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April 29, 2019

After a dry spell of five and a half years, I’m finally officiating weddings again. I’m scheduled to perform three ceremonies this year. Over the course of the past thirty-five years of ministry, I’ve solemnized sixty-six marriages. Eleven of those marriages eventually ended in divorce (that I know of). That’s one out of six, which at least is better than the national average of one out of two.

Performing a ceremony in which two people make a lifetime commitment to each other, witnessed by friends, family and God, is a great joy. I always feel deeply privileged when asked to officiate something so wonderful (and the receptions that follow are a lot of fun too!). Weddings are a little nerve-racking as well. There are sometimes complicated and painful family relationships that have to be negotiated in the ceremony. And from time to time, something goes wrong–which hopefully becomes a source of future laughter rather than ongoing embarrassment.

I offer here a few random notes and observations regarding weddings and their preparation:

  • I always insist on premarital counseling, though I’m not sure how much good it does. Couples who have decided to marry–like couples who have already decided to divorce–are next to impossible to counsel. Engaged couples are mostly in denial about their problems, covering up or minimizing the issues that will become difficult in the years ahead. In the premarital counseling sessions I try to uncover and identify the future marital landmines. At least three couples successfully hid major issues from me, and eventually divorced. Another couple resented my questions and decided to have someone else marry them (to my surprise, they are still married). Another couple, after the first two sessions, changed their minds and broke the engagement. I think that was wise. I don’t want to give the impression the premarital counseling sessions are designed to be difficult; on the contrary, I try to make them enjoyable–but honest.
  • Couples surprise me. Some of those that I thought were the most immature and ill-prepared have had the most long-lasting and delightful marriages. Others that I thought had their headlights on, soon divorced. I don’t tell couples whether they ought to marry or not–that’s up to them. I have never refused to perform a wedding (though if I were to be aware of abuse or infidelity, I would). The requests that make me the most uncomfortable are those from couples who want to get married in a hurry. Those do not end well.
  • Unless you like chaos, wedding rehearsals are essential. My struggle is to keep the rehearsal from being chaos. All rehearsals begin a half hour late because someone in the wedding party is never on time. Then we have to figure out the order of procession, who is coming in with whom, and timing the music (all of this while trying to appease competing interests). Ring-bearers and flower girls are always a wild card–you never know what will actually happen. Microphones, bouquets, readings, recitations, positions and movements all have to be arranged, practiced and choreographed. I can’t believe my first wedding ceremony, when I knew none of this, wasn’t a complete disaster.
  • I always have the bride and groom fill out the license at the rehearsal. I then sign it after the ceremony. It’s too hard to get the bride and groom aside at the reception for filling out the paperwork.
  • For the wedding itself, nix all pranks. Save the humor for the reception. (The homily can have a little humor, but don’t let that best man become a comedian during the ceremony.) As a minister, I must ensure the ceremony is spiritually-centered, not entertainment. It seals a holy covenant and strengthens all other marriage covenants of those who witness it.
  • The receiving line takes longer than you think. Plan on a half hour per one hundred guests.
  • Even if the photographer takes most of the pictures before the ceremony, it still takes at least a half hour for the photographer to do the final photographs after the ceremony (so plan on having something for the guests to do in the meantime).
  • To all officiants: Remember to send in the wedding license! (I forgot after my first wedding, and then rushed it to the courthouse a few days after the expiration date for having the marriage recorded; fortunately the county clerk accepted it.)

I’m excited about the three weddings coming up this year. Each one will teach me something new and inspire me with indelible memories.

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