As have most pastors, I’ve been asked to do weddings on a number of bases: We have “a nice church on Main Street.” A friend got married here. We don’t require people to join the church first. Fellowship Hall is cheaper than a fire hall for a reception. Their parents/grandparents worship/were married/once lived here. Our building is nicer than the church they (or their parents) actually attend.
All of these speak to reasons given (or not) for being married at a pretty church on Main Street; none of them answer the first two of three questions I ask of couples looking to get married by me: (1) What does getting married mean for you? (2) Why get married by a Christian minister? (3) Why get married in this church?
The last one is what they often have in mind first. Not that I mind people getting married in a sanctuary with side-windows open to the green of nature and Jesus praying over the communion table up front — I was married in a lovely sanctuary too. (Here I did come to request that a couple worship with us some Sunday before I meet with them to plan a wedding. It provides them the chance to meet the folk who keep up the nice church on Main Street, and to see the minister being asked to marry them “in action” beforehand. Sometimes they join the church. A couple even went on to teach Sunday School.)
But I really want the couple to focus more on question (1), and challenge them gently to think, at least, a bit about question (2). There are friends and family members aplenty to worry about receptions and candle colors. It’s my job to help them think about who they are as a couple already, and what it means to ask the world’s blessing to their joining. The first properly involves the couple and, in faith, God. The second expands it to include a Minister and so her/his sense of the couple’s readiness to make a sacred covenant public. And the third extends to a congregation, usually of those gathered for the wedding itself.
On the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act this summer (2011), a letter to United Church of Christ clergy and congregations from the New York Conference office offered positive guidance on treating all marriage requests equally. Interim NY Conference Minister Rev. Rita Root put it this way: “I have encouraged those who have asked to not have separate policies should their congregation determine that, if asked, they would welcome same-sex couples to hold their wedding ceremonies in their building but rather that one policy would cover all weddings.” I find that helpful. Maybe it’s coming from the South that leads me to suspect policies which are different for different folks, but I prefer one drinking — or baptismal — fountain for all. Seems to me Jesus pretty much did too.
I believe most clergy welcome conversation on marriage that reaches beyond “how long is the center aisle for the runner'” Being already open to inviting those who attend church any three Sundays to join the choir, may we also be affirming of those who seek to consecrate their relationship in a space made holy by the One who invites us all to the reception table God provides.
Peace and good,
Rev. William B. Jones