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