One Pastor’s View of Weddings

Anybody remember The Church Lady from Saturday Night Live? I have worked very hard throughout my ministry to not be that person, that church lady, that church pastor.

In the twenty four years I have been a pastor, I have officiated at over 100 weddings. Not a large amount, really. Many of the weddings have been couples who wanted a church wedding, but did not have a church connection. I have done several weddings for parishioners and those were most special because I knew the bride and groom and their families.

Picture of a white church building with the doors open and two groomsmen outside the doors.
Photo by Michael Morse from Pexels

Some churches and pastors, will not perform weddings for people who are not members of their churches. But I have chosen to do the weddings, rather than close the door of the church on a young couple who might never darken the door of a church again, if they are turned away at such an important moment in their lives.

A wedding is not a make or break evangelistic moment, not a place for an altar call. Yet, the way a clergy person and church respond to a couple can open a door, or firmly slam it shut. And let’s be honest, how many church members come to their own church only to be “hatched, matched and dispatched?” (baptized, married and buried)

Invite Us to Bridal Expos

Some clergy will not do weddings for non-members. Some will not marry couples who are living together. Some will not marry people who are divorced. Sometimes those are denominational requirements and other times it is the discretion of the clergy. Some clergy will do weddings without any premarital counseling, but many of us are required to do premarital counseling. I always joke with couples and tell them I come with references (from couples I have married) and I haven’t lost a couple yet.

For those reasons, and others as well, I always feel a little dismissed when the annual bridal pages are printed in the local newspaper. Bridal magazines and even those issues that feature a variety of types of vendors, give a brief nod to clergy or officiants, with minimal information. It has made me wish that clergy could set up a clergy information vendor table at bridal fairs; not to sell anything, but to give information.

It is not unusual for a bride who wants to have a church wedding, set the wedding date, reserve the hall, engage a caterer, dj and even order invitations, before contacting the pastor of the church. When they do, they ask if the church is available. Can you say “putting the cart before the horse?”

Flower pails decorating pews in a church.
Pixaby by Pexels

If you start with the pastor and church availability, the other pieces will fall into place. But how do you set a date without us? It happens more time than you might think. Invite us to Bridal Shows!! I can only speak for myself, not other pastors and not other denominations, but I think it could be a helpful move.

A Church is not a Venue, it is a holy place; a church wedding is a worship service with prayers, promises, Bible readings, covenants and blessings. Some denominations consider marriage a sacrament (If that is an unfamiliar word, a church definition is, “A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace” I like to think of sacraments as something special that are “sacred meant” meant to be holy, an encounter with God).

Clergy and churches go together, at least in my denomination they do. Asking to use a church as a location for a wedding, without asking the pastor to officiate, is rude at best. Now, I realize that sometimes there might be someone special that you want to officiate, and that can be arranged, but a church is not a rental hall.

If none of this is appealing, you might ask yourself why having a church wedding is important to you. I ask this question of couples often, when they want to get married in a church but have only a slim connection with church, if any.

Many brides especially will say, “To get God’s blessing on our marriage (or wedding)” They might say, “my grandmother is a member here, or my grandmother was married here and my parents were married here…” When that is what they say, I generally suggest that a church wedding is an opportunity for them to consider what they believe about God and what they mean when they say, “to get God’s blessing…” and where God fits into their lives.

Most photographers include a picture of the couple with the pastor or officiant. I really do not like getting my picture taken. I come from a long line of unphotogenic women. I always oblige the request, but I wonder how many couples still have that picture lurking somewhere, or if they remember the name of the pastor who performed the service? I wonder if that photograph springs from a sense of polite obligation. And, forgive me, I wonder if that is the way “God’s role” in a service of Christian marriage is also viewed. I am not trying to be negative here, just honest.

Best Memories

Just as couples may want an officiant who knows them, some of my favorite weddings have been weddings of active parishioners. My best memories are of rare events, the one wedding where I got to pray with the groom and the groomsmen before the wedding.

A church altar set for communion with wedding decorations underneath the table
Celebrating the story of the wedding at Cana, with wedding cake for after church.

The few times (three) that we celebrated Holy Communion as part of the service. I served the congregation with the assistance of the bride and groom. I always like to use people’s names when I serve communion. I stood in the middle with the bread, and the bride was on one side of me and the groom the other, each holding a chalice. In each case as someone approached to receive communion, the bride or groom leaned close and told me the name of the person so that I could maintain that tradition.

Worst Memories: I am grateful that my worst memories are few. I realize that there are generations of people who have not grown up in the church and so are unfamiliar with church traditions and expectations; as a result, often a sense of the sacred is missing. Not out of any antagonistic motives, simply lack of experience. This is me, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

That was made clear to me at a wedding reception, a few years ago. The photographer had digital pictures from the service on display, and I noticed a picture that she had taken of the couple exchanging rings. I could not figure out how she had gotten such a great angle, until I realized that she had climbed over the communion rail during the service, to get behind me to get the perfect “photo op”! She just did not realize, or care, that it was inappropriate.

Now, you might wonder how I could have missed that she had done that and it is a fair question. But I am pretty focused during a wedding, on the bride and groom.

The worst and saddest memory though, was the groom who wiped his bride’s lipstick (or her kiss) off his lips after their kiss near the end of the service. I do not know if they are still together. But I was both shocked and saddened.

Funniest memory: I always try to make each wedding as personal as possible. So part of the premarital counseling is spent talking about marriage, relationships, communication, forgiveness, and respect. We spend a lot of time on their vows. I also spend time getting to know the couple, so that their wedding is as personal as possible.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t retell some stories. One time I was searching for a story to use in my homily to stress to the bride and groom, that they had within themselves the power to have a happy and long lasting marriage. I used the story of the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Glenda, the good Witch, tells Dorothy that she always had the power to go home.

The bride’s young nieces were the flower girls, and when they heard me mention “The Wizard of Oz” they both got excited, because they knew the story. They caught me in a big error, apparently. The youngest flower girl leaned against her grandmother and whispered, “she forgot to tell about the flying monkeys!”

The Church Lady

I want to say that I do not have a snarky bone in my body. Ask anyone who knows me well, sarcasm is not in my genes. Usually. But I am human. Remember when I said that I hadn’t lost a couple yet? Well, maybe one. If so, it was the time when a prospective groom asked when the best time to see the church was, and I said, “10:30 Sunday morning.” It really is, but most couples want to see the church when it is empty. Or when he asked how long the service was going to take? They average twenty minutes, with nothing extra added. Unless there is special music or family members doing readings, the biggest variant in the length of the service is the size of the wedding party, how long it takes them to get down the aisle.

On balance, It is not unusual for pictures to take well over an hour after the service, in addition to pictures that are taken before the service. The reception will go on for hours. When asked, “how long is this going to take, anyway?” The most polite answer I can give is “as long as it takes.”

Photographic memories:

I do understand the quest for the perfect picture, and I admit that I have the best spot in the house. While all eyes are on the bride as she enters the room and comes down the aisle, I glance at her, but my eyes are on the groom. I watch him, watching her. It is often such a tender moment.

There was the time that the bride took a handkerchief and carefully wiped the perspiration from her groom’s forehead. It was such a loving gesture that I was almost undone by it.

I stand within three feet or less of the couple, with them facing me. I try to make sure that they and I have enough personal space. It is a delicate balance for an intimate moment. I do not use a microphone for weddings, even though I am not a loud speaker, because I often give instructions to the couple or say things to them that are not meant for the congregation at large. When the bride arrives at the front, I always tell her she looks beautiful. Sometimes, I just check in with the couple and ask if they are okay.

Picture of a bride and groom kissing, Bride's bouquet with white roses and with greens
Photo by Rocsana Nicoleta Gurza from Pexels

Call me old fashioned, but I always avert my eyes when they kiss. And one of my favorite moments of all, after all is said and done, is the blessing of the couple and the congregation. Then I announce: “Now that ‘Jim’ and ‘Martha’ have given themselves to each other, with the joining of hands, the exchanging of vows, and the giving and receiving of rings, I announce to you that they are husband and wife, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Reality: a gift for our vow renewal 2/28/16 with the cake topers from our wedding in 1986

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

12 thoughts on “One Pastor’s View of Weddings

  1. Some lovely memories and stories here Michele – I think weddings are always special and such a happy time (the same can’t always be said about the ensuing marriages unfortunately!) That being said, I’ve never understood why non-church goers would choose a church wedding – other than the “venue” aspect or a sort of “magic wish” of God’s goodwill towards their union. If I chose to never attend a certain venue, I would never then choose to associate it with my special day – but we’re all different. I think it’s good that you don’t turn them away, but I still think it’s strange that the appeal of a photo or two with a set of stained glass windows or some pews in the background overrides a couple’s usual complete lack of interest in church going.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean Leanne. I try to er on the side of grace and my belief that God can use anything, even our lack of attention to get our attention. I would be lying though if I didn’t admit to some resentment, especially of the wedding industry that pushes a watered down version of a moment and makes it about the venue and photo ops. There is my humanity. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this post. on another note, the weather is getting cold here, we had a brief dusting of snow the end of October and a ground cover the first of November, which means, I think, that spring must be equally making its presence felt in Australia and New Zealand.

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  2. One of the most moving moments I have ever had in any church was at a wedding my husband and I attended about 12 years ago. My mother had just died and the pastor gave such a moving sermon about love, it brought tears to my eyes.

    I think so many weddings today are elaborate productions. Couples forget to focus on the marriage, not just the one day of the wedding. Weddings are an important day, sure, but there will be lots of memorable days in a long marriage. I am sure you exhibit much more patience with marrying couples than I would! 🙂

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    1. Laurie, thank you for sharing that precious memory. I like what you say about “…lots of memorable days in a long marriage.” Worth some food for thought there. In one of Robert Fulgham’s books, though I forget which one, he traced wedding customs, focusing on how wedding customs that are popular today, were an attempt to replicate the Royal Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Striking. Wish I remember which book. Thanks for the compliment. I am generally pretty patient, yet I find I have awful reactions at inappropriate times. I am no saint, that is for sure, but a work in progess:) Blessings, Michele

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  3. Thank you for this lovely, moving reflection, Michele. I, too, have had the privilege of officiating at over 100 weddings, and your stories and memories brought many of my stories and memories back to mind. As pastors, we are so blessed to be with God’s people at these tender moments. Your post has reminded me of this gift. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you so much for those words, I appreciate them, especially from a colleague! One of my blogging friends, Laurie said something I want to share with you, I think it could lead to some fruitful reflection. About how many memories one has during a long and happy marriage. So much attention goes into creating memories (and photo ops) on this one day. How might that be different, or how might we encourage couples to head in that direction. I have often, but not always provided couples with a written copy of the service, in which I write a letter to them that may or may not contain the content of my wedding homily. the only problem is when I am using the service in the wedding, is when my glaring typos catch my eye. I have sometimes done this for funeral services too, although that seems like a more awkward time to offer such a thing to a family. United Methodists are fairly liturgical and I was raised Roman Catholic, remarried in the Episcopal Church before coming to the UMC so I have fairly deep liturgical roots. That being said, while I use the Book of Worship as is, in recent years I have been intentional in trying to find a scripture that connects with the life of the person for funerals or memorial services. Very occasionally, I write poetry. Anyway, a few thoughts, “parson to parson” Michele

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So true! I always tell couples in premarital counseling that the wedding is one day, the marriage is a lifetime, and part of my “job” is to encourage them to get ready for their marriage, not just the wedding. But this is easier said than done! Thanks again for a great post!

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  4. Such a beautiful post, Michele, thank you for sharing it with us. I remember many, many years ago, a young woman I worked with told us that her and her future husband were driving somewhere one day, and they saw the perfect church for their wedding. They stopped and asked the father who was there if they could have their wedding in his church. She was enormously offended when he asked her if she attends the church (or any church) and when she told him ‘no’, he refused to let the wedding be held there. I didn’t really give it much thought at the time (as I was a young woman too, with no thought of marriage on my mind), but it’s stayed with me until now, and now it’s been put well into perspective upon reading this post. I didn’t get married in a church as I’m not a regular church goer, but I know that God was with us and blessed us (and continues to) nevertheless. I always enjoy your posts, Michele, even if I don’t manage to comment. Have a lovely week.

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  5. Oh My Gosh, Michele, I love this post! Especially since we are fortunate to share another wedding anniversary. You remind me how knowing the couples and the families personally always makes everything more special. I appreciate you sharing your philosophy on weddings in a church. A huge smile “hatched, matched and dispatched”. Your description of “Best Memories” warmed my heart. A fascinating post, Michele! I love hearing all the behind the scenes, especially with your gift for storytelling. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much Erica/Erika. Before I became a pastor, I was sure I would not like doing weddings. There have been many blessings and some frustrations. But I too, had to look for a pastor who would marry someone who was not a member of their church when Roger and I married in 1986. So I have to keep that in mind and be graceful.

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