A true story recounted by Plymouth's Communication Director Jeremy Winfrey
In 2011, St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Thursday. It was a bright and beautiful Thursday in Lawrence, Kansas, too. It reached the mid-60s, flirting with 70s, sunshine soaking everything.
The holiday also coincided with the tip of the 2011 March Madness NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The tournament, the weather, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade set to march down Massachusetts Street that day had downtown buzzing and full of people and activity.
I broke for my lunch from Plymouth at 11 that morning to hit the old Buffalo Wild Wings that used to be downtown so that I could watch the basketball games. I stayed longer than I had intended to watch 13-seeded Morehead State take down 4-seed Louisville by one point, so I was already running late to get back to my shift at the church and open the doors back up.
Unfortunately, the parade and mass of humanity made it almost impossible for me to cross Mass. Street. I had to go up two blocks to finally find a gap in the floats to make my move. By the time I reached Plymouth, three people were waiting to be let inside the building. One was Plymouth member and former Pastor of our Spanish Language Service, Enrique Peñaloza, and two other random people, a man and a woman who were decked out in various shades of green, plastic green beads hanging around their necks.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” I said hustling to the door. I let Enrique in and then did the same for these other people, I wish I could recall their names. “What can I do for you two?” I asked them once inside.
“We were about to give up hope and leave,” the woman said in a friendly and playful tone. “Seriously. We didn’t know if you were open.”
“We wanted to know,” the man said to me, “If it would be possible for us to be married in your beautiful church.”
In response, I began my preprogrammed speech about how you had to be a member of the church to use it for weddings, that special exceptions had been made in the past, but they were rare, and that they would need to check with the Church’s Business Administrator to check calendar dates, fees, blah, blah, blah.
“No,” the man stopped me. “I mean can we get married in your church today, like right now?”
At this point, Enrique and I looked at each other. “Uh,” I said knowing full well how intoxicated some people get at Lawrence’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, “please tell me you two didn’t just meet at the parade.”
The man assured me they hadn’t. In fact, they’d been together for five years, were madly in love, were just passing through Lawrence, having a great time downtown on a beautiful and exciting day, saw our beautiful church and just decided to finally get married. That’s all.
It was also Spring Break. As a result, most of Plymouth’s staff was out of the office. Our Senior Pastor at the time, Rev. Dr. Peter Luckey was out. I wasn’t sure where our Associate Pastor at the time, Rev. Josh Longbottom was, and I wasn’t sure if either one of them would want to deal with these people and their crazy whim.
I looked at Enrique. He smiled and raised his hands, “I’m not that kind of pastor.”
Just then Rev. Longbottom walked around the corner, with his hair long, tee shirt and jeans on, and bare feet.
“Well,” I said, “here’s Rev. Longbottom. I’ll let him make the call on this.”
I filled Josh in and he proceeded to explain to these people that while he thought their idea was awesome, he did take his pastoral vows seriously. They persisted though, talked to him for a few minutes about their relationship, their history, where they were from, where they were going, why they felt moved to marriage while passing in front of Plymouth. In the end, they won him over, Rev. Josh Longbottom, the goof ball softy.
“You’re actually doing this?” I asked him as they headed into Plymouth’s sanctuary and we walked back to Josh’s office.
“Sure,” Josh said. “It’s gonna be punk rock, lovebird style.”
Josh went to his office, put his shoes on, grabbed a stole from his closet, hung it on his neck, and then wrote out a brief little wedding service with vows that were in reality quite moving. I was impressed. I told him so.
He then took me and a random teacher from Head Start into the sanctuary to serve as witnesses to the union, and he married this man and this woman right then and there on that St. Patrick’s Day in an empty Plymouth sanctuary. He signed the marriage form, told them how to take it to the courthouse and make it official. Then I used the woman’s phone to take a picture of Josh with the new married couple. We gave them a picture and postcard of Plymouth to mark the occasion and they went on their way.
I watched them through the window as they headed back toward Mass Street, holding hands as they went. Just think. Had I been any later getting back to work because of the parade that day, this story of this spur of the moment St. Patrick’s Day wedding at Plymouth would never have happened.
If you would like to submit a story, a musing, an observation, or anything of the like to help us pass the time stuck at home as we attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19, then please send them along to Plymouth Communication Director Jeremy Winfrey via the link below. We'd love to hear from you. Until then, various members of the Plymouth staff will be making posts here. So keep reading!