At first we thought Nat was kidding when we got a text from him last week inviting family members to join him for an open-water swim at 7:00 on the morning of his wedding day, but then we realized that this is Nat, the dedicated triathlete who never lets a moment go to waste. Michael, Nancy, and most other invitees politely declined, but Soren was happy to don a wetsuit and accompany his younger brother to Blackridge Reservoir in the foothills southwest of the Salt Lake Valley for a kind of bro-bonding bachelor party this morning.
Contrary to what one would expect for summertime in Salt Lake, it has been unusually cool and breezy since we’ve been here. Yesterday we had a few thundershowers, but although today’s forecast said there was a chance for more, nothing dampened the wedding festivities.
For readers unfamiliar with Mormon wedding rites, here’s a brief tutorial: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that when marriages are performed by authorized High Priests within our temples, couples are united not only for the duration of their mortal lives, but for eternity. The vows a bride and groom make with each other and with God when they are “sealed” together constitute our most sacred religious ordinance, which is why eternal marriages are performed only in temples, our most sacred spaces. To preserve the sanctity of our temples, only those who have been recommended by their local priesthood authorities may enter. Requirements for recommendation include a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, a willingness to keep God’s commandments, and a commitment to meet certain standards of behavior (such as refraining from sexual relations outside of marriage, honesty in business dealings, paying tithing, etc.). Generally, temple recommends are issued only to adult members of the Church in good standing. Youth who are at least eleven years old may be issued limited-use recommends to perform baptisms as proxy for those who died without the opportunity to receive the ordinance themselves. Younger children are allowed in only if they are to be sealed to their parents in a ceremony analogous to that of an eternal marriage. Guests at a wedding performed within a temple are thus limited to adults with recommends.
Temple marriage ceremonies take place in a beautifully but simply furnished room, and include no promenade down a long aisle nor any flower-bearing attendants. The prescribed text for the rite is short—it can be completed in less than ten minutes—but the officiating High Priest usually prefaces the ceremony with a personalized sermon that adds another ten or fifteen minutes to the proceedings. Guests may then quietly congratulate the newlyweds (all conversation within the temple is to be conducted at low volume to maintain a spirit of peace and reverence), but an exuberant wedding celebration usually goes on later at a more appropriate venue.
Nat and Emma’s marriage ceremony was scheduled for 2:15 this afternoon at the Salt Lake Temple (the one downtown that appears in all the photos). As an official witness, Michael had been asked to arrive early with the bride and groom, so Nancy came along later with a carload of Nat’s siblings. The pain and swelling in her ankle were mostly gone, so she decided to leave the crutches at home but asked Soren to drop her off just outside the north gate of Temple Square so she wouldn’t have to walk all the way from the parking garage.
On any given day, especially during the summer, the Salt Lake Temple may be the setting for dozens of weddings, often scheduled simultaneously in different rooms. To accommodate hundreds of wedding guests and maintain order, the Church built a waiting area in an underground annex adjacent to the temple, so that’s where friends and family members gather until it’s time for them to go upstairs for the ceremony.
Nancy had arrived about half an hour early, so she walked past the waiting room and into the restroom. As she opened the door, she glimpsed a woman in the mirror who, she thought, looked a lot like Michael’s sister Pat.
Long-time followers of our travel blogs may remember that Pat accompanied us on our trip to Israel in 2015. Since January of this year, she has been serving a mission in Hawaii, and is not due home until January 2020—at least, that’s what we thought. But as Nancy took a second look at the woman in the mirror, she was stunned to realize that it was indeed Pat, and soon Pat was rushing over to greet her.
“How is this possible?!” Nancy cried. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for Nat’s wedding, of course!” Pat laughed.
Both Pat and Nancy knew that full-time missionaries normally are not allowed to go home just to attend a nephew’s wedding, so Pat explained that other circumstances had combined to allow her to be released from her mission early, so she was home to stay. She had the good fortune to return two days ago, just in time to surprise us all here at the wedding. (She and Michael had a joyful reunion in the waiting room a few minutes later.)
Pat was only one of about sixty family members and close friends who attended the marriage ceremony inside the temple. When it was over, we all went outside to wait for the newlyweds to put on their wedding finery (only simple white clothing is worn for the sealing ordinance) and emerge through the temple doors to receive our less restrained congratulations.
The rest of the afternoon was occupied with greeting relatives from far-flung places, meeting more of Emma’s family, and posing for a lot of photos. While our previously married children hurried back home to pick up their own children, Michael and Nancy went across the street to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where the Empire Room was being set up for the reception. Because we knew that only hors d’oeuvres would be served during the evening, we went into the Nauvoo Café across the hall from the Empire Room and ordered a salad and a bowl of Philly Cheesesteak Soup (which we thought was an odd menu item for a Salt Lake City restaurant, but it was really good—kind of a variation on French Onion Soup). We shared a table with Pat and Julia (another of Michael’s sisters), Nancy’s sister Tracy and her husband, Stephen, and our friend Cathy S.
When we had finished our soup and salad, we went across the hall and helped Emma’s parents light the candles on the bistro tables, and then went upstairs to the mezzanine, where “all our living progeny” (as Nat put it) were beginning to gather for a family photo with the bride and groom. Amazingly, everyone cooperated, and the photographer declared the session done after only fifteen minutes.
We were grateful that we had eaten something before the reception began at 6:00 p.m. because once we had taken our places at the end of the receiving line, we had no opportunity to move away until the flow of guests finally began to ebb about 7:45, and by then, all the bacon-wrapped maple-grilled shrimp had disappeared. So had all of the chocolate cake, but fortunately someone had saved us a couple of slices of the raspberry-marbled white cake. Nat had been solely responsible for choosing the cake, and everyone agreed that he did a fine job. We also got to sample the street tacos filled with zesty pork carnitas.
But this evening was not about the food. It was all about celebrating the joyful union of two wonderful people from two wonderful families with many wonderful friends. We enjoyed meeting friends of Nat and Emma whom we had only heard about before, and reconnecting with relatives and friends we don’t often see. We had already learned that Nancy’s sister Connie and her husband Ron had known Emma’s grandparents for years, but we hadn’t realized that they also are well acquainted with Emma’s aunt and uncle, and it was fun for us to see them enjoying a reunion of their own during the festivities.
By 8:00 p.m. on the evening of the summer solstice it was still too light for an effective sparkler sendoff, but we did it anyway as Nat and Emma prepared to depart for their honeymoon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After helping Emma’s family to put out the candles and pack up some of the decorations, we, too, departed. The big day was over, and Nancy’s ankle hadn’t bothered her at all.
Okay, the big day wasn’t quite over. On the way to the freeway entrance, we happened to pass a gelateria we hadn’t tried before. How could we resist?