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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Showers and Weddings and Gifts - Oh My! Edition

As clergypersons, we are privileged to share in significant events in the lives of our congregation and community members. But this privilege carries responsibilities with it, among them attendance at the celebrations and the giving of gifts. This week we negotiate our way through the parties and the presents, in the hopes of drawing some boundaries with regard time and spending.

Hi! I'm an associate pastor at a 700 member congregation, and I'm beginning to get invited to more and more weddings and wedding-related celebrations of congregants and congregants' children. Since it is usually my colleague who does the officiating, I am typically invited as a guest and not as the pastor. So far, I have attended the weddings that I've wanted to and been able to, and I've tended to pass on the showers/parties beforehand and sometimes the receptions. But as more invitations are arriving, I'm finding myself increasingly resentful of giving up the weekends (not to mention the money for gifts and shower gifts!). Even knowing that many of these decisions must be made on a case by case basis, dependent upon the level of relationship I have with the couple, I'd be interested in knowing how others handle situations like these. How do you graciously beg out of pre-wedding parties and showers? If you are the officiating pastor, is it poor etiquette to not attend the rehearsal dinner and/or the reception? Is it ok not to attend the wedding of children of congregants (I don't know the children at all but am fairly close to the parents).

Also, I would love to hear if others have suggestions for meaningful, relatively inexpensive gifts to give for weddings (or, for that matter, baby showers!). I like the idea of having a small, standard gift that would be particularly meaningful and appropriate to receive from a pastor--somehow that seems more appealing than forking out a bunch of money at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Thanks in advance for the help!

Earthchik who blogs at notes:
This is a tough one! I wish I had an easy answer, but I haven't yet figured out the perfect way to handle this. When I am the officiating pastor, I almost always bow out of both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding reception (and any pre-wedding showers), unless it happens to be a couple I'm particularly close to, and I think that's just fine. I simply tell them that I'm sorry but I have another commitment. In a congregation your size, it is unrealistic for every couple to expect you to attend their weddings and parties, but it is nice that they would want to include you. I think you have to decide which ones you can make the time to go to, and leave it at that, graciously declining the other invitations. You certainly should not feel like you need to attend the weddings of the congregants' children.

I was raised under the etiquette that you send a wedding gift whether or not you attend the wedding. I know that this expectation is loosening up somewhat, but I still find it a bit of a quandary. In your position at such a large church, it seems a bit much to expect! I will be interested to see what others suggest for a small, standard, meaningful gift. What about something from Ten Thousand Villages? There are some really beautiful items there - colorful wall crosses from El Salvador, clay nativity sculptures and ornaments from Peru - that are not too costly and would make a meaningful gift from a pastor, plus the money goes for a great cause.

Ruth who blogs at Sunday’s coming adds:

This is a tough one because it touches on the whole area of congregants treating you like a friend. On one level this is great and enhances your pastoral relationship, on the other hand it takes away time from your real (ie non-congregant) friends & your family – and you need that time, as your feeling of resentment is telling you.

As you say, there’s a bit of case-by-case about this, but I reckon that by the time I have married a couple we have spent about 5 hours together and I have spent a further couple of hours preparing for the ceremony. I don’t ‘owe’ them anything, so if I want to go to the reception, I go: my own test tends to be if I only really know the immediate family I don’t go unless I want to work – because chatting to the other guests whom I don’t know is work to me! If I don’t want to go, I simply say ‘it is lovely to be invited, but I’m afraid I can’t come’ - I have never had couples react badly to that and some of them have seemed downright relieved (if you don’t really belong to the church, who do you pick to sit by the minister, for goodness sake).

One church I served used to give couples a photo of the church as a wedding present – they all seemed quite pleased with that as it’s a great reminder of a good day and a link with the place and people of the church (and the official photos will tend to show the doorway but not the whole church). For babies I have tended to give a good ‘toddlers Bible’ - on the grounds that others might give a presentation Bible but this can be colourful and useful.

Hope this is some help & that Easter brings you great joy

And from Jennifer who blogs at An Orientation of Heart
I think it’s a lovely thing that members of your congregation want to include you in their celebrations!I think it’s perfectly appropriate to make decisions based on the closeness of your relationship with the couple or family, and that it’s completely unnecessary to send gifts for occasions that you will not be attending. I try to send gifts that are meaningful and reasonably priced (not budget-breaking!).Because I often have to preach on the day after an evening wedding, if I’m officiating, I typically choose to accept the invitation to attend either the rehearsal dinner or the reception, but not both, and if it’s a reception where I can attend a pre-dinner reception, but not a sit-down meal, I explain to the family that it’s a work night” and I would love to celebrate for a short time with them, but will need to leave before dinner.Hope this helps. It’s a happy problem to have, compared with some of the tense conflicts that we’ve responded to at ATM!

We want to hear from all of you! Use the Post a Comment function to share your perspective, experience, and ideas for gifts.

May you live in God's amazing grace, especially in this Holy Week+
rev honey


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  2. I'm a fan of giving a gift in the couple's name. After spending some time with them and getting to know their interests I can give the gift to an organization they would likely support. A $10 donation doesn't break the bank, and the thought is appreciated. People like to know that you've gotten to "know" them!

  3. for baby showers I almost always give Amazon gift cards--because there's always something you didn't know you needed, and Amazon will deliver it right to your door in two days--no going out of the house with a newborn necessary! :-)

    I don't take gifts to weddings unless I really know the person well. I only go to receptions or rehearsal dinners if I really like them and their guests--I don't want to spend my "day off" hanging out with people who stress me out. :-) So, the vast majority of the time, I say "I have another appointment" or "I don't have my sermon written for tomorrow yet, so I need to get to work--have a great time!"

  4. I've presided at several weddings and given gifts at exactly two. I choose to give gifts to the couples who are well-known to me and not to others. I apply the same guideline to rehearsal dinners and receptions. Honestly, EVERY couple has appeared relieved with my "no" response; it seems that the unchurched folks issue the invitation mostly because "the books" say they should.

    I've only been invited to one baby shower and, since I was close to the parents-to-be, I shopped off their registry....making a point of looking for items that I could afford. (My congregation presents the parents with "God Loves Me Bible" at infant baptisms and, since I knew that I would be baptizing their child, I felt no need to do that.)

    Still, every time I have to make the decision, it's challenging.

  5. i think much depends on the setting... 700 members is different than in boonieville. in rural ministry i'd say attending the rehearsal dinner and reception are pretty important... because you are there not as another guest... but "pastor" and so it's an excellent opp. for ministry and checkin' in with folks you might not have seen in the pew for awhile...

    add to this, that in boonieville "town" pretty much attends the reception... i mean everyone goes.

    gifts? i usually paint a small painting... under $10 to do.

  6. A mentor of mine gave every couple a candle. He would tell them that the hardest thing about a fight is being the first one to say, "I'm sorry". His advice was for each to take time alone, then, when one is ready, light the candle and leave it somewhere when they are ready to talk. Glad to say my husband and I still have not lit ours, but David's honesty meant we are never afraid of having an argument.

    Perhaps your church could agree on a gift that would go to every couple and the card could be signed by you and the other pastors.

  7. Hot Cup, you are so right on! I would never think of missing anything (rehearsal dinner, reception, baby shower) in my previous parish (small, rural). I wouldn't have wanted to miss any of them, and it felt like a very important thing to do. But they were few and far between, so it didn't feel burdensome at all.

    Dawn, that candle idea is terrific!

  8. I think using your judgment on attendance is great. I've never attended both the rehearsal dinner and reception for a congregant's wedding - though I will ask which they'd prefer me to attend if they are inviting me to both.

    In terms of simple gifts, for our wedding, a friend gave us a nativity set - it was an unusual enough gift that eight years later, I know exactly who gave it to us and think of them every year when I pull it out. You can get some great ones at 10,000 Villages too.

    For baby showers, I'd find a board book you like and give that. Not to start a mom-controversy here, but I'd steer clear of any of the hot topics that make new moms feel defensive (choices about sleeping and feeding top that list). Baby showers & expectant parents are already loaded with unsolicited advice.

  9. Speaking as a two time Mother of the Bride who invited several pastors to attend both weddings, I'd like to weigh in.

    Attendance at any of the wedding-related functions is a gift in itself and nothing else is expected as far as we are concerned. I'm very mindful of the demands on pastors' time --but maybe not everyone is.

    Certainly it is true that expectations in urban and rural areas can be quite different.

  10. I find going to the rehearsal dinner valuable, worth my time, it's a great opportunity to get a read on the family dynamics and perhaps pick up a story to add to my wedding sermon. I almost never go to the reception, unless I'm close to the couple &/or the family. I've been wildly inconsistent on gifts; I get something for those I'm close to, not for those I'm not. My first few weddings, I gave some sort of devotional for couples at the last pre-marital session, but it seemed to go over like a lead balloon so I stopped.

    I'm pastor of a small church, so I haven't been invited to that many showers. I go, thinking it's good ministry opportunity. I hold as a value the idea of the community helping a couple with their first child, so I try not to resent the gift (some small bitterness is possible as I am childless, but I think it's a good spiritual discipline to get over it).

    Sometimes it's hard to give up Saturday time for these functions, but it's often good relationship building. Be sure to take some extra time off the next week - a half day for some good self-care is totally appropriate.

  11. I just picked this up, so haven't read it in its entirety, but it looks GREAT and would make an affordable gift for newlyweds:

    A Prayerbook for Husbands and Wives: Partners in Prayer

    Probably not a great fit for every couple, but still lovely!

  12. I am always aware that if I take a place at a rehearsal dinner or reception, then there maybe someone the family had to leave off the list in order to accommodate the pastor. So I only go if I can do a short time at the cocktail hour at the reception, and not use up what is likely to be a coveted spot.

    If I am officiating, I have a couple of set homilies that include giving the couple a gift in the service ... for some a copy of "The Message," for others a candle and a thing of sea salt, to remind them that God wants to use their marriage as salt and light in the world.

  13. I also often go with the "it depends"....but in our mid-sized congregation, I consider weddings "outreach" events - opportunities to meet and interact with people I would otherwise never encounter.

    I try to find meaningful and appropriate cards and write a special note of blessing inside. In order to be consistent, however, I have not given gifts for weddings, graduations, confirmations, etc.

    I do like the idea of some kind of a gift from the church. Might have to work on that!

  14. You can buy small Bibles in bulk, typically are $5 or less a piece. That's appropriate for both weddings and baby showers.

  15. Lets try this again. My first comment came off preachy and better-mommy-than-you and that's not where I am...

    If I give a book, I give one that offers a gentle perspective along with encouragement. Dr. Sears for Nighttime Parenting puts the sleep cycle in perspective. (A) You are tired and your sleep WILL be interrupted (B) there's options - figure out what works for you and this baby.

    What I don't give are books which demean a marriage or a child. It's not about power, it's about serving one another in love. It's hard to find good books. OTOH, I like to be personal if I am going to give a gift.

    I like the idea of a "standard gift" because it allows the card which goes with it (whoever is officiating) to be personal, even if the gift is standard. And I LOVE the candle idea. :)


  16. I simply don't give gifts, and I feel no sense of guilt about that. I was in a 700-member parish and am now in one about twice that size, and there's simply no way to do gifts without breaking the bank. I send or give a card, but honestly; I don't think most people expect a gift from the pastor. (I know we didn't, when we got married.)

    I rarely attend rehearsal dinners unless I am very close to the family. And I never attend showers; I even tell families that directly, and simply say, "I don't attend showers because there would be too many to go to!" If you say that with gentle grace, people are usually very understanding.

    I can see how things might be very different in a small rural setting, but I haven't had that experience.

  17. Introvert that I am, I'm not big on going to wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners and such, unless there is a longstanding personal relationship with the couple. You can't go to all of them, and it gets dicey if you go to one couple's reception and not to another. That said, in some churches, the reception is held right in the parish hall. In that case, if it were my church, I'd definitely at least make an appearance at the reception. Gifts? Nope, unless there is a personal relationship.

    As for baby showers, I'd only go if there were a pastoral issue (for example, if I'd counseled them through fertility struggles or through an adoption or something), but I might send them a little gift - I do like the Toddler Bible idea - I've sent a CD of music that might be soothing to a baby on occasion.

    Just my $.02. YMMV.


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