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Marriage is a celebration of God’s love

This is the time of year for wedding shows. The related phone calls are familiar in the church office. The caller is inquiring about a wedding at the church. They want a pretty church for their special day. Perhaps it is just a small event, for the immediate family. Perhaps it is a grand affair. Most often, the caller is not a member of the congregation, and maybe not of any faith community.

The average wedding cost in the United States is now over $35,000. Even in the Ohio Valley, people spend spectacular sums for that wedding day. They plan and work hard, choosing just the right dress, the matching tuxedoes, the decorations, the music, the venue and meal for the reception. So much energy is devoted to getting it right. Wedding fairs help to make sure those planning the wedding know what is available in the market place.

In 37 years of ordained ministry, I have done many weddings. Always the bride is beautiful and the groom is handsome. I am far more interested in a beautiful marriage than a beautiful wedding. As a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I am responsible that the wedding is the worship of God, and that the marriage is a covenantal relation in which God is a part.

Ministers, priests, rabbis and imams all follow different traditions according to their faith communities. A couple coming to the church for a wedding are making a theological statement, that they want God to be a partner in this marriage. When I asked a young couple what difference God makes in their lives, they responded, “none”, I then said, “You are in the wrong place.” I was not seeking to be mean, but to affirm that God is central to what we say and do in the wedding ceremony.

In our religious traditions, we may require some form of preparation, more than just a run through of the ceremony. I require pre-marriage counseling in which I use particular instruments and tools to help a couple look at their patterns of communication, family relationships, expectations and the role of faith in their relationship. In one case, the couple decided that they were not ready for marriage, a wise decision. Usually couples find strengths they did not know they had and work on problems before they become minefields.

We will also talk about plans for the wedding day. Whether or not the organist plays for the wedding, the music selected must be appropriate for the worship of God. Vows, if personal, must be appropriate. Other ceremonies and touches personalize the wedding. These also must fit the context of worship. That is why you come to this place for your wedding.

The typical wedding will involve a rehearsal the day before the wedding, an event likely to take one to two hours. Then the wedding, from the time the women arrive to prepare until the wedding party leaves, will take most of an afternoon. A reception may also involve more time commitment of the religious leader.

Consider the cost of 10,000 watts of lighting, the heating or cooling of 10,000 square feet of building space for most of the afternoon of the wedding day. The church may set fees for the facility, the minister, the organist, the sound tech, the custodian and possibly others. Consider that in perspective of what you are willing to spend on other aspects of your wedding, such as the cake, the photography, the beverages.

Please contact your religious leader early as you begin to make plans for a wedding. If the church or the religious leader is not available on the date you book the hall, you may be very disappointed.

Yes, I have attended weddings performed by the favorite aunt who purchased an online ordination from the church of the World Wide Web. That may be fun. That may be cheaper. My ordination involves extensive education and standards of accountability. The favorite aunt may hear one side in the first fight. As a religious leader, I will be a counselor and confessor to both husband and wife when the problems threaten your marriage or your soul. Couples do have problems in marriage. A sign of a healthy marriage is the ability to learn together how respect one another and to navigate the problems together.

A happy marriage and a strong, healthy family are a legacy that you can build. Together, we can make your marriage a blessing and a joyous celebration of God’s love.

Editor’s note: The Rev. David Stammerjohn is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Martins Ferry.

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