Although I don't entirely agree with her, her email did make me think. So I've decided to print her email, and my response here in my blog. Let me know what you think by clicking on the blue comments link below.
Hello Nina,Dear Reverend Carlson:
I was browsing your articles because my daughter was married in a civil ceremony and is considering having a religious blessing of the marriage later.
I am an Episcopal priest, and I am fine with her decision. I'll tell you why ...
You should have some sort of article up there about how used and abused clergy people are beginning to feel because brides and grooms treat them like service providers and not like religious guides or leaders of a faith community. When I perform weddings in my church, they are for couples who are members, or who are willing to attend church regularly and explore what faith means to them in the context of the life-long commitment they are about to make. I also require at least three, maybe more, premarital discussions to try to help them start married life on a good footing. I want to know why they even want to have a wedding in a church, since Mexico is so much prettier and the wedding industry will take good care of them in many non-religious locations.
To have a religious ceremony involves a very large and important third person -- the Deity -- in that ceremony, in those vows, and in the life the couple plans to lead. Many couples, I am finding, forget or don't even care about that very large and important third person in their rush to have the "perfect ceremony" and "the best day of their lives." It's all about whether the church is pretty and whether the officiant is available. Too often they schedule the entire reception, reserve the limos, book the beauty appointments, and THEN come looking for clergy.
I know this is a rant. But it debases faith to treat a church like a stage set and an ordained minister like a Central Casting extra. Marriage is life-long, and only begins on that wedding day. It is a holy institution and deserves to be treated that way. Really, it's not about the wedding. It's about the marriage. It is a big deal to give your life over to another person. It's much more than just checking out a church to see if it will look good in the pictures, and if the clergy person passes the couple's "test" for hipness.
I am happy to work with couples who really want to explore what marriage means and what it means to invoke God's blessing and invite God's involvement into that marriage. Some of my best weddings have been for remarrying couples who know they didn't think hard enough about it the first time around, and who really want to learn from the past and look ahead to the future. They put in the time because they know they'll benefit from it. And the ceremony is deeper and much more meaningful for everyone because they did that work, and because they have an idea of why they are inviting God into their relationship.
But really, if couples don't want to take the religious part of it seriously, to treat me and my faith community with some respect, then I am all for civil ceremonies and friends doing the couple's wedding in their own back yards! By all means! I think those are the preferred options for people who don't really want to bring God into it in any kind of deep or substantive way.
Anyway, you should do something from the clergyperson's perspective.
The Rev. Kit Carlson
First of all, let me state that I am fully in agreement with you about couples spending too much time on the invitations and the registry, and not enough time on the ceremony. Frankly, it's much harder for this industry to make money on the ceremony, so you'll find most magazines and websites emphasizing all the things a couple can buy, and not giving too much advice on crafting a meaningful ritual.
That being said, I don't think a couple need be a regular part of a church or other religious institution in order to have a valuable wedding there. I must admit, I am biased, because my own wedding was held in a church where I am not a member. But that experience gives me insight as to why couples might do so.
For many people, a wedding is the first important ritual they will choose to participate in as an adult. I know of several couples who weren't particularly religious, but getting married opened the door to what religion could mean to them. They might see their marriage as the first step in "real" adulthood, and thus the first time they are taking real responsibility for their own religion.
Other couples may not be religious, but trying to accommodate family members who are. As often as a couple might hear the phrase, "It's your wedding, do what you want!", the reality is that a wedding is a familial and community ritual as much as it is a personal one. There are huge pressures on a couple to please others, especially parents.
Lastly, the church and synagogue have always been centers of community ritual. For those of us who are spiritual, but don't necessarily subscribe to a particular pedagogy of thought, it can still make sense to find a church that feels comfortable for important occasions.
It is interesting to note that the church where I got married will only marry its members and those who are friends of the Minister and/or deacons. I think that's partially because they want to avoid exactly what you are speaking of, and also because the Minister doesn't want to give up his Saturdays for just anyone!
If this bothers you, there's no reason why you can't be more choosy. Put something on your website or in a brochure that describes the process required of anyone who wishes to get married there. I bet you'll lose some of those just looking for Central Casting.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful email.