In the gay marriage debates and voting seasons that have happened in Maine (we’ve voted on this issue twice in recent years), and elsewhere, I’ve noticed that those who are against gay marriage like to scare people—religious people—by telling them that if gay marriage is legalized, then churches will be forced to perform gay marriages. Now that gay marriage has been approved by Maine voters, I’m waiting for the phone to start ringing. But, there’s only silence.
My question is this: does anyone get married in a church these days?
One of the television shows that my daughter likes to watch is “Say Yes to the Dress” (she’s sixteen). I don’t like the show myself, but occasionally I’ll catch a bit of an episode, mostly just to have an excuse to plunk down on the couch and be with her.
At the end of each episode of “Say Yes to the Dress,” they feature one of the brides getting married, in the dress that she’s chosen during the episode, in the midst of much drama—how else could you have a show about this, if you didn’t have drama? I’ve noticed that not many of those weddings take place in a church.
And, I’ve noticed this too, in my little church in the middle of Maine. I’ve served Old South for about seven years. In my first couple of years, I had multiple weddings each year. In 2011 and 2012, we haven’t had even one wedding.
We don’t even field many calls for weddings anymore. In my first few years, I was amazed by how many phone calls came in just after the first of the year. If I wanted to, I probably could have performed five to ten weddings each year (which would be a lot for this church that I serve). But, most of the calls that we got in the church office did not turn into actual weddings at Old South for a variety of reasons—the church doesn’t have a center aisle (a big deal-breaker for a lot of people); I require premarital counseling (also a big deal-breaker); I don’t allow most of the planning to be in the hands of one of the mothers; and, I must officiate at weddings (also a remarkable deal-breaker; some callers asked, essentially, if they could “rent” the church, and bring their own officiant).
The numbers of calls, though, has dwindled to just a small handful. This year, in all 2012, I think we’ve fielded two calls regarding possible weddings. Neither one of them resulted in an actual wedding being added to the church calendar.
Now that gay marriage has been approved, I am waiting once again. Will the phone ever ring, with a question about scheduling a wedding?
It’s not that I’m all that eager to preside at weddings. Truth be told, I don’t much like weddings. There’s way too much emphasis on the trappings—the reception, the dress, the color scheme—and not nearly enough on the marriage and the long-term commitment and compatibility of the two people looking to get hitched. But, still, I am aware that there are weddings happening on a regular basis in this area—yet not at my church, nor the other churches around mine.
This whole business seems symptomatic of the decline of the relevance of church. And, that’s too bad. Churches, despite their flaws, are good at some things, including the big moments of our lives—weddings, for one. Churches are not just concerned about the center aisle or the color scheme or even the dress. We are concerned about the people who are getting married, their families, and the community as a whole. We are concerned about well-being and looking for signs of potential trouble before the marriage license is signed, and celebrating all that is good when two people decide to get married. In my church, that goes for heterosexual and homosexual couples.
I fear, though, that the phone will remain silent and that is sad in so many ways.