It's that festive season of the year, when brides and/or their mothers call or email to ask about having a wedding. And it's not unusual to hear some version of the following question:
"May I bring my own minister?"
Or, "Do you make us use *your* minister?"
Last week, a bride showed up unannounced, asked to see the sanctuary, told me she wanted her non-ordained uncle to do the ceremony, heard our policy and replied, "Well, that would be a deal-breaker."
That sort of encounter challenges the kindness of even the most gently-raised, not to mention my theology of hospitality.
We all know this is annoying, and I understand that unchurched folks may not understand the finer points of my desire not to have people with incompatible theologies lead worship services in my congregation's sanctuary. For instance, before I was called, and while there was no interim in place, a wedding was scheduled, using a pastor from a denomination that does not allow women to be ordained. That was not a question the lay leaders thought to ask. They simply rented out the church, and I let them handle meeting the wedding party, etc. But had I been the one needing to show the guest pastor how to work the wireless mic, well, let's just say that might have been awkward.
So here are my questions. What is wrong with our colleagues? Why do they willingly offer to do weddings in churches they do not serve? And do the matriarchs have advice about how to handle these situations?
Or am I rigid and out-of-line on this?
Lastly, as women clergy reach retirement age, will we be more sensitive to this professional boundary?
Really, I wish weddings were simply civil and that people who actually belong to churches would come in on Sunday morning for a generous blessing and the kind wishes of the congregation. But until the day when I rule the world, we will continue to face these situations, and I would love to hear your thoughts.
I am got pretty tired of "it is such a pretty church" theology too. I am tired of the Church being 'used' for marriages that would be better celebrated at the country club or a wedding chapel.
First of all, I worked out a set of wedding expectations that were what would take seriously the implications of a 'church wedding.' And made a handout that outlined them. My denomination has significant guidelines and I live within those but I made them clear in the booklet and my boards signed off on those guidelines.
I only allowed visiting clergy IF I was also part of the service. We made it a policy not to 'rent out' the church because we thought that said the wrong thing about what a church wedding was about. I don't get bent out of shape if their theologies are different from mine--but they have to live within MY directions. That is usually the 'deal-breaker'.
I am glad that your 'drop-in' said "well that may be a deal breaker". Most folks have no idea what they are doing getting married. If that is going to be a 'deal breaker' then it should up front from the beginning. So my booklet also outlined a bit of a theology of marriage and what it meant within our denomination. As part of the counseling portion of the preparation, I told them that I expected them to be in attendance at a church--not necessarily ours, but some worshiping community as part of their preparation.
At the same time, I know that more and more people are coming to us from outside of the Church and this wedding may be the first contact that they have ever had to know what Church is about. So I tried to be as flexible as I could. But when I talked to the first contact, I tried to let them know what my expectations are.
I will be interested to hear of what other younger women are doing in the face of this changing era and how they practice hospitality yet still maintain some semblance of the Christian message.
And Mompriest offers:
In terms of why a clergy colleague would chose to use a different space – it usually comes down to size – the wedding will be bigger than the church space they have so the couple wants a bigger space but their own pastor. OR the wedding is being held in town other than where the couple will live, such as where the bride’s parents live, and so a local church is needed. Sometimes the parents belong to a denomination that will not marry couples who are not members, or the church the parents belong to is deemed “unattractive” by the bride. (Yes, I have encountered these and other reasons).
Whenever I encounter a situation such as this, and it happens often, I cite the policy of the church: All weddings in the church are officiated by the clergy of the church and at the Rector’s discretion. Other ministers familiar with the couple may participate in the service as the preacher and offer the sermon. All couples intending to be married in this church must undergo premarital counseling with the priest of this church, or one she approves of. The staff of this church will be present at the rehearsal and the wedding and function as the wedding coordinator. This tends to be the policy of every Episcopal Church I have worked at, and is not one I have had to set, it’s been the precedent.
Thus, I have strict rules and abide by them. People who are not members of the parish, or who do not wish to abide by these rules are often the ones who abuse the space, leaving a mess behind them. I don’t care if people choose to go elsewhere to be married. There are any number of options out there, choose one that fits your desire, don’t try to force the church to be what it is not. In the Episcopal Church, typically, we do not “rent out” the space. We are not wedding chapels. We are churches and faith communities, and a wedding ceremony is open to every member of the congregation to attend if they desire, invited or not. So I have a long history and tradition to fall back on. Even years back, when I worked for a church that did a huge number of weddings every year, we still required every couple to attend a premarital counseling weekend retreat (wherein we usually had 7 -10 couples, maybe more), and the wedding had to be officiated by a member of the clergy staff of the church.
On the other hand, couples that are willing to attend premarital counseling sessions with me (four or five sessions) always come away pleased. The work is hard but it is good work. In the process of premarital counseling we plan the service – I have the opportunity to really explain what we are doing and why the church ceremony is different from a civil one. Certainly a civil ceremony is perfectly fine if that is what they prefer. But if they really want the blessings of the church and of God, bestowed upon them, then a church ceremony is important. A wedding ceremony should not be held in a church simply because of how it looks. And so, while I have strict rules I am also very flexible within some of the limitations I have to abide by – in the Episcopal Church the couple has to use the Book of Common Prayer liturgy and vows. However there are pieces and places in the service that can be adapted.
So. No I do not think you are being rigid, nor out of line, nor inhospitable (of course maybe I am too…LOL). There are plenty of options for couples desiring to be married. Being married in a church comes with some boundaries that define what it means to have a clergy person bless the marriage and to invite God’s blessing upon the marriage. But civil weddings are perfectly valid, may offer more flexibility, and require fewer boundaries for purpose. Perfectly beautiful wedding ceremonies take place in hotel ballrooms, outside gardens, someone’s backyard or the courthouse.
I guess I (earthchick) am the outlier here. We have couples get married with their own clergy in our sanctuary all the time!
In the forms they fill out to request the use of our building, there's actually a line that asks something like, "Will you bring your own clergyperson or would you like to request for one of ours to officiate?" (and our policy makes it clear that if they use one of ours, they have to be comfortable with either a woman or a man). Our own church members are expected to use our clergy, but the vast majority of people who get married in our sanctuary come from outside our church.
We are in a university town, and frequently the two people getting married are both from other cities. They choose to get married in our town because it's where they met, it's where their friends are, etc., but they haven't necessarily attached to a church here. That's unfortunate, but I'm happy that they still want a church wedding. Our church is across from the campus and our sanctuary is beautiful, so I understand why they want to get married here, and our congregation blesses this use. We see it as part of our ministry and outreach to the community, even when our clergy have nothing to do with the wedding, just as we see the use of our space by AA groups and a preschool as part of our ministry, even though we are not involved in those either. Frankly, I am very happy not to be asked to do all of the weddings that come into our space! I love doing weddings for people I know; I find it much more draining to do them for people I've never met. The premarital counseling sessions, the learning the family dynamics, the spending of Friday night and a portion of Saturday doing the wedding - it just feels like a lot on top of the rest of my work.
I guess I don't consider it a breach of professional boundaries, unless the ceremony were actually for one of my congregants. That's definitely a problem, but I don't gather that is the question here. (I will say that we have had that happen one time, and I was offended and thought it highly inappropriate, but I didn't put a stop to it, as I didn't want to push myself on a couple who had already made it clear they preferred someone else.)
What about the rest of you? What experience or advice would you offer? Please join us in the comments section to offer your wisdom!
And please send us your questions!! The queue is totally empty now, so if you send a question for the matriarchs, we will get to it right away. Email us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.