Recently I was having a conversation with a friend who’d gotten a license to be able to perform weddings for friends. This individual has performed a couple of wedding ceremonies for friends who would have otherwise likely gone to the county courthouse for a civil ceremony. This got me thinking.
Now, I want to make this clear from the outset. This is not — this is NOT an indictment of this friend, or other friends, or people I don’t know who are not clergy but who have gotten licenses to perform wedding ceremonies. If you’re getting married and you really want your best friend or your co-worker or your sister or Elvis or Chewbacca to perform your wedding ceremony, then that’s whom you should have. And if you’re willing to do this for a friend, then you’re a good friend. Really.
But this conversation did get me thinking. It got me thinking about all the times I’ve heard people talking to me about do-it-yourself weddings/funerals/memorials and other services that clergy provide. It got me thinking about all the times people have said to me things like, “Well all you do is work for an hour on Sunday and give a talk for 15 or 20 minutes,” or “How hard can that be? Anyone can do it!” Or, “Why would we need a minister? We can take care of ourselves!”
So I thought I would tell you what you get when you get me. Or one of my colleagues. Because I think that truly, many people don’t know. It’s a common plot device on t.v. shows to have friends of an engaged couple get an online ordination so that they can perform the wedding ceremony for their friends. How hard can it be, right? And of course, if it’s a sitcom, it’s going to be awkward and funny. (For example, Howard and Bernadette’s wedding in “The Big Bang Theory“). But real life isn’t a sitcom.
This is what happens when you get me for your wedding. Oh, sure, I do that stuff that everyone sees. I do that bit where I stand in front of everyone and I say the words, and I sign the marriage license and the couple gets married. But you knew that already, because you’ve been to a wedding before, right? But maybe you didn’t know this part. I do pre-marital counseling with couples. I’ve had special training in a particular type of couples counseling that comes along with an assessment tool that I have access to, on top of my pastoral training and knowing how to be with people. I can’t guarantee that this pre-marital counseling will ensure a lifetime of wedded bliss. But I do know that I’m helping couples to be prepared with good tools to address growth areas.
I have pastoral skills. These come with being a pastor. Sometimes, couples and families are anxious leading up to a wedding. One of the biggest parts of my job is remain calm, and by so doing, help to calm down everyone else, too.
Sometimes, people aren’t sure about what they want, or about what might offend Great-Aunt Tilly, or about how to make sure they speak to Grandpa’s fierce religious conservatism, even though the couple isn’t at all religious.
Sometimes people don’t know where to start. So I offer them a sample framework and a big collection of vows, readings, ring exchanges, and other bits. Sometimes they choose from my selection, and sometimes they have their own things chosen already. But I keep this reference handy for those who don’t know where to begin.
There are times when things go wrong at the last minute. A member of the wedding party is ill and unable to attend. A ring is missing. The sound system doesn’t work or the set-up isn’t as planned. These are the moments when I’m called upon to be pastoral and a bit administrative. To take charge enough to make things run smoothly, but to keep the proper focus on the happy couple.
A lot of what I do is to reassure. “Yes, of course you can use that reading in your wedding.” “If you want to come down the aisle to [insert song here] then you should do that.” “This is your wedding ceremony – it’s not about what your guests want to see it’s about what you want to have.”
This is what you get when you get me. Or my colleagues. Have the wedding you want to have. And if that includes having a friend perform your ceremony – if that will make you feel more at home and comfortable, then you should have that. But please don’t say, “how hard could it be?” Now you know.
That’s my mite. That’s all I’ve got.