It's one of the things I do: officiate. It's a role that I both inherited and have learned to love. It's the offering of an invocation, blessing or benediction. It's a titular experience of representing the church in my office of pastor.
In two areas I have noticed a subtle slide or shift: weddings and funerals. In my past and in the midwest, I was regularly called on to officiate at funerals for families both of the church and families who had no church. The ethos dictated that a clergy person say the words and guide the process in cooperation with the funeral home personnel. Now in the West, that seldom happens. Funerals are rare. Memorials are more common. And many families host their own events at parks, beaches, homes and restaurants without needing an "officiant".
The other area where I was often called to step in an officiate was for weddings. I think I have logged over 400 weddings now in my life as a pastor. But the calls to officiate at non-church weddings is becoming more infrequent. Sunday's New York Times Style Section clearly and succinctly identifies a cultural slide away from institutional clergy officiants to instantly certified friends of the family. It's the shift to a privatized faith and ritual unhinged from history and a larger community. We feel we can make it up as we go, drawing from here and there to make a pastiche ceremony of our own.
This slide translates into the life of the church where regular gathering in one place with others to sing, pray, and listen to a sermon is becoming less the norm. This is a growing segment of our community who have a faith in God, but when asked about religious affiliation, label themselves as Nones. I think we in the church need to carefully examine these trends as a critique on the church, but also make a stronger case for the church in our day. It's going to be an interesting ride!