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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Wondering about Weddings

Weddings can present some real challenges for the pastoral leader...this week's question about wedding witnesses and guests began as a query on the RevGalBlogPals Facebook page...

Does anyone have wording for a bulletin announcement inviting people to the wedding of a member, whose reception they are not invited to? This is an awkward situation, but not unprecedented.

I am thinking of "You are invited to be witnesses at the wedding of X and X at 3 PM, on such and such a date, at ____________.

I like "witnesses" in the old-fashioned way as having a stake in the marriage, support the couple, but is that meaning lost nowadays?

Sharon, who blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy, offer this thoughtful response...

You are right; no awkwardness is unprecedented, wedding-wise! We pastors are well acquainted with the wedding couple who has an unfortunate (thoughtless, ignorant, too cute) idea that they want the pastor to bless or want the church to be a party to or a backdrop for. We do counsel couples through their "interesting" ideas for music and poems and all kinds of things they imagine for their wedding day. I try to say "yes" to as much as possible within a flexible frame of decent, orderly Christian worship because I want the couple to make this their day.

That said, the invitations to the wedding are solely the responsibility of the wedding couple. Any decision regarding invitations belongs to them. The church's worship bulletin, however, is your responsibility as pastor. My advice: Don't put this invitation in the bulletin. I do not see here a wording problem; I see a boundary issue. Don't let their complex, awkward inviting challenge become your problem to solve. If this dilemma feels like triangulation, that's because it is!

Even if wedding invitations are commonly put in your worship bulletin, this can be seen as new territory, since there isn't on file "wedding-yes; reception-no" invitation wording. Gently, firmly let the couple know that they will have to issue their own invitations. I would use this as an occasion to change the church's wedding policy to stipulate that no wedding invites will be printed in the bulletin.

If you simply can't avoid printing their invitation in the bulletin, the wording should be the couple's own wording for they are the ones inviting.

It didn't sound like it, but if, by some chance, this question comes from a wedding couple that includes one or two authorized ministers of the congregation, then please seriously rethink this and figure out a creative plan that doesn't involve treating some of your parishioners differently from others.

We want to hear from you have some advice for this situation? Or maybe you have an even stickier one? Share your thoughts with us through the Post a Comment function.

Or better yet, send your questions to us at

May you live in God's amazing grace+



  1. Hmm. The request came from the mother of the groom, who certainly is not without boundary issues. Part of what's going on is that the couple limited who could be invited; they are paying for the reception, I thought it reasonable that they wanted people at the wedding to be people with whom they actually had some sort of a relationship. The groom's parents (I haven't spoken with the bride's parents) are not happy about some people who got left out. That said, I think her intention is to include church members. I tried to assure her people wouldn't be hurt at not being invited and not being expected to buy a gift, but she thinks my opinion is unique.

  2. Most interesting request and reply.
    I have actually seen this done a couple of times -- both times, invitations were to a MORNING wedding (and the couple in both instances were active and well-known young church members) -- and the invitations were issued as "announcements," by the couples themselves, orally, at a series of Sunday services preceding the wedding day.
    And then after each there was a Sunday coffee-hour type of reception, only a bit more lavish, supplied by the couples and families and their friends, to one and all who chose to attend. A good deal later on the wedding day, a dinner or dinner/dance reception for a smaller group.
    Nobody seemed to find this weird or inhospitable!
    The couples made it plain that they did not want gifts, they wanted the presence, prayers, and support of their fellow-congregants.
    (OK, OK, the bride in one wedding and the groom in the other were PKs -- mine, in fact...)

  3. BIG boundary issues - MOTG does not have the privilege to invite guests the bride and groom wish not to invite - not even, or especially by such a round-about method - triangulation. MOTG has no boundaries; you need to maintain yours.

    Are you presiding at the wedding?

  4. If the request didn't even come from the couple, I'd definitely consider this a boundary issue -- which may be more coming from being a recent bride (1 year anniversary on Sunday!) than a minister.

    In cases where it is the couple asking, I wonder if reception location makes a difference -- is it in the church or at a separate location? Is the program going to say something about a reception to follow? Are other guests being invited to just the wedding? If reception is at the church or if church members are the only folks not invited to a reception, I'd err on protecting members and letting bride and groom buy an extra sheet of stamps to invite people.

  5. I think all are agreeing boundaries are a major issue here BUT, if after all of that is said and understood it still needs to be addressed because of who the MotG is in the congregation and in her family, what about this:

    (MotG's name) is inviting the church family to witness the wedding of X and X at 3pm, on such and such a date in the Sanctuary.

    Simple, puts the 'blame' where it should be, and mentions no reception.

    However, if the couple is looking to you to put an end to this foolishness, by all means do so.

  6. Our tradition is that the congregation is invited to all events held in our sanctuary and receptions in our fellowship hall. It used to be — back when I was a small-town bride in the 1970s — that almost all receptions were cake-and-punch affairs, and that worked fine. Somehow it still works — no one who's not invited ever trails along to the $XX-a-plate reception — but if one partner is an active member of the congregation (e.g. not a long-grown son or daughter home just to use the sanctuary), we make sure to have the couple as honored guests at a fellowship hour after worship on a Sunday a couple weeks before or after. Thus we separate "our" celebrations (the worship service that is the wedding, and the fellowship coffee) from the private reception offsite.

    Modern weddings have created many -zillas, and I think our job is to shepherd the relationship between bride, groom and God. Beyond that, there be dragons.

  7. I think this is a disaster waiting to happen. These days, people expect there to be a reception. It will create all kinds of awkwardness if they are not invited. If they're willing to do a cake-and-punch thing afterward, then okay - but, even then, you're setting a precedent which could bite you in the bum later on.

    I would say a big, fat, NO to the bulletin invite.

    Also, I think it is possible I have worked with this MOTG myself. (Not really. But perhaps her equally boundaries-challenged sister, or cousin, or something.)

  8. Wow. This is definitely a regional thing. In the place where I served my first call, EVERYONE was invited to the wedding. The invitation in the mail was to the reception. Wedding invitations were published in the bulletin of the church and even sometimes in the newspaper. Cake and punch to follow. No gifts unless you're invited to the reception. And boy did you hear about it if someone got married without "announcing."

    Obviously, this is not that kind of culture, so there are other issues at play, but I must say I liked that style of wedding. It's public worship. Everyone should be welcome. And of course, the party is the party.

  9. I do like the idea of honoring the couple at a coffee hour before/after the wedding day. A nice way to include everyone. I've also told a couple I am marrying this summer that if they are inviting the whole congregation, they need to be prepared for someone to "just show up" at the reception (at another location.)

    There is a turf war here and I agree that the pastor is not the one to paint the lines on the ground...

  10. Here I would mention that a son or daughter of a member of the congregation is being married, and ask people to pray for them. There have been some weddings in the time I have been with this congregation where the wedding has been in the church and I have been involved. Other times the wedding has been elsewhere, and I have not been part of the wedding. There is usually enough talk over morning tea in the preceding weeks for people to know the wedding is on.
    People will come and have a look, be present for the wedding service, without being 'invited'.
    This is considered quite normal for neighbours and friends not invited to the wedding to be at the service when it is in a church - they do wait outside until after the bride has entered, so as not to take seats from invited guests.

  11. when we were married, I served a rather large congregation. I wanted to invite anyone in the congregation, but couldn't afford to have them all for a big dinner. so we had a cake and punch reception right after the wedding and everyone was invited. then went out to dinner later. sort of like Crimson Rambler said.

    that being said, this came from from us, not from either of our parents.

  12. I, too, invited the congregation to my own wedding, but not to the reception. And maybe it was a total gaff and I didn't know it, but we didn't have any kind of reception at the church for folks who came to that, but were not invited to the formal reception. Didn't even occur to me or anyone in our planning "group."

    When we got back from our honeymoon the congregation actually threw US a potluck party.

    I hear that this situation has more dynamics, though, then just the couple wanting to invite the congregation. I agree with others that this isn't horrible at all on it's own. The issue with the MotG, though, that makes it sticky, and I would get permission/develop wording if desired with the couple, not the mother. That's just my general rule for any wedding plans, though.

  13. My first thought was, "This is a worship service in the church. Of course the congregation is welcome." and then reading the responses I realize that this expectation varies WIDELY! I guess all I can say is de-triangulate!

    Perhaps you can invite the couple to be acknowledged and blessed during the Sunday service within a few weeks following. Thus, the congregation gets to celebrate with them and you aren't getting yourself stuck in the whose invited family discussion.


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