Father Gareth and myself have just passed the year mark since we both came to St. Mungo’s last October. Back then Father Gareth arrived on the 4th and held the fort until I arrived on the 6th; and he had to do the same again this year as I had to travel to Belfast for a series of meetings around finances and formation. When these meetings were first arranged I wasn’t under any particular pressure coming back, but I had agreed to do a wedding in St. Andrew’s cathedral in November for a Ugandan couple which, because of visa problems, was brought forward to October 6th. When I went to organise travel the only way I could be at the meetings and be back for the wedding, which was at the unusual time of 11 a.m., was to bring the car and return on the 23.30 Stena Line sailing from Belfast to Cairnryan. That meant I would be getting back to the house at around 4 a.m. and arriving to the wedding with very little sleep. Added to that, it was a stormy week, and the bride and groom, a truly lovely couple, were concerned that the sailing would be cancelled and that they’d be left stranded at the altar without a priest, although I knew it would take a lot for one of those big boats not to be able to sail, and that they had stabilisers to manage on the rough seas.
As it turned out, the meetings finished a little earlier than planned and I was able to transfer to an earlier sailing at 19.30, which would mean getting home around midnight, a much better option. It was better still, that once the boat set sail, I discovered they were showing both the Northern Ireland v Germany, and the Scotland v Slovakia World Cup qualifying matches in different parts of the ship. I got myself a good seat in the Scottish section and passed the journey watching a really exciting match. When Scotland’s winning goal went in with just minutes to go we were all out of our seats with hugs and high-fives, perfect strangers becoming each other’s best friends – even if just for a while. There was a bit of a panic when, with 3 minutes of injury time still to play, the ship reached port and the television was switched off. Cries of dismay persuaded the crew to put the television on again so that we could be sure we had held out to the end, which of course we did, and the drive back to Bishopbriggs was pleasantly spent listening to post-match analysis on the radio.
The wedding itself was a delight. There were only about 15 people there, mostly from Uganda, but also from Ghana and Tanzania. In 35 years of celebrating weddings it was the first time that I had kept the bride waiting instead of the other way around, as she had arrived 15 minutes early while we were still setting up the altar in the cathedral. They were people of real faith and their small group of friends entered fully into the joy of the occasion. There was no big reception, but I had agreed a while back to have lunch with them after the Nuptial Mass, and I had to smile to myself when I discovered that we were going to the World Buffet in Renfield Street, because this is Father Gareth’s favourite restaurant, although I hadn’t realised he had his very own waitress as well, because no sooner had I entered the restaurant than I was very warmly greeted by one of the Passionist Young Team (PYT), the group that Father Gareth gathers on a Wednesday night. Later on, another young man who had been to the PYT came over to greet me as well.
I don’t think the World Buffet had ever held a wedding reception before and they were obviously thrilled to see the bride and groom arrive and, even though the bride had made a quick change out of her wedding dress, she still looked quite stunning, while the groom and guests were all still in their wedding outfits, which for some meant traditional costumes. The World Buffet offers food from all corners of the world but, when I got up to get my main course, the first PYT member pointed to the Macaroni and Cheese and told me that Father Gareth usually just fills his plate with that and sits quite happily before heading off again.
The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast… (Matthew 22: 1-14)