A New Way to Marry

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Wedding season is well under way, as can be seen by the many wedding photos being shared on social media. Add to this continued debate over the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage, and the topic is dominating my Facebook feed. Although I’ve heard and seen much about the meaning of marriage, few have raised the question of what our wedding ceremonies say about our theology of marriage. In other words, how is a specifically Christian view of marriage expressed in the way we get married?

That’s a complex question, but I think at least one way to offer an answer would be to place the wedding service within the context of Sunday morning worship. Here are a few reasons why.

First, it underscores the holy nature of the commitment undertaken in Christian marriage. The strangeness of having a wedding in the Sunday church service would reinforce the strangeness of what Christians mean by “marriage.” Vows are made in the presence of God and witnesses. These vows, if taken seriously, are a call to come and die to self. This level of sanctification is not something we can do on our own. We therefore call upon God to give us the grace we need to sustain our marriage. Even Protestants, who do not generally consider marriage a sacrament, can still see it as sacramental, being both a visible sign of the love of Christ and the church and being a channel of God’s forgiving and empowering grace in the life of each spouse. So our wedding ceremonies should be less about our unique, individual self-expression and more about what Christian weddings share in common: the recognition that God has claimed us and called us to Christ-like love in the context of marriage.

Second, placing the wedding service in Sunday morning worship recognizes that it takes a village to raise a marriage. Too often, we see the congregation at a wedding as simply spectators, there to watch (and, of course, comment on what they’d do differently) and observe what the two heroic individuals on stage are doing. Some liturgies for weddings actually include vows that the congregation makes, emphasizing their part in the marriage as well. Although extended family members and college friends may be able to do this to some degree, it seems as though these vows would be best taken by those who see and know the couple on a weekly or even daily basis, in the context of the local church.

The strangeness of having a wedding in the Sunday service would reinforce the strangeness of what Christians mean by “marriage.”

Third, the focus on Sunday worship as the context for marriage could potentially right a host of wrongs associated with the marriage-industrial complex. The pressure is not on the couple to “produce” and pay for an absolutely unique service and party. Rather, they are enfolded within the weekly rhythm of the worshipping community. Because the worship service is about God, not us, the pressure to focus on ourselves - including the temptation to spend an average of $31,213 on the wedding - can and should be diminished. Sunday morning weddings could thus be a great reminder of the value and importance of every marriage. There are many things in life worth celebrating and spending money on; I’m not trying to kill the party. But when people either (a) delay marriage because the wedding costs tens of thousands of dollars they don’t have or (b) get married outside of the congregational context (for example, at the justice of the peace) because of a lack of finances, I think we as Christians need to reconsider our practice. Perhaps the storied Christian tradition of the potluck would be the most fitting way to celebrate together the gifts that each household within the church brings in support of the new household being established that day.

I suspect that a shift in this practice of wedding ceremonies would not only help the bride and groom be better spouses, but that it may make us as a church more aware of our call to love, strengthen and encourage one another as we all - single and married alike - walk the path Christ has for us.

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Great food for thought. Even if you get married on a different day, it seems the principles here are worth considering in planning the ceremony.

Has anyone been to a Sunday service wedding? I haven't, but would be curious to hear from those who have.

Well put!  I have felt the same for many years!  And yet, my wife and I had a traditional Saturday afternoon wedding, and so did my three children.  Why is it so hard to break that tradition?

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Twenty-five years ago, while leading morning worship in a CRC in Canada, I simultaneously officiated at a wedding. In the early days of post-World War 2 immigration to Canada among the Dutch CRCs, weddings in worship were widely practiced. I've been told that the reason was not particularly to follow an un-worldly path. Rather, people were often widely scattered around the cities or towns where they settled. Since Sunday was the only day off for most people, they used the day to gather from morning till after the second service--usually early afternoon--to worship and eat together and, when requested, to celebrate a wedding.

This practice certainly did serve a worthy spiritual purpose of placing the ceremony in the community of witnesses, who usually were asked to support the newly married couple. (There was also the possibility that someone might object to the couple marrying, as that question was routinely asked as the wedding portion of the service began.) 

Although I too would encourage re-introduction of this practice, in many--especially large--congregations in which people are no longer closely tied by nearly daily personal encounters at work or in social occasions, the promise of support might ring a bit hollow. Still, I'd be eager to see what others are thinking about this subject.

(Although I regret to note that the particular marriage mentioned above lasted only four years, the thoughtful re-introduction of Sunday weddings in worship is well worth exploring.

 

My husband and I got married in a worship service in 1969. It was a wonderful way to start our life together.

 

This topic just came up at our house yesterday, as I was remembered once hearing about weddings happening on Sunday AFTER the Sunday morning service.  Everyone was invited to stay for the ceremony.  Is this done anymore and if so, is it specific to different region?

It is food for thought, Sunday worship weddings. Your idea is to make the wedding ceremony much like the practice of baptism, that is Covenant, and what could be most biblically identified with the idea of covenant than a wedding. I both like it and endorse it, particularly where, as with baptism, we exhort the congregation to do their part to see this marriage spiritually prosper and succeed. It is a question the church needs to ask itself especially when the divorce rate among professing Christians hardly differs from the divorce rate among non-Christians. It is probably fair to day the church has lost the cultural war on marriage because the covenantal view of marriage has been lost to the church.

Interesting perspective.  Personally, as one of the "twenty-somethings" the CRC is trying to lure back, I am marriage-saturated right now.  Everyone and their mother is getting engaged or married, and I'm constantly attending weddings.  They are all well and good -- I'm very happy for those couples who have found each other -- but I really don't need weddings to invade my Sunday morning worship as well as my Facebook feed and my summer weekends.  Maybe it's selfish, but I don't go to church to celebrate and think about other people that much. I want to be spiritually nourished and refreshed, not made to feel guilty or sad that I'm single.  Weddings inevitably result in questions (from sometimes well-meaning people, yes) about whether I'm seeing anyone or when I'm going to get married. I don't need that in Sunday worship.

Also, regarding cost: often the biggest costs at a wedding don't come from the ceremony itself. It's the reception that's expensive. And I doubt that people would stop having receptions just because they got married during a Sunday service.  So the huge cost would still be there.

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 That's nice but I doubt that my fellow congregation members would go along gladly with this proposal.  Most of them already find the Sunday morning service too long.  On the other hand I had heard of this practice in Presbyterian circles, and if it appeals to people of Scottish descent, it might carry with those of Dutch descent since some of the latter like to brag about being cheaper than Jews or Scots.