Annah Steckel and Paul Sansone wanted a family friend who happens to be an ordained minister to co-officiate their wedding at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Springfield. The Rev. Mark Merrill, associate pastor at the church, was happy to agree. It’s just that the name of the family friend didn’t register the first time Mark heard it. “As I wrote down who they wanted,” Mark says, “they said ‘Mr. T’ and I wrote it down. But it didn’t even register.”
Annah Steckel and Paul Sansone wanted a family friend who happens to be an ordained minister to co-officiate their wedding at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Springfield. The Rev. Mark Merrill, associate pastor at the church, was happy to agree.
It’s just that the name of the family friend didn’t register the first time Mark heard it. Maybe it was because he was rushed. Neither Annah, who is from Winchester, or Paul, from Las Vegas, are members at Westminster, and Mark had a lot of work to do in short time. His mind was on the other details. For whatever reason, the name went right over his head.
“As I wrote down who they wanted,” Mark says, “they said ‘Mr. T’ and I wrote it down. But it didn’t even register.”
The wedding was scheduled for Oct. 31, Halloween, and Mark didn’t plan to go back to his list for a few days. But then he got a phone call.
“About a week before,” he says, “I got a call from the groom’s dad wanting to introduce himself. We talked about the wedding and he said, ‘Oh, by the way, this family friend who’s a minister would like to talk to you. He’s nervous about working with you.’ ”
When the family friend got on the phone and Mark heard that unmistakable voice, it finally dawned on him.
Oh, that Mr. T.
Mr. T (born Lawrence Tero) is a long-time friend of the Sansone family. In fact, they regard him as another family member. Paul’s father, Paul Sansone Sr., met Mr. T more than 20 years ago in Los Angeles, where Paul Sr. lived at that time.
“My dad couldn’t be more unlike Mr. T,” says Paul Jr., the groom. “I guess they admired each other and thought they’d become good friends.”
Paul Sr. wanted nothing from Mr. T other than his friendship. In the world surrounding show business, that is a rare commodity.
Then, in the mid-1990s, when Mr. T was diagnosed with lymphoma, Paul Sr. was there for him.
“He gave him a place to get away from the Hollywood lifestyle,” says Paul Jr.
The friendship was solidified when Paul Sr.’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. This time, Mr. T was there for Paul. They traveled to New Jersey together frequently to see Paul’s mother in the hospital. That’s when Mr. T became like one of the family.
Mr. T now is an ordained minister, and he has given inspirational talks, especially to young people, about spirituality and the importance of character.
When Paul’s daughter was married last year, Mr. T officiated the ceremony. Now it was Paul Jr.’s turn, and everyone would come to Springfield.
Mr. T arrived and met with Mark about how the ceremony would go and what his role would be.
“The entire weekend,” says Mark, “he called me ‘pastor.’ He was very respectful of the clergy. He wondered what I was going to think officiating with a celebrity. It just wasn’t an issue for me. … Eventually, I’m thinking he’s nervous about working with me? Whoa.”
The ceremony was great, and it was especially meaningful for Paul and Annah to have Mr. T take part. Actually, as far as Paul was concerned, it wasn’t Mr. T up there on the altar. It was Lawrence Tero.
“Regardless of the celebrity status,” Paul says, “if you can have a family member or someone who’s near and dear to the family take part, it means a lot.”
Among his other duties, Mr. T took the part at the end of the ceremony when the minister tells the congregation that what God has joined together, let no one put asunder. Someone thought it would be funny if he first said his trademark, “I pity the fool” as in “I pity the fool who doesn’t abide by these words …”
But Mr. T didn’t think the “fool” part would be respectful. So he modified it. He said, “I pity the person …”
“The congregation just cracked up,” Mark says.
State Journal-Register columnist Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 or firstname.lastname@example.org.