Monday, May 02, 2005

Faith Works 5-07-05
Jeff Gill

Why Can’t I Do That In Church?

Fourteen bridesmaids? With another fourteen groomsmen to match, bride and groom and let’s not even think about how many flower girls and ringbearers, you’ve got over 30 people in the front of the church.
Runaway bride? I’d think about being a runaway pastor just facing the rehearsal.
While we’re all (fiancé included) still trying to figure out what happened between Duluth, Georgia and Albuquerque, New Mexico last week, many of us know we’re heading for a wedding in the family. June actually hasn’t been the “main” month for weddings for some time: October used to fill up on my calendar, with May and August close behind, and then September and December, while June sat there with open Saturdays. But as spring loosens up enough to allow outdoor receptions, and with planning starting to look important now for a service next fall, this is still a good time to talk about weddings and church life.
Jokes about “Bridezilla” aside, in twenty years of pulpit ministry, I can tell you that just a few meetings between pastor and couple, even when they aren’t terribly well acquainted beforehand, can resolve most all complications well before the Big Day. What I learned to dread was not even the mother of the bride (though I’ve heard stories, and had my moments), but the big complication in many rehearsals and final service set-up was . . .
The Friend of the Bride’s Mother. There was the source of my most frequent conflicts as a minister preparing to help a couple celebrate a church wedding.
“Why can’t you move that table thing . . . ok, communion table . . . out of sight? Shouldn’t there be another soloist? My daughter sings that Streisand thing really well . . . and can you wear a stole that matches the bridesmaids’ colors?”
Tell the couple, their parents, and give them handouts with 24-pt. type saying “no tape on the pews or doors” and you face a bride’s mother’s friend on the morning of, busily taping away and brushing you off with a free hand like an annoying fly saying “oh, this doesn’t leave a mark, see, I can just . . . whoops.”
What makes the challenge here is that church weddings are just that: an act of the church, a service of worship first and foremost, with the marriage of two people an element (a very significant element, but still) of that special service. And I’ve found that brides and grooms and even mothers of the bride, when you get a chance to explain what a wedding means in a house of worship, even to those fairly loosely “churched,” they get on board pretty enthusiastically. Taking the pressure off of the two, and making this a celebration in which we all take a part in the sight of God, actually helps make the wedding-gy parts go better.
But around us is a consumer culture, where “have it your way” and “special order” are the rule of the day. So those who haven’t been part of the meetings with the pastor and church musicians chime in: “Why can’t that Van Halen song you love be in the service? Are they serious about this no rice rule?”
There is no simple way around the fact that pastors, church trustees or others who help around the building on the day of a wedding have to remember that they are in a teaching role. We have to learn to say “why” along with saying “no” to some of the culture’s more intrusive attempts to control the Big Day, even when we have to do it on the fly. We need to teach the couple how to teach their friends and family about what we’re doing in the church building that day.
As for the quaint tradition of cake mashing, that’s a whole ‘nother column. Short answer: you will never, ever look back and regret not doing it.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have wedding tales to share, e-mail

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