WEST BURLINGTON, Iowa (BP)-When bivocational pastor Ken Barlow performed a marriage ceremony recently, it wasn’t in the usual surroundings of a church sanctuary. Barlow and the young couple were standing in the garden department of the local Wal-Mart store.
Amid plastic displays of smiling snowmen and artificial Christmas trees, the couple began their marriage surrounded by family and fellow Wal-Mart associates. The flowers — red poinsettias displayed on green indoor/outdoor carpeting — were ready for sale as soon as the ceremony concluded.
Brett Hamilton and Erin Sapp, both Wal-Mart employees and National Guard soldiers, were planning to be married next summer but hastily moved up their plans when Sapp received orders to report to Des Moines for active duty and likely deployment to the Middle East after training. They are members of the National Guard’s 224th Engineering Battalion.
They asked fellow Wal-Mart employee and bi-vocational pastor Ken Barlow to officiate. The store manager, Dan Davis, OK’d the 9:30 a.m. November wedding in the garden center and several dozen fellow employees witnessed the ceremony, wearing blue vests embossed with “How Can I Help You?” emblems. The soldiers were dressed in their olive-green uniforms. Coworkers shed tears as Hamilton and Sapp were pronounced husband and wife by the pastor. A 10-second kiss brought smiles to the faces of everyone and a cheer went up to the store’s metal roof at the conclusion of the brief ceremony.
Hamilton works in the car care department and Sapp is a floral department employee at the Wal-Mart in West Burlington, Iowa. Barlow is an electronics associate at the store and pastor of Lincoln St. Baptist Church in nearby Mt. Pleasant.
Davis, the store manager, said he was approached by the couple about the possible wedding in the store where they met and worked together. At first he said he was shocked, but then granted the request.
“They were originally going to have it in the lounge,” Davis said. “But we thought, ‘Nah, we can do better than that.'”
Holding a single rose fashioned by fellow floral employees as the centerpiece of a wedding bouquet, Sapp cut the white wedding cake at the back of the enclosed garden center and thanked fellow employees for being part of the ceremony. “They’ve all been very helpful,” she said.
Barlow said he enjoyed being a part of the wedding. “I’ve kind of become the Wal-Mart pastor,” he said, appreciative for “an opportunity to minister.”
He said he has done several weddings for people he works with at the store but this is his first time to do one in the store.
“There have been requests to do funerals too,” Barlow said. “One of the men who worked with me at the store had cancer and passed away. I was asked to do his funeral service. Before he passed away, I had the opportunity to lead him to Christ.”
Barlow is one of approximately 85 pastors who serve in Southern Baptist churches in Iowa — about half are bivocational like Barlow.
James Robinson, associational missionary/church starter strategist for the Great Rivers Baptist Association, with which Barlow’s church is affiliated, said of bivocational pastors: “This is a unique position that Ken found himself in, because a fulltime pastor would probably not have been invited to participate in a wedding for a couple in these circumstances.” Robinson said bivocational pastors serving in the marketplace “have a position to present the Gospel to people that fulltime pastors may not have.
“Ken has the ability to identify with people well. Pastors like him help the world identify with Christianity a little better because they are doing much the same things people are doing through the week on their jobs,” Robinson added.
Story filed by Richard Nations based on reporting by the Burlington Hawk Eye, Nov. 26, 2003. Quotes and photos used by permission. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: WAL-MART WEDDING.