While January is not wedding season, it is the season for those who got engaged over the holidays to begin planning their weddings. The first few weeks of January for many churches includes numerous phone calls inquiring about weddings. Lots of phone calls. Often from brides or mothers of brides who are not members of churches or have come "a few times, and it's close to the reception, so we were wondering..."
I absolutely understand the desire to have one's wedding in a beautiful setting, and many churches are elegant and beautiful. And I understand the deep desire, perhaps almost unknown, to have such a momentous event in one's life blessed by God or, if you don't actually confess a belief in God, blessed by something larger than you.
I've often read tips about getting married that address the types of appropriate music number and whether or not young children make good members of the wedding party. This post is not about that, although trust me I have opinions on such matters. With that said, some things that I hope all those involved in weddings may consider while planning for the event.
1. If you are an active member of the church, we love you. Weddings I've officiated for members of my church have been, without a doubt, wonderful and joyous celebrations. Active members are a part of the life of a church, and most have a sense that weddings are a part of the life of a church. A priest mentor of mine once opined that having a wedding as a member of the church was akin to living in another country and speaking the language fluently and that having a wedding not as a member of the church was akin to living in another country and only speaking a few of the words. Certainly food for thought.
2. If you aren't a member of the church, be prepared to explain why you want God (and, by extension, God's representative in the clergy person) present at your wedding. Why is that blessing important to you and your future spouse? Are you not particularly religious or spiritual, but is a church wedding important to your family? Also, please don't say you're going to be active members after the wedding if you truly haven't made that commitment. My experience is that if you aren't active for at least a year before the wedding, you likely won't be active after the wedding - although I know there are exceptions. I'd rather you be honest.
3. Expect to pay a fair amount for use of the church. You're paying for the dresses and suits, you're paying for the catering and flowers. The church is not free, either. Maintaining church buildings involves insurance, cleaning, and utilities, among other things. The church staff is working for your special day. To prepare for a wedding involves preparations just like any other building preparing for a special event. One rabbi I know told his couples the fee to the temple was 10% of what they spent on the wedding.
4. Your wedding preparations will involve at least 7 to 10 hours on behalf of the church and clergy. Premarital counseling, preparing the ceremony itself, and meeting with florists, photographers, and others is time-consuming. Some weddings involved upwards of 20 hours for various reasons. Many churches pray for couples preparing to be married. The church community, while you may not see it front and center, is making an investment in your wedding and marriage. That is a loving and awe-inspiring thing I hope all couples reflect on.
5. If you are going to a church of a particular denomination, realize the clergy are often bound to the liturgy and rules of that denomination. As an Episcopal priest, I am bound to use the liturgy for marriage in the Book of Common Prayer. There are numerous ways to adapt the liturgy to reflect the desires of the couple, but I can't omit God from the service (and yes, I've been asked to do just that). Most churches have guidelines that govern the type of music used, where flowers can be placed, and other particulars. Please honor these guidelines - doing so honors the community that has welcomed your celebration.
6. Graciousness is a wonderfully welcome part of wedding planning. While weddings are understandably the most important thing going on in the life of the couple, they are one aspect of church life. Weddings, funerals, baptisms, meetings, Sunday services, weekday services, pastoral visits, even pastoral emergencies - all of these are occurring every day at the church. One clergy friend suggests that couples not active members of her church subscribe to the e-newsletter, partly to see what is going on so they can be aware of the life of the church as they plan their wedding.
7. Most clergy have officiated at dozens (hundreds!) of weddings. We have insights from decades of working with couples preparing for marriage. We also know the space of our church, what flowers look good where, which music sounds best, and other nifty tips. Ask us. We love to put this knowledge to use.