The Wedding Flees the Church

wedding 3So, 34 couples got married in a live, mass wedding during the Grammy Awards.  Queen Latifah (no, not ordained) officiated at the ceremony, against a projected image of stained glass windows.  A gospel choir joined in singing behind Madonna while the couples, old and young, gay and straight, exchanged rings.

I’m not going to lie: I have mixed feelings about this spectacle.  I’m clergy, so performing wedding ceremonies, along with all the preparation and education that goes with them, is a job I take seriously.  I develop a personal relationship with every couple, helping them converse about everything from their parents’ marriages (and divorces) to who’s going to take out the trash.  I pray with them and for them, write their unique wedding liturgies and sign their licenses.  For some couples, marriage preparation will be the first time they’ve been in church since their confirmation–or baptism–and may be the last time they drop in until their first child is born, or ever.  I value that fleeting opportunity to reach out to people who are making a significant emotional and spiritual turning point in their lives, and let them know God is walking beside them.

So the idea of having a live, televised group wedding in which the participants are selected by a casting agency comes off to me as a little crass.

But then, I have to admit, crass is a mild word for the way the institutional church has behaved in response to many people who long to form life partnerships.  The church has had its chance to be present in the lives of different configurations of family, and for the most part, we have said: if it doesn’t look like the 1950’s, go someplace else to get your blessing.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that some people are going elsewhere to get God’s blessing.  They are getting married on the steps of courthouses, in parks and roller rinks, in abandoned churches re-cast as wedding chapels, and anywhere else they please, including the Grammys.

Part of me is sad that the church is losing its hold on being the place where this rite is enacted.  I like the oversight and protection the church has to offer to couples making their way in the world.  Being married is hard and, well, “it takes a village” to keep a marriage strong.  The church can be that village.

But the reality is, the church has refused to be that village for gay and lesbian couples and others who don’t “fit the mold”.  And now, the sacred ritual of forming families has broken out of the walls of our churches and is being celebrated in the open, where everyone can see the beautiful thing God can do with two people in partnership.  Couples are hopefully finding new ways to support their families spiritually and emotionally outside the church.

Or, maybe not.  I don’t know.  Maybe someday, couples will bravely venture back to the church looking for a community that fosters every shape of family.  Maybe they will find churches like the one I’m at now, where every creative configuration of family is welcome.

Maybe someday, weddings will come back to the church!

*Image from Wikipedia

4 responses to “The Wedding Flees the Church

  1. I will try to control my cynicism but this has been a long time issue. It’s true that among the couples I’ve married the few who are actually aware of and intentional about a faith connection have been fun, meaningful and have been career highlights. However that is by FAR the exception. Most couples only want pretty words in a pretty place and the fact that it is a center of faith is low on the list of features if present at all.
    I have always advocated the European model where the state performs the marriage. It us a state function, after all. Those couples who then seek to have their marriage celebrated in and by the church are doing so honestly out of much higher motives than here where couples go thru the motions to get the results they want.

    I agree that the church needs to recapture the spiritual and that includes the spiritual marriage. But I’d just as soon let the state do what is theirs to do anyway. If you want to celebrate the joining of a family with God however you define it, then give me a call.

  2. Don’t know where that Loo came from….

  3. While I understand the cynicism, it doesn’t help me do my job, which is to pay attention to what God is doing, even if the couple does not pay attention. Maybe someday, the couple will get it. And as for the state’s role in marriage, it’s an administrative detail to me. Marriage is much older and more mysterious than the state can fathom, which is why same sex marriage has never been so controversial to me; families have been forming since we were primates, and that’s God’s plan, not ours to manipulate. We just have to respond to what God is doing At least, that’s how I see it.

  4. Sorry to read about marriages which are not created by God, (whose name is rather loosely used as if He was an imaginary friend who goes along with any imaginary creation of man). If the church is going to sanction any configuration of marriage other than the one God ordained since creation, then I agree with Wayne Drueck, that such a union belongs to the domain of man’s laws, not God’s plan.

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