Those who know me well know that I’m not a big fan of weddings, especially when I’m the one presiding over the event. I find that there’s usually too much emphasis on the “show,” and not so much on the meaning of the ceremony. More care is often shown to the photos than to what’s going on in the photos.
Over my eleven years at Old South, the number of weddings at which I preside has declined significantly—and I don’t think it’s because word is out that I don’t like them. Even for those connected to Old South, if I’m asked to officiate, the wedding is more often off-site at an “event venue,” where the wedding ceremony can be outside. No one seems to get married in a church building anymore—unless it’s raining outside.
I can understand the desire to have one’s wedding ceremony outside. I like the outdoors too, especially in the summer. Maine summers are beautiful indeed. I can also understand the desire to have the whole extravaganza in one location—ceremony and reception. I bet it makes things a whole lot easier for everyone.
But, I’m also aware that something is missing in these sorts of weddings. And, that something is something very important, yet often overlooked.
This past Saturday, I participated in a wedding at Old South that was truly lovely. It was a rare wedding for me, when the couple talked quite a lot about creating a meaningful ceremony. The service wasn’t very long, but it included a spectacular soloist who sang two pieces, one for the prelude, in order to “set the tone,” the couple informed me and the tone was certainly set, with praise, awe and reverence. The service also included lengthy vows, through which the couple made promises to each other, while also acknowledging their reliance not just on the power of the love they have for each other, but the power of the love they know that is beyond themselves.
I think it would have been difficult not to notice the sense that in our gathering last Saturday morning, there was an awareness of, and inclusion of, “other.” Call it holy, or sacred, or God, there was something beyond just the human beings who gathered in that space.
It’s not that a church building is required to gain that sense of the holy, that sense of the presence of God, but it certainly helps. Outdoor weddings can sometimes draw in the “sacredness” of nature, but that’s not what I’m talking about. The beauty of nature isn’t going to be there as a source of strength and blessing when marriage gets difficult—and it will get difficult.
A church wedding certainly doesn’t guarantee that a marriage will survive, but I think it helps to begin the marriage in a stronger way. When a couple feels grounded in something beyond themselves, when there is acknowledgement of the holy and a connection to our Creator God, a wedding is not just a simple ceremony, an exchange of rings, a private exchange of promises. Instead, a wedding is worship, a place for praise and thanksgiving, an opportunity for reverence. And reverence is just what is needed to begin a good marriage.
A church building isn’t required, but it certainly helps.