I rarely visit with a pastor who enjoys doing weddings. Just mention weddings to a group of pastors and you hear things like this:
- “It takes the whole weekend: Friday rehearsal, Saturday wedding, and boom—Sunday is here.”
- “Everybody wants a Princess Di wedding these days. Couples are more concerned with how things look than what it means.”
- “Many of the couples don’t take premarital counseling seriously.”
- “I feel like rent-a-preacher.”
- “Weddings? I’d rather do a funeral any day.”
- And “You never know about the mother of the bride.”
Enjoy them or not, they are part of our duties as pastors. They provide an opportunity to deepen relationships with a church family, provide leadership to help a couple build a better marriage, and offer a gospel opportunity in the wedding sermon/devotional. In short, weddings give a pastor another avenue to shepherd the people toward Jesus.
I have mixed emotions when it comes to doing weddings. The better I know the couple and the family, the more I enjoy doing their wedding. I’ve been pastor where I am long enough that I have married persons who I visited at the hospital on the day of their birth. Those weddings mean a little more. Lots of shared history and experience together. I feel like they are family. It helps me, too, because I will only marry persons with whom I have connection. I haven’t been rent-a-preacher in years. At least two or three times a year, I get a call at the office: “Hey, pastor, we’re going to be in Hot Springs two Saturdays from now, and we’re looking for a Baptist preacher to do our wedding. Will you do it?” I feel zero guilt and remorse when I say, “No thanks.” If a person is connected to the church, I am glad to be part of the wedding. If they are not, there are plenty of rent-a-preachers available.
That said, let me chart out some things to think in regard to pastors and weddings:
If the church doesn’t have a wedding policy, help the church formulate one. Policies protect both the church and the pastor. Policies detail who can be married in the church and who can perform weddings in the church, a requirement (or not) to use the church wedding coordinator, calendar considerations, costs, premarital counseling expectations, A/V and custodial requirements and costs. Some policies even spell out the kind of music that can be played. The key in any policy statement is detailed enough to provide clear direction on the things that matter most to a church but general enough to provide a little wiggle room.
Determine your personal positions on issues like these: interfaith weddings or where one of the couple is not a Christian; how you will respond to a couple that is already living together before marriage; how you think about things like doing the Lord’s Supper for the couple only during the ceremony; what you will do if after getting acquainted with the couple, you’re convinced the marriage is a bad idea.
Determine what you will expect of the couple in regard to premarital counseling. Some churches offer required classes. If you do the counseling, how many sessions and what is your plan? Will you use some kind of standardized testing? Will you require any outside reading or homework assignments between sessions?
Know your role in the wedding rehearsal. These days, many churches provide coordinators or the couple hires a coordinator. If a coordinator is employed, what is your role. Personally, I prefer to run the rehearsal. If the wedding is in the church, I do run the rehearsal. I know how to do it. I do it well. I get everybody ready for the wedding day. I’m efficient. But these days, more and more weddings are in non-church venues. In that case, I tell the coordinator that while she/he is in charge of the overall rehearsal, I will take charge once we get the wedding party in their places. It works well. As to the rehearsal dinner, sometimes I go, sometimes I don’t.
Develop a wedding day ritual. I like to get there at least 30 minutes before the wedding, check in with the coordinator, check on the wedding party, and refresh my thoughts for the sermon/devotional. I like to share an appropriate Scripture, keep my words brief and to the point (5-10 minutes), keep it as personal as I can, and insert the gospel in the process. For years, I rarely mentioned the gospel. I’ve tried to remedy that in my old age. A wedding is as much a gospel opportunity as a funeral. After the service, I ask the photographer if he/she can take my picture with the couple first. I’ve yet to encounter one who wouldn’t do that. When I was younger, I went to more receptions. Of course, most receptions in those days were in the church. Fewer and fewer receptions are in the church now. So I may or may not go to a reception. I’ve yet to have anyone complain if I didn’t show up.
Consider your attire: make sure you own a black suit (a marrying and burying suit, as one preacher called it). Black is always appropriate. Of course, some couples prefer more casual attire. Check with the couple about that. I learned from my wife to ask about the bridesmaids colors, so I can pick a tie that doesn’t clash.
And what about taking an honorarium for your work? My policy, as I tell the couple during premarital counseling, is that I don’t want to be paid to perform their wedding. I consider it part of my responsibility as their pastor. If I pastored a church that didn’t pay very well, I would rethink that policy. I’ve never charged a fee, but I have gratefully received whatever a family wants to give. These days, since families know my no-charge policy, they tend to give me a gift card of some kind. Most want to do something. Let them.
So there you go: a few thoughts about weddings. What have I missed? What would you add or change?