I like weddings...
I like to celebrate weddings. Over the years I've discovered that many of my colleagues HATE them, but not me - and there are probably to obvious reasons. First, my mentor in ministry, Ray Swartzback, told me to establish a wedding policy at whatever congregation I served or else it would be expected that I would be a "marrying Sam." (This cultural reference to the comix in the local newspaper to Al Capp's "Lil' Abner" is probably lost to many...) His point was simple: without a clear and practical policy that embraced good theology and solid best practices for a faith community, you will find yourself doing weddings (and other stuff) that you both hate and should never do.
So, based upon Ray's own clear policies, I have established these broad guidelines:
+ First, the couples must agree to meet with me well in advance of the ceremony 4-5 times to explore a "family systems" approach to marriage. During these conversations we talk about the families history, relatives, dynamics while I make "gen-o-grams" helping me visual each person's story. Then we talk about what strikes me - and each of the couple, too - about both the oral and visual story.
+ Second, almost always I insist that the couple spend time with us in worship before we start our conversations. This not only weeds out those who just want a "rent-a-minister" but also lets them know what is important to the faith community. What's more, they get to hear me offer my take on the scriptures, too. After they have worshiped with us a few times, then we meet to see whether the Spirit is still calling us to work together on their ceremony.
+ Third, right out of the gate I share with them the simple but clear fee structure for "doing" a wedding in our Sanctuary. At first, like many liberal Protestant clergy, I always low-balled these fees until it hit me that many couples plan on spending thousands of dollars just on the wet bar alone; so why not fairly compensate the custodian, organist and clergy given the time we each spend on this celebration. To be sure, all fees - even at the church - are inflated - and I reserve the right to wave these fees, too, given certain conditions - but making sure that my staff is well compensated makes a huge difference as nobody is resentful or stressed out.
+ Fourth, I also insist that all our preliminary planning is finalized BEFORE the wedding rehearsal. No negotiating with family members at this event because not only is it already a stressful and emotional time, but too many times family members or friends have ulterior motives that derail a couples plans. So, at our final session I both finalize all our ceremonial plans and make certain that everyone knows before the rehearsal that I am in charge. And I run the rehearsal that way too - with the couples full knowledge and blessing - so that whatever suggestion or change comes up I say, "Thanks for that insight but... we have already worked out these details carefully. So, let's get back on track..." Oh yeah: I've had a few disgruntled step-mothers - or pushy bride's maids - want to mix it up with me after side-stepping their "concern." But I've also NEVER had a wedding rehearsal that wasn't fun and satisfying.
+ And fifth, I always tell the couple - and those who gather for the wedding rehearsal - that we already know that something is going to go wrong during the ceremony - we just don't yet know what! Some who have never planned a wedding think that I am being too harsh or frightening, but it is not only a practical truth but a spiritual insight as well. Something IS going to go wrong - with our plans, with our dreams, with our bodies and our lives - and we not only don't know what that is but we're going to have to figure out the best, most healthy and holy way of dealing with it, too. (At the point I'm tempted to list some of my wedding mishap war stories but that is for another posting!)
So, with these five practical guidelines I am not overwhelmed with outside wedding requests AND I have some foundations that help us all move towards a ceremony that has integrity. Like I said, I like weddings...
(pictures for the ceremonies of my two daughters...)