This is the season feared by most ministers – wedding season. In fact, most ministers would rather do a funeral than a wedding.
No, it’s not because we’d rather see someone die than get married. It’s because funerals are simpler. The biggest requirement in preaching a good funeral sermon is empathy, something that well suits the ministerial personality type.
My father was a pastor who demonstrated his resistance toward wedding complications by humorously feigning forgetfulness. During the drive to the ceremony, when my mother would ask him if he’d memorized his part, he’d say, “Hmm. Does this sound right? ‘Dearly beloved, we’re gathered here to mourn the loss of our dear brother in holy matrimony.”
My mother usually gave him a playful slap on the arm at that point.
However, my dad had a point. Weddings can get complicated. That’s why I have a few rules that I employ whenever I perform a wedding.
Most wedding complications could be avoided if all couples followed my first rule: “No alcohol before the wedding.”
I don’t have the rule because I’m Baptist, but because I once did a home wedding where the best man had to prop up the inebriated groom. Another couple found a loophole by bringing a keg in a truck to the church parking lot. “Don’t worry, that’s for after the ceremony,” they said, with air quotes around “after.”
Next rule: “Prepare my honorarium before the wedding.”
Two incidents that inspired that requirement. The couple in the first wedding I performed gave me a rubber check. I would’ve let it slide, but my bank charged me a bounced check fee. In the second instance, the groom stopped our march into the sanctuary because he forgot to pay me.
“Wait,” he cried. Then he extended a $100 bill toward the end of my nose and simply added, “Here ya go, Bud!”
Third rule: “Keep the vow changes to a minimum.”
Last-minute edits complicate things. I remember one bride-to-be who requested to change the vows to “till love do us part.” I referred the wedding to another clergy friend. Five months later, when her groom left on a Navy cruise, she ran off with a land lover.
I did let one bride change the traditional vow wording a bit – my wife, Becky. She didn’t want to promise to obey me, and while she was at it, she told both our parents that we were striking the part where she was to be given away.
“I’m not somebody’s property,” she told her pastor dad, who had little choice about doing the ceremony. Instead, Becky had both sets of parents stand and publicly pledge their support of the marriage.
Yes, marriage ceremonies can be complicated. And this month, as the Supreme Court debates some of those complications, I see a way to deescalate the argument a bit.
We would do well to consider the model used in many countries where weddings are accomplished by the state. If couples want a religious ceremony, they can celebrate that in a separate rite according to their own traditions.
I believe that solution offers the only true separation of church and state, as well as the true intention of Jesus’ admonition to “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” (Mark 12:17).
If we can make this separation, I think we’ll find ourselves as pleasantly surprised as the crowd was who first heard this wisdom is Jesus’ teaching. For according to remainder of the verse, “Their mouths hung open, speechless.”
I’m pleased to announce my new book about my experiences as a hospital chaplain in Iraq can is now on Amazon. You can buy it or download it for free this this weekend only Friday or Saturday, May 8-9.