by Greg Goebel
I’ve been asked the question, “Will you marry me?” many times. And I’ve married a few people. I mean I’ve officiated at wedding, I’ve actually only been married once (for life). But in reality its not always framed as a question. Sometimes its “Guess what! You’re going to marry us!”
The minister is often seen as an ornament to the wedding. You have to have your dress, your cake, your musician, and then your church and your minister. You buy or rent any of these and then you are all set. The wedding is seen as a private function, something that is individual to the couple.
But we don’t see marriage that way, and so sometimes its a bit awkward. I end up having to reply, “Congratulations! Let’s get together and talk about the wedding. I need to hear what you all are thinking before I can agree to do the wedding.”
Sometimes people are offended, they think you aren’t excited or that you are put off by the work involved. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love weddings. Its just that as a Christian minister in a Christian church, I have to make sure that the couple really wants a Christian wedding in a Christian church.
We believe that a marriage is supported by and blessed by the church community in the name of Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I am representing that community. I’m not really “marrying” the couple. God is bringing them together and I am witnessing and blessing that new union, along with the whole church. The couple is making promises, as baptized Christians, not only to each other but also to God and to the church. The church is making promises to the couple, to surround and support them in their new life together.
These promises are real. They aren’t just conventional or old fashioned ornaments. We take them seriously. So its not ideal if we extract a couple from their church and just stick a random minister in there to hear their vows. Sure, this can be done and sometimes is necessary. Hopefully their home church and pastor will bless their marriage as well at some other time.
But ideally, the couple should see themselves not as creating a new relationship, but instead as entering into an existing institution. Being married is to take on the vows that were there before your love for each other existed. It is an act of worship, it is surrounded by the Body of Christ, and blessed. Your personal relationship with each other is brought to that existing covenant relationship. You are joining the “order” of married people.
So I have to meet with the couple to make sure that they want this kind of community blessing, and are prepared to make promises not just to each other, but to God, and to the church community as well. I also need to see if they are ready to receive the church’s promises to them and are committed to remaining present with the church community so that we can support their marriage.
I also have to make sure the couple understands the Christian sexual discipline. You want to talk about awkward moments? Imagine nowadays talking to a young couple about not having sex. Yet the church believes that all people are called to either chastity or marriage. Period.
So I have to explain that from this moment on I need you to commit to refraining from sexual contact of any kind until your wedding day. I don’t want to be a hypocrite who teaches one thing, and then winks my eye when it becomes uncomfortable. So I need the couple to agree to follow this Christian discipline. Personally, I don’t need them to totally agree with it. I think over time they will see the wisdom of it. They will realize that the same kind of discipline it takes to abstain now, will be the same kind of sexual discipline it takes to remain faithful to one’s spouse. They don’t have to realize that now, but I trust that after they are married, they’ll realize that it was helpful. What I do need is a serious commitment to follow that discipline.
And when I’m talking about sex, I always affirm that their desire for one another is a good thing. I don’t want to shame them. I want them to celebrate that they love each other and that they are powerfully drawn to each other. Its really about focusing the beauty of sexuality within a lifelong, faithful marriage. Its not about painting sex as a shameful thing.
I also require couples to undergo pre-marital counseling. Our church requires us to do this, but its a good idea. Couples need a third party to lead them in talking through emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues before they are married. They also need to begin some conversations, and have a healthy way of communicating. Pre-marital counseling doesn’t provide everything they need, but it opens up a pathway for future health.
Finally, I want to make sure that the couple realizes that the wedding is only the beginning. The marriage is the real goal. They are starting a new life together. I want them to look a bit past the actual wedding ceremony, and be prepared for the marriage.
So if you are thinking of marriage, ask your pastor or a trusted spiritual leader to meet with you to talk about marriage. Then ask your pastor if he would be willing to talk to you about officiating your wedding. Finally, enjoy the process! God is blessing you with the gift of a life companion and friend, and he loves you.
Also at AnglicanPastor: “The Wedding: Anglican Style”