Evacuated from Gatlinburg, couple finds pastor to marry them

Evacuated from Gatlinburg, couple finds pastor to marry them

Rev. Donna Hester: "I was relieved -- I could help!"

By Donna Hester

CLINTON, Tenn. (Dec. 14, 2016) -- Tuesday, November 29 began as most days begin in the office, except that we were still watching news of the wildfires that had seized upon Gatlinburg the night before.

Then just before 10 a.m., the telephone rang and was answered by our church secretary. The call was transferred to me with these words: "It is a man who is at the Holiday Inn.”

As I picked up the telephone, my stomach dropped. I wondered if it could be an evacuee from the fire. I also wondered if I would be able to help. I knew I wanted to help, but I was also keenly aware of our limited resources at this time of the year. 

I answered the call and heard these words: “My name is Paul, and I had to evacuate from the wildfires last night.” My dread was realized.

Then he continued, “I was supposed to be married today. Would you officiate my wedding?” 

I asked if he had a license. He did. I asked a few other questions, and he responded. I was relieved – I could help!

I told the man we needed to speak a little more face to face, but I thought I could honor his request. He asked for directions to the church, and I gave them to him. He then told me he used a walker and asked if there was access for him. I assured him there was.

I hung up the phone. I told the church secretary what was about to happen and that I would need her as a witness. I busied myself preparing for a wedding ceremony. 

The secretary headed to the chapel to make sure it was service-ready. A church member, who was in the office, walked across the street to the florist and “borrowed” an arrangement for the altar. 

Everything was ready for a wedding, and about 40 minutes after I hung up the phone, Paul and Alice arrived at the church. They were a couple in their late 70s from Ohio. They were shaken from their experience, but also still intent upon becoming husband and wife. 

We talked for a few minutes, and I learned some of their story. Then with the church secretary as their witness, I performed the ceremony. Once husband and wife, they headed toward their “new” honeymoon destination of Kentucky for a couple of days. “After all,” they said, “we aren’t expected back in Ohio until Thursday.”

It was a good day to be a pastor.



The Rev. Donna Hester is pastor at Memorial United Methodist Church in Clinton, Tenn. This column originally appeared in the Oak Ridge District's December newsletter and is reprinted with permission.


See also:
Our complete coverage of the Sevier Co. wildfires