Saturday, April 19, 2008

I Think I Made a Bride Cry

I think I made a bride cry yesterday. I didn't mean to do it, and I'm not sure I did make her cry. It was just a phone call that became increasingly tense. Over the years the church I serve has crafted a wedding policy that states that weddings at MCC must have one of MCC's pastors officiating. That means overseeing the premarital counseling, planning the service, leading the rehearsal and officiating (or co-officiating with another clergy-person) at the wedding. This policy was meant to keep weddings part of our mission to the community and not just a revenue source, turning the church into a rental-hall.
Outside couples who choose Santa Barbara for their weddings come in two flavors: one is ready and eager to work with us to shape their wedding. They are usually grateful and delightful to work with. The others come with pre-set plans and their own team, resenting the requirement to use us pastors, seeing us as one more layer of administration to deal with. These brides have asked me to start the wedding, say a greeting and then go sit down.
That's what happened yesterday. A very busy bride and her very busy fiance do not have time to come up and meet with me prior to their mid-summer wedding. But they have it all planned out with their chosen pastor from another church from another state. When I informed her that I would not be a cake decoration but integrally involved in the wedding, from the planning and use of the facility through the service, she became testy and said "That's not what I was led to believe!"
This time I told her that what she believed was wrong. This is the church I pastor and our building is not a rental hall, but part of our ministry over which I have responsibility. She could work with me on our terms or make other plans. The phone was quiet and the she said that they would find a time when we could meet and see what we could work out.
What's the deal here? Am I getting old and crotchety or are weddings taking on a weird life-force of their own? I do not recall wrangling about the details at our wedding. We planned much of it, but were also told what we could and could not do. It followed a plan that we yielded to. Now, increasingly, brides and couples feel that it is their right to make a church wedding into their production irrespective of the theology and tradition of a local church. They are "renting the set" for their day.
MCC is the only church in Montecito that allows weddings to non-members. Because Santa Barbara is such a destination location, there are many requests from outsiders. But conversations like yesterday's make me wonder if it's worth all the work and energy that gets taken away from the real work of ministry?


At 7:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don, they have a life of their own. Most of the time quite apart from Christ and the church. Crazy.

And, we welcome you to our Central Conference Ministerial Association meeting this Thursday! Our evening worship will include Ordinand testimonies, Communion and, interspersed music. Anders Johnson, Youth Pastor in Iron River, will lead us in 5 or so acoustic "praise" songs and 5 good old time hymns...also led by him on acoustic guitar...his own arrangements. And we will SING!

with infinite hope, Jim Stanley-Erickson

At 10:50 AM , Blogger Andrew Stonina said...

While I can see the good outreach opportunity that this provides, the church--MCC or Bethlehem or any church for that matter; is not a wedding chapel. Your church has certain rules that are in place to see to it that your church does not become a wedding chapel.

This goes for a lot of things in the church, but finally when is the church going to put their foot down and say that we are a community formed by and for Christ. If that means losing out on some potential income from an outside wedding then, so be it. I do not think that enforcing your policy makes you or the church look bad.

At 8:06 AM , Anonymous John Scott said...

Thanks for 'vocalizing' your frustrations with this wedding thing. Even up here in WI we are seeing the same thing - couples desire to use our long-aisled traditional sanctuary for their wedding, but they don't want the 'Church' to interfere.

As a young pastor married for 6 years and still trying to figure it all out, I so desire to see these couples get off to a good start. And if they're unwilling to take the time to discuss their relationship with me (their pastor du jour) before their wedding, it throws up a big red flag that usually reads, "My wedding is more important than my marriage".

I often have to use the word 'requirement' with couples like these. Most will acquiesce. Some will go the wedding chapel route. The ones who remain usually are thankful after the wedding for the time they spent in preparation.

At 10:28 AM , Blogger Dan said...

Much of it goes back to that "Church as vendor of religious goods and services" idea. Like the florist and the photographer and the caterer, so the church is one more hired business who answers to the bridal party's beck and call. It really comes down to expectations. As a pastor, I expect that God will be present in the wedding, I trust that the wedding is part of God's work in the couple and in the community. I tremble at the idea of representing God's blessing upon the couple before me. Some couples, though, simply want a building, either for convenience' sake, or for some sort of "magical religious mojo," thinking a church wedding is somehow blessed. I hate to send people away thinking we don't care, but on the other hand, how else do we hold on to the Truth that weddings are primarily God's business, and not our own?


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