought to getting married when I knocked on their door and introduced myself as a neighbor, working at the church.
“Strange you should come,” they said, “We were just thinking we might go knock on your door, and see if someone at your church could help us get married.”
“I’m your guy,” I said, explaining that I was there for a year to serve as an intern. To their follow-up questions I answered that, as an intern, I would be visiting people, helping with the church school and adult study groups, filling in for the regular pastor from time to time, working with students at the community college, and helping a church in Tilton get reorganized. (I didn’t say that I would also be writing verbatims of many counseling sessions and visits, providing copies and recordings of sermons and worship services, meeting agendas and notes, evaluations of projects, and meeting with my seminary supervisor.) “And I can marry and bury or get you in touch with the regular pastor to do it.”
“So there’s a regular preacher and you’re the play preacher,” Scott said.
I admitted that I hadn’t heard that job title yet, but it fit. So began my first wedding counseling session on my own, since the regular pastor, my on-site supervisor, didn’t like to spend much time doing jobs that wouldn’t “build the church.” He was on a fast track to becoming one of the youngest bishops in the history of the church, or so it seemed in his own mind. In reality, he was on track to burn out before he made it to forty-five.
Scott and Tammy offered me a cup of some odd tasting herbal concoction, and we proceeded to talk about their thoughts on getting married and having a baby and life in general. As the plans progressed in the next few weeks, they were simple and easy, but they also wanted to talk about faith and God and finding meaning in life, so our get-togethers continued through the year past the date of their simple wedding ceremony by the lake with a few friends and family attending.
At the end of the year they both thanked me for coming to see them regularly, and told me they would miss our get-togethers. I told them I enjoyed our talks, too, and wished them well for a long life together with their beautiful baby and each other. I don’t know what became of them later, but I am confident that they had as many or more chances for that wish being fulfilled as any of the over five hundred couples that I have counseled since.
“You’re not just a play preacher,” Scott said. “You’re the first real preacher that I’ve ever known.”
“Thanks, but don’t rush me,” I said. “I’ve got a lot more to learn and I’m beginning to feel like ‘play preacher’ will suit me just fine.”