In my time as a pastor, I’ve performed lots and lots of weddings. I’ve made no secret of the fact that on the whole I’m not terrible fond of doing weddings. Each wedding with the premarital counseling, wedding planning, rehearsal, preliminary and follow-up can be very time consuming. I don’t mind that so much. What I do mind is the long list of expectations that couples and their families bring to the business. Almost always those expectations have very little to do with building a strong marriage or with designing and carrying out a wedding/worship service that honors God and have instead a lot to do with creating an event that matches what the couple (almost always the bride) has always dreamed of. I don’t have a lot of patience with that, and so these days I mostly decline to do weddings unless the couple has some sort of connection to my congregation.
The one factor that keeps me at least a little bit open to consider doing more weddings is the fact that more and more weddings are becoming the one event that will bring unchurched people into the church. When I preach at a wedding (and I always read Scripture and preach at weddings that I perform), I know that it may be the only time some of those guest present will ever hear the Bible read and explained. That’s true even when the couple I’m marrying is from my congregation.
There are some situations that move me out of my aversion to weddings, and what follows is a letter I wrote to a couple about a week after I performed their wedding. I met this couple through one of my elders who worked with the bride. The couple was older, probably in their late thirties (bride) and early forties (grooms). They had been living together more than a decade and had children together.
This couple were in an on-going relationship with my elder through work. He had been carrying on a growing conversation about faith. Further, that conversation had taken on a greater sense of urgency when the groom had been diagnosed with a rather aggressive cancer. He was unable to work and was not responding especially well to treatment. In these circumstances Ted and Diane found themselves reconsidering some of the values and priorities by which they had been living their lives. In particular, they found that they were no longer indifferent toward marriage as they had been theretofore.
My elder, the bride’s co-worker, is also a commissioned Presbyterian lay pastor. The authority to solemnize marriages does not, however, go with the office of commissioned lay pastor in the Presbyterian system, and so my elder referred the couple to me, after first describing their situation to me. And that’s how I came to be standing with them in their basement living room with both sets of parents and the couple’s children present crowded around in the small space.
The ceremony itself was very unextraordinary. I had kept it even simpler than is usual to me. They had a sheet cake for afterward and some coffee and punch. It was all quite touching in its mundane simplicity. The bride was a waitress in the national chain restaurant that my elder managed. But he father was a rather successful, retired businessman. I had explicitly told the couple that I neither expect nor want any payment for doing the wedding. But the bride’s father had cornered me in the little kitchen after the ceremony and had insisted on sticking an envelope with a check into my jacket pocket.
Here is the letter I wrote to the couple a week after the ceremony:
Dear Diane and Ted,
It was a pleasure to perform your wedding this past Wednesday. Even though you’ve been together for eleven years, the action you took that morning is a very momentous one.
Up until Wednesday, you had, I’m sure, settled into a place where you each felt very committed to the other. And that was certainly an important thing to feel toward each other, especially after you had kids, who have been depending on you to be and stay committed to each other.
But on Wednesday morning, you took a step that took you far beyond just feeling committed to each other. You have now made a formal and public commitment to each other, and, by asking me to oversee that act of commitment, you’ve said you want to make that commitment in the presence of God.
Now, I hope you understand that I’m not saying that I am God. We can all be glad of that! What I am saying is that by asking a Christian minister to do your wedding in the context of a Christian service of worship, you were saying, “We want to make our marriage commitment in the presence of God.” In effect, you have made God a witness to the promises you made to each other this past Wednesday.
In a sense, you have made him judge over your commitment. No one will know as well as he does whether you are keeping your promises to each other. And speaking as a married person myself, I have to admit that makes me kind of uneasy, because I know that over the past 25 years, I have not always been as “loving and faithful” [a phrase from the traditional wedding vows] a husband as I could have been and should have been. And my failures in keeping my promises are not secrets that only I know about or that only I and my wife know about. Above all my failures are well known to my heavenly Father, Lord of heaven and earth.
It involves God because I have intentionally made him a witness of my promises to my wife. In a sense, his honor is at stake. I have invited him to watch over my promises.
Now, that might make God seem like a sort of policeman. But there is a real up-side to having God involved in my marriage, because he is not only involved as a judge but also and most especially as a Helper.
Marriage has never been an easy relationship. And it seems to me that there are a lot of reasons what it is even more difficult nowadays. Left to our own strength and wisdom, our marriages will never be all that they could be. We need help from our Father in heaven.
And that is exactly what you’ve begun to ask for by making this formal and public commitment to each other in the presence of God. Now, you need to seek that help from him. You need to ask him for it consciously, intentionally, regularly, persistently, and faithfully. And he will do it. He will help you in real, tangible ways. And he won’t be grudging about helping you. He will not do it only reluctantly. He wants very much for you to trust him and so to consciously and intentionally ask him for his help.
I don’t actually know very much about your relationship with God in general. I don’t know whether you’ve given your lives into the hands of Christ as your Savior and Lord. But I do want you to understand that Christ doesn’t just want to be involved in your marriage. He wants to be involved in every part of your lives. If you’d like to have that kind of relationship with God in Jesus Christ, I will be ready at any time to talk with you more about that.
I’ve enclosed a few items (booklets) that I’ve found to be helpful, and I thought you might find them helpful, too. Please stay in touch with me in any case And be assured that I will pray for you and your family.
Here are a couple of web links for resources for marriages.
© 2010 Gary A. Chorpenning