[Today I want to begin a series of posts on weddings and marriage. I figure I will get a jumpstart before May comes around and weddings start happening in full force. This first post is a little lengthy, but I hope it will be helpful in understanding my struggles and thoughts as I've tried to resolve some real tension I've felt performing wedding ceremonies. My intent is to post on this blog series once a week]
After over 15 years of officiating who knows how many weddings (really…it has been a lot) – I’m ready to declare that I have been wrong (mark your calendar…I don’t say that often) and am about to make a change.
Going into 2011 I made a decision to only marry those who are “All-in” at the Living Stones Church. That decision was purely out of time management. I simply had too many requests from too many “friends-of-a-friend” who don’t have a church or a pastor so “would you mind?”
And even after that decision, I performed more wedding ceremonies in 2011 than any other year! All Living Stoners!!!
Prior to my Living Stoner exclusive rule – I’ve NEVER said “no” to any couple that wanted to get married. Not one. Not even when my spidey-pastoral senses were tingling and everything in me thought, “Are you guys crazy!!!!!? This is a colossal mistake!!!” And even now, when anyone connected to Living Stones has asked me to marry them I have always said “yes.” Always.
And now, looking back, I was wrong. I was confused (my own internal confusion) as to who I was and my role in this ceremony. There were many weddings that I left full of celebration, joy, happiness, warm-fuzzies, etc. And there were a few that left me questioning myself, my theology, my pastoral ministry, etc. And in the end, I think I discovered that it came down to the role I was playing and whether or not I was comfortable or called to be in that role.
Let me explain. There seem to be three primary roles (or identities) a Pastor can play in the wedding ceremony:
1. Chaplain to the State. At the end of each ceremony I say, “In accordance with the laws of the State of Indiana, and by the authority given to me by God, I now pronounce you man and wife.” Because of my ordination, I am recognized in the State of Indiana as being qualified to make this pronouncement. And in it, to legally and contractually (with a few of my signatures), declare someone to now be married. How is that for power!!? Impressive. But I’m not the only one who has this power. A Justice of the Peace can do the same thing. Jesus, or any conversation of Jesus, really isn’t even necessary. I could read a few clever poems, tell a funny story, wish the couple good luck and then make my pronouncement. ”In accordance with the laws of the State of Indiana…” I’m discovering, some couples are really only looking for someone who has the legal authority to help them get from single to married. And when it is reduced to that, I sense my real role in this wedding is as a Chaplain to the State.
2. A Character in a Bride’s Fantasy Wedding. Because I’m a guy, I don’t much understand it, but I’ve been told that little girls dream about their wedding day at a very early age. Boys, never dream of their wedding day. Never. When they pass through puberty, they think about their wedding day, but it is typically the post-wedding activities. There are many brides who have always envisioned themselves having a picturesque wedding in a church, with a beautiful white dress, flanked by bridesmaids, beautiful decor, and butterflies that are released upon the kiss (which by the way…half of the butterflies are always dead). Oh…and along with that, you need a Pastor (it comes with the wedding fantasy). In this identity, I’m simply a character in her wedding fantasy.
3. A Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is where I am a spiritual guide to a couple who are about to enter into a covenant with one another that will reflect their covenant with God. They take seriously that they are building their lives together on the foundation of Jesus himself and understand apart from Him, this whole “until death do us part” probably isn’t going to pan out. My job is to pastorally guide them (which includes tough questions), challenge them, correct them, pray for them, and even rebuke them (lovingly) when their actions are jeopardizing their covenantal intentions. When I pray over their vows, they don’t view it as some magic incantation that belongs in a religious ceremony, but done in the name of Jesus in whom they have both personally committed themselves to in regards to loyalty, fidelity, and obedience.
I’m only comfortable with one of these three roles. I’m no longer interested in being a Chaplain of the State or a character in some bride’s fantasy wedding. I’m called to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in that calling to lead people in and through the sanctity of marriage.
“By the authority given to me by God as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ…I now pronounce you…”