Cohabiting Couples and Cold Feet: A Practical Marriage-Preparation Guide for Clergy

Cohabiting Couples and Cold Feet: A Practical Marriage-Preparation Guide for Clergy

by Robert W. Prichard

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Clergy today are faced with a profound shift in American attitudes about marriage that affects the role they play with each couple. Our society at large today has strikingly different attitudes from those of just fifty years ago. Couples today are more likely to have cohabited before marriage, more likely to have children born out of wedlock, more likely to be married outside of the church, and more likely to be previously divorced than were their counterparts of the mid-20th century. This new pastoral resource, grounded in real-life examples, will be an important new pastoral tool for clergy and seminarians in the Episcopal Church and other mainline Protestant churches. It is organized chronologically, beginning with how to engage the couple making a first-time contact with a member of the clergy. It next unpacks the marriage rite itself, within contemporary and traditional viewpoints. Finally, the book addresses the critically important application of long-term support for the couple throughout their married lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780898698299
Publisher: Church Publishing Inc.
Publication date: 01/01/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
File size: 2 MB

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Cohabiting Couples and Cold Feet

A Practical Marriage-Preparation Guide for Clergy
By Robert W. Prichard

Church Publishing

Copyright © 2008 Robert W. Prichard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-89869-603-5

Chapter One

We Are Not in Mayfield Anymore

Most aficionados of the early years of television remember the name Mayberry, the fictitious town in which the Andy Griffith Show (1960–68) was set. When I think about marriage, however, it is not of Mayberry with its widowed lead character that my thoughts return but to a slightly earlier program—Leave It to Beaver (1957–63), the story of the four members of the Cleaver family, set in the town of Mayfield. Unlike such situation comedies of the era as the Andy Griffith Show or Bachelor Father (1957–62) or My Three Sons (1960–72), Leave It to Beaver featured an intact family with two parents. The adults in the household, Ward and June Cleaver, enjoyed a healthy marriage, supporting one another and avoiding the jokes at each other's expense that are a continuing staple of domestic comedy. They went to church, valued education, helped their neighbors, and were active in the community.

Leave It to Beaver had been off the air for a year and a half, when I participated in my first wedding in January of 1965. The bride was a neighbor, a recent college graduate. The groom was from out of state, and a series of parties surrounding the wedding gave the groom's family and friends a chance to get to know the bride's family and friends. The couple, who had not previously lived together, was given gifts to equip the residence that they would soon be sharing: linens, blankets, towels, kitchen appliances, china, silver, and crystal. They were, I was sure at the time, entering into a relationship that would echo the kind of relationship that the Cleavers enjoyed.

Many of those who attended the wedding were friends and neighbors of the two families. A smaller group of college friends were present and particularly conspicuous among the bridesmaids and groomsmen at the wedding.

The marriage ceremony took place in the church in which the bride and members of her family had been active for at least three generations. The clergyman who had served in the parish since the bride's childhood presided jointly with the bride's uncle, who was also a clergyman. My own role was as the acolyte, a last-minute substitute for the bride's first cousin, who declined the role. My minimal responsibilities were to light and extinguish the altar candles and to hold the minister's prayer book during the exchange of vows, so that his hands were free to place over those of the bride and groom when he pronounced them husband and wife. Standing beside the clergyman, I was able to look directly into the bride's and groom's faces as they made promises to one another and to hear clearly the words they spoke. Most of the congregation saw their backs and heard muffled words. Even as a teenage acolyte, I recognized the ability to witness the exchange of promises at close quarters as an incredible privilege.

After the wedding there was a reception with lots of food and drink. The bride and groom were the first to leave. After retiring to change from their wedding finery into more casual clothing for travel, they departed for their honeymoon—their first opportunity to live together as a couple. As they prepared to leave, guests made jokes about what would follow their departure. They also threatened to scrawl "just married" on the car windows in soap and attach tin cans to the rear bumper—an automotive variation on the older shivaree or serenade by which guests used to salute the newlyweds on their wedding night. I do not recall, however, whether any actual decoration took place. Guests lingered on long after the couple's departure.

At the time, I assumed that the wedding in which I had participated was a template that all subsequent marriages would follow. According to this Leave It to Beaver pattern, marriage followed soon after (or shortly before) the completion of one's college education. It marked the beginning of cohabitation, the start of a new socially acknowledged sexual relationship, and an end to day-to-day economic reliance on one's parents. The marriage ceremony was often also a significant affirmation of the couple's religious tradition and an element in forging a new alliance among extended families and friends.

My assumptions about the character of marriage provided a relatively reliable guide for the marriages at which I presided after ordination in the mid-1970s. By the decade's end, however, the 1960s' template was becoming an increasingly unreliable predictor of the behavior of couples with whom I met to discuss marriage.

I now recognize, of course, that the marriage of the mid-1960s that I took as standard was a product of a specific period in American cultural and religious history. It was a period during which church adherence was at an all-time high. It was a time in which American draft policies provided an incentive for men to marry soon after graduation from college; male college students were exempted from the draft, but only married men remained exempt after graduation. Educationally, the 1960s was the first entire decade in which over 10 percent of young people from the ages twenty-five to twenty-nine graduated from college. At that same time it was a period in which social taboos against premarital cohabitation and out-of-wedlock pregnancy were still strong. Colleges, which at the time accepted a responsibility for acting in loco parentis (in the place of parents), sought to enforce traditional standards of behavior with policies that included dress codes, mandatory chapel attendance, curfews, and restricted access to dorms of persons of the opposite sex. The American economy was sufficiently prosperous that parents could afford to spend money on elaborate wedding celebrations.

Many of those elements have changed in the past four decades. The draft exemption for married men ended before 1965 was over. Richard Nixon replaced the draft with a volunteer army in 1973. Birth control pills, which the Federal Food and Drug Administration approved for general use as a means of contraception in 1960, altered the connection between engaging in sexual activity and pregnancy, removing some of the pressure on college administration to police student sexual activity. Before the decade was over Oberlin College in Ohio would introduce coeducational dormitories. In time, many colleges came to regard freedom of sexual expression as a human right to be defended rather than a behavior to be curtailed. Social pressure against cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing was disappearing.

Changing Patterns

These shifts have contributed to profound changes in the character of heterosexual marriage in the United States. My own personal experience and anecdotal information from a variety of other clergy suggest that, whatever their hopes, churches have not been able to insulate themselves from these changes.

It is possible to provide at least a partial statistical picture of the shifting character of church marriage from data available in the Episcopal Church. The pattern that emerges is in all likelihood not unique to the Episcopal Church, however. A 1999 review for the United States Catholic Conference of a number of studies, for example, concluded that in the case of cohabitation prior to marriage, religious denomination made "no difference in frequency of cohabitation."

Episcopal congregations keep parish registers in which they record, among other things, the date of every marriage ceremony, the age of the persons married, and the address of the persons married. Of this data, only the number of marriages is reported and compiled on a systematic national basis, but patient researchers who are willing to examine parish registers can access the broader data.

With the help of several former students, I have compiled records of 1,619 marriages celebrated in the Episcopal Church over the last fifty years. They are taken from five parishes in five different regions of the country and from five time periods. The parishes are the St. Philip-in-the-Field (St. Philip's) in Sedalia, Colorado; Christ Church in Toms River, New Jersey; St. Clement's in Berkeley, California; St. George's in Arlington, Virginia; and St. Stephen's in Terre Haute, Indiana. The parishes range in size from St. Philip-in-the-Field (listed in The Episcopal Church Annual, 2005 as having over one hundred members) to Christ Church, Toms River (listed in the Annual with over eight hundred members).

The local environments differ as well. St. George's is in an urban corridor of Arlington, a Virginia county of slightly under 200,000 that lies directly across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The county, which contains nine Episcopal congregations (two of which are Spanish-language congregations meeting in shared space), is among the most transient and ethnically diverse portions of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Christ Church is the only Episcopal congregation in Toms River, New Jersey, a city on the New Jersey coast of approximately 86,000. Terre Haute, Indiana, is a city of roughly 57,000 located near the Indiana-Illinois border; it is the location of Indiana State University. Sedalia, Colorado, is a town of 211 in a rural area that is historically devoted to cattle ranching. St. Clement's is one of four Episcopal congregations in Berkeley, California, a city of roughly 100,000 with a reputation for activism and innovation. The community is home to the University of California at Berkeley.

Number of Marriages

While the congregations differ from one another, their records tell a similar story about marriage. The first thing of note is that the number of marriages has not remained constant over time. The number of marriages celebrated in the period from 2000 to 2003 is considerably less than was the case in the period from 1950 to 1953. The decline has not, however, been consistent. This is evident in Chart 1 (see next page), which compares the total number of marriages per year in the selected congregations with the total number of marriages nationwide in the Episcopal Church for same periods (1950–53, 1960–63, 1970–73, 1980–83, 1990–93, 2000–03).

The top two lines in the chart above represent the total number of marriages in the sample congregations and the total number of marriages in the church at large (listed by 500s). In both cases the number of marriages began at a high in the early 1950s, declined by 1960, but then began to increase again from 1960 through a new high in the early 1980s. The new high of the early 1980s has been followed by a consistent decline from 1980 to 2003, during which time the number of marriages celebrated in the church dropped from 50 percent (Episcopal Church national figures) to 70 percent (selected congregations) of the 1980s' high. Three of the five congregations exhibited the same general pattern.

The curve showing rise and fall in number of marriages is at first surprising, but more for its timing than for its actual shape. The numbers of baptized members and the number of baptisms in the Episcopal Church also peaked in the second half of the twentieth century and have generally fallen since that time. In addition, there has been a decline in the number of marriages in the nation as a whole, as Chart 2 indicates.

What becomes clear from this comparison is that the number of marriages in the Episcopal Church has not tracked exactly with the number of marriages nationwide. By 1970 the number of marriages in the society at large began to decline. Yet the number of marriages celebrated in the Episcopal Church continued to rise into the early 1980s. Since that time, both the number of marriages celebrated in the Episcopal Church and the rate of marriage in the general population have declined.

There are a number of possible explanations for the decade-long lag between the two marriage indicators. One possible explanation relates to values. Church members may be more socially conservative than the population as a whole, and therefore slower to follow a national trend away from marriage. Another possible explanation is sociological. Lower-income persons, who are underrepresented in the Episcopal Church, have led the way in the abandoning of marriage. College-educated women, who are overre-presented in the Episcopal Church's membership, have been slower to abandon the institution of marriage. Once less likely to marry than the population as a whole, they have since 1980 been more likely to marry and less likely to divorce than the population as a whole.


Another contributing factor in the lag in marriage indicators is the liberalization in policies toward remarriage that took place in 1973. Prior to that date, the Episcopal Church allowed remarriage in the church in only a limited number of cases based on the specific circumstances of the previous marriage(s). In 1973 the Episcopal Church's General Convention adopted a new policy, according to which judgments on remarriage were based upon the health of the relationship to be entered rather than upon the defects of the previous relationships. Remarriage in the church still requires the bishop's approval, but most bishops now give that approval routinely.

Episcopal parish registers do not provide exact data on the frequency of remarriage. This is because the form of parish registers continues to reflect the pre-1973 canonical situation. There are only two listed categories for bride or groom: either never married (bachelor or maiden) or widowed. Clergy in the five congregations from which data has been gathered were inconsistent in their ways of coping with this situation. Some clergy left blanks in the status line for divorced persons or included them within the never-married category. Others created a designation of "D" or added a number to indicate the marriage to be celebrated was not the first, while still others added a note about having received permission from the bishop. With clergy changing throughout the period in question, there is not even a consistent pattern within individual parishes. The data does provide some partial information, however. While the register may understate the percentage of remarriages, it is highly unlikely that it would overstate the fact. Clergy would have no incentive to create a designation of divorce for a person who had, in fact, not previously married.

The congregations show only a minimal number of marriages of divorced persons prior to 1973, in no case higher than 5 percent. As Chart 3 shows the percentage then grew rapidly between the early 1970s and the early '80s, reflecting the liberalization in church policies. By the 1980s the percentage of divorced persons ranged between 6.1 percent (St. Stephen's, Terre Haute, Indiana) and 25.6 percent (St. George's, Arlington, Virginia). In two of the churches (Christ Church, Tom's River; and St. George's, Arlington), the percentage of marriages of those who were previously divorced declined in the early 1990s. By the early 2000s, however, the percentage of marriages after divorce rose to an all-time high rate in all five of the parishes, reaching a figure ranging from 25 percent (St. Stephen's, Terre Haute) to 55.6 percent (St. Philip's, Sedalia), with a composite percentage of 34.7 percent for the five parishes.

The percentage of marriages celebrated in the selected congregations has clearly risen. What of the concrete number of such services? It is possible to separate out the data in registers for known remarriages and presumed first marriages to answer this question. This comparison proves instructive, for it makes it evident that the number of marriages and the number of remarriages have been changing at very different rates. Chart 4 (see next page) graphs the total marriages in the selected congregations, the number of presumed first marriages (those in which there is no indication to the contrary), and the number of known remarriages. In this sampling of congregations, the number of remarriages in the church has remained relatively stable since the early 1980s while the number of presumed first marriages has fallen by almost 78 percent.

If both trends—a relatively stable number of remarriages and a precipitate decline in the number of first marriages—continue, the number of remarriages celebrated in the church will soon surpass the number of first marriages celebrated.

One can hazard several guesses as to why the number of remarriages has been roughly constant, while the number of first marriages is declining. One possibility is that divorced couples who approach a second or third marriage are more aware of the need for outside resources to support their relationships and, as a result, are more likely to value marriage in the church. Another possible explanation concerns denominational switching. Anecdotal information suggests that many of those who seek remarriage in the Episcopal Church are former Roman Catholics who cannot be remarried in their church of origin. Whichever the case, an increasing percentage of those coming to the Episcopal Church for marriage will be those previously married.


Excerpted from Cohabiting Couples and Cold Feet by Robert W. Prichard Copyright © 2008 by Robert W. Prichard. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Charts viii

List of Sidebars ix

Introduction x

Chapter 1 We Are Not in Mayfield Anymore 1

Changing Patterns 4

Number of Marriages 5

Remarriage 8

Age at the Time of Marriage 11

Cohabitation 12

The Typical Couple 14

Chapter 2 And the Bride Wept 17

Initial Contact 18

Attention 19

Clarity 20

Consistency 21

Members and Nonmembers 22

Members Only 22

Members and Seekers 23

Members and Nonmembers 25

Separation of Legal and Religious Marriage 25

The First Conversation with the Couple 27

Betrothal 27

Chapter 3 The Church and the Internet 31

Congregational Web Sites 31

Who Can Be Married in the Church? 32

Members Only 32

Members and Seekers 33

Members and Nonmembers 34

Separation of Legal and Religious Marriage 36

Costs and Procedures 36

Fees and Honoraria 36

Wedding Planners 41

Photography 43

Rice 44

Theological Statements 44

Music 46

Chapter 4 Premarital Conversations 49

A Teachable Moment 51

The First Step: Stating the Obvious 54

Cohabitation to Marriage 55

The Second Step: Warning of Troubled Waters 58

Marriage Preparation Programs 59

Cultural Assumptions 61

Saying No 63

The Third Step: Drawing the Connections 64

The Clergy Example 68

Chapter 5 Finding Dirty Books in the Church Office 71

Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals 74

Conversations with Couples 77

Social Norms and Individual Choices 78

Norms 78

Change 79

Making Choices 81

Chapter 6 "With all that I have and all that I am" 83

Love and Money 84

Marriage and Money 85

Divorce and Financial Decline 87

Household Budgets 89

Financial Equity 91

Prenuptial Agreements 94

Charitable Giving 96

Chapter 7 She's onthe Wrong Side of the Church! 97

Wedding Rehearsals 98

Walking in Straight Lines 102

Separate Entrance of Bride and Groom 103

Modified Entrance 103

Joint Entrance 104

Chapter 8 Tying the Knot 105

The Marriage Service 105

Introductory Rite 105

The Marriage Vows 112

The Prayers 116

Surprises 117

Incorporating Elements from Cultures of Origin 118

Chapter 9 Wedding Receptions and Rehearsal Dinners 123

How Long, O Lord? 125

Meeting People 126

Chapter 10 When the Clergyperson Becomes Invisible 129

Remembering Wedding Anniversaries 131

Marriage Renewal Programs 132

Marriage Renewal Services 133

Marriage Counseling 135

Continuing Ties 136

Index 137

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