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Thursday, April 29, 2010
Ask the Matriarch - Conducting Non-Member Weddings Edition
This isn't the first ATM column to deal with weddings or even non-member weddings, but it is distinctive, I think, in that our question invites us to think about how we conduct them. We know about all the studies that characterize young adults as spiritual, but not necessarily church-going. Weddings bring these persons to our churches, if only for the event. How can we minister with faith, grace, and integrity to couples who come to get married?
My question has to do with ministering faithfully with premarital couples. There are logical arguments both for and against doing "non-member" (or "stranger") weddings -- and I think a church's or pastor's policy has at least as much to do with context than anything. My question isn't to-do-or-not-to-do non-member weddings, but rather, HOW to do them.
I currently have very few "member" weddings, so for now am reluctantly willing to do weddings for strangers. Like most of my colleagues, I make it clear up front that "the wedding" isn't the whole deal, and that working on preparing for the marriage is part of my agenda -- whether thru a questionaire or a workshop or something else -- and I rarely get resistance to that.
But I struggle with a third aspect of pre-marital work -- Christian witness. When I marry somebody with a church connection, I urge them to be involved in the church community (which they rarely take me up on!). For all couples, I make it clear that this wedding in a church presided over by a Christian pastor is a Christian worship service, and they nod their heads agreeably, mostly not having any idea what that means. [In my mind, it means the liturgy and music and preacher preach Christ, that the focus is the love of God within the context of their love...]
For couples unconnected to the church, I have no illusion that this is an evangelism opportunity which will bear fruit for the couple and our congregation in the short term. It IS, however, an evangelism opportunity -- a connection w/ folks whose paths wouldn't normally cross with a church's or a pastor's -- and really, if I talk about the wedding being a Christian worship service, ought we not somehow explore together what "Christian" means? And how does one do a crash course in Christian faith and practices amidst the agenda of preparing for this marriage?
The couples I'm currently working with have between them NO -- absolutely none -- religious background, and no interest in religious stuff. None of them have been baptized. They have come for a wedding in a nice indoor setting (or in a church because that's what you're supposed to do), and are interested in investing in the marriage, but have no interest, curiosity, or perceived need for Jesus or his community in their life. They say their lives are too busy to attend church -- but really, given their background, why in the world would they even consider being part of a church? I feel like it's a copout to not somehow do some faith teaching or invite them to some faith reflecting -- but I don't even know the language or touchpoints to use for folks who are so disinterested.
So, gals and pals, how do you define "ministering faithfully with premarital couples"? Especially with "non-members," or people who are so unconnected to church and life of faith? (Indeed, even most of the grew-up-in-the-church couples are unconnected to church and a life of faith!) What practices or policies do you have that seem to be helpful and/or effective? What do you give to them and/or expect from them that takes you beyond just being used as another hired hand (along with the caterer and DJ) for this production called a wedding?
I think you’ve framed the issue very nicely. It’s appropriate for you to share out of your own tradition, plant seeds, and water, water, water!
Being a genuine and authentic Christian presence in the lives of those who are preparing for marriage may have an impact long after the time you’ve signed their marriage license. Conversation with the couple is about the most transparent way I can think of to raise the issue of faith and faith development. I do not know of any books that tackle this subject…perhaps some others do.
I nearly didn’t respond to this because I feel like I don’t have it sorted out myself, but for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts & experiences. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, it’s just some ideas.
With ‘non-church-folk’ weddings, I try to take some time to talk to the couple about the Bible reading and hymns they have chosen (and as it’s a church wedding I insist on at least one fo each) : sometimes this can reveal some idea of what they think they believe. Sometimes it’s a hymn they dimly remember from school or something their granny has chosen.
I also try to give them an idea of what my address (5 minutes – max!) will be saying and try to engage them in a bit of discussion about that.
Yes, I invite them to come to church and point out that if they come it will help them feel more at home ‘on the day’.
I also try in my dealings with them & with the family at the rehearsal to model my faith – I try to be interested in them and to help them in any way I can, and to be clear that to me marriage is bound up in the love God places at the heart of creation.
On the day itself I try to be friendly & ‘human’ in the way I lead the service, but I make sure that (in my 5 minutes) I preach the gospel to anyone there who is minded to listen.
The rest I leave to the mercy of God and hope that at the very least (as someone said to me once after a service) ‘that wasn’t nearly as boring as I thought it was going to be’. You’ve got to laugh! And pray. And cope with the ache inside when you feel that as the couple walk down the aisle at the end of the service it’s as if you never really spoke at all.
Time for you to enter into the conversation, by using the Post a Comment feature. Do you have some experience in this realm of ministry? Some strong feelings, or hopes, or disappointments? Share them with us.