Weddings I’m Lovin’ It!

Is the date on your calendar?  It’s April 29.  Prince William and Kate Middleton will be married at Westminster Abby.  Not that I am a royal watcher, but I do confess to having watched the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana on July 29, 1981.  The reason is that I was in labor, awaiting the birth of our first child early the next morning. 

I don’t understand all the hype about weddings.  When Gary and I were married, everything was simple as simple can be, with no flowers, bridesmaids and groomsmen, limo ride, or fancy reception.  We did go to great lengths, however, to receive premarital counseling and plan a worship service that expressed our commitment to each other and to God.

I always think about weddings on Valentine’s Day because Gary and I became engaged that day.  It’s also the birthday of our youngest daughter.  We didn’t think anything of planning a wedding just 6 months in advance, but it’s near impossible to pull off a wedding with that little lead time today.  Where could you possibly find a reception hall at that late date?

Talk to any preacher about weddings, and you’ll get an earful.  We either love them or we hate them.  One pastor said to me recently, “I get tired of non-members ‘interviewing’ me about getting married in our church.  They love the sanctuary but won’t pay the necessary fees, so they shop somewhere else.”  Another said, “When I require that couples attend 4 pre-marital counseling sessions, they act shocked and never come back.”  Or this, “I have little tolerance for the disrespect of couples and families who trash the church, disregard stated time limits, and abuse the church staff who are doing their best to make this a sacred experience.  Give me a funeral any time.”

We’ve all had our “weddings from hell” and delight in regaling you with stories about the dog in the wagon as part of the wedding party, the groom who fainted, the bridezilla who threw a fit at the wedding rehearsal, and the couple who demanded that we not mention the word “Jesus” in the wedding ceremony.  On the other hand, our eyes mist over when remembering the groom who had only weeks to live, the bride and groom who met each other at church as children, and the couple whose wedding party consisted of their six school age children from previous marriages. 

I began to enjoy weddings a lot more when the church I served required pre-marital counseling with a professional Christian organization.  I am not skilled at pre-marital counseling and much prefer to focus my efforts on getting to know the couple and planning a wedding service that is spiritually meaningful and unique to them.  What troubles me about weddings is when couples only want to “rent” the church and the pastor and have no interest in the religious dimensions of marriage.  And I am especially discouraged when there is more emphasis on clothing, style, and extravagance than on God’s presence in their midst. 

As a district superintendent I do not currently have the opportunity to officiate at weddings, but I still like to be up on the latest trends.  Did you know that fast food giant McDonald’s is now offering a “McWedding” service at 3 restaurants in Hong Kong?  With the traditional big Chinese wedding too expensive for many couples today, what better place is there than McDonald’s to tie the knot?  The full official package starts at $260 and includes a custom cake made from either apple pies or burgers.

If you don’t have an associate pastor to help with all of your weddings, you now have another option.  Last year in Tokyo the first wedding took place that was led by a robot.  The 4 foot tall robot “I-Fairy” is manufactured by Kokoro Corporation and repeats preprogrammed commands.  Unfortunately, I-Fairy is bolted to her chair, so she cannot stand up for the processional.  I-Fairy is a bit pricy: $68,000, but she does have 18 degrees of motion in her arms.  There are currently 3 I-Fairy’s in use inSingapore, theU.S., andJapan.

One of the newest trends is destination weddings, where everyone flies to an exotic location and enjoys a relaxing vacation together either before or after the ceremony.  Of course, the potential for glitches is much greater when you’re not on familiar territory.  You never quite know how it’s all going to turn out. 

A few months ago I read in theJohannesburg,South Africanewspaper about a couple who were renewing their wedding vows in The Maldives, an island nation in theIndian Ocean.  Evidently, they were insulted when the person pretending to be the officiant called them “pigs,” “infidels,” and declared their marriage to be illegal.  The couple, who could not understand the local language, did not realize what he was saying until someone posted a video of the ceremony on YouTube with English subtitles. 

I am amused by the variety of ways in which people decide to marry.  What really gets my goat, however, is a dramatic increase in the number of web sites that promote online “ordination” so that couples can ask their friends to officiate at their wedding.  For example,RoseMinistries at openordination.org will not only ordain you for a modest fee, but they will help you file a charter with the state ofMichigan so that you can form your own church and therefore have your ordination recognized.  For $164.95 you can even purchase the Ultimate Minister’s Package, which includes an “Official Business” clergy parking placard, Love Notes Wedding CD, and 5 Wedding Premium Certificates.  Don’t get me started.

I am grateful that we take weddings seriously in TheUnited Methodist Church.  No online ordinations here.  Weddings are a privileged opportunity to minister to couples as they start their new life together.  To sit with couples and encourage them to make God a partner in their marriage will not be forgotten, even in the midst of everything and anything else that seems more important than the religious aspect of a wedding.  Wedding services are tender times in the lives of the couple as well as the wedding party and guests.  What greater evangelistic tool do we have to witness to Jesus Christ to people who may never step foot in a church otherwise. 

The Church of England is so convinced of the value of weddings that they are taking active measures to help clergy connect better with couples and make their churches more hospitable.  Their incentive stems from the fact that marriages in the Church of England have declined from 110,000 in 1982 to 54,000 in 2006.  Less than ¼ of all marriages inEnglandtake place in Anglican churches. 

In Seven Heavenly Ways to Welcome Wedding Guests, the new guidelines published by Dr. Rowan Williams and Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, clergy are encouraged to reform wedding practices and be less stuffy, and churches are invited to be more hospitable to couples and guests.  The Church of England has even taken to having booths at wedding shows, where churches are promoted as cost-effective but spiritual venues. 

Last fall the PewResearchCenter, in association with Time magazine, conducted a nationwide poll about marriage and the $40 billion wedding industry.  The poll showed that 40% of Americans believe that marriage is obsolete.  It used to be that making a life-long commitment to another person was the foundation for adulthood.  Today, however, many couples wait to marry until their education is done and their careers are established. 

Consider these statistics:

  • In 1960 the average age for a first marriage for men was 22.8.  Today it is 28.1.  In 1960 the average age for women was 20.3.  Today it is 25.9. 
  • In 1960 32% of wives worked outside the home.  In 2008 it was 61%. 
  • The percentage of children living with married parents was 87% in 1960.  In 2008 it was 64%. 
  • 40% of babies were born to unmarried mothers in 2008, an 8 fold increase from 50 years ago. 
  • One of the most startling statistics was an amazing 13% increase in couples living together from 2009 to 2010, which researchers explained was due to the recession. 
  • 75% of those polled said that raising children is best done married.  

To read the entire Pew Report, click here.

Marriage will not go away, for it is not only the best way to form long term partnerships, it is a covenant established by God.  As confirmed by the research, marriage is still highly respected and desired, and the church can play a critical role in supporting and encouraging marriage from a spiritual perspective.

Will you watch the wedding of the century on April 29?  I’m still waiting for my invitation.  But I do know this.  The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will not be a destination wedding performed at McDonald’s by an online officiant or a robot.  It will be a formal, regal, spiritual, and global worship service. 

Weddings – Are You Lovin’ Em?  Got any stories to share?  I invite you to use the blog.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Blessings, Laurie

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