This week Kathleen and I drove from Brampton, Ontario, to North Chili, New York, 160 miles, to spend four hours with a Northeastern Seminary class, discussing a broad range of pastoral issues. We have been doing this twice a year for more than ten years.
Because it was April 29, the eve of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I decided to review with them my paper dealing with weddings.
This paper touches on the pastor’s over-all role, theological thoughts about marriage, the first interview, how a rehearsal is conducted, and theological questions that all pastors must address in their own studies. It also included a host of other matters.
It seemed to become clear to the class that officiating at a wedding is more than a half-hour responsibility.
In the question period that followed, one seminarian asked, “What does a pastor do if a couple seems to relate to a minister in a combative way? They say, ‘This is our wedding and you are going to do exactly as we say’”? I think he was asking from experience. I was able to say, it does not commonly happen, but if it arises it must be dealt with so as to retain an ordered process.
A pastor’s response might be as follows:
“Indeed it is your wedding. The wedding you have planned will never be duplicated. You have chosen the minister, the place, the date, the time of day, the attendants, the hymns, the colors, the flowers, the musicians, and made scores of other decisions.
“But we must see that in the grand scheme of things it is more than just your wedding. It is my wedding too. I am assigned by both my denomination and the state to carry out certain duties so I must be accountable to that assignment. If serious differences arise I must be allowed to call upon the wisdom of my office.
“Besides all that,” I would go on, “it is the wedding of two families who in lesser ways are also being joined together. We must lay plans in such a way as to give both families their dues. There are longstanding traditions that are intended to help the families through the event without damaging relationships. That’s always a peril and avoiding it takes skill. I hope you will allow me to coach you in some of those traditions.
“Again,” I would say, “it is also the congregation’s wedding. They have provided this lovely facility at great cost. They will be present to rejoice with you. If they make certain requirements, for example, as to how the building is used, those requirements must be respected.
“And beyond all these,” I would conclude, “in a sense it is the State’s wedding. The State wishes the union to be registered in order to maintain order in the State. It must know not only who its citizens are but also what their marital status is in case of death, distribution of an estate, law suits, etc.”
Christian weddings are expected to be both Christian events and also more broadly community events. I would hope that in the process of clarification the couple would come to see that a wedding is more than a drama put on by two lone individuals on a stage. Weddings involve gatherings of family and friends all of whom have an interest in the event. Weddings weave a couple into the fabric of society to shade that fabric in new ways.”
Did the wedding of William and Kate reflect all this? It seemed obvious from world-wide coverage of their moment, plus the extensive media commentary, that the couple, the church and the crown all contributed to the mix in pleasant ways. The ceremony itself seemed unexcelled in its beauty and its attempt to speak Christian truth as to what marriage is in the sight of God.
The seminary discussion was a pleasant segment in the evening class. When you get a group of young or even middle aged people together, there is usually interest in directed conversation about weddings and marriage.