You may have answered this before... but I am in a dilemma.
I work at a very young church (as in young in age group, median age of 33). We have a spate of weddings coming up this summer. I am supposed to take a turn at them, which is fine. BUT... I am uncomfortable with one of the couples I have been talking to. (They were "assigned" to me.)
He has mental health issues (as in unstable bipolar disease)
She has a family who is prejudiced against him because of his race. (Note - he is Caucasian!)
In talking with them, they are at odds on many things, not the least of which is how they will live in this area... he has not been able to keep a job. She has steady employment... This is his first marriage. This is her second. He is a "you will submit" kinda guy and she is a "puh-leease!" woman. I ask them why they want to get married. She says "he has a good heart." He says "she is so beautiful." She has a child who is 8.
They decided to go do a courthouse wedding on Valentine's Day because they are in LoooooVE, and want a "real" wedding next summer. I am not comfortable with officiating it. My boss - the senior pastor - says I am being a stick-in-the-mud.
SO... here's my question...
How do you do premarital counseling?
Do you ever decide after completing premarital counseling not to marry a couple?
If you are a "junior" pastor, do you have a say? Or do I just say "yes boss" and collect my check?
The ethics of this bother me...
thanks for any help
Befuddled "Junior" Pastor
From Matriarch Jan:
I do the Prepare Inventory which pretty much spells out "strengths" and "growth areas." And while they would not be able to keep the results (meaning the paper report), you could show it to them - assuming those results show the same concerns you've picked up - and then simply ask questions. Lots of questions. One of the categories that Prepare breaks down is "Realistic Expectations." Sounds like this couple doesn't have many of these.
Nobody can make you officiate at this wedding. Possible comments you could make to them:- I don't feel comfortable officiating at your wedding until you resolve some of your conflicts.
- You deserve a strong marriage and that doesn't happen without steadfast commitment. What are you willing to do to make this marriage work? Give up the "obedience" piece? Get help for your bipolar disorder? Confront your family about their concerns?
- And my favorite: It's better to be alone than to wish you were.
Stick to your guns, Pastor.
Another matriarch, Jacque writes:
I really do feel for our sister in the wedding dilemma. Many years ago I was in the position of an Associate in a very large congregation. There were many weddings -- some church members and some non-member requests. The Associate Pastors 'got' the weddings for folks who were not members or those the Sr. Pastor could not do for some other reason. In that setting, we were expected to do the weddings unless there was a fairly significant reason not to. Some of that had to do with the fact that this particular huge beautiful gothic edifice was in high demand for those who church shopped for wedding space. ("I've always wanted to get married in that church!" (even though I don't worship at that church or any church and don't intend to)) The leaders of the congregation wanted the church to have that reputation and role in the community, and the Sr. Pastor seemed to feel it was important to maintain. The financial benefits to the church also played a part.
If our sister is in that kind of situation, her objection to doing the wedding may fall with a thud. If, on the other hand, the Sr. Pastor is concerned with the integrity of the weddings performed there and/or the right of the Associate to follow her own conscience, then there may be more understanding.
Over the last 23 years of solo pastorates, I have required a minimum of 4 sessions of premarital counseling. I am always clear with couples that I will not make a commitment to officiate their wedding until I have met with them in counseling and we mutually conclude that I feel it's appropriate for me to do their wedding AND they feel comfortable with me.
I have only twice told a couple I could not do their wedding. I talked with them very honestly about my concerns for their relationship. I expresssed my care for them and my desire that they both be in a healthy relationship.
There are those who say, "Well, they're going to get married, so I might as well perform the wedding. Maybe I can do some good in relationship with them." If I truly believed that I could make a difference -- that our time together WAS making a difference -- I would do the wedding. However, I take my ministerial role in the covenant of marriage seriously enough to say "No" when I am not the appropriate person to officiate someone's wedding.
I think this is most difficult when the couple is in the church. Whereas church members, or other ministry staff, may understand when we draw a line with non-church folk; it is not so easy with beloved church members. I had a couple this past summer, who completely blew off their premarital counseling -- canceled sessions, came to sessions unprepared, "lost" the forms they were to complete together and individually for our discussion, etc. They had no intention of discussing anything significant with me. I was disgusted and wished I could have stopped it or gotten out of it. On the other hand, the brides mother was Chair of the Elders, and a 'rock of the church' member. The bride was 'loved by everybody'. I did the wedding.
Well, I've rambled on ... maybe I'm still seeking answers to this one too!
earthchick offers this wisdom:
I can certainly understand your discomfort with the situation, especially since you don't seem to have much choice in how the "assignments" of weddings are doled out. You may need to clarify with your senior pastor whether or not you have any right of refusal for any grounds.
I have done weddings that I haven't felt all that comfortable about and will likely continue to do so. I have never refused to marry a couple, and would probably only refuse to if I suspected abuse. Otherwise, my feeling is that I am not really in a position to decide who is capable of creating and sustaining a healthy marriage. I see my role as simply doing what little I can to help them find the tools for nurturing health in their relationship. In premarital counseling, I focus on communication issues and on helping them identify sources of potential difficulties/conflicts in their relationship. We talk about how they currently handle such conflicts and what they each need in order to move forward in healthy ways. I only do 3 sessions with couples, and a good bit of that is focused on planning the ceremony, so I don't really see myself as a couples counselor. If I feel they need more help than I can give, I refer them out to a professional counselor or to a local premarital counseling group.
In your position, I would be asking myself what I would be accomplishing by refusing to officiate, especially since they will already have had a legal ceremony. They are not likely to reconsider their commitment simply because a minister doesn't think they're fit. They may, however, end up with less inclination to attend a church after their wedding. My own conscience might feel better because I refused to officiate - but what good would I really have accomplished?
It seems to me what you are being asked to do is a "blessing" of the relationship not a wedding. In the Episcopal Church, anyway, if the couple is already married at the courthouse, the clergyperson performs the blessing of a civil marriage. They will already be married so your role would be quite different. Maybe your denomination has rituals that meet this need. You might want to discuss this with them and see what it is that they are really asking of you. It seems to me that praying over a couple that is already married and asking God's blessing on their relationship is very different from being the one who declares it to be a marriage. In any event no one should be required to do a ceremony against one's conscience, so as others have said, stick to your principles. You are not for sale in this situation. As for counseling, I used an inventory of about 100 questions that each fills out separately. Questions range from having children, handling finances, drug and alcohol use, feelings about each other parents and their parents relationship or lack thereof, to what the couple does together and how they feel about pursuing activities separately. I then look for disconnects and ask them how they will resolve these areas. Often they come to their own conclusions. In this case, maybe by next summer and being married for 3 months before the blessing ceremony, they will have sorted it out one way or another.
What do you say from your experience with these dilemmas?