Wedding season is about finished.
I presided at only one wedding this summer—a bright couple I’ve known quite a while. Officiating at such weddings can be so joyful and hopeful and meaningful. People you’ve literally seen grow up before your eyes, people with whom you’ve shared many milestones, and now you have the honor of being part of this big day in their lives.
I need to be careful because I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as an anti-wedding curmudgeon. I don’t like that. I definitely don’t want to push away or demean people whose wedding I would be pleased to be involved with. I really don’t want to be the wet blanket, the fun hater.
A Great Center Aisle
Our church building is considered prime wedding space—traditional, great backdrop for photos, a long center aisle. If we wanted to, we could probably host a wedding here every week from May to November. If we wanted to. Summer Saturdays are a pretty wonderful and rare commodity. You just don’t want to give up too many of them.
Honestly, weddings of strangers take a toll. Wedding people can have a demanding edge. “I paid and now I want…”Everything else in their wedding plans—florist, caterer, photographer, etc.—is a commercial exchange. A church simply isn’t set up that way. Our staff—custodians, secretaries, musicians—isn’t used to working that way, being treated that way. It is draining.
We’ve all noticed that increasingly weddings are held at “destinations”—parks, mountaintops, museums, party-barns, tropical beaches. The presiders are justices of the peace, specialized wedding officiants, people who purchased an ordination online, or good friends. Many of my ministerial colleagues wring their hands in dismay over these changes.
I think it is a bit of a relief. “Post-Christendom” allows for weddings to be honest and free. Couples who have no faith, who have no connection to the church, who have no desire for a Christian wedding no longer need to pretend. No longer hear words and say vows they don’t especially understand or mean. No longer take up my time.
We could be hopeful-unto-naïve here, that weddings for the couple looking for a great photo op are opportunities to share Christ, to introduce a couple to the church, to leave them with a positive impression about Christianity. Again, I have colleagues who contend this. Christian ministry is a long, slow game, waiting years, decades, sometimes generations, for seeds to sprout. Honestly, I have never seen “wedding seeds” sprout or bear any fruit.
Four Weddings and A Funeral
Weddings and funerals—both are staples, yet odd digressions in the minister’s life. Often they put you among different people, in front of different audiences. Both are high profile, and they can be high stress.
Friends are often surprised when I say that I find presiding at funerals more rewarding than weddings. Aren’t funerals sad and somber, while weddings are bright and joyful?
Most people come to funerals in a receptive state, looking and hoping for something. Even the most hardboiled cynic has a few cracks of openness and curiosity at a funeral. I feel like I’m doing genuine ministry at a funeral, like we are having Christian worship. Most people come to a wedding to evaluate the bride’s dress, pilfer ideas for their own wedding, or be seen themselves. I feel less like a minister and more like an emcee or game show host.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. Weddings can be not only beautiful, but are such signs of hope. Against all odds, here is a couple so in love that they want to make a public commitment, in the context of worship and the church. They truly seek God’s blessing on their marriage. To all this, I say, Hurrah! Thank You! Bless You!
This is one reason I so wish the church were more open to same-gender weddings. When couples today have so many options about location and officiant, a handful still seek out the church. I think back on all the straight weddings I’ve done where faith and the church weren’t much more than window dressing. Now, a couple comes genuinely wishing to make faith and the church a strong element of their wedding, and we turn them away!
Being “captive to” or influenced by contemporary culture seems like about the worst accusation Christians can make these days. So I’m surprised—nay, disappointed—that no one has successfully aimed this cultural criticism at today’s weddings. So much pressure. So much expectation. So much competition. So much money. So much excess. So much privilege. So consumeristic.
Where is the section of little paperbacks—maybe with titles like I’ve Kissed Production Weddings Good-Bye, God’s Design for Christian Weddings, When God Writes Your Wedding Plans—in the Christian bookstore (do such stores exist anymore?) or gauzy websites aimed at godly young women filled with Pinterest-like ideas on having a “Christ-honoring” wedding?
Seriously, are there models out there that could help couples recast a beautiful, joyful, Christian wedding?
I’ve suggested, more than once, that we hold weddings within Sunday morning worship. I haven’t found any takers.