Wedding debacles and corrective measures

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With over fifty years of ministerial experience, I have officiated at quite a number of weddings. Most of those went well and the happy couple departed to whatever the future held. Then there were others …

First of all, I should state that, as a young minister, I would bend over backwards to do what the couple wanted. A good many times, that was the wrong approach.

For example, I once married a couple who were hot air balloon enthusiasts. The plan was to have the wedding outside at a field in front of one of those hot air balloons. Then the couple would get in the basket of the balloon and fly to the reception area some miles away.

The problem was that a strong wind was blowing that day, and the determination was made that it was hazardous to fly. So, there was no balloon ride and the plan fizzled.

The number of rained out weddings I experienced has been significant. Almost no one has a back-up plan to an outdoor wedding in case of storms. In one such wedding, the folks gathered had to shelter under an outdoor pavilion as sheets of rain came along with lightning and thunder. The trip back to the cars afterwards was a slog through the thick mud.

One wedding by a lake went awry when a thunderstorm hit. There was no back-up plan, but someone in the crowd volunteered the use of their nearby church but, due to a wedding already scheduled in their sanctuary, the wedding was held in the basement with a very low ceiling. It had the feel of a secret wedding in a Communist country. At least to me.

I have been to a few outdoor weddings where butterflies were released. I never understood the symbolism of that act but, in one case, when the butterflies were released, a flock of birds descended and gobbled up the liberated creatures. I hope the young couple fared better than did the butterflies.

And, in Georgia especially, and elsewhere throughout the South, people who attend or participate in outdoor weddings would be well advised to bring lots of insect repellent. The gnats, mosquitos, ticks, biting flies, and other annoying predators love the fresh meat available in outdoor weddings. The perfume worn by the ladies sometimes attracts bees. My favorite repellent is “Deep Woods Off.”

But, for me, things have changed. As a rule, the denomination in which I now serve does not do outdoor weddings. For us, what others call a wedding, is the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It is a worship service at which two people, a man and a woman, are sacramentally united. They, and those believers in attendance, will also be offered Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

It is a time when the community of faith participates with the couple and their families in their new journey, which we pray will last a lifetime. It is a service at which the couples receive the sacramental blessing of their union.

There’s something about the joyous solemnity of such an event. The entire world tunes in to watch the Royals of Great Britain get married. They do pageantry better than anybody else. And even a small sacramental wedding has a certain amount of pageantry.

In our services, there is no secular music. Those songs can be played at the reception. The music used must also be pre-approved. Premarital counseling is required. Our sanctuary is not “loaned out” to people who have no connection to our congregation. Our clergy have the right to decline to officiate a wedding.

Years ago, I refused to participate in a wedding when the couple, who had been dating for years, expressed their intention to have the groom escorted into the church by his groomsmen who would be holding shotguns at his back. The shotguns would not be loaded but they were making a joke about finally getting him to the altar. But a wedding is not a joke.

As our brochure about weddings states, “It is the goal of our communion and of Christ the King Church to begin to restore the sanctity, holiness, and permanence of the marital union.” But what about couples who want to get married outside the sanctuary of the church building? That’s up to them. There’s no penalty or guilt associated with that decision. I have attended quite a number of those weddings to show my affection, love, and support for them at this crucial period in their lives. But, unless an exception is granted by the diocesan bishop, our clergy cannot officiate.

Exceptions are to be rare, however. I married a couple in a hospital room as the bride lay dying of cancer. I also once performed a wedding in a hospital chapel for a couple who, though not married, had just had a baby. The mother refused to give the baby a name until the child could have the last name of her father. The hospital chaplain in Atlanta made the arrangements and the witnesses were nurses. That was several decades ago, and the couple is still happily married.

Some might believe that this approach is legalistic or opposed to romance. But, while there are rules and standards, the church is very much in favor of weddings but sees these events as chiefly spiritual events and not primarily romantic or sentimental events.

Thus, a union between a man and a woman begins in worship and their first act as a married couple is to receive Holy Communion at the altar of the church and receive the sacramental blessing of the priest. If nothing else, that’s a very good start to a new life.

[David Epps has been an opinion columnist for The Citizen for over 27 years and is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King. Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). For a copy of the wedding brochure, send an email request to davidepps@ctk.life.]