At the altar


The pastors reading this site probably know this, but for those of you who are not clergy, here’s a secret: Most ministers don’t really like weddings. It may be the most important and special day in the whole wide world for the bride and the groom, but it isn’t for the pastor.

I like them. I’m fascinated by the dresses and the flowers. I love watching the congregation gasp when they catch a glimpse of the bride, looking incredible. I love that energy that flies between the couple. There’s exhaustion, and excitement, and fury, and love, all wrapped up in one day.

I love the relationship that forms between the couple and me. I have even gotten thank you cards after the service that have said, “We came to you because we needed someone to conduct our ceremony. And, now we have a pastor.”

I love being a welcome intruder in some of the most intimate times of people’s lives: funerals, baptisms, and weddings. Pastors have a space in all of those times, and I’m always aware of what a sacred position that is.

But, weddings can be difficult. I imagined that funerals would be hard, but weddings are much more complicated. There is often–I don’t know–a lack of respect in all of it. I don’t mean to sound like a prima donna. I don’t expect an air-conditioned trailer or anything, but I can’t help feeling that sometimes I’m there more as a prop for the photos than for the service.

I think what makes weddings a challenge is the peripheral position that some wedding planners (WPs–including, the bride, groom, mother of the bride, or an actual professional wedding planner) give to the minister. I have been called, two weeks before a ceremony, and asked to preside. It’s happened more than once. And the frustrating thing…when I showed up, the flowers, the reception hall, the caterer, the photographer, the everything, was planned a year in advance. When I asked about it, the WPs answered incredulously, “Well, we had to ask them early. Do you know how hard it is to get a good florist?”

Pastors have to charge for weddings–I mean, for people who are not members of our congregation. This is something else many people don’t understand. But, you know, it takes a long, long time to prepare for them. Counseling the couple, planning the service, writing the homily, conducting the rehearsal, and preparing the paperwork. And it’s usually premium time we give up–Friday and Saturday night. These hours are golden. It’s our precious moments with our families or our preparation time for Sunday worship, and it’s just extremely difficult to give up.

I used to feel bad about asking for money. Well, I still feel bad about asking for money… but, you know, I found out that beginning photographer friends are making 7k per wedding. They’re using digital cameras, so they can delete the bad photos without the cost of developing. And experienced photographers are getting a full five digits before the decimal.

We know now that people are spending as much for weddings as they once did for homes. And like I said, I love the flowers and the dresses. I had a really nice wedding. And I’m not one of those dour pastors who think that people are spending more time and energy on the day than the commitment that they’re making for a lifetime…. It’s just…things seem to be a bit out of whack right now. What do you think?

photo’s by Tomek Wawezyczek


21 thoughts on “At the altar

  1. I think all those clergy who don’t like weddings are scrooges. What’s not to like about seeing a couple madly in love surrounded by their families and friends? If that doesn’t warm our hearts, well…

    And yes, we are props. So what. Jesus was a prop at Cana. The only thing he could do was supply some more wine. If the Christ was a prop, who are we to think we should be something else? We clergy are enablers at a wedding, not the stars. The two getting married are the stars.

    Whenever a couple makes a commitment to love one another as long as they both shall live, through thick and thin, I want to be a prop/witness/participant. It is one of the true joys of ministry. john

  2. I have to agree with you. While the couple are the “star” shouldn’t the real star be God, the one who makes love and covenant possible? I don’t think this means clergy should be more prominent or anything, but I do think it means we should be planned for with the same care as the florist and photographer. Not to be petty, but a clergyperson can make or break a wedding and it will be on video for all posterity. Just saying. To be a prop implies that we are something to be used. And that is not a place I want to find myself…and the place I find myself all to often with weddings. If we don’t allow our building to be “rented” then why do we allow ourselves to basically be rented–for (relatively) a very low price?

  3. I find weddings frustrating particularly for many of the reasons you named. I love a wedding dress as much as the next girl, and I adore flowers, and I work well with children, so if you want a tiny flower girl, I won’t object. But I wish I did not act as an agent of the state. I wish that couples truly committed to each other and God could simply come down to church on Sunday morning and be blessed among the community of the faithful. And let them bring flowers!

  4. I personally do not like weddings. Everyone is at such a fever pitch. There is usually too much stress for a lovely liturgical act to become carnival. Plus, we spend so much money on them that it is really quite obscene. Maybe I am a little jaded, but I think the problem is that everyone needs to be a star instead of focusing on the covenant between two adults.

    Plus, our churches get treated like VFW halls by people who never intend on darkening the door of the church again. Of course our faithful lesbian and gay members shouldn’t be allowed to have their marriages reckognized by the communities of faith that they attend. It is simply maddening.

  5. Is “John” OUR John? He does need to retire in Vegas.

    I’ve written about this before too. And yet . . . there have been some weddings which are moving, inspiring events. It happens.

  6. i love weddings, but i would never do one on two weeks notice! i will only marry those who show up to church, and counseling, for six months in advance. and, i ask them to tithe – 10% of the full cost of the wedding is the fee to the church (not me), as a thank offering for their blessings.

    in this i feel less like a prop, and more importantly, i think it helps the couple really be committed to the idea of a Christian community which surrounds and supports them, and whether they ever show up at church again or not, they have gotten it in their heads that God, everyone who was at their wedding, and everyone who calls themselves a Christian is behind their union – and yes, the same rules apply to same-sex couples for whom i have blessed unions.

    in the end, the number of weddings is fewer if you ask for this kind of commitment, but in 10 years, i haven’t had a divorce yet, and i still love doing weddings…

  7. Color me Scrooge.

    It’s not that I feel like a prop. God help the couple who wants me in any photo. It’s when the House is used as a prop that chaps me.

    I don’t like walking into the parlor after the ceremony only to find it looking like Lindsay Lohan’s trailor. I tire of asking groomsmen to turn off their cell phones and telling them that No, they may not wear sunglasses into the sanctuary.

    Truthfully, this doesn’t happen all that often. But I guess the bigger issue for me is not that we’re taking a backseat to the industry, but that it seems we’re becoming part of the industry.

    Bah humbug!

  8. Thanks for sharing about weddings. I’m not a minister, but my son got married last year, and it is interesting to hear your perspective. Maybe that’s why the minister told me it all went so easily and smoothly. Welcome to Revgals!

  9. Yes.

    We (Americans) are material people and feel the need to have elaborate everything to “show” our love towards one another. God ends up being in the back seat, beacause it is the venue not the faith that is in interest. You must admit that churches are beautiful places and to have “their important day” in such a locale is a must. The idea to just throw some money at it and you can buy what ever pastor you need so you can a have the venue “to die for,” is really what it is all about.

    Prove me wrong.

    I hope for it.

  10. Songbird, That would be beautiful, wouldn’t it?

    Jan, Yep. That’s our John. The man’s married half of the couples in the District. It makes for a lovely Christmas Eve service. All of these couples come from all over the city to celebrate with us. I looked for the wedding post on your site, but you don’t have a search. When was it? Do share!

    “Linsday Lohan’s trailer,” that’s hilarious. I’m not lying when I tell you I’ve actually had to turn to a groomsman and say, “Please put the beer down. You have to wait until after the service.” It was 10 am! (An outdoor wedding…although I’m not sure that makes it much better.)

    So, it seems that for most, a wedding within the faith community’s a good thing, but it’s the others that are complicated. Are we being sucked in as part of the wedding industry? Are we being rented out, like a tired tuxedo? Are we losing something sacred when people use our beautiful buildings? Would people be willing to tithe 10% of the wedding cost to the church? (Very few, I imagine. It’s an interesting idea, but I’d also hate to put another major financial burden on a young couple…)

    But here’s the sticking point. I certainly don’t want marriage to be only for members of churches. And, I cringe at the people who get their ordination certs on the internet to marry people (you blogged about that too, Jan, right?). I don’t want the job just going to anyone…. Plus, weddings that extend beyond our church membership are an amazing evangelism tool. So, I continue to preside, even for outsiders, even with short notice.

    Oh and thanks for the warm welcome RGPs!

  11. What a lovely site you have created. I have mixed feelings about weddings — for all the above mentioned reasons. But then come those redeeming moments. A wedding of a wonderful church member at the church two years ago. She and her fiance came to me about a year before they would be married, asking if it would be possible to plan their wedding during Advent so that they could have the candles of the Advent Wreath as a centering theme for their wedding. (The Candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love) Indeed, we began planning and began their premarital counseling. They wanted a particular Elder in the congregation to pray the Communion Prayer in their wedding. It was clear from the beginning that planning their wedding was about their lives rooted in their faith. In the midst of it all, they were dealing so well and intentionally with the relationship with their families around the issue of them being of different races (African American and European American). It was truly an event of beauty and grace and one of the most joyful weddings in our congregation. I was recently privileged to be among the first to celebrate that they were expecting a baby. And then sadly privileged to be with them at the hospital through the night as they suffered a miscarriage. Wonderful young adults who remind me that God is doing amazing things in their lives!

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  13. I find this rather incredible personally! Weddings are a fine place to witness to families in their entirety, not only about the reason why we are here, but also to share with them the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would personally get dressed up for any opportunity that I had to witness because its only when we trust the Lord and put our faith in Him, as a pastor, that the Lord’s Precense can be introduced to folks who would, as the concern is, never darken the doorsteps of a church service normally. So then, when it is time to dedicate that baby, or time to bury a family member, there is once again another opportunity to plant more seed of the Spirit of God if they have not responded to the Holy Spirit’s calling by then. Its important that pastors are to be there for people regardless of their situation in life. Jesus demonstrated that His entire ministry and even helped to provide for wedding celebration in encouragement of the family. Was it an invitation? The Bible does not say; but it does say that His mother was so concerned about the issue because she knew what He had come to do-to bring Life to those seeking Jehovah God through their obedience of getting married. Interesting position-there is a reason why pastors do what they do….

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