Over the summer I got to know a young man on Payne Ave in St Paul. This is to be expected when you are a pastor hanging out on the street. You get to know the neighbors.
Turned out that this young man was living in a shelter with his girlfriend. Who, when I met her, was about 7 months pregnant. This family had a strong desire to make a commitment to one another.
It is expensive to get married. The national average is estimated at $27,000. Yup, that is 27 with three zeros after it. The average I can find for MN is about $22,000. This is a mind boggling sum of money for one day in a person’s life. The fee for the pastor in this scenario is generally $150-$200 and the marriage license in Ramsey County is $115. So, for $300 a couple can get married.
Big difference between $300 and $27,000. An astounding difference.
This young couple has a little bit of money. Money that is given to them on an EBT card. It is their food stamp money.
That is it.
It is expensive to be poor and it is expensive to get married.
I got to know them a bit. I learned their stories. I learned why they can’t depend on their parents. I learned that they want to parent and want to parent their soon to be born baby together. This is good stuff.
Shobi’s Table purchased a marriage license with them. I met them at the public health office in St Paul and stood in line as they filled out forms.
The next part was actually a little trickier. You see, it is November and has gotten chilly. A park wedding might have been nice, but not right now. The shelter wasn’t able to loan us space for a wedding. Thankfully, there are lots of Lutherans in the area. I picked the church closest to the shelter and asked if they would consider letting us use a bit of space. Never imagined we would be able to use the beautiful sanctuary of Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill.
The families of the couple were not in attendance. My role as pastor included being a mama to a young couple getting married. I had gone to Restaurant Depot that morning to get the food for the week’s worship on the street. I have never seen flowers sold there. As I walked into the cooler room, there were dozens of roses for sale. I added a dozen pink roses to my weekly order. I took it upon myself to get a small cake to share. Nothing fancy, just something to celebrate promises made.
We gathered in the sanctuary around 3:30 on November 19. We stood by the baptismal font. There were 3 witnesses in attendance. All friends from the shelter. We prayed and I led this couple in making promises to one another.
And then, I read from St Luke’s Gospel.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
I recalled the story of a very pregnant mother and her supportive partner. I recalled the chaos and fear that might have been present as they travelled during that transitional time. I recalled the lives upturned because a system needed people to be registered.
It felt right. It felt right to remember this holy family that had been looking for a place to stay, a family with no baby supplies with them.
It felt hopeful.
The son of man came and didn’t have the nicest nursery to sleep in. He didn’t have the cutest clothes or the best stroller. He was simply loved. I don’t doubt that Mary and Joseph loved Jesus. Loved and parented him as best they could.
This baby is coming. This couple is going to have a baby any day. Housing is still up in the air. I don’t doubt that they will love this child. I don’t doubt that they will do their best to parent baby.
Even more so, they have been called into community.
The church will surround them with love and support. The church will walk with them as they grow in marriage and as parents.
I will hold onto this story as we enter this advent season. I will watch for the child to be born among us.
As always, keep hope alive, for the light is coming back into the world.